Posted by ESC on March 11, 2003
In Reply to: Cryptic Tales posted by S. Ryan on March 06, 2003
: : : : Why are people buried "Six Feet Under" Ground? why Six?
: : : Perhaps to allow several burials on one site.
The common practice in Britain until the early Victorian times was to reuse graves
without always removing the previous occupant(s)! Church grave yards became the
site of numerous scattered bones. As a result the law was changed to allow burials
to take place in non-consecrated ground - the Victorian public cemetery was born.
Never-the-less, the custom of burial six feet down continued. Today only two burials
are allowed in one family grave; thus the first has to be deep enough to allow
the second. Since almost all of our cemeteries are full in Britain, then most
people are cremated and their ashes scattered. A few years ago I was able to purchase
a plot in my local beautiful Victorian cemetery for my father - it was one of
7 newly discovered unused plots.
: : : In Germany and other countries the system is different and the graves are reused every 25 or 50 years - the bones are placed in a charnell house.
: : : How do I know all these things? I'm a pathologist with a German wife!
: : Just between us...there was an argument at a family funeral about the depth of the grave. I am changing the names to protect the guilty.
: : Before his death, John asked his nephew Sam to make sure his grave was at least six feet deep. John said he didn't want to be "buried on top of the ground like a cow."
: : After John died, Sam talked to the gravediggers and was assured that the grave would be dug properly. Right before the funeral he checked and found out he'd been lied to. I won't go into what happened next but it wasn't pretty.
: : In New Orleans, because the city is actually built below sea-level, graves and crypts were above ground. Due to the summer heat and humidity the corpse would decompose rapidly and the remaining remains would simply be pushed to the back of the crypt where they would fall through a slot in the floor and collect in a lower compartment. The crypt was then ready for its next occupant. Imagine the confusion on "Judgement Day!"
I bought a new book over the weekend and found another reason for deep burial:
"In Northern Europe, drastic measures served to prevent the dead from haunting the living. Frequently, a dead man's body was bound and his feet and head were amputated.While burial six feet underground was viewed as a good precaution, entombment first in a wooden coffin was even safer. Nailing down the lid afforded additional protection." From "Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things" by Charles Panati (Harper & Row, New York, 1987. Reissued 1989)