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In the movie The Nun, Father Burke fell into a coffin and got buried alive in a grave with a tombstone.

There was a bell right in front of this tombstone and Father Burke was able to ring this bell by its attached string.

Were there really bells in front of tombstones and attached to buried bodies via a string?

  • Fear of being buried alive was a serious enough issue that there were a good number of patents on the subject. – John Sep 13 '18 at 22:10
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Yes there were. These were known as Safety Coffins.
The coffins contained a string attached to a bell and usually a breathing tube that could be opened by someone buried alive.

Before modern medicine many of the ways used to confirm death were fairly subjective. Pricking someone with a pin, holding a mirror or other small shiny object under their nose to see if their breath would fog it, or even scalding their finger with boiling water were all tests used to check for signs of life.

By the late 1700s many European countries had changed their laws to recommend not burying someone until 24-48 hours had passed.

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    And this is where the term "saved by the bell" came from. – BruceWayne Sep 8 '18 at 13:27
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    +1 and not withstandjng Legion600's answer, It was a real fear to be buried alive. One reason this fear propagated was due to the natural decomposition of the human body. This would damage the inside of the coffin around the chest area. When people saw this after exhuming a body from a coffin, they assumed damage was scratch marks from the individual being buried alive and trying to get out! – Kwola-T Sep 8 '18 at 13:45
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    @BruceWayne The wikipedia page linked in this answer and this page about the phrase both claim that you're wrong and that the phrase came from Boxing. As an aside, while there were many designs and a few examples built, it seems safety coffins were probably not used very much at all. – Mark S. Sep 8 '18 at 16:59
  • There's at least one case of a telephone in a coffin. – Joshua Sep 9 '18 at 3:42

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