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View Full Version : Is this an urban legend, or truth?


chuckster
02-14-2003, 12:11 AM
I've heard this story several times in my life, from several unrelated people. It runs something like this: Two guys work for a funeral home and are driving a hearse with a stiff in the back. Due to some kind of muscle movement or other, the stiff sits up. Needless to say, it scares the jeebies out of the two guys. In some tellings, the hearse wrecks and in others it nearly wrecks. What I would like to know is this, are there any ACTUAL, VERIFIABLE INSTANCES OF THIS HAPPENING? My thought is, this may be pure fantasy because the act of a body sitting up requires a lot of muscles working together and besides, surely they seal coffins when they put the stiff in. However, if anyone knows of a verifiable instance of this happening I would like to know. Even if there are no verifiable instances, do any of you medical people out there have any opinions as to whether a story like this could actually happen?

astorian
02-14-2003, 12:18 AM
This sounds alot like an old, old Southern joke I've heard a number of times from senior citizens. I won't bother to repeat the joke (I'll only tell you that it's such a well-known chestnut down South, Ray Stevens actually made a song and video of it).

So... for that reason, I'm inclined to say it's an urban legend.

TJdude825
02-14-2003, 12:54 AM
For urban legend questions, the best source online (IMHO) is http://snopes.com which didn't have anything for this one (I did a search for "hearse".) It does sound like an urban legend though. Try this: Lie flat on your back, then sit up. Notice how much work that takes, and consider the odds of that happening if you were dead. Plus, if it has two different versions (crash and near miss) it's probably fake.

SandyHook
02-14-2003, 12:59 AM
I've heard this also and been told, not exactly a great cite, that it happens because of gas build up, due to decomposition, in the stomach.

No real idea if it's true or not.

Guinastasia
02-14-2003, 01:35 AM
Want me to ask my dad if it's possible? (he's a mortician)

herwono
02-14-2003, 07:35 AM
https://academicpursuits.us/classics/a981204a.html

Here's something you might have wondered about. "There is a popular idea that early in the cremation process the heat causes the trunk to flex forwards violently so that the body suddenly 'sits up,' bursting open the lid of the coffin, but this has not been observed personally, nor has this been described to the author by anyone in attendance at cremations in the London district."

Maybe this is what happened. I can't imagine a non-cremated body in a coffin suddenly sitting up, breaking the hearse.

Mooney252
02-14-2003, 07:37 AM
Guinastasia --

Please do ask your dad.

I first heard the story from a high school chemistry teacher (Chas Williams, Cleveland Heights High, 1966-67). His mother was a hair dresser and was asked to dress the hair of a corpse. She was squeamish about being around a dead body but finally the mortician talked her into it, as their regular hair dresser was on vacation.

"We'll be right nearby and will leave the door open," he said. As the story goes, she was about 5 minutes into the session and the undertakers employees were all out of the room when they heard a scream. The corpse "sat up" as she was working.

Best regards,

Mooney252

CalMeacham
02-14-2003, 07:39 AM
Just a nitpick here. If you go to snopes.com, you'll find that they take offense at the suggestion that "urban legend" = "untrue". As they point out, some urban legends are true, or are based on true incidents. They usually mark these with a green dot.

Eats_Crayons
02-14-2003, 08:15 AM
I agree with Cal. There's a handful of urban legends that have their roots in fact, but they have ben so horribly embellished and conflated over time that they barely have a resemblance to the original, factual event.

Improv Geek
02-14-2003, 08:21 AM
The body can move after someone dies due to gas shifting in the body and perhaps even residue electric pulses? I know it can do small things at least like make a hand twitch, but I don't know for sure if the body can be caused to sit straight up. I highly doubt it.

Improv Geek
02-14-2003, 08:22 AM
Now that I've posted a response with horrible grammar let me try again.

The body can move after it dies due to gas shifting in the body. That I know. But I am not sure of any other impulses or things which can cause motion. One of my high school teachers spent a day talking about it. I just remember him telling me about small things like hand twitches.

Now.. isn't that better?

Johnny L.A.
02-14-2003, 08:31 AM
[hijack]
What was the E.A. Poe story where the guy put a piece of whalebone in the corpse so it would sit up, and then used ventriloquism to accuse the murderer?
[/quote]

Johnny L.A.
02-14-2003, 08:34 AM
:smack: Thou Art the Man! I remembered the line, and indeed the line is the title of the story!

Please ignore my last.

Rilchiam
02-19-2003, 03:48 AM
I heard a version of this from a high-school teacher, but the way she told it, it did seem a bit plausible. Someone died while sitting at his desk; he was working after hours, so it was more than twelve hours later when he was found. By that time, of course, rigor mortis had set in, and his torso had to be strapped down during the wake. Halfway through, of course, it snapped, and the room cleared like a sinking ship.

yrin
02-19-2003, 09:46 AM
Originally posted by Rilchiam
I heard a version of this from a high-school teacher, but the way she told it, it did seem a bit plausible. Someone died while sitting at his desk; he was working after hours, so it was more than twelve hours later when he was found. By that time, of course, rigor mortis had set in, and his torso had to be strapped down during the wake. Halfway through, of course, it snapped, and the room cleared like a sinking ship.

Well, that is a nice rendition, but rigor mortis is not a permanent condition of the deceased, and certainly does not have "spring loaded" properties! :D

Originally posted by TJdude825 Notice how much work that takes, and consider the odds of that happening if you were dead.

It does take quite a few muscles to sit up, and some effort (depending on your current shape, I find pear shape to be especially difficult!) however, 100% of the population dies, thus there are pretty good odds that at SOME point somewhere a corpse has had a twitch which caused it to sit up. I really don't think much of the stories surrounding these incidents however, a car crash, a hair dressed who is already uncomfortable with dead bodies, but I do think that it may very well be that a body has sat up somewhere, sometime.

FordPrefect
02-19-2003, 10:49 AM
At my great-grandpa's funeral, while the family was waiting in the back to enter the sanctuary, his body decided to sit up in the open casket. The guy from the funeral home gently pushed his upper body down.

It gave my dad a bit of a shock, he was one of the pallbearers and saw this firsthand. The funeral director said that it happens from time to time.

My great-grandpa was a tall thin man and it didn't take much to "straighten" him out again, so I can't imagine a body pushing out of a closed casket, or even staying up for very long before the tissues tear.

FranticMad
02-19-2003, 11:08 AM
There was a widespread fear of being buried alive during the Victorian era. In fact, it happened quite often that someone was thought to be dead, but weren't quite. Even today, there is occasional doubt as to when someone is considered truly dead.

Some coffins had a rope attached to a bell, so that if the "corpse" woke up after being buried, the person in the coffin could pull the rope, ring the bell that was above ground, and someone would hear it. I don't know how often this happened, but people were quite concerned.

The process of embalming pretty well guarantees that the person WILL be dead if they weren't before. Ever wonder how the ritual of embalming became so popular?

Lovely topic, just in time for lunch.

slortar
02-19-2003, 12:57 PM
Something like that once happened to my grandmother while she was working in a hospital. In this case, I believe it rolled over and made a groan. From what I understand, my grandmother set a new land speed record that hasn't been beaten for the last 70 years or so. :)

RadioWave
02-19-2003, 03:33 PM
By any chance, did the corpse happen to say "Gotcha ya!"?

Someone had to say it

Skywatcher
02-19-2003, 04:00 PM
Originally posted by FranticMad
Some coffins had a rope attached to a bell, so that if the "corpse" woke up after being buried, the person in the coffin could pull the rope, ring the bell that was above ground, and someone would hear it. I don't know how often this happened, but people were quite concerned. Pretty common, according to Snopes (http://snopes.com/horrors/gruesome/buried.htm). Warning! Squeamish people need not click the link!

BTW, thanks for not perpetuating the saved by the bell fallacy (http://snopes.com/language/phrases/1500.htm) (fifth paragraph before the sig).

jjimm
02-19-2003, 04:21 PM
Bodies fart and burp after death as they expel gases caused by decomposition. Bologna sandwich, anyone?

Rilchiam
02-19-2003, 08:17 PM
Originally posted by slortar
Something like that once happened to my grandmother while she was working in a hospital. In this case, I believe it rolled over and made a groan. From what I understand, my grandmother set a new land speed record that hasn't been beaten for the last 70 years or so. :)

Mooney, is it possible that that's what happened to the hairdresser in your story, and she only thought the corpse "sat up" because she was susceptible (maybe conditioned by seeing too many horror movies)?

Also, I believe there was an episode of St. Elsewhere wherein someone was working in the morgue and heard pounding from within one of the "drawers".

Guinastasia
02-19-2003, 09:13 PM
According to my dad, it isn't possible-he's never seen it happen, and he doesn't believe it.

juji_mojo
02-20-2003, 02:48 AM
Yes, trapped gasses can be expelled from a corpse. As originally posted by me in another thread. Sorry in advance to the moderators if this is a faux pas.


I am a nurse and was new at the facility. A patient had died, and I called the morgue to come pick up the body. Yes it was three am. Do you know you have to "bag them"? Ummm I didnt but I will get the care aide to help me.

We did the tags, the bag the whole bit. After the deceased was in the bag, there was a loud exhale. My care aide jumped and ran. I got out my stethoscope and with shakey hands again verified yes, he was dead... (trapped air in the lungs can sometimes escape the body when moved after death... a fine thing to know in fact but still creepy to hear it...after you've "bagged him".

Okay so thats creepy but not strange. I go back to the desk and continue the paperwork. The morgue guys arrive and ask which room. I tell them, and hand them the bundle of forms they need. They come back... Didnt you know you have to bag and wrap her?

Her? Its a HIM, and yes he was bagged.

You had better come have a look.

So we go with the porter and find he went to the wrong room... 212 instead of 221... and the woman in that room is also dead. And obviously unwrapped. Hadnt been expected, she just went in her sleep around the same time as the expected one.

From that day on the care aide and I got the nervous giggles whenever we worked night shift together.

lachesis
02-20-2003, 12:27 PM
i believe hubby told me he once worked at a mortician's, earning money for school. yes, major limb movements do occur after death. arms raise, legs jerk. i think it is quite possible that under the right conditions, a corpse could have enough muscle contraction to have it "sit up". whether this is a function of gas build-up, muscle contraction, or a balanced combination of the two would be hard to say.

but i'm fairly sure he told me he witnessed a couple "lively" sessions during his employment. i'll ask for details tonight.

lachesis

Mamapotomus
02-20-2003, 12:51 PM
My brother in law was a mortician and told me that corpse movement happens sometimes if the body is not embalmed. When he first got into the business (IIRC) it was the family's choice to embalm- not the law (as it is now here).

He said that sometimes un-embalmed bodies would twitch or turn but he had never seen one sit up. BTW, I asked him about this because I had seen an interview with Whoopi Goldberg where she told a story about being a hairdresser in a funeral home and having bodies move while she worked on them.

I'd ask him for more details, but he died. That was a weird funeral, let me tell ya..... a bunch of morticians milling around discussing how pleased the deceased would have been with his lip color!!! :eek:

/\/\etalhea|)
02-20-2003, 02:29 PM
I've always doubted this one. I'm a hunter, and while I haven't had a lot of experience with dead human bodies, I have been around a lot of dead animals, including large ones. After the initial death-throes thing, they never so much as twitch. Ever. You'd think that if it was that common I'd have seen it happen sometime.

Just my 2 cents.

StGermain
02-20-2003, 03:44 PM
/\/\etalhea|) - Don't most hunters gut their ills as soon as possible to prevent contamination of the meat? A person (or animal, perhaps) left intact for several hours or days could build up gases from the multiplying bacteria that might account for the phenomenon.

StG

Beadalin
02-20-2003, 04:36 PM
My high school psychology teacher told about this happening on his first day of gross anatomy in medical school. Scared the bejeezus out of him and he ultimately decided that being an M.D. wasn't for him.

The Mermaid
02-20-2003, 05:33 PM
I have dealt with more dead bodies than I can remember ranging from just taking their last breath to dead more than eight hours. I have never seen one move but I have heard plenty groan when we rolled them over.

Once I was working with an aide and it was her first post mortem care. We rolled the body over to clean him up and wrap him when he let out a long loud moan. It really did sound like he was still alive. It unnerved me a bit but I thought the poor girl was going to pass out.

Another time we had wrapped a body and was waiting for it to be picked up. I walked in the room and I heard what sound like a person bound and gagged screaming "let me out of here, let me out of here now!" I nearly passed out, thinking for a second "Oh my God, is that person still alive?" Then I noticed the TV was on and there really was a bound and gagged person screaming "let me out"

DrDeth
02-20-2003, 05:53 PM
Right, what The Mermaid said. No moving, but sometimes a noise which is quite like a groan, and a bit off putting, to say the least.

Now, however, I could see that if a coffin is shifted, that the dead body would flex forward- but this is due to that uncanny thing we like to call "gravity".

Oh, and rotting human smells worse than anything you have ever smelled. Seal is about as bad.

herwono
02-20-2003, 09:08 PM
Just wondering...

Isn't there a show called Six Feet Under? I think it's about a funeral home. Have they ever had an episode with the whole dead body sitting up thing?

Lucki Chaarms
02-20-2003, 09:57 PM
Whoah!! Crazy! I was totally unaware this was a circulated story!

Y'see, I was told a very similar story as having happened to MY UNCLE (he wasn't the one telling it). According to several family members, back when he used to be a sort of charter pilot courier guy, he was flying a body in a body bag, and due to some kind of pressure shift or something, the body sat up during flight, scaring the living (heh!) crap out said uncle.

I now begin to doubt the veracity of that story...

LC

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