Daily Mail

Grave doubts about death

- Edgar Allan Poe · France · Germany · Alexander Graham Bell · Illinois · Ohio · Nottingham · Birmingham (England) · London · Waterloo, IL · Delphos, OH

QUES­TION Did some­one once have a phone in­stalled in their cof­fin? TAPHOPHOBI­A is the med­i­cal term for the fear of be­ing buried alive as a re­sult of be­ing in­cor­rectly pro­nounced dead. This was a very real prob­lem in an era when the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion lacked the ex­per­tise to dis­tin­guish be­tween death and near-death states.

Physi­cians had only their fin­gers to feel for a pulse and mir­rors to check for con­densed breath. Cor­rectly di­ag­nos­ing death be­came more spe­cific with the in­ven­tion of the stetho­scope in 1816.

Fears in­creased in the 19th cen­tury with the pop­u­lar­ity of the Gothic hor­ror story, en­cap­su­lated in Edgar Al­lan Poe’s tale The Pre­ma­ture Burial (1844): ‘Scarcely, in truth, is a grave­yard ever en­croached upon, for any pur­pose, to any great ex­tent, that skele­tons are not found in pos­tures which sug­gest the most fear­ful of sus­pi­cions.’

An early so­lu­tion was ‘hospi­tals for the dead’ in which the re­cently de­ceased would be watched day and night for signs of re­vival or pu­tre­fac­tion. There were around 30 in France and Ger­many.

Dur­ing the 18th and 19th cen­turies, many safety coffins were patented. They ranged from sim­ple de­signs — ropes tied to a corpse’s hands that ran to an above­ground bell — to com­plex vi­bra­tion sen­sors at­tached to me­chan­i­cal con­trap­tions that would light a can­dle, ring a bell, and open a periscope, with some mod­els even fea­tur­ing a tele­phone with a di­rect line to the ceme­tery keeper.

The first recorded safety cof­fin was con­structed on the or­ders of Duke Fer­di­nand of Brunswick. He had a win­dow in­stalled to al­low light in, an air tube to pro­vide a sup­ply of fresh air, and in­stead of hav­ing the lid nailed down, he had a lock fit­ted. In a pocket of his shroud he had two keys, one for the cof­fin lid and a sec­ond for the tomb door.

In 1798, P. G. Pessler, a Ger­man pri­est, sug­gested that all coffins have a tube in­serted from which a cord would run to the church bells.

In 1822, Dr Adolf Gutsmuth demon­strated the ef­fi­cacy of his own de­sign by al­low­ing him­self to be buried alive. He stayed un­der­ground for sev­eral hours and even ate a meal de­liv­ered through the cof­fin’s feed­ing tube.

In 1829, Dr Jo­hann Got­tfried Taberger de­signed a sys­tem with a bell to alert the ceme­tery night watch­man.

Charles Sieber and Fred­er­ick Born­traeger, of Water­loo, Illi­nois, re­ceived a patent for a ‘ grave sig­nal for peo­ple buried in a trance’ in 1885.

With the usual elec­tro­mag­netic bell alarm and pop-up flag ac­ti­vated by a string tied to a fin­ger of the corpse, the patent in­cluded a spring-driven fan in a hous­ing at the sur­face — also ac­ti­vated by the fin­ger string — and a lamp and win­dow at the base of a tube for view­ing the corpse’s face from the sur­face.

In 1913, Peter Backus, of Delphos, Ohio, de­vel­oped a yet more so­phis­ti­cated de­vice for de­tect­ing life in a corpse ‘in hospi­tals, morgues, cre­ma­to­ries, at bathing beaches and on ocean-go­ing steam­ers’. It con­sisted of a mo­tor-driven vac­uum pump, elec­tric heaters, phone mon­i­tor and a spe­cial stretcher in a sealed cas­ket.

As late as 1995, a safety cof­fin was patented by Fabrizio Caselli. It in­cluded an emer­gency alarm, in­ter­com sys­tem, torch, breath­ing ap­pa­ra­tus, a heart mon­i­tor and stim­u­la­tor.

Paul Ed­wards, Not­ting­ham.

QUES­TION How did ap­ple cider vine­gar with ‘the mother’ get its odd name?

MOTHER of vine­gar is a slimy, harm­less sub­stance con­sist­ing mostly of acetic acid bac­te­ria ( My­co­derma aceti) and cel­lu­lose. It is a live cul­ture of bac­te­ria that con­sumes the al­co­hol in wine and turns it into acetic acid.

While not ap­petis­ing in ap­pear­ance, mother of vine­gar is com­pletely harm­less and the sur­round­ing vine­gar does not have to be dis­carded be­cause of it.

Some­times mother from a pre­vi­ous batch of vine­gar is put into new batches of sour­ing wine.

This use, as a starter for new vine­gars, is why it is called mother of vine­gar. Over time, tra­di­tional vine­gar mak­ers cul­ti­vate their per­fect moth­ers with spe­cial flavour­ing abil­i­ties, and they be­come a well­guarded fam­ily se­cret. Cather­ine McCul­loch,

Pang­bourne, Berks. THE hu­man body con­tains trace amounts of ra­dionu­clides in­gested daily through wa­ter and food in­take. Th­ese in­clude trace quan­ti­ties of ura­nium, tho­rium, ra­dium, car­bon-14, tri­tium, polo­nium and potas­sium-40.

Potas­sium-40 is by far the most abun­dant nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring ra­dioac­tive el­e­ment in the body. An 11st man con­tains about 140g of potas­sium, and potas­sium-40 is present in all potas­sium, though at a very low con­cen­tra­tion: 0.0118 per cent.

When it de­cays, 89 per cent gives rise to the emis­sion of a beta ray with a max­i­mum en­ergy of 1.33 Mev. The other 11 per cent pro­duce a gamma ray with an en­ergy of 1.46 Mev. Only gamma rays have the en­ergy to exit the body.

The amount of ra­dioac­tive potas­sium-40 in an 11st man is about 5,000 Bq, which rep­re­sents 5,000 atoms un­der­go­ing ra­dioac­tive de­cay each sec­ond.

A gamma ray is emit­ted in about one out of every ten dis­in­te­gra­tions of 40K, im­ply­ing that about 500 gamma rays are pro­duced each sec­ond (re­mem­ber only 11 per cent of emis­sions are gamma rays).

Some will be at­ten­u­ated in the body, and the dose rate from th­ese gamma rays out­side the in­di­vid­ual’s body will rep­re­sent a very small frac­tion of the nor­mal back­ground dose.

One es­ti­mate sug­gests sleep­ing nightly with an­other per­son adds one mil­lirem to your an­nual dose of 360 mil­lirems of ra­di­a­tion per year.

D. L. White, Birm­ing­ham.

IS THERE a ques­tion to which you have al­ways wanted to know the an­swer? Or do you know the an­swer to a ques­tion raised here? Send your ques­tions and an­swers to: Charles Legge, An­swers To Cor­re­spon­dents, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, Lon­don, W8 5TT; fax them to 01952 780111 or email them to charles.legge@dai­ly­mail.co.uk. A se­lec­tion will be pub­lished but we are not able to en­ter into in­di­vid­ual cor­re­spon­dence.

 ??  ?? Buried alive: The Pre­ma­ture Burial by An­toine Wiertz QUES­TION How ra­dioac­tive is a per­son?
Buried alive: The Pre­ma­ture Burial by An­toine Wiertz QUES­TION How ra­dioac­tive is a per­son?

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