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  • In the dead of night sometime in the late 1700s, two masked Englishmen sneak into a

  • graveyard.

  • As thick cloud moves in front of an almost-full moon, they hop from headstone to headstone

  • on the way to their prize.

  • A Mrs. Crinklebottom has just passed away from a bad case of consumption, God bless

  • her soul, and her newly interred body is ready for the taking.

  • These couple of so-calledbody snatchersare aware that the corpse of dear Mrs. Crinklebottom

  • is worth a good bit of money if sold to the right people, so with empty stomachs they

  • have no qualms about resurrecting her.

  • Getting her out isn't hard, either.

  • In no time at all, the two men are chuckling as they carry the cadaver through the dark

  • streets of London.

  • After hearing that we're guessing you already have a good idea as to why graves might have

  • been dug six feet in depth.

  • Graverobbing was a job back in those days for some people.

  • It didn't require much skill and could earn a person a good living.

  • You might now ask, why rob a grave?

  • Surely there isn't a huge market for smelly corpses?

  • Well, there was back then.

  • Gravediggers, sometimes calledresurrectionistsorresurrection-menwere actually doing

  • the work that the government kind of wanted done.

  • You see, the medical profession was advancing very fast, but there weren't enough fresh

  • bodies around for a growing number of anatomists in the medical schools.

  • That's one of the reasons why the government only made stealing corpses a misdemeanor crime.

  • The medical men of the time would usually get their bodies from people who'd been

  • sentenced to death and also dissection.

  • But the thing was, this kind of sentence was reserved for only the very worst crimes.

  • There just weren't enough extreme crimes being committed, so the anatomists were always

  • short of bodies.

  • That's why they paid for them on the black market and why the government turned a blind

  • eye to the trade.

  • Of course, Mrs. Crinklebottom's devoted husband and family wouldn't have been too

  • happy about their beloved going missing in the night.

  • Back then, in all parts of Britain, families were aware that their loved one might be stolen.

  • That's why they'd sometimes guard over the grave for days, or pile big stones on

  • it, or even surround it with iron bars.

  • Still, those wily gravediggers were hard to stop.

  • Even if the grave was covered, they'd sometimes dig a hole close to it and then tunnel to

  • the coffin.

  • They'd then open the box and pull out the body, taking it back through the tunnel.

  • They could subsequently cover up their hole and the relatives of the deceased wouldn't

  • know anything had happened.

  • A day or two later, a bunch of bespectacled men with white beards would be brandishing

  • scalpels as they stood over an almost-fresh corpse.

  • It really was a big business.

  • You might have heard of two Brits named Burke and Hare.

  • They hatched a plan one day while sitting in a tavern over a few ales.

  • Why wait for people to die, they thought?

  • Why not just kill someone and then tell the guys at the medical school they'd dug the

  • body up?

  • That's exactly what they did, and the surgeons paid them hard cash for their victims.

  • It happened in the US, too.

  • Sometimes criminally-minded women would turn up at the poorhouses and shed rivers of tears

  • for the newly dead.

  • It was all an act, they just wanted the body to sell on.

  • The US was a bit behind Europe when it came to anatomical dissection, but it was catching

  • up, so it, too, had a body shortage problem.

  • So, corpses were snatched just like they were over the pond.

  • It was illegal, of course, but some people thought, well, it's for the greater good.

  • When a famous physician named Charles Knowlton was arrested for performing a dissection on

  • a body that he had no business cutting up, he defended his actions by saying the work

  • he was doing couldincrease the happiness, or diminish the misery, of mankind.”

  • He was probably right, but the public didn't really see eye to eye with the man.

  • Remember there were a lot of people who really didn't want their loved ones ending up on

  • the chopping block, never mind how good it might be for their future brethren.

  • Laws were eventually changed so that people could donate their bodies to science, but

  • before that happened, graverobbing was so serious that sometimes cemeteries had to be

  • guarded day and night.

  • That's one reason why the graverobbers sometimes turned to places called a “Potter's field”,

  • which is where the poor and unclaimed were laid to rest, usually in unmarked graves.

  • Even they might be guarded, but the guys stealing for the physicians could easily get around

  • that with a small bribe.

  • There was also the fact that some bodies were seen as fair game, just because they had died

  • poor and were seen as having a low social standing.

  • African-American bodies were sometimes stolen over poor white bodies, which in 1787 led

  • a group of free blacks to petition the local council in New York state.

  • They wrote, “Under the cover of night, they dig up the bodies of the deceased, friends

  • and relatives of the petitioners, carry them away without respect to age or sex, mangle

  • their flesh out of wanton curiosity and then expose it to beasts and birds.”

  • Slaves in the south were often dissected after death, as were criminals of any color who'd

  • been sentenced to death.

  • In all, graverobbing was a huge problem all over the US.

  • It was reported that yearly as many as 40,000 bodies were stolen for the purpose of advancing

  • medical science, and people weren't happy about it.

  • Sure, you could pay a fair bit of cash and buy what one company called, “Burglar proof

  • grave vaults made of steel”, but not everyone was wealthy enough to do that.

  • One simple and cheap solution was to bury the body farther down.

  • That's just one of the theories as to why bodies were buried that deep, although there

  • are more theories.

  • We thought you just needed to hear a little bit of the history of graverobbing.

  • Six feet is a lot of digging, so generally, people wouldn't have put the effort in when,

  • say, three or four feet would have done the job.

  • That was the case in the 17th century in England.

  • But then in 1665 something awful besieged the city of London.

  • This was called theGreat Plague of London.”

  • The city might have been bustling and one of the centers of the world, but it was also

  • overcrowded and filthy in parts.

  • This London plague killed around 100,000 people, which worked out at about a quarter of the

  • entire population.

  • That's why the authorities came up with a bunch of ways to try and prevent the spread

  • of the plague.

  • Believe it or not, they imposed a lockdown, but only on houses where it was thought people

  • were sick with the deadly disease.

  • When we say lockdown, it was more like being locked in.

  • If people were suspected of carrying the plague their house was basically locked up from the

  • outside on the order of the Justices of the Peace in Middlesex.

  • Many of the public, mostly the poor public, didn't much like this and they rioted in

  • the streets and opened up locked down houses.

  • This is what a well-known minister said in regard to how the public felt at the time:

  • Fear quickly begins to creep upon peoples hearts; great thoughts and discourse there

  • is in Town about the Plague.”

  • The rich of London got out of there, but most people were stuck, and as we said, many of

  • them died.

  • So, one of the things those people came up with to prevent the spread was to make sure

  • the dead bodies were well and truly buried.

  • A pamphlet was passed around at the time, with the title, “Orders Conceived and Published

  • by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London Concerning the Infection of the

  • Plague.”

  • There were quite a lot of orders indeed.

  • One of them was thatWatchmenwere to stand outside houses of the infected day and

  • night to ensure no one went inside.

  • Searcherswere hired to seek out infected persons, and they were followed byChirurgeons.”

  • That's an old word for a surgeon.

  • Social distancing measures were also put in place, withDinners at Taverns, Alehouses

  • to be stopped.

  • There were a lot more orders, but for the purpose of today's show we'll go straight

  • to the part headed, “Burial of the dead.”

  • Basically, people were ordered not to go anywhere near the corpse or even the grave of someone

  • who'd died from plague.

  • But the order also said this, “All the Graves shall be at least six-foot deep.”

  • So, possibly it was disease and that very order where the six feet thing originated.

  • Still, it wasn't exactly a strict science.

  • Often the victims of the plague were thrown into deep pits with lots of other people.

  • Word on the street is that another reason why six foot was the measurement of choice

  • was because if the grave was any more shallow the body might accidentally be relieved of

  • its resting place by a rather powerful plow.

  • On top of that, with a shallow grave there was a chance of an animal getting to the corpse.

  • But that still doesn't really explain six feet.

  • Why not 5.2 feet?

  • Surely even a Jack Russell Terrier in its prime could not get down that low.

  • Let's imagine that people did in fact want to bury bodies quite deep because of disease

  • or plows or even animals with strong claws.

  • The question then might be, just how low can you go?

  • Some people have suggested that back in the day someone came up with the idea that six

  • feet was about a deep as you could dig without the digging becoming dangerous.

  • They said any deeper than that and the walls might cave in.

  • On top of this, what about the poor gravedigger in the days before machines did the digging?

  • Not only would his job have been very dangerous had he dug down, say, seven feet, but if he

  • pushed it to ten feet he would have been asking for trouble.

  • For that reason, graves were dug to a similar depth as the person's height.

  • That way, he was likely not in danger and the hole was deep enough to prevent things

  • from happening that we've discussed.

  • He could likely even get out of the hole without the use of a ladder.

  • Then there was therule of thumbwhich as you know means making a rough estimate

  • without any kind of precision involved.

  • It's kind of doing what seems right.

  • In the case of graves, the rule of thumb might have been to bury the person down according

  • to their height.

  • Maybe a safe grave was as deep as it was long.

  • In the case of a man's average height back in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was something

  • like 165 cm (5 ft 5 in), in England at least.

  • A six-foot-ish grave might have made sense if you believe in the rule of thumb theory.

  • The saying is an old one and was likely used in the past, but these days gravediggers anywhere

  • in the world are not told to dig a grave exactly six feet.

  • In the US, there is no rule about six feet, with a grave being dug only as deep as the

  • local authority says it should be.

  • That depth will often be 30 to 36 inches above the coffin, which would work out at closer

  • to four feet or just a bit over in total.

  • It's the same in the UK, with most graves being dug so that three feet of space is above

  • the coffin once it's down there.

  • Coffins of course are not all the same size.

  • For some particularly obese people, a coffin can be super-sized.

  • That might also require a deeper grave.

  • It also depends on how people are buried.

  • For instance, in Pennsylvania, if there's a concrete vault it is written that thedistance

  • from parts of the top of the outer case containing the casket may not be less than 1.5 feet (18

  • inches) from the natural surface of the ground.”

  • In New York, if there's a concrete vault, it should be at least two feet from the surface

  • and if there is no vault then the distance should be three feet from the surface.

  • We actually found an academic paper titled, “Burial Practices in Southern Appalachia”,

  • which told us things like back in the day when someone was buried in those parts the

  • family would often throw into the grave, “jewelry, eyeglasses, tobacco, pipes, guns, knives,

  • toys, Bibles, and alcoholic beverages.”

  • The paper also said that those graves should be six feet deep, which was to prevent burrowing

  • animals from getting close to the coffin.

  • That was in the past, though.

  • These days the folks from Appalachia likely don't go six feet under.

  • Then you have the fact that sometimes coffins are stacked on top of each other, so in some

  • cases, the grave will be way deeper than six feet.

  • All in all, it's unlikely when you pass, you'll be resting deep down in the ground,

  • but will be closer to pushing up daisies.

  • Now you need to watch, “Best Evidence of Life After Death.”

  • Or, have a look at...

In the dead of night sometime in the late 1700s, two masked Englishmen sneak into a

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Why Graves Are Actually Dug 6 Feet Deep

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    Summer posted on 2021/07/02
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