Grave bells indicated ‘the deceased’ were alive

NEW MATAMORAS -Most people wouldn’t a give second thought to a bell ringing.

But in the 19th century, a ringing bell could mean the dead weren’t.

Someone unintentionally buried alive would pull the string in the coffin to ring a bell at topside.

“The bell’s purpose was if they (unintentionally) buried you alive, you were supposed to feel around the coffin…for a string,” John Miller, president of the Matamoras Historical Society, said.

“You were supposed to ring that bell.”

Grave bells were believed to have been used at the Cooper Cemetery near the Monroe County line on Rinard Mills Road, Miller said.

It could be the origins behind the saying of ‘saved by the bell,’ he said.

Miller said usually a pipe led down through the ground and into the coffin. A string ran from the coffin and outside to the bell. People watched the cemetery just in case a bell was rung, then the person who had been buried alive would be rescued.

He said without more modern technology some people with very low pulse rates and breathing rates could more be buried alive. There was also no embalming.

“Often people were pronounced dead and they weren’t really,” Miller said. “You would wake up and you are in your grave. It makes the hair on your neck stand up.”

The story of the Cooper Cemetery bell has circulated for years between nearby residents. The evidence of a bell was reported to be a pipe sticking up from the ground next to one of the headstones in the back left corner of the cemetery. While the evidence of this pipe is no longer visible, its story lingers.

According to Miller, Cooper Cemetery was established in 1821 with its first burial of Nancy Pugh.

“There were no burials until 30 years later in 1851,” he said. “All three of them were late in the fall and this is where they got the name Cooper Cemetery.”

The next three burials were of Elisha Cooper, 60 at his death, Mary Cooper, 8, and John Cooper, 2.

The most recent burial was of Perley McKnight in November 2012.

Though Cooper Cemetery’s bell has long since disappeared without a trace, its legacy continues to live on.

Jim Moore, 61, of Little Hocking used to live near Cooper Cemetery in his youth. Though he hasn’t been around the cemetery for years, he still remembers hearing about and looking for the bell.

“I remember when I was a kid talking with dad,” Moore said. “He told me about it. The grave was kind of sunken in the back left corner of the cemetery. There was definitely something there my dad pointed out. It was like a hole with a pipe type of deal.”

Moore said the story of the cemetery’s bell has had a lasting effect.

“You know how when you’re a kid, it’s all kind of spooky,” Moore said. “It was always something I remembered. It’s kind of surprising and it’s just one of those things that’s just stuck in my mind.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today