#On This Day – Boxes

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

#OnThisDay

August 5, 1926 Harry Houdini was sealed in a submerged coffin in the pool of the Shelton Hotel, New York. Houdini remained locked in the coffin for ninety minutes, all thanks, so Houdini said, to controlled breathing. The Victorians, who did not put as much faith in their breathing techniques whilst buried in a coffin, had such a fear of being buried alive that they invented safety coffins. Perhaps heightened and encouraged by Edgar Allen Poe’s 1844 story The Premature Burial, about a man obsessed with being buried alive, accounts of supposedly genuine cases led to the invention of safety devices which could be incorporated into or fitted on coffins. Devices such as signalling devices which could ring bells above ground, or rise flags, odour tubes which allowed for putrid decaying scents to prove death, windows which obviously let people see into the coffins, and tubes which allowed for air to enter the coffin. Just to settle any disquiet – there are no documented cases of safety coffins working!

To find out what links coffins to memories, archives, sailor’s chests, Samuel Pepys, Daniel Defoe, plague and Liverpool Street Station, click listen to our podcast on boxes!

More Magazine Articles

#On This Day – The Study

30, 7, 2019 - 30th July is #PaperbackBookDay Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote many of his Sherlock Holmes .... Read More

Salisbury Cathedral Clock

18, 9, 2019 - The Ticking of a Clock It was not until the nineteenth century when clocks became the norm for .... Read More

#On This Day – World War II

25, 8, 2020 - #OnThisDay The British Red Cross was formed on 4 August 1870. Originally founded at a public .... Read More

Subscribe to our newsletter

Keep up to date with Histories of the Unexpected