In 1807 a local plantation-owner, Thomas Chase, purchased a family vault at Christ Church graveyard in south-west Barbados. That year Mrs Goddard, one of his relatives, was laid to rest there. Chase’s infant daughter, Mary Anna, was buried in 1808, and Dorcas, another daughter, followed in July 1812. When the vault was opened later in 1812 to receive Chase’s own body, Mary Anna’s coffin was found upended against the opposite wall, and the others had been flung about. Attendants set the coffins straight and sealed the vault.
When another baby from the family was buried in 1816, the vault was again found dramatically disordered, although sand on the floor remained undisturbed. The coffins were set out neatly again. But another family interment seven weeks later saw a repeat of the chaotic scene. Tales of evil spirits and the cruelty of Thomas Chase began to circulate.
A crowd gathered to witness the next burial in 1819. This time Lord Combermere, governor of Barbados, observed the havoc in the crypt. His wife’s diary records that he examined the building, supervised the rearrangement of the coffins, the re-sprinkling of sand on the vault floor, and the careful sealing of the heavy door, with “secret marks.”
On April 18, 1820, after noises had been reported from the vault, Lord Combermere returned to the graveyard. He found the seals unbroken and the door difficult to move. Yet again the coffins had been thrown about, and one had even damaged the stone wall. This time family members were so horrified that they removed all their dead to new graves, and the vault has remained empty ever since.
In England similar instances were reported near Bury St Edmunds in the eighteenth century and Stamford in the early 1800s. Flooding or earth tremors were suggested explanations. Other such disturbances occurred in 1844 on the Baltic Sea island of Saaremaa. Officials investigated thoroughly, and carefully sealed the vault, but noises and damage persisted until the bodies were placed elsewhere.
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