Hannah Beswick: The Manchester Mummy

Taphophobia — the fear of being buried alive — is the stuff of nightmares, providing the inspiration for some of the most fright-inducing films ever made. Although phobias are technically “irrational fears,” until the 20th century the fear of being buried alive was taken very seriously by the medical community. Case in point: Hannah Beswick, the member of a wealthy family from Lancashire in the UK. She had a pathological fear of premature burial, and with good reason. The funeral of her brother John was about to take place, when a family member noticed John’s eyelids flicker just before the lid of the casket was fastened down. Dr. Charles White, the family doctor, declared John to be still very much alive. John made a full recovery and lived for years afterwards. Of course, this left Hannah with a morbid fear of the same thing happening to her. To make sure that it didn’t, Hannah asked Dr. White to check her vital signs after she died to ensure that she was actually dead. Dr. White, who had eccentricities of his own, agreed to make a periodic check of the body when the time came. Following her death in 1758, Hannah's body was embalmed and put into an old clock case that was stored in Dr. White’s house, to be periodically checked for signs of life. In 1868, more than 110 years after Hannah’s death, her body was finally buried in an unmarked grave in the Harpurhey Cemetery in Manchester........and yes, she was still very much dead.