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Home Hoaxes Were Cages Placed Over Graves in Victorian Times to Trap the Undead?

Were Cages Placed Over Graves in Victorian Times to Trap the Undead?

by Brett M. Christensen

This story was first published on May 9, 2013 – Above image courtesy: Kim Traynor/Wikimedia Commons

Outline

Circulating message that features an image depicting a grave covered by a sturdy iron cage claims that the cages were used in Victorian times to keep vampires and zombies from escaping should they rise from the dead. 

Brief Analysis

The claim in the message is fanciful nonsense. In fact, the cages were used to stop grave robbers from stealing corpses for use by medical students and anatomists. The cages – known as mortsafes – were regularly used in Scotland in the early 19th century.

Example

Grave Crate Cover

This is a grave from the Victorian age when a fear of zombies and vampires was prevalent. The cage was intended to trap the undead just in case the corpse reanimated.

 

Detailed Analysis

This message, which features an image of a grave entirely covered by a heavy iron cage, circulates via blogs, forums and social media posts. According to the message, the cages were used in Victorian times as a means of keeping the “undead” from escaping their graves should the corpses reanimate. Supposedly, people of that era had a widespread fear of zombies and vampires. 

However, while the image itself is genuine, the explanation in the message is utter nonsense. In fact, the cages – known as mortsafes – were used to protect newly interred bodies from being stolen by body snatches. In the 18th and early 19th century, an increasing need for fresh corpses by medical schools fueled a burgeoning trade in bodies. Anatomists and medical students needed a constant supply of fresh bodies to practice on. Legitimate supplies of bodies, such as those of executed criminals, could not keep up with the demand. Enterprising people known as resurrectionists would thus dig up the bodies of the recently interred to supply this market. Because a supply of bodies was seen as vital to the advancement of medical science, authorities tended to turn a blind eye to the activities of the grave robbers. Bodies and body parts became a commodity.

Concerned family and friends of people who had died began to take measures to protect the graves of their loved ones. Mortsafes, invented around 1816, were one such measure. Mortsafes were mainly used in Scotland. The steel cages came in a variety of designs and were intended to make it difficult for grave robbers to get to the bodies. The mortsafes were often left on graves for a few weeks until the bodies they protected were sufficiently decayed so that they were no longer of interest to resurrectionists.

The Anatomy Act of 1832 in the United Kingdom meant that bodies could be more easily procured for medical dissection, although the stealing of corpses still continued for some years after.

Thus, as is often the case, it seems that some prankster has simply invented a fanciful tale to fit an interesting image. Ironically, as is also often the case, the real story is actually a lot more interesting than the made up one.

The Anatomy Act of 1832 in the United Kingdom meant that bodies could be more easily procured for medical dissection, although the stealing of corpses still continued for some years after.

Thus, as is often the case, it seems that some prankster has simply invented a fanciful tale to fit an interesting image. Ironically, as is also often the case, the real story is actually a lot more interesting than the made up one.


Importance Notice

After considerable thought and with an ache in my heart, I have decided that the time has come to close down the Hoax-Slayer website.

These days, the site does not generate enough revenue to cover expenses, and I do not have the financial resources to sustain it going forward.

Moreover, I now work long hours in a full-time and physically taxing job, so maintaining and managing the website and publishing new material has become difficult for me.

And finally, after 18 years of writing about scams and hoaxes, I feel that it is time for me to take my fingers off the keyboard and focus on other projects and pastimes.

When I first started Hoax-Slayer, I never dreamed that I would still be working on the project all these years later or that it would become such an important part of my life. It's been a fantastic and engaging experience and one that I will always treasure.

I hope that my work over the years has helped to make the Internet a little safer and thwarted the activities of at least a few scammers and malicious pranksters.

A Big Thank You

I would also like to thank all of those wonderful people who have supported the project by sharing information from the site, contributing examples of scams and hoaxes, offering suggestions, donating funds, or helping behind the scenes.

I would especially like to thank David White for his tireless contribution to the Hoax-Slayer Facebook Page over many years. David's support has been invaluable, and I can not thank him enough.

Closing Date

Hoax-Slayer will still be around for a few weeks while I wind things down. The site will go offline on May 31, 2021. While I will not be publishing any new posts, you can still access existing material on the site until the date of closure.

Thank you, one and all!

Brett Christensen,
Hoax-Slayer