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11 People Who Turned Up Alive at Their Own Funeral

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by Simon Brew

Picture the scene: You’re at a funeral, or are in the process of arranging one, when the person who’s supposed to be in the coffin turns up to see what’s going on. Stuff of imagination? More often than not, yes. But sometimes, it really does happen.

1. THE MAN MISTAKENLY IDENTIFIED BY HIS BROTHER

Gilberto Araujo of Brazil was pronounced dead back in 2012, after his body had been identified at the local morgue by his brother. Family members of the 41-year-old were standing alongside his coffin in mourning when Araujo turned up at the door.

The untimely funeral was a case of mistaken identity: Araujo worked as a car washer in the town of Alagoinhas, Brazil, where there had been a murder. That murder took the life of another car-washer, who apparently looked like Araujo—hence his brother’s confusion. We can only imagine the two weren’t very close.

2. THE WOMAN WHO CONFRONTED THE HUSBAND WHO’D ORDERED HER DEAD

The story of Noela Rukundo made headlines around the world in 2016. A resident of Australia, she had returned home to Burundi to attend the funeral of her stepmother. Unbeknownst to her, her husband had arranged hitmen to take her life while she was there, and they duly grabbed her.

However, these were hitmen with a heart. When they realized her own husband had ordered her killed, they gave Rukundo her freedom and she flew home, approaching her husband at her own funeral to confront him about his plan. He was sentenced to nine years in prison at the end of 2015.

3. THE CHINESE MAN WHO STAGED HIS OWN FUNERAL

Zhang Deyang was 66 years old when he decided to stage his own funeral. He arranged it himself, wondering how many would turn up given that he had never married and had no children. There was a particular reason for his concern—in Chinese culture, the dead are said to have needs, and their graves are supposed to be visited regularly to ensure those needs are met.

In the event, 40 invitees turned up at Deyang’s funeral, along with several hundred others. Yet he wasn’t happy: 20 relatives and friends didn’t show up. “I can’t believe so many relatives and friends don’t care about me,” he was quoted as saying.

4. THE SERBIAN MAN WHO THANKED PEOPLE FOR ATTENDING HIS FUNERAL

There’s more than one example of someone who arranged their own funeral just to see who would turn up. In 1997, Serbian pensioner Vuk Peric posted a fake death notice in his local newspaper, and sent invites to his funeral. He then watched the event from a distance, eventually emerging to reveal that he was, indeed, alive. He thanked the mourners for attending.

5. THE MAN WHO GOT TWO MORE WEEKS.

Seventy-eight-year-old Walter Williams of Mississippi was pronounced dead on February 26, 2014. As CNN reported, the correct paperwork was completed, his body was put into a bodybag, and he was taken to a funeral home.

Yet Williams didn’t make it to his funeral, because when his body was taken to the embalming room, his legs began to move. Then, the coroner noticed him lightly breathing. Williams was alive.

It was, as it turned out, a short-lived reprieve. Just over two weeks later, he passed away for real. The family double-checked. “I think he’s gone this time,” confirmed his nephew.

6. THE REAWAKENING THAT INSPIRED A HOLIDAY

The village of Braughing in Hertfordshire, England, celebrates "Old Man’s Day" on October 2 each year. The tradition dates back to 1571, and the funeral of a local farmer by the name of Matthew Wall. On the way to his funeral, though, one of his pallbearers dropped his coffin.

It’s a good thing he did, because the jolt promptly woke up Wall up. The farmer would live for over two decades more, finally passing away in 1595. His coming back to life continues to be cause for celebration in Braughing.

7. THE BISHOP WHO WOKE UP AFTER TWO DAYS

Nicephorus Glycas was a bishop working in Lesbos, Greece, when he was declared dead on March 3, 1896. In accordance with tradition, his body was left on display in the Methymni church.

It was on the second night of what was known as "the exposition of the corpse" that things took a turn. For Glycas sat up, reportedly demanding to know what all the fuss was about. Turned out, he’d just been having a long nap.

8. THE MAN WHO TURNED UP DRUNK AT HIS OWN FUNERAL

When Ecuadorian man Edison Vicuna went missing for three days, his friends and family assumed the worst. Especially when the body turned up of a man whose face had been severely disfigured following a car accident. A post-mortem was performed, and the corpse was confirmed to be Vicuna’s.

Only it wasn’t. In fact, come his funeral, Vicuna turned up, drunk, causing mourners to scream in horror. The funeral, as you might expect, was halted, and the body was returned to the morgue, where it was properly identified as belonging to someone entirely different.

9. THE WOMAN WHO WOKE UP—THEN DIED FOR REAL

When Fagilyu Mukhametzyanov of Kazan in Russia collapsed at home following a heart attack in 2011, she was quickly rushed to her local hospital. But the journey was apparently in vain; she was soon declared dead.

This story that follows, though, has both good and bad sides to it.

The good part? She was alive. A few days later, as she was lying in her coffin at her own funeral, she woke up. She saw the mourners around her, crying and praying for her, and quickly twigged to what was happening. She reportedly—and understandably—began yelling, and was quickly rushed back to hospital.

However, the shock of what had happened took its toll. As her husband Fagili Mukhametzyanov recalled, “her eyes flapped. However, she just lived for an additional 12 minutes in intensive care prior to dying once more, this time permanently.” Heart failure was ultimately registered as the cause of death.

10. THE MAN WHO TURNED UP TO THE LAST DAY OF HIS FUNERAL

When a government airstrike killed over 100 people near Damascus, Syria last year, one of the casualties was seemingly Mohammed Rayhan. He had been at the local market, which took the force of the blast, and was apparently dead, buried under rubble.

That turned out to be only half-true.

Rayhan’s family and friends organized his funeral, which went ahead a few days later without the corpse. But said friends and family got a very pleasant shock when the man himself turned up at it. Rayhan had been buried under the rubble following the explosion for 36 hours, but eventually managed to free himself. When he arrived at his funeral, he was still covered in the remnants of the rubble in his hair and beard.

11. THE WAITER WHO RETURNED TO LIFE

Twenty-eight-year-old Hamdi Hafez al-Nubi worked as a waiter in Luxor, Egypt back in 2012. It was while he was working one day that he had a heart attack, and apparently perished. He was declared dead, and his family took the body home, washed it according to Islamic traditions, and readied it for his burial at the end of the week.

The fact that al-Nubi was actually alive was spotted by the doctor sent to sign the final death certificate. He took a closer look at the body when he noticed it was still warm, and discovered that al-Nubi was still breathing. He quickly alerted the man’s mother, and what was set to be his funeral turned into a celebration instead.

All photos via iStock.

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politics
The Secret Procedure for the Queen's Death
Chris Radburn—WPA Pool/Getty Images
Chris Radburn—WPA Pool/Getty Images

The queen's private secretary will start an urgent phone tree. Parliament will call an emergency session. Commercial radio stations will watch special blue lights flash, then switch to pre-prepared playlists of somber music. As a new video from Half As Interesting relates, the British media and government have been preparing for decades for the death of Queen Elizabeth II—a procedure codenamed "London Bridge is Down."

There's plenty at stake when a British monarch dies. And as the Guardian explains, royal deaths haven't always gone smoothly. When the Queen Mother passed away in 2002, the blue "obit lights" installed at commercial radio stations didn’t come on because someone failed to depress the button fully. That's why it's worth it to practice: As Half as Interesting notes, experts have already signed contracts agreeing to be interviewed upon the queen's death, and several stations have done run-throughs substituting "Mrs. Robinson" for the queen's name.

You can learn more about "London Bridge is Down" by watching the video below—or read the Guardian piece for even more detail, including the plans for her funeral and burial. ("There may be corgis," they note.)

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Nicole Garner
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History
How One Widow's Grief Turned a Small Town Into a Roadside Attraction
Nicole Garner
Nicole Garner

Like many small towns, the southwest Missouri town of Nevada (pronounced not as the state, but as Nev-AY-duh) loves to tell tales. Incorporated in 1855, the 8000-person city was once a railroad hub and a former home to the outlaw Frank James, the elder brother of the more infamous Jesse James. But the one story Nevada residents love to tell above all others isn't about anyone famous. It's about an atypical above-ground grave in the town's oldest cemetery, the man who's interred there, and how he can't get any rest.

Scan of the Nevada Daily Mail from March 4, 1897.
Nevada Daily Mail; March 4, 1897.
Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.

On March 4, 1897, the body of a young man was found near Nevada, Missouri, apparently struck by lightning. The local newspaper, the Nevada Daily Mail, printed the story of his death that evening right next to the news that William McKinley had been sworn in as president that day; a bold-faced headline declared "Death Came Without Warning," and noted “His Clothing Torn From His Body." A reporter at the scene described how the body, which was found around 11 a.m., was unrecognizable at first. Eventually the young man's father identified him as Frederick Alonzo "Lon" Dorsa, and the coroner determined that an umbrella was the cause of Lon's electrocution.

Lon left behind a widow whose name was never mentioned in newspapers; to this day, other printed versions of the Dorsas' story omit her identity. But she had a name—Neva Dorsa—and her grief led her to commission a singularly peculiar grave for her husband—one that would open her up to years worth of ridicule and also make their small town a roadside attraction.

A funeral announcement in the Daily Mail noted that undertakers had prepared Lon's body in a "neat casket" before a funeral service set for March 7. A follow-up article the next day read that Lon's funeral was widely attended, with a large procession to the cemetery and burial with military honors. His widow—whose name was determined from a marriage license filed at the Vernon County courthouse showing that Lon married a Neva Gibson on February 12, 1895—had gone from a newlywed to a single mother in just two years.

But, Lon's first interment was temporary. Neva had arranged a grand resting place for her husband, which wasn't ready in the short time between his death and the funeral. Modern newspaper retellings of Lon and Neva's tale say she ordered a large, above-ground enclosure from the Brophy Monument Company in Nevada. A large piece of stone—some accounts say marble while others suggest limestone or granite—was shipped in via railroad car. When it arrived, the stone was too heavy to move, so a local stonecutter spent more than a month chiseling away before the piece was light enough to be pulled away by horses. A wire story described the stone tomb as being "12 feet long, 4 feet wide and 5 feet high. Its weight at completion was 11,000 pounds."

Before Lon’s body was placed inside, Neva made a few key additions—specifically a hidden pane of glass that let her view her husband:

"A piece of stone, covered to represent a bible [sic], is the covering of the aperture. It can be lifted easily by the widow's hand and when Mrs. Dorsa's grief becomes unusually poignant, she goes to the cemetery and gazes for hours at a time upon the face of her dead husband."

The Daily Mail covered the second tomb's installation with morbid attention to detail on May 6, 1897, precisely two months after Lon was initially buried:

"When the grave was opened this morning the coffin looked as bright and new as when buried but it had water in it which had at one time nearly submerged the body. The remains looked perfectly natural and there were no evidences of decomposition having sat in—no odor whatover [sic]. A little mould [sic] had gathered about the roots of his hair and on the neck, otherwise the body looked as fresh as when buried."

The newspaper called the tomb a "stone sarcophagus" and noted that Neva was there to examine her husband's corpse and watch the reburial of his remains. There was likely no inkling from those present, or the community who read about it in that evening's paper, that Neva had designed the tomb with unexpected and usual features, like the pivoting stone Bible that would reveal Lon's face below when unlocked and moved.

Instead, the newspaper suggested that the "costly mousoleum [sic] provided for the reception of his remains is the tribute of her affection."

Lon Dorsa's grave.
Lon Dorsa's grave at Deepwood Cemetery in Nevada, Missouri.
Nicole Garner

Following Lon's re-interment, Neva managed her grief by visiting her deceased husband regularly. Her home was near his grave—the 1900 U.S. Census listed her as a 25-year-old widow living on south Washington Street in Nevada, the same street as the cemetery—and three years after her husband's death, she was employed as a dressmaker, working year-round to provide for their young children, Beatrice and Fred.

By 1905, a new wave of public scrutiny hit the Dorsa (sometimes spelled Dorsey) family when the details of Neva's specially designed, above-ground grave began circulating. It's not clear who reported the story first, but the Topeka Daily Capital, published across the Kansas border 150 miles from Nevada, published a piece, which eventually spread to The St. Louis Republic. Early that spring, the same story was printed in the Pittsburgh Press, a Chicago church publication called The Advance, and in the summer of 1906, a description of Lon Dorsa's crypt had made it nearly 1000 miles to the front page of the Staunton Spectator and Vindicator in Staunton, Virginia:

"The strangest tomb in America, if not in the world, is that which rest the remains of Lon Dorsa in Deepwood cemetery, Nevada, Mo. It is so constructed that the widow can look upon her deceased husband at will, by the turning of a key in a lock which holds a stone Bible just above the remains."

Articles at the time noted that Lon's remains were in an airtight tomb and that scientists supposedly told Mrs. Dorsa that her husband's body would be well-preserved in those conditions, but decomposition had already taken place: "It [the body] has turned almost black, but the general outline of the features remains unchanged."

According to a 1997 walking tour pamphlet of Deepwood Cemetery, it wasn't long before community members caught on that Neva visited the cemetery all too often: "Fascinated children hung about to watch the lady arrive in her buggy. If she saw them, she'd go after them with a whip, shrieking like a madwoman …" the guide stated. Eventually, "her family had the pivot removed and the Bible cemented down."

Local lore suggests that the publicity and Lon's deterioration drove Neva to insanity. Some say she ended up in an asylum and died soon after—a fairly believable tale, considering Nevada was home to one of the state's hospitals for mental illness. However, a list of Deepwood Cemetery lot owners, found at the Vernon County Historical Society, doesn't have a burial space for Neva.

A more likely explanation—based on a listing on Find a Grave, a website that indexes cemeteries and headstones, and which matches Neva's personal information—suggests she simply remarried and moved to California. The California Death Index, 1945-1997, shows that a Neva (Gibson) Simpson died Dec. 30, 1945 in Los Angeles. The birth date and place match those of Neva (Gibson) Dorsa.

Newspaper clipping featuring a picture of a skull.
Nevada Daily Mail, Nov. 30, 1987. Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.
State Historical Society of Missouri

Wherever Neva ended up, Lon's body didn't exactly rest in peace. In July 1986, vandals broke into the town's most famous tomb and stole his head. It was recovered the following year in a Nevada home, but law enforcement and cemetery caretakers noted that the stone Bible, which had been cemented down for some time, was periodically ripped off the tomb.

Talbot Wight, the Deepwood Cemetery Board’s president at the time, told the Daily Mail in 1987 that Lon's hair, skin, and clothing were well preserved until vandals broke the encasing glass. "Evidently, he was still in pretty good shape until July," Wight said.

But when Lon's skull was photographed for the newspaper's front page, it featured no hair or skin, both of which likely decomposed quickly after being stolen if not before. The skull was buried in an undisclosed location away from the body so as to not tempt new grave robbers, and the tomb was re-sealed with marble in an attempt to prevent further damage.

Still, the story of Neva Dorsa and her husband’s remains hasn't died away. It circulates through southwestern Missouri, drawing visitors to Deepwood Cemetery to gaze at the stone plot—just not in the same way Neva had intended.

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