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Humans

Exploding Casket Syndrome And The King Who Burst Over His Mourners

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

clockApr 5 2022, 17:24 UTC
Once buried, not everyone stays that way

Once buried, not everyone stays that way. Image credit: Ingrid Pakats/shutterstock.com

There are many dignified ways to be disposed of after you die, from cremation or aquamation to being fired from a catapult at your enemies. However, for some unfortunate souls, being buried isn't the last that will be seen of them, thanks to their caskets exploding out their contents.

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In her "Ask a Mortician" YouTube series, mortician Caitlin Doughty explains that it happens when bodies are sealed a little too well into their final resting place. 

"You really want a decomposing body to have access to some sort of air so it can then dehydrate. But if it's one of those super sealed protective caskets, there's really no place for all of that gas and fluid to go and so the body can kind of turn into sort of a bog. Like, Creature from the Black Lagoon style."

The gas within the casket or mausoleum builds up, unable to escape until it explodes or cracks, spraying your mulch on the lid. 

"If it's a violent enough of a blow, it can even dislodge the marble front of the crypt," Doughty says in her video.

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She then shows a photograph she took of a front that had indeed been blown off in this way.

A messy end similar to this happened to the first Norman king of England: William the Conqueror. William sustained an injury while riding in battle, which pierced his intestines. As he slowly died, the people in his life—most of whom he had not treated well, and his son, who he was at actual war with—decided not to take on the matter of arranging his funeral. After he died, his body was left decomposing on a stone slab while waiting for someone to volunteer.

Eventually, a knight did take it upon himself, and transported the body a full 112 kilometers (70 miles) to Caen to be buried, as the body continued to decompose. The king, no longer occupied with matters of rule, now wiled away the hours by accumulating gas through decomposition.

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Upon arrival, a fire in the city warmed the corpse up some more and kept those gases expanding. By the day of the funeral, it was too bloated to fit into the sarcophagus. Undeterred by basic physics, like a toddler trying to ram a square toy through a circle-shaped hole, the gravediggers nevertheless attempted to cram him in there anyway.

It was at this point that the body blew, and “the swollen bowels burst, and an intolerable stench assailed the nostrils of the by-standers and the whole crowd”. The mourners got covered in dead king juice.


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