Oh the internet, you give us hours of entertainment and insight into the world around us. Sadly you’re also the home of the misinformed and the gullible. There’s been a meme circulating the web for years showing a gravesite with an iron cage covering it, quite peculiar indeed till you read the text that accompanies it.
There’s a lot wrong with this meme. First off, the Victorians (1837-1901) were not as naive and terrified of the world around them as the generations before them. Many Victorians never heard of Vampires till in 1897 Irish author Bram Stoker published ‘Dracula’. After its publication, more Vampire stories showed up in works of fiction and still to this day.
Zombies, the odds of a common Victorian knowing about Haitian or West African lore was slim. To a common Victorian, a Zombie was just someone who was brought back to life after being dead for some time; perfect example of this would have been Mary Shelly’s ‘Frankenstein’ published in 1818, even then just like the African folklore and Shelly’s modern Prometheus, they did not spontaneously come back to life, they had help doing so may it be magic or science. The western world did not know what a Zombie was till 1929 with the book ‘The Magic Island’ by William Seabrook which was later adapted in the 1932 film, ‘White Zombie’.
Finally, these cages were not for keeping Vampires and Zombies in the ground, they were to keep the living out! During the Victorian era, people were obsessed with death and the scientific community’s studies into anatomy and medicine exploded. There was one big catch; in order to study anatomy and see how the body works you needed one thing…A dead body. Corpses were used not only for studying the human body but to teach the growing medical field. There was a demand for cadavers but a low supply of them, not everyone was willing to donate their loved one’s body to science and the only corpses you got were executed criminals which really controlled the supply of corpses. With that, a new kind of criminal was born, Grave Robbers. The wealthy were able to afford heavy cement boxes to deter the criminals. For those who were able to afford it, they settled for Mortsafes.
Mortsafes are iron cages that would go on top of a grave or actually enclose it. Mortsafes first appeared in 1816 in Scotland. The cage-like cover would either be just iron or iron mixed with stone; both ways resulted in a heavy cover that would be hard to move in the middle of the night. For more information and pictures of Mortsafes, you can find there here and here.