Before the 1830s, British medical colleges could legally use only the bodies of executed criminals for dissection in their anatomy classes. When those were in short supply, body-snatchers known as “resurrection-men” stepped in to fill the gap, digging up freshly buried corpses from cemeteries and selling them to medical schools. Then Parliament passed the Anatomy Act of 1832, allowing licensed medical schools to use unclaimed or donated corpses, which ensured a steady supply of legal cadavers and ended the ghoulish black market trade forever.
But in 1896, before the practice passed entirely from public memory, James Blake Bailey, librarian of the Royal College of Surgeons, published The Diary of A Resurrectionist, “an actual record of the doings of one gang of the resurrection-men in London.” The book included what may be history’s only firsthand account of what it’s like to be buried alive and live to tell the tale. If John Macintire’s story could be believed, Bailey wrote, “the resurrection-men sometimes performed a valuable service to those who had been buried.” The following is Macintire’s account of his experiences, as told to Bailey.
Check out the rest of Buried Alive: A Die Witness Account