Moving Coffins

Barbados, an island located at the easternmost edge of the West Indies, is the site of a strange story that some writers have treated as one of the great mysteries of the nineteenth century. The mysterious events in question, said to have taken place inside the Chase vault at Christ Church overlooking Oistin’s Bay, allegedly occurred between 1812 and 1819 or ’20 and involved the inexplicable movement of coffins. Each time when the vault was opened to bury a family member, all coffins but one had changed position. This had happened several times without explanation over a number of years. The Chase Vault was constructed for James Elliot around 1724. The vault was built such that it was partially underground. It was approximately 12 feet (3.7 m) long and 6 1/2 feet wide. However, Elliot was never interred there, and the vault remained empty until Thomasina Goddard was interred on 31 July 1807.

Sometime in 1808, the vault was acquired by the Chase family, a fairly wealthy and important clan in Barbados. Some writers state that the patriarch of the family, Thomas Chase, was one of the most hated men on the island. On 22 February 1808 the body of Thomas Chase's infant daughter, Mary Ann Maria Chase, was taken to the vault for burial. The vault was then opened on 6 July 1812 to bury Thomas Chase's other daughter, Dorcas Chase. Both Goddard's and Mary Chase's caskets were found to be undisturbed at this time. Both of the Chase girls were interred in heavy lead caskets. One month later, on 9 August 1812, the vault was opened again to accept the body of Thomas Chase himself. It was at this time that the caskets of the Chase girls were found to be displaced. The coffins were reordered and the entrance sealed.

The vault was opened again on 25 September 1816 to accept the body of another infant, Samuel Brewster Ames. The coffins, with the exception of Thomasina Goddard's, were again found to have been disturbed. Thomas Chase's coffin was supposedly so heavy, it took eight men to move it. Once again, the coffins were reordered, some of them stacked on others in the small vault, and the entrance sealed. On 17 November 1816, the vault was opened again to accept the body of Samuel Brewster. Once again, the coffins were found to be in disarray throughout the vault. For the third time, the coffins were moved back to their original positions and the vault sealed.

The vault was opened again on 17 July 1819, to accept the body of Thomasina Clark. Again, the coffins were found scattered. By this time, the mysterious incidents attracted the attention of local officials. Lord Combermere, Governor of Barbados, was reported to have attended Clark's burial. The Chase Vault was carefully examined by the Governor and his staff. No secret entrance into the vault was detected, and sand was scattered across the floor to detect any footprints. The coffins were reordered and Clark's wooden casket placed in the vault. It was reported that Goddard's wooden casket was falling to pieces, either through decay or because of the activity in the vault. The remains of her casket were tied together and placed against a wall. Finally, the vault was closed and the marble slab cemented in place. The Governor and his staff reportedly placed their official seals in the cement to ensure the integrity of the seal.

On 18 April 1820, some eight months after the burial of Thomasina Clark, the vault was ordered to be reopened. The seals were found to be intact, but when the entrance slab was moved the coffins, with the exception of Goddard's wooden casket, were again found to be in disarray. The sand on the floor did not show any kind of human activity within the vault. There was also no indication of flooding or earthquake. After this incident, the vault was abandoned, and the coffins were buried elsewhere.

Over time various versions of the story saw print. Even one of the alleged witnesses, the Rev. Thomas H. Orderson, the rector of Christ Church, gave conflicting accounts to inquirers. Other accounts were published in 1844 (Sir Robert Schomburgk’s History of Barbados) and 1860 (Mrs. D. H. Cussons’s Death’s Deeds).

Another moving-coffins story, however, could not have been based on the Barbados incident because it saw print before the West Indian events became known. The European Magazine for September 1815 related the case of “The Curious Vault at Stanton in Suffolk” in which coffins were “displaced” several times under mysterious circumstances.Nathan Lucas, one of the alleged witnesses to the final (1820) interment at the Chase Vault,mentions this English case, even quoting the article, in his privately written 1824 account.

A final tale is told by F.A. Paley in Notes and Queries, November 9, 1867, of an “instance which occurred within my own knowledge and recollection (some twenty years ago) in the parish of Gretford, near Stamford [England], of which my father was the rector. Twice, if not thrice, the coffins in a vault were found on reopening it to have been disarranged. The matter excited some interest in the village at the time, and, of course,was a fertile theme for popular superstition: but I think it was hushed up out of respect to the family to whom the vault belonged.” Paley quoted from an unnamed woman who claimed to remember the incident.

These documented nineteenth-century incidents have no twentieth-century equivalents, but they have attracted the attentions of such thoughtful latter-day writers as Lang, Rupert T. Gould, and Joe Nickell, who are responsible for the most thorough modern examinations. Of these writers, only Nickell comes to a firm conclusion. He argues that none of these incidents ever happened in the real world.

The only one for which much information is available, the Barbados episode, is loaded with symbols and phrases that Freemasons would recognize. Nickell,who had investigated an earlier Masonic hoax involving a tale of buried treasure, contends the Barbados story was fashioned around the Masonic allegory of a “secret vault” that, according to a Masonic text:
. . . in the ancient mysteries, symbolic of death,where alone Divine Truth is to be found. . . . We significantly speak of the place of initiation as “the secret vault,where reign silence, secrecy and darkness.”

It is in this sense of an entrance through the grave into eternal life, that the Select Master is to view the recondite but beautiful symbolism of the secret vault. Like every other myth and allegory of Masonry, the historical relation may be true or it may be false; it may be founded on fact or the invention of imagination; the lesson is still there, and the symbolism teaches it exclusive of the history.”

Along with other suggestive evidence, Nickell quotes these words from Lucas:
“I examined the walls, the arch and every part of the vault and found every part old and similar; and a mason in my presence struck every part of the bottom with his hammer and all was solid.”

Nickell remarks: In the Royal Arch degree of Masonry — to which the “arch” above may have been in cryptic reference (just as the “vault” suggests the “secret vault” which, in Masonry, is said to have been “curiously arched”) — there is a reference to the “sound of a hammer”.

According to Macoy’s Illustrated History and Cyclopedia of Freemasonry, “The blow of the Master’s hammer commands industry, silence, or the close of labour, and every brother respects or honors its sound.” Though based entirely on circumstantial evidence, Nickell’s speculations are intriguing and well argued. They are also, at this late date, unprovable.

Sources :
Unexplained! : “Strange Sightings, Incredible Occurences & Puzzling Physical Phenomena” by Jerome Clark;

Pics Sources :;
Unexplained! by Jerome Clark page 574


alf said...

i have to let my husband read your post. he likes stories similar to this one and history.

Mrs. Stevenson said...

hi thanks for visit!

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