Skimming through a random selection on Project Gutenberg–the July 2, 1853 issue of Notes and Queries–I came across this weird little incident:
Curious Posthumous Occurrence.—If the following be true, though in ever so limited a manner, it deserves investigation. Notwithstanding his twenty-three years’ experience, the worthy grave-digger must have been mistaken, unless there is something peculiar in the bodies of Bath people! But if the face turns down in any instance, as asserted, it would be right to ascertain the cause, and why this change is not general. It is now above twenty years since the paragraph appeared in the London papers:—
“A correspondent in the Bath Herald states the following singular circumstance:—’Having occasion last week to inspect a grave in one of the parishes of this city, in which two or three members of a family had been buried some years since, and which lay in very wet ground, I observed that the upper part of the coffin was rotted away, and had left the head and bones of the skull exposed to view. On inquiring of the grave-digger how it came to pass that I did not observe the usual sockets of the eyes in the skull, he replied that what I saw was the hind part of the head (termed the occiput, I believe, by anatomists), and that the face was turned, as usual, to the earth!!—Not exactly understanding his phrase ‘as usual,’ I inquired if the body had been buried with the face upwards, as in the ordinary way; to which he replied to my astonishment, in the affirmative, adding, that in the course of decomposition the face of every individual turns to the earth!! and that, in the experience of three-and-twenty years in his situation, he had never known more than one instance to the contrary.'”
I suspect the gravedigger had no idea what had happened and, rather than appear ignorant in front of our nameless correspondent, invented this totally specious bit of insider knowledge on the spot. The only other possibility–discounting zombies–is that some medical authority in Bath had, as often as possible for at least twenty-three years, been overenthusiastic about declaring people dead. Stupid though it is, that idea will probably still keep me awake tonight.