Mysterious Moving Coffins

On the outskirts of Barbados, West Indies a strange and unexplainable occurrence happened in one of the oldest cemeteries in the area.

Inside the Chase vault at Christ Church overlooking oistin's Bay somewhere between 1812 and 1820, coffins barbadosmoved inside the vault with no reasonable explanation as to why or how?

The first published account of these moving coffins was by Sir J. E. Alexander's Transatlantic Sketches (1833):

"Each time that the vault was opened the coffins were replaced in their proper situations, that is, three on the ground side by side, and the others laid on them. The vault was then regularly closed; the door (a massive stone which required six or seven men to move) was cemented by masons; and though the floor was of sand there were no marks of footsteps or water.

The last time the vault was opened was in 1819. Lord Combermere (governor of the colony) was then present, and the coffins were found confusedly thrown about the vault, some with their heads down and others up. What could have occasioned this phenomenon? In no other vault in the island has this ever occurred".

the movement of the coffins

There have been many varied accounts printed of this particular story over time. One of the alleged witnesses, the Rev. Thomas H. Orderson, the rector of Christ Church gave conflicting accounts to the inquirers. Other accounts were published in 1944 (Sir Robert Schomburgk's History of Barbado's) and 1860 (Mrs. D. H. Cusson's Death's Deeds).

In 1907 a noted English folklorist Andrew Lang reviewed the affair, taking information from his brother-in-law's investigation in Barbados and using the printed material. Lang examined the vault records but found absolutely nothing to substantiate the story. He also found that the Islands newspapers of that time did not print anything about the moving coffins. About the only interesting thing he came across was an unpublished description by Nathan Lucas, who witnessed the final interment of the vault in April 1920.

Lang was mainly interested in the episode because of similar events he had heard of in a Lutherian Cemetery on the Isle of Oesel, in the Baltic Sea. This happened in 1844 and the occurrence was documented by American diplomat Robert Dale Owen who reported it in Footfalls on the boundary of Another World - 1960; no other written records are known to exist. Lang suspected that the inventors of this story somehow used the Barbados story as a source for their own variation on the moving coffin story, adding a few charming flourishes of their own, such as a hand of suicide being found sticking out of one of the coffins.

However there is another moving coffin story that is believed to be original and genuine and could not of been from the Barbados story. It was printed in The European Magazine September 1815. This story told of the case of "The Curious Vault at Stanton in Suffolk" in which coffins were "displaced" several times under mysterious circumstances. Nathan Lucas, one of the alleged witnesses to the final (1820) interment at the Chase Vault, mentions this English case, even quoting the article, in his private account of 1824.

F. A. Paley told of another incident when his father was the rector in the parish of Gretford, near Stamford (England). His father noted that two or three times the coffins in a vault were found on re opening to have been moved around. The incidence created some excitement within the village at the time and of course brought out every superstitious belief that existed within the English village. The incident was quickly hushed up out of respect for the family to whom the vault belonged.

All these occurrences took place in the 1800's but the 1900's have no record of any such occurrence at all. It has been heavily suggested and well argued that the entire thing (originally in Barbados) was a Masonic hoax. The general belief however of this mysterious occurrence is that none of the cases were real. Perhaps they were simply invented by bored Englishmen in the 1800's looking for a bit of attention?

Sources: The Unexplained, Jerome Clark


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