The Moving Coffins of Barbados

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An old tale tells of coffins that jumbled themselves up in a crypt in Barbados.

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read podcast transcript below or listen here

It was 1812 when wealthy landowner Colonel Thomas Chase died by his own hand on the island of Barbados in the Lesser Antilles. He was not a well loved man, and was known for excessive cruelty to his slaves and his bad temper. His body was borne to the family vault he’d purchased some twelve years before, which already contained the remains of two of his daughters. The great marble slab covering the stairs down into the vault was moved aside, and eight strong men bore the heavy, lead lined coffin into its resting place. But a horrifying surprise awaited the burial party. Sometime within the preceding month, the coffins in the vault had all been moved, and were found scattered helter-skelter about the small stone-walled crypt. So goes the story of the moving coffins of Barbados.

The story goes on to say that on four other occasions, from 1816 through 1820, the Chase Vault was opened and again the coffins had all been moved around. Each time they were carefully replaced, the vault was sealed, and not once was any evidence of tampering found.

[ . . . ]

The Chase Vault

The Chase Vault

… the Chase Vault’s first known occupant, Thomasina Goddard, was buried in 1807. She was left in place when Thomas Chase purchased it, at the death of his daughter Mary Ann Maria Chase in 1808. Sadly he had to bury a second daughter, Dorcas Chase, in 1812. It was only a month later that he died himself, and it was this opening of the vault that first revealed the apparent vandalism.

The infant Samuel Brewster Ames was buried there in 1816, and once again, the coffins had been scrambled. Thomas Chase’s coffin was said to be leaning head-down against the wall. The coffins were properly stacked and the vault was closed again, but two months later when the adult Samuel Brewster was laid to rest, it was again found in disarray. When the Chase Vault accepted its final occupant, Thomasina Clark, in 1819, it was again found disturbed. This time, officials took notice. The vault was inspected and found to be solid with no secret passages or other access. A plan was made to later open the vault to check for integrity. Sand was raked smooth on the floor to capture any footprints. The marble slab covering the stairs was cemented in place, and several government officials — including the governor Lord Combermere — were said to have placed their official seals in the cement.

In 1820 the vault was duly opened. All was undisturbed including the sand and the seals, except the coffins, which were — as before — irreverently scattered and tumbled atop one another. The coffins were all removed and buried separately, and the vault was left open and unsealed, where it remains to this day.

The story looks pretty solid. The vault is there, and the death records are on file. The only thing that’s missing is any evidence that anyone was placed in the vault — ever.

So where does the story come from?

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