Have you ever feared being buried alive? Having your body snatched from the underground? Becoming one of the walking dead?

Two nineteenth century themes were fear of premature burial (taphephobia), if you are buried alive;

This is a safety coffin—if you wake up you can ring the bell. For source material see n. 27 in "Notes From the Underground (Sometimes Aboveground, Too)," referenced below.

This is a safety coffin—if you wake up you can ring the bell. For source material see n. 27 in “Notes From the Underground (Sometimes Aboveground, Too),” referenced below.

and fear of body snatchers, if you are really dead.

smpbooks.com; Inside and Outside the Covers

Chris Baker (aka “The Ghoul of Richmond”) with medical students at the Medical College of Virginia. Photograph: Special Collections and Archives, Tompkins-McCaw Library, VCU.

Pop culture is filled with zombies, zombie apocalypse, and the annual Halloween reenactments and parades featuring Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”  Perhaps some of you enjoy playing the role of a  zombie—imagining yourself awakening from your final resting place to take over your city or the world—

Ready for the "Thriller" parade (Photograph: Laurie Anderson)

Ready for the “Thriller” parade. Photograph: Laurie Anderson

a better option than finding yourself as the entertainment at the body snatchers’ table.

smpbooks.com; Inside and Outside the Cover

Medical students’ tomfoolery with human corpse. Photograph: unknown.

As I noted in CrimeSong the idea for my writing the book came from an article I wrote years ago and published in The Journal of Southern Legal History. I collected in that article songs and poems  dealing with murder and other gruesome things. Here is my favorite old poem (1839) on body-snatching. The names refer to real life anatomists of the day.

The Invisible Girl

‘Twas in the middle of the night
To sleep young William tried;
When Mary’s ghost came stealing in
And stood at his bedside.

Oh, William, dear! Oh, William dear!
My rest eternal ceases;
Alas! My everlasting peace
Is broken into pieces.

I thought the last of all my cares
Would end with my last minute,
But when I went to my last home,
I didn’t stay long in it.

The body-snatchers, they have come
And made a snatch at me;
It’s very hard them kind of men
Can’t let a body be.

You thought that I was buried deep,
Quite Christian-like and chary;
But from her grave in Mary-le-bone,
They’ve come and boned your Mary.

The arm that used to take your arm
Is took to Dr. Vyse;
And both my legs are gone to walk
The hospital at Guy’s.

I vowed that you should take my hand,
But fate gave us denial;
You’ll find it there at Dr. Bell’s,
In spirits and a phial.

As for my feet, my little feet,
You used to call so pretty,
There’s one, I know, in Bedford Row,
The t’other’s in the city.

I can’t tell where my head is gone,
But Dr. Carpus, can;
As for my trunk, it’s all packed up
To go by Pickford’s van.

I wish you’d go to Mr. P
And save me such a ride;
I don’t half like the outside place
They’ve took for my inside.

The cock, it crows, I must be gone;
My William, we must part;
But I’ll be yours in death, although
Sir Astley has my heart.

Don’t go to weep upon my grave,
And think that there I be;
They haven’t left an atom there
Of my anatomy.

For more nasty lore see my article “Notes From The Underground (Sometimes Above Ground, Too),” 3 Savannah Law Review 161 (2016), a follow up to my presentation at Savannah Law School’s “The Walking Dead Colloquium.”  If you want your own reprint of the article, I have a limited number of print copies and will send one to the first ten folks who email me ([email protected])  to request a copy. Remember to include a snail mail address.


Stay safe out there above ground—and underground, too.