Saturday, March 11, 2023

Fact or Fiction? by Karla Stover


Fact or Fiction by Karla Stover

By the same author. Available through BWL Publishing Inc.

Murder on the Line

Murder" When One Isn't Enough

Wynter's Way

Parlor Girls

On July 30, 1908, The Caucasian, a North Carolina newspaper, had an article about Anne Hill Carter Lee, mother of southern general Robert E Lee. And 115 years later the truth of the story is still being debated.

Anne Lee, born on March 26, 1773 in Charles City County, Virginia was always unhealthy. For one thing she had lost the vision in one eye, the result of an accident with a pair of scissors. In 1857, while away at school, she became so sick with an intestinal problem she was sent home to recover. Anne and her mother often traveled to springs around the state for the curing benefits. She lived a life constant pain. Her headaches, dizziness, and intestinal troubles never went away and as an adult she required constant medical attention. However, it was catalepsy that almost cost Anne her life.

Catalepsy is a condition similar to narcolepsy: during an attack the body becomes rigid and completely inactive; it ignores all out side stimuli and the patient is mute. According to the newspaper article, in 1804, Annie Lee had a fever that would not subside. Then she fell into a trance and appeared to stop breathing, the attending physician declared her dead. Her body was prepared for burial and three days later Annie Lee was  laid to rest in the family vault. 

According to one web article, while standing alone at the grave site, her husband, Henry, heard her calling for help. He opened the casket and found her still alive. However, the newspaper article says that while the sexton was cleaning the site and readying flowers to place on Annie's casket he heard a voice calling for assistance. Though frightened, he stood quietly and listened until the voice became louder and he was able to determine that it was coming from Annie Hill's casket. Opening the casket, he found Mrs. Hill very much still alive. Henry took her home and put her to bed. Recovery was slow but steady and "15 months later she gave birth to the 5th of their 6 children. She had a son who became General Robert Edward Lee."

In the 19th century, patents for safety coffins to prevent this atrocity abound. Frans Vester's included an air filter and a bell; John Krichbaum's had a fresh air inlet and a pipe for the entombed to rotate; Fredredrerick Borntrager's coffin had a clock-work fan to force in fresh air and an alarm system, and to my mind at least very interesting, was the patent issued on December 29, 2015 to John Knight for what he called a "Your Music for Eternity" system. It has a solar powered digital music player with a speaker in the casket and a headset jack on the headstone so living can leave recorded messages and / or the deceased's playlist. 

Fact 1: in 2001, 2014 and 2020 people were erroneously declared dead

Fact 2: Silas Marner, Romeo and Juliet, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Fall of the House of Usher and many other pieces of literature included catalepsy. It was a much-loved plot device.


  1. What a strange disease and an interesting life

  2. Wow! How horrifying.... and to think people invented patents for this...


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