In 16th century England, land for burial was sparse. Coffins were dug up and bones taken to the bone-house so that the grave could be reused. Upon opening the coffins, it was noticed that several had scratch marks on the inside. The realization that people were being buried whilst still alive led to the practise of tying a string on the wrist of the corpse, which was attached to a bell above ground, while a sentry sat in the cemetery overnight. This procedure generated several expressions which we use today: ‘saved by the bell’, ‘dead ringer’ and ‘the graveyard shift’.
It also led to a legend known as the ‘Lady with the Ring’. The story relates that a woman was buried while wearing a valuable wedding ring. Shortly after the burial, a grave robber intent on stealing the ring opened the grave. Unable to remove the ring he decided to cut off the finger with a knife, which caused the woman to awaken, surprising the robber. Versions of the story have been found to exist in almost every European country.
In Shankill Graveyard, Lurgan, County Armagh, Northern Ireland is the grave of Margorie McCall who it is believed was the victim of a premature burial. Margorie was wed to Dr. John McCall. They lived in Church Place, Lurgan.
Margorie fell ill and died in 1705 and was hastily buried to prevent the spread of the disease. The story continues with the attempted theft of the ring……when the robbers fled, Margorie climbed out of the grave and returned home. When she knocked on the door, her husband dropped dead of shock and was buried in the very grave she had just vacated.
The Public Records Office in Northern Ireland (PRONI) contains death records for nine Margorie McCalls in Lurgan, three of whom were married to a John McCall. However, no record is held of the death in 1705.
In the 1860s a local stonemason by the name of William Graham created a marker bearing the inscription Margorie McCall Lived Once, Buried Twice. The marker was erected at the base of Dr. John McCall’s gravestone in Shankill cemetery.
Died Once Buried Twice
There lowly beneath lonely sod,
A lady twice entombed,
Tradition has it noised abroad,
She was exhumed alive.
Her precious ring her finger bore,
From her bright wedding day;
And in death likewise wore
When buried in the clay.
But a foul thief to steal the ring,
Did cast the clay aside
And he to life did quickly bring
She who lately died.
For he should cut the finger round,
To gain the golden prize,
But when the blood flowed from the wound
She spoke and did arise.
And straight away to her home did go
In her dead robes so white;
Like a wandering spirit free from woe,
But doomed to roam at night.
And when she reached her husbands door,
She gave her well known knock
An he fell senseless to the floor,
Un-nerved by the strange shock.
Her children knew here gentle voice
And flew to her embrace;
And all the neighbours did rejoice,
But marvelled at the case.
But death at last took here away,
As he will sure take all
And not again to Judgement Day
Shall Rise Margery McCaull..