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Premature Burial: Your Worst Nightmare Come to Life

I am an author and paranormal enthusiast who has published numerous books and articles on the subject of true unexplained phenomena.


A Real Concern

A long time ago, before you were born, it was not always easy to distinguish between a person who was passed out and one who had drawn their last breaths. As a result, being buried alive was a very real fear for some. After all, what could be worse than being trapped inside a tomb waiting for a rescue that will never come?

In the early 1900s, premature burial happened more often than one would think. In the years before embalming became standard procedure, if an individual's breathing was too shallow to be detected, physicians often assumed that they were no longer living. With no reliable safety nets in place, death was declared and the body was released to the undertaker.

It was only later on when the unfortunate party's remains were exhumed for one reason or another that the error was discovered. When this occurred, scratch marks on the interior of the casket, broken fingernails and contorted limbs told the story of the hapless victim's futile struggle to survive.

Some people, terrified of being mistakenly interred, took precautions to safeguard themselves against such a ghastly end. One of them was Indiana resident Martin Alonso Sheets who had been tormented by the thought of being buried alive for as long as he could remember. The obsession had weighed so heavily on his mind that he prepared in advance for an event that he was convinced was inevitable.


Home Away From Home

Sheets knew from the get-go that being placed underground wasn't for him. To make certain that he would remain above the earth, he purchased a mausoleum in which to spend eternity. Located in Highland Lawn Cemetery, the tomb was designed to suit the refined tastes of its future occupant.

Equipped with a chair, table, bottle of whiskey and a tall glass from which to drink, the crypt was intended to be a place in which Sheets could enjoy a leisurely wait in the event that he somehow awoke from death.

Being surrounded by creature comforts was important to Sheets, but he knew that it would all be for naught if he couldn't make his plight known to the outside world. With that in mind, he added the final and most essential item: a working telephone.

Sheets' plan was simple and straightforward. Should he happen to wake up and find himself entombed, but very much alive, he would first dial a cab and then phone his wife and inform her of his dilemma. While he waited patiently for help to arrive, he would pour himself a stiff drink, recline in his easy chair and take the whole situation in stride.

Confidant that he had covered all his bases, Sheets went on to live a productive, relatively uneventful, life. When his time came, he passed quietly with his loved ones by his side. Following a memorial service, his body was sealed inside the resting place of his creation. What happened after that is as chilling as it is mysterious.


Hello, It's Me

Three years after Sheets' passing, his widow Susan was found dead on the floor of the home they had once shared. Just off to the side of her prone figure lay the telephone receiver. It was later determined that she had suffered a fatal heart attack.

Arrangements had been put in place long ago for Mrs. Sheets and her husband to be reunited in the mausoleum, along with a child they had lost in infancy. As cemetery workers entered the vault in preparation for placing her body alongside that of her departed spouse, they made a shocking discovery.

To their horror, the men carrying the remains of Mrs. Sheets saw that the telephone that had been installed as a failsafe was off the hook. Without going into detail, they also claimed to have observed things that led them to believe that someone had been making use of the lounging area.

No one, other than the dearly departed Mr. Sheets, had been inside the vault in the years following his interment. There would have been no need. That being said, it was apparent to those present that day that, at some point, someone had attempted to make a phone call. The question, of course, was who.

It wasn't long before word got out of the puzzling find. Given that Mrs. Sheets had outlived her husband by a number of years, it seemed unlikely that he had reached out to her in the days following his burial. If such a thing had occurred, she surely would have mentioned it to someone. It was for this reason that some speculated that the call had been placed, not at the time of his death, but just prior to hers.

Lennie Snyder, who holds the title of Superintendent of Cemeteries for the city of Terra Haute, Indiana has publicly confirmed that the unbelievable tale is in fact true. Even so, he offers no theories as to what may, or may not, have taken place within the confines of the crypt. How the handset managed to disengage from the cradle, which could not have occurred naturally, remains a mystery to this day.

Is it possible that Mrs. Sheets' death was precipitated by an unexpected communication that was so frightening that it caused her heart to stop beating? Such a notion would be ridiculous if not for the discoveries made inside the mausoleum.

Perhaps the locations in which the telephone receivers were found, one beside the body of the doomed Mrs. Sheets and the other lying on the floor of the crypt that held her husband's remains, was coincidental. The alternative, which is that the widow received a long-overdue phone call from beyond the grave, is surely too much to entertain.

These baffling events took place in 1929. Nearly a century later, the story of the husband and wife, forever connected by an enigmatic phone call, lives on in the annals of Wabash Valley folklore. To add to its allure, it was revealed that the telephone's service had been cut off following Sheets' death after locals sued to have the unsightly wires running into the tomb removed. The device itself had, however, remained.

In spite of that minor setback, everything worked out in the end. With the family back together again in the grave, it was assumed that Mr. Sheets' days of needing an outside line were finally over.


·tribstar.com-Tribune Star


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