Saturday, March 24, 2012

24 March 1904: "Corpse" Actually Just a Lady Who Fainted

On this day in 1904, the Athens Banner ran this sensational headline on their front page:

Consumption typically referred to pulmonary tuberculosis, a disease that would cause severe weight loss, fatigue, and pallor on top of the obvious respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and chest pain.  

In 1904, there were no antibiotics or other anti-bacterial medications available to treat the disease, and the illness was understood to be fatal. Obviously, however, the woman had not yet succumbed to the disease, so she was not yet a "corpse."

Fear of being buried alive was given the label taphephobia in 1890. Though incidences of premature burial were rare, it was still a commonly used device in fiction of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th century, and so remedies were often sought to ease the concern that existed in the culture. 

In 1843, a patent was filed in Baltimore, Maryland for a "life-preserving coffin in case of doubtful death," where the coffin would pop open if any movement occurred inside. However, it only worked above ground. In 1896, the London Association for the Prevention of Premature Burial was formed in England to stop "premature burial generally, and especially amongst members." They managed to pass laws, such as requiring the corpse be held in a mortuary prior to burial, that are still observed today. 

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