Revived from Apparent Death
by a Grave-Robber

folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 990
edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2000-2014


  1. A Sign from God (Germany, Johann Gustav Büsching).

  2. A Terrible Experience (Scotland, Buckham Hugh Hossack).

  3. Buried in a Trance (Scotland, Andrew Jervise).

  4. A Ghoul-Like Deed (England, John Walker Ord).

  5. Lady Restored to Life (England, Beaver H. Blacker).

  6. Lady Mount Edgcumbe Buried Alive (England, Augustus J. C. Hare).

  7. Related links.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

A Sign from God


In Magdeburg they formerly showed (I do not know if they still do) a house with a plaque depicting a horse that was looking out the window of a house's upper story. The following legend explains this plaque:

A man buried his wife with the pomp expected of his class, leaving on her finger a valuable diamond ring. The greedy gravedigger noticed this, and therefore returned that night to open the grave, pry up the coffin lid, and attempt to remove the ring from the dead woman. However, the ring was tight, and he had to push and twist and turn, which revived the woman, who was only in a trance. She sat up, giving the disloyal gravedigger such a fright that he fell down unconscious.

The woman, herself frightened by her helpless condition, picked up the gravedigger's lantern and staggered toward her husband's house.

She knocked.

The servant asked, "Who is there?"

"It's me," she answered, "the lady of the house. Open the door for me."

Deathly pale, he ran to his master's room and told him the news.

"My wife will never return from her grave," he answered, "any more than would my horses walk up the steps in order to look out the window."

Then he heard clip clop up the steps. It was his horses. Then the man believed, went downstairs, opened the door, and received his wife, who he thought was dead. And he lived happily with her for many long years.

A Terrible Experience


Margaret Halcro married, 1674, in her 27th year, the Rev. Henry Erskine, and died, 14th January 1725, in the house of her son, Rev. Ebenezer Erskine. She was buried at Scotland Wells, where her tombstone is still to be seen.

Poor Mrs. Erskine had one terrible experience. The minister, a widower when he married Marion Halcro, was deeply attached to his young wife, and bitter was his anguish when, a few months after the marriage, she was cut off by a short illness. Mr. Erskine resolved that her trinkets and jewellery should be buried with her, and a valuable ring was left upon her finger.

When John Carr, village carpenter, and sexton of Chirnside Parish Church, came to screw down the coffin lid, the minister, gazing on the features of his beloved wife, thought he saw the lips quiver. Every available test was vainly tried in the fond hope that life had not departed. But Carr had seen the jewellery, examined the bracelets, and had even tried whether the ring would slip off without difficulty, for he thought it a pity that such beautiful articles should be lost. To save himself subsequent labour and time, the nails were loosely screwed, and in late afternoon at the graveyard, consulting the feelings of the bereaved husband, the earth was lightly thrown in, the considerate sexton remarking that he could finish the work better in daylight.

At night Carr returned to the burial ground, quickly removed the earth, and opened the coffin. The ring was first sought, but it refused to leave its place. Taking his knife, the operator placed the finger on the edge of the coffin and proceeded to amputation.

With the opening of a vein vitality was restored, and Mrs. Erskine uttered a piercing shriek. Carr yelled and fled, leaving the lady to get out of the grave as best she might. Weak and cold as a corpse, she found her way home, but even at the manse her troubles were not over. The door was locked, though the inmates had not retired.

The minister was strangely affected by the knock, which was exactly that of his late wife, and the old servant who opened the door fainted on seeing the apparition. But Margaret Halcro, even in such an emergency, was practical. The terrified husband could not believe the voice which declared that this was no ghost, but his own living and loving wife.

While he stood helpless, Mrs. Erskine, shivering in her grave clothes, slipped past and hurried to the study, where there was a fire. Stimulants were administered, and the bed, warmed with hot bricks, soon restored her to comfort, and she was able to relate in detail her terrible experiences, through all of which she had been perfectly conscious. She told of her great effort to speak when her husband was looking at her in her coffin; of Carr's examination of the jewellery; and of her calculating on the sexton's return to the grave.

Mrs. Erskine survived her husband twenty years.

Buried in a Trance


Only one tradition is known regarding the family of Edzell and this [burial] vault; and, as a matter of course, it is fraught with much of the romance incident to the dreamings of a remote age, but it is also told of other families. Divested, however, of its accustomed minuteness, story has failed to preserve the name of the heroine, but it is uniformly affirmed that she was the wife of one of the lairds, was buried in a trance, and so loaded with rich and valuable jewelry that the sexton's avariciousness got excited to the highest pitch.

Bent on obtaining the treasure at all hazards, he stole under night to her lonely sanctuary, and soon succeeded in putting himself in possession of the whole, except the massive rings which girded her swollen fingers. These he eyed with great admiration, and having failed to gain them by ordinary means, he resolved to amputate the fingers.

A slight movement of the body, and the faint exclamation of "Alas!" staggered his valour -- the knife dropped from his guilty hand -- he trembled from head to foot, and fell senseless on the cold damp floor, amidst crazy trestles and musty bones!

Meanwhile, the lady, disentangling herself from her shroud, snatched the glimmering taper in one hand, and, raising her unexpected deliverer with the other, led him forth from the vault.

Restored to consciousness, he craved mercy on bended knees; and, although the lady assured him of a handsome reward from her husband if he would accompany her to the castle, he begged for leave to flee from his native land; while she, with a heart grateful for the restoration of life, kindly permitted him to retain his sacrilegious spoil, and the greedy sexton was never heard of more!

A Ghoul-Like Deed


An old gentleman in the village [Hutton Rudby] related a curious story of the ghoul-like deeds of a certain parish clerk, who officiated also as sexton, some years ago. It would appear that a married woman of the village having been given up for dead, was at length removed to the usual place of interment.

Whether from some implied wish on her part, or difficulty in releasing it, the wedding ring was allowed to remain on the finger. This circumstance awakened the cupidity of the parish clerk, who, at the lone hour of midnight, crept cautiously to the new-made grave. Having removed the earth, and unscrewed the coffin, he proceeded to take off the ring, but from the contracted state of the fingers was unable to effect his purpose. Accordingly with his pocketknife he set about amputating the finger; but he had scarcely reached the bone, when, O horror! the corpse bolted nearly upright in its coffin, at the same time uttering a loud and dismal scream.

The parish clerk, who, by the by, was a tailor, immediately darted homeward with the utmost speed, his hair bristling on end.

Meantime the poor woman, who had been unconsciously buried in a trance, alarmed at her strange and peculiar situation, directed her steps to her husband's residence, and knocked loudly at the door. What was her husband's amazement and consternation to behold his buried wife, in her shroud and grave-clothes, standing at the door, calling for admittance! His first alarm having somewhat abated, he proceeded to make further inquiry, and was at length convinced that his true wife, in flesh and blood, had in reality returned from the tomb.

Afterwards, the injured finger and the state of the grave, pointed suspicion to the parish clerk; but the husband, instead of punishing him for allowing his wife to return from her last resting place, actually presented him annually with a web of the finest linen (he being a linen manufacturer).

Lady Restored to Life


I have met with the following statement:

Eliza, the wife of Sir W. Fanshawe, of Woodley Hall, in Gloucestershire, was interred, having, at her own request, a valuable locket, which was her husband's gift, hung upon her breast. The sexton, proceeding to the vault at night, stole the jewel, and by the admission of fresh air restored the body, who had been only in a trance, and who, with great difficulty, reached Woodley Hall in the dead of night, to the general alarm of the servants. Sir William, being roused by their cries, found his lady, with bleeding feet and clothed in the winding-sheet, stretched upon the hall. She was put into a warm bed, and gave birth to several children after her recovery.

On what authority, let me ask, has this statement been made? And, if true, when did the occurrence take place? Change the scene to the town of Drogheda, in Ireland, the lady's name to Harman, and the locket to a ring, and you have a tolerably accurate account of what occurred in the last century, and with the tradition of which I have been familiar from my childhood.

Lady Mount Edgcumbe Buried Alive


The late Lord Mount Edgcumbe lived here [Stone Hall, Plymouth] for many years.... It was his mother [Sophia, daughter of the 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire] who was buried alive and lived for many years afterwards.

It was known that she had been put into her coffin with a very valuable ring upon her finger, and the sexton went in after the funeral, when the coffin was put into the vault, to get it off. He opened the coffin, but the ring was hard to move, and he had to rub the dead finger up and down.

This brought Lady Mount Edgcumbe to life, and she sat up. The sexton fled, leaving the doors of the vault and church open.

Lady Mount Edgcumbe walked home in her shroud, and appeared in front of the windows. Those within thought it was a ghost. Then she walked in at the front door. When she saw her husband, she fainted away in his arms. This gave her family time to decide what should be done, and they settled to persuade her it had been a terrible delirium. When she recovered from her faint, she was in her own bed, and she ever believed it had been a dream.

Related Links

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Revised September 20, 2014.