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he most valuable thing that we have as humans is our own lives as well as the lives of those around us. Social norms and other priorities that we take upon ourselves can make us forget this simple yet crucial fact. Some of the simplest mistakes can end or take a life without even knowing. The same applies to Essie Dunbar who can be considered one of the luckiest humans to have ever walked on this Earth.

In 1915, Essie Dunbar who at the time was 30 years old, suffered from an epilepsy attack which everyone thought is what had killed her. Dr. Briggs of Blackville, South Carolina who attended Dunbar had given his professional verdict and declared the woman dead as he found no signs of life (not breathing, nor pulse).

Her corpse was placed into a wooden coffin and the coffin was arranged for eleven the following morning. Back in those times, funerals were done quite quickly as there was no need for much preparation. Dunbar’s sister lived in the neighboring town and she was informed late about the funeral as well as her sister’s sudden death.

The ceremony was quite longer than usual as not one but three preachers performed one by one. Sometime later the coffin was lowered into the six-foot-deep hole and filled with dirt, covering the coffin. Minutes later, Dunbar’s sister had arrived and she begged the preachers to dig out the coffin so she can see her sister one last time.

After some consideration, the ministers agreed to dig out the coffin. When the coffin lid was opened everyone was in shock as Essie Dunbar was looking at her sister with a lively smile. Dunbar was actually alive and if it weren’t for her late sister, she would have been buried alive. The three ministers fell backward into the grave, the shortest suffering three broken ribs as the other two trampled him in their desperate efforts to get out.

When Dunbar climbed out of the grave everyone ran, thinking she was a ghost of the dead. Since that day, everyone in Blackville looked at Essie Dunbar with suspicion, thinking that she is some sort of zombie. There isn’t a specific account from that period or any other contemporaneously published accounts about this event from this time, but there is a newspaper article from 1955 published in the Augusta Chronicle (25 August 1955), that mentions Dr. Briggs and how he incorrectly declared one of his patients (Dunbar) dead in 1915.

There is another account from a local physician that treated a minister who was affected by what they witnessed at the funeral:

BLACKVILLE, S.C. — Essie Dunbar, 70, has outlived the doctor who pronounced her dead 40 years ago. The Blackville Negro was picking cotton today, very much alive, even though her funeral was preached and her coffin sealed nearly half a century ago, The strange saga of her “death”, known to most of this south-central Carolina town’s older residents, was unfolded today to a Chronicle reporter by Dr. O.D. Hammond, a local physician who treated a minister who was injured as a result of the bizarre incident. (Quote from Augusta Chronicle/25 August 1955)

Since then, the story had been written forward by various magazines and news agencies around the world. One of the more interesting accounts is given by author Jan Bondeson who wrote a book entitled “Buried Alive: The terrifying History of Our Most Primal Fear”. Within the book, he mentions the story of Essie Dunbar. A more detailed depiction of the events from 1915 is given.

Within the book, there is also mention of primary sources such as elders from that period of time from South Carolina who have heard or even been at the funeral. The author also makes mentions that Dunbar became quite a well-known figure within the local community and that everyone knew the story about her being buried alive. Essie Dunbar died in 1955 at the age of 70 from natural causes. It is interesting how the story about “her first death” was only written in 1955 after her second and final death.

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