A credible backstory?
by Mike Kimel
Today is a travel day for me. I’m flying to Toronto to give a lecture on ensemble methods, a statistical approach which involves combining estimates produced by other methods. Its something I first worked on in 2001, and come to think about it, perhaps it deserves a post. But not today.
Today’s post, written a few days ago, isn’t about statistics or economics. In fact, I have no idea what it is is about, but I do want your opinion. What follows is absolutely true with any caveats being due to my poor memory.
In the late 1990s, I was living in Little Rock, AR, where, on weekends, I used to enjoy mountain biking. Once, while biking with a friend through the woods in the middle of nowhere (if memory serves, we weren’t even on a trail but rather biking down a dried up riverbed with no signs of civilization for miles around), we stumbled on a coffin. Said coffin was cheaply made of metal and showed clear signs of having spent quality time underground. But there were a couple other more notable things about the coffin. The first is that someone had clearly taken a sledgehammer to the front of the coffin and broken it open. I’m not sure why – I would have assumed that the coffin could have simply been opened by lifting the front cover. Another odd thing is that the coffin, which had spent some time underground, was empty. The interior lining was somewhat rotted, providing more evidence that it had spent time underground.
We looked at the coffin for a few moments, and then, wordlessly, got back on our bikes and went back the way we came. We never rode in that area again. The other night, I was thinking about this long ago episode and realized that though I pride myself as an individual who has a lot of imagination, I can construct no credible backstory for what I saw that day. Can you?
OK, here goes…
Watertight metal coffins, fastened securely with screws, are fairly common down south- my father was buried in one. During severe floods, some of these coffins are washed out of the ground, since many graveyards in rural areas are near watercourses, and they float very well. You found the coffin in a dry streambed…
My scenario- A humdinger of a flood washed the coffin out of an old graveyard upstream and it floated downstream like a canoe, one end first, repeatedly bashing into rocks until the leading end broke open. The remains, such as they were, washed away, and the coffin eventually sank, and has been sitting in the streambed ever since.
Does this seem plausible to you?
people have been stealing everything from downspouts to manhole covers to sell for scrap metal…maybe the corpse had gold fillings…
“Modern grave robbing in North America also involves long-abandoned or forgotten private Antebellum Period to pre-Great Depression era grave sites. These sites are often desecrated by grave robbers in search of old, hence valuable, jewelry. Affected sites are typically in rural, forested areas where once-prominent, wealthy landowners and their families were interred. The remote and often undocumented locations of defunct private cemeteries make them particularly susceptible to grave robbery. The practice may be encouraged by default upon the discovery of a previously unknown family cemetery by a new landowner.”
The style of the coffin could probably give you a good idea of how old it was and even what funeral home it came from. Nineteenth century coffins were kite shaped. Modern ones are all rectangular so that’s a clue to its age. Cynthianne and rjs’s theories sound good in some combination.
One way or another, the grave the coffin came from doesn’t appear to have had visitors. If someone was tending the grave, they’d be aware the coffin was gone and look for the missing coffin, more likely than not. Geneologists rely on maps of graveyards to identify the dates of birth and death of family members in country graveyards. A good number of them are known sites. So, based on the location of the streambed, you might be able to identify a possible source for the coffin. Cynthianne’s explanation of damage to the coffin during a flood sounds good. Sad thing to see. I understand why y’all wouldn’t go around that way again. NancyO
the theories so far sound good to me. but also, if you have a sledge hammer but no screwdriver, bashing would be the first thing you would think of.
not knowing the size and location of the hole, it’s hard to make any more plausible guesses. the coffin could always have been empty. or someone might have buried his bank robbery loot in it, and then came back later… you never know.
not being superstitious i would not have avoided the place. maybe would have called the cops… but i am superstitious about that.
I’d guess that it was the butler, who used a heavy hammer and, having brought the coffin to the barn which was by the creek, then bashed open one end of the box in hopes of finding the family jewels which were likely buried with the deceased, the colonel, by his wife, who was suspected of having done him in using a potion of deadly nightshade in a mint julip. The barn was at some later point knocked over by the over flowing creek which had become swollen in a down pour of epic proportions. The end of the box having been broken open caused the coffin to lose its boyancy causing it to sink and become fixed in the mire. It was probably no more complicated than that.
I thought it was Professor Plum who died from a stike on the head from a candlestick holder
Potentially. But the dent in the top of the coffin really looked sledge-hammerish. That said, time and nature can do odd things.
It wasn’t fear that what had been in the coffin was still hanging around, it was fear that who had done what had been done to the coffin was from the area. Violent nutjobs with crazy beliefs are best avoided in isolated places, particularly if those isolated places happen to be the stomping grounds of said violent nutjobs with crazy beliefs. And it occurred to both of us simultaneously that if a person dug up a coffin, used a sledgehammer to break it open, and then took away the corpse… they might just be a violent nutjob with a crazy belief.