A City Vault

cityvault

The December 19, 1828 edition of the Albany Argus contained the following letter:

It has been suggested by several of our citizens that a large public building, for the deposit of our dead be erected in some convenient place contiguous to the city. An edifice of this kind, of a neat, durable and secure shape, having separate tenements or apartments for the various sects or societies, might be put up, at an expense easily defrayable. Each “friend” of the deceased, by interment in the vault, would save the expense of digging, sodding, and tomb, and therefore, could afford to pay $3 or $5 for each niche or coffin; and this (with the poor gratis) would shortly pay for the building. It might be done by individuals, the churches in union, or the corporation; perhaps the latter would be better owners, to prevent collisions or difficulties. Its benefits are obvious. The waste of ground and the other needless expense would be saved — The rattling of the rope, the thump of the sod, and the sight of the coffin sunk in the cold watery pit, may be prevented. The horrid burial before death will not occur, and the feeling friend, husband, or child my visit the sepulchre and see the coffin, knowing his wife or mother is there.

The letter was signed “BURIED ALIVE.”

The 19th-century fear of premature burial prompted the formation of a Society for its prevention, as well as the invention of various alarms, burial vaults with escape hatches, and other devices designed to prevent “burial before death” or to aid its supposed victims.  The vault as proposed in this letter (not too unlike modern community mausolea) was not built, though various churches and the city did maintain receiving vaults at the State Street Burying Grounds.

It’s interesting to note the emphasis placed on the description of the grave as watery at a time when the Albany Burying Ground was indeed troubled with flooding of newly opened graves as described in court testimony in 1840.

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