Victorian Funeral Practices

Because of the lack of medical technology and the fear of being buried alive, Victorian funeral ceremonies would last for days. The reasoning for stretching out the funeral rites was to allow time for the deceased wake up if they were mistakenly pronounced dead. The white sheet which today represents a ghost was the burial shroud used to cover the body during Victorian funerals. The sheet was thin enough so you could see the deceased, but thick enough to prevent bugs from landing on the corpse and laying their eggs. In the era before modern embalming, this was one of the few methods known for slowing decay. If the deceased happened to wake up during the funeral, they would rise, covered by their burial shroud. The term “dead ringer” was also coined during the Victorian Era. For an additional fee, a string would be tied around your hand and attached to a bell above your grave. If you were unfortunate enough to be buried alive, all you would have to do is wave your hand, and ring the bell. A person who was working the “Grave Yard Shift” was paid to sit in the cemetery and listen for any ringing bells. If he heard a bell, he would immediately dig up the grave, allowing the person to escape. Also during the Victorian Era, “Body Snatching” became a popular crime. Criminals would visit cemeteries late at night and dig up the recently buried. They would steal anything of value and then sell the corpse to a medical school to be used as a dissecting cadaver. Most medical schools had a special door for late night transactions of this nature. If they criminals couldn't sell the corpse, they could boil away the flesh and sell the bones to be used as skeletal display models for teaching.

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