Monday, October 30, 2006

"Scratch marks on the lid of a coffin"

For Halloween, I dug deep into the ancient cobwebbed temples of the first epoch of hypertext.

In the mid-1990s, the prescient creators of saw the potential of the Internet to allow ninnies and rogues to misinform the entire world. They quickly set themselves to setting the record straight. (Nonetheless, Americans elected the Bush/Cheney ticket twice.) Back in the days when people readily believed Bill Gates was going to send them $1000 or that a vacation to New Orleans would end in their waking up in a tub full of ice with their kidneys removed, the Snopes crew assembled a giant trove of research and analysis on urban legends, each tale signed off with a bad pun. (After debunking the legend that rhythmically coughing during a heart attack increases your chances for survival, the author signed off as "Barbara 'from coughing to coffin' Mikkelson").

The stories were outrageously entertaining and mostly false. Some, however, were true, like this chilling entry from 1999, "People have been buried alive by mistake." Here is just one of several cases from that entry:

In the early 17th century, Marjorie Elphinstone died and was buried in Ardtannies, Scotland. When grave robbers attempted to steal the jewelry interred with her, the deceased surprised the heck out of them by groaning. The robbers fled for their lives, and Elphinstone revived, walked home, and outlived her husband by six years.

This used to be comparatively common. In the 19th century, many people specified in their wills special tests to establish beyond all doubt that they had truly bought the farm. Snopes says embalming makes premature burial nearly impossible today. But what if the embalmer is...


Happy Halloween! Sleep tight, and don't let the bedbugs (which are more plentiful than ever in New York City these days) bite...

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