#On This Day – Boxes

Saturday, August 5th, 2017


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

Queen Charlotte’s Zebra

10, 9, 2019 - An Unusual Wedding Present Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), wife of King George III of Great .... Read More

Colditz Castle

22, 12, 2019 - Colditz Castle In 1046, Henry III of the Holy Roman Empire gave the burghers of Colditz .... Read More

#On This Day – Trafalgar

4, 9, 2019 - #OnThisDay On the 4 September 1639 the state of Massachusetts banned drinking toasts, calling .... Read More

Subscribe to our newsletter

Keep up to date with Histories of the Unexpected