In cemeteries that have been disturbed, and the remains of the dead exhumed, there have been found in coffins, nailed solidly and screwed tightly together, bodies of skeletons that were turned over on their sides or faces, occasionally with the knees drawn up, the joints distended, the hands clenched firm, the arms thrust up against the coffin’s narrow sides, the fingers wrapped and twisted in the hairs of the head, the eyes glaring, the teeth ground together, the head doubled under, and many indubitable proofs that the final death struggle did not take place before burial, but that after the coffin lid had been laid away in the shades of the tomb, or dropped into the deep, solid earth, then and there a fierce, agonising, desperately lonely, and hopeless battle for life was waged into exhaustion!
A witness to such a tale was Harold Gulliver, chief gravedigger at an old Victorian cemetery in Bath, England in the early twentieth century.
“The work was at times very dangerous. You never know when you are going to be buried yourself,” he said. “There is often a collapse, and everything comes down on you, timber and all.”
“Sometimes,” continued the grave digger, “there are re-openings, and on these occasions gas would come at you like a fog, so that you may often lose your breath.”
On the day in question he had three graves to dig.
“It had been unusually wet of late and I noticed that in one corner of the cemetery much of the earth had been undermined by the water. The stones in this corner had recently been disturbed to enable the ground to be diverted to streets and building lots, something we weren’t too happy about.”
“I scraped away at the earth with my boots and noticed that I had exposed the corner of a coffin lid. ”
“The coffin needed to be reinterred, of course, so I got several of the men to help me.”
The men gathered and pressed closer to the open grave.
“I gave some loud directions to them. In a very few minutes the coffin was fully up but as we pulled it out of the earth the lid came away. Then I heard a low cry from one of the men.”
Mr Gulliver went on to say that when the lid of the coffin was removed the face and figure of a young bride was revealed, dressed in wedding garments of fine white satin, with a bridal veil, and ring of a costly style and distinction, and all the evidence of affluence, refinement and station of life. The remains were supposedly to have been buried about twenty-five years previously. The coffin plate was no longer present, and, in the really indecent haste of the heartless contractors and brutish labourers, who had worked previously in the area and ruthlessly tore and tossed the relics up, there was not the faintest clue to the identity.
But upon examination it was discovered that the body of the skeleton was twisted and displaced (as no shock of the exhumation could have effected ) and the garments grasped tightly as in a vice in the clenched finger bones, showing undoubtedly that a terrific struggle had taken place in the last narrow house and home of the once-beautiful, early-loved and lost bride. Even the long raven tresses, which were as fine and perfect as ever, were bit fast in the fleshless teeth as though with the last despairing, smothered cry and grasp of death.
“It was a terrible shock,” said Mr Gulliver. “To think of the poor girl suffering like that — and, undoubtedly, on her wedding day, too.”
It was soon after the reburial of the coffin, in another corner of the cemetery, when passers-by began reporting seeing a figure hovering by the graveside.
“One night while I was having my tea,” said Mr Gulliver, “I heard a clatter of horses’ hoofs on the hard road. A few minutes later a man came knocking on my door in a terrible fright. He said that he had seen the ghost and it frightened his horse. He galloped away but it was following in his direction. I wanted him to come back and show it to me, but he would not venture so I did not bother going. I thought he had seen a cow in the cemetery as they often broke in to eat the long grass.”
“Next day there was much talk going on among a few of the men of ghosts and suchlike. Others laughed at them and told them that it was only imagination. They bet some money that no one was game enough to go to the cemetery after dark and visit the grave.”
One chap took the bet. Mr Gulliver was not witness to the exploits that evening but, the next day, he was given the following details:—
“Take me with you, take me with you” — this cry in a high-pitched unearthly voice startled the chap who went visiting the grave in the evening.
“Who is there?” he asked nervously.
There was no reply, nor was anybody to be seen.
Then the voice came again. “Take me with you.” Again there was nobody to be seen.
Then, from out the corner of his eye, he saw something sitting up. He turned to see a woman upright in her grave — the one freshly dug — her face decayed, her fingers twisting the hairs of her head, and she beckoned to him and spoke in a weak voice, “I did not deserve to die. Take me with you.”
The man began to hurry away, pursued by the voice, and finally broke into a terror-stricken run, arriving almost exhausted at the cemetery gates. He had been so overcome that since the incident he had not returned to work, and was reported as being “attacked by fits”.