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The Chase Burial Vault: The Family That Came Closer To Death

to show The Chase Family Burial Vault
The Chase Vault in the Christ Church Cemetery

We all weep for those who have gone to the grave. We weep for kings, governors, cultures, and that we hold dear. We would wish they were alive, meet them, and even shake their hand perhaps. But when the deceased prefer wandering about to sleeping their eternal rest, people begin to lose their minds. A similar happening took residence in Barbados of West Indies in the 19th century, which left the witnesses perplexed, intrigued, and exhausted. The Chase Family Burial Vault stands as the cornerstone to every urban folklore revolving around coffins and all that there is to do about them. The story had found its way to popular culture through anecdotes written by Thomas H. Orderson, the acting Rector of Christ Church when the sinister event unfolded.

The anecdotes wandered from article to article and paper to paper. From “The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction” by Reuben Percy to Nathan Lucas who swore to be present at the scene of the odd occurrence having written an unpublished personal account of the incident. Many have come forward over the centuries and asserted to have seen the vault for themselves or known someone who has. While no mystery is ever a mystery if it is solved, let us ponder upon the secrets the burrowing vault holds.

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A Tale Of Woe And Mystery

In the 1800s, Colonel Thomas Chase, a wealthy man, purchased an enormous crypt formerly built in 1724 for his family to lay their dead. The vault was set in the Christ Church Parish Church in Church Hill of Barbados. Misfortune struck him early and by February 1808, the earthly crib welcomed its first resident—Mary Chase—a baby. Soon, in July 1812, the Colonel’s teenage daughter, Dorcas Chase, rested with her sweet sister having starved herself to death. A month later, on the 9th, Colonel Chase, reportedly committed suicide and was confined to the vault as well. A metal coffin was commissioned that could test the strength of six grown men. The men took it to the crypt and when they returned they rattled a strange tale. The laborers spoke of the coffins being disturbed from their sites and turned upside down. The men had set the lead coffins right in the vault and the account was brushed off. In 1816, another two young members from the Chase family joined those before them. When the two lead coffins were being taken down, the men once again witnessed the disarray of the metal caskets. The word passed from mouth to mouth and the city was stricken with fear. One woman while visiting dead families of her in the cemetery, maintained to have heard monstrous voices from the Chase Vault.

to show Christ Church

Christ Church Parish Church in Oistins, Barbados of West Indies

The Case Of The Moving Caskets

The July of 1819, brought in another fresh death. The relative was brought to be laid but yet again, the tombs refused to sleep where they have been set. In their fashion, each was strewn around the crypt to its liking. Lord Combermere, the Governor of Barbados, who had gone down with the men was in no mood to be harassed by decaying bones that had no desire to stay in place. He had sand sprinkled around the coffins and the vault cemented shut, sealing it with his signet ring. He concocted it such that the culprit of the devious act could be caught the next time he breaks the seal. When the vault was opened for the last time in the April of 1820, though some believed it was much later, the men broke the untouched seal and tried to tread in. The boulder would not budge. After hours of heaving when the men could finally push it open they saw what had been defying their entry. The coffin. The men and Lord Combermere were baffled to see the utterly anarchic display of graves as opposed to the perfectly sealed entrance. The Governor had enough and ordered for the graves to be removed from the Chase Vault and be buried in different spots in the Christ Church Cemetery. General James Edward Alexander published the first official account of the incidents in 1833 in his book “Transatlantic Sketches”, following which new testaments were added in 1844 and 1860.

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Did The Dead Come Alive?

While the question is debatable with debtors ranging from professional exorcists to renowned skeptics, there have been many proposed causes for the strange happening. The earliest known has been earthquakes, but this was refuted because no other vault had faced these disturbances. Some assert floods, but the seal was claimed to be unsoiled when pried open in 1820. Others give a more innovative reason, they blame the slaves. As it happens Colonel Chase had a wicked reputation for having severely ill-treated his servants and slaves, over his lifetime people say that many even wanted to kill him, though none succeeded.

To show the movement of the tombs as published

The movement of the tombs as published in “Death’s Deeds” Folklore-A Quarterly Review, Volume 18 of 1907

Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the legendary Sherlock Holmes, speculated it to be the influence of animal magnetism to be involved. Animal magnetism, otherwise known as, mesmerism, was a theory suggested by Franz Mesmer, a German doctor, who believed all living things contain an invisible natural force—Lebensmagnetismus—akin to the soul which he thought of as having magnetic and healing properties but this vitalist theory was a radical “unscientific” claim and was soon discarded. On the other hand, skeptic Joe Nickell agrees with Andrew Lang, a Scottish folklorist who discovered that Rector Orderson’s anecdotes seem to have conflicting accounts and when investigated do not hold substantial. But, just because skeptics believe it to be untrue does not mean we do too, because we trust our readers to choose whether it is factual or all a hoax.

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I am an undergraduate in English Literature from Andhra Pradesh. I indulge in all things creative. I read manga and watch anime but I still love my period dramas. I'm also a video game enthusiast, always trying out something new.

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