Is this an urban legend, or truth?

I’ve heard this story several times in my life, from several unrelated people. It runs something like this: Two guys work for a funeral home and are driving a hearse with a stiff in the back. Due to some kind of muscle movement or other, the stiff sits up. Needless to say, it scares the jeebies out of the two guys. In some tellings, the hearse wrecks and in others it nearly wrecks. What I would like to know is this, are there any ACTUAL, VERIFIABLE INSTANCES OF THIS HAPPENING? My thought is, this may be pure fantasy because the act of a body sitting up requires a lot of muscles working together and besides, surely they seal coffins when they put the stiff in. However, if anyone knows of a verifiable instance of this happening I would like to know. Even if there are no verifiable instances, do any of you medical people out there have any opinions as to whether a story like this could actually happen?

This sounds alot like an old, old Southern joke I’ve heard a number of times from senior citizens. I won’t bother to repeat the joke (I’ll only tell you that it’s such a well-known chestnut down South, Ray Stevens actually made a song and video of it).

So… for that reason, I’m inclined to say it’s an urban legend.

For urban legend questions, the best source online (IMHO) is which didn’t have anything for this one (I did a search for “hearse”.) It does sound like an urban legend though. Try this: Lie flat on your back, then sit up. Notice how much work that takes, and consider the odds of that happening if you were dead. Plus, if it has two different versions (crash and near miss) it’s probably fake.

I’ve heard this also and been told, not exactly a great cite, that it happens because of gas build up, due to decomposition, in the stomach.

No real idea if it’s true or not.

Want me to ask my dad if it’s possible? (he’s a mortician)

Maybe this is what happened. I can’t imagine a non-cremated body in a coffin suddenly sitting up, breaking the hearse.

Guinastasia –

Please do ask your dad.

I first heard the story from a high school chemistry teacher (Chas Williams, Cleveland Heights High, 1966-67). His mother was a hair dresser and was asked to dress the hair of a corpse. She was squeamish about being around a dead body but finally the mortician talked her into it, as their regular hair dresser was on vacation.

“We’ll be right nearby and will leave the door open,” he said. As the story goes, she was about 5 minutes into the session and the undertakers employees were all out of the room when they heard a scream. The corpse “sat up” as she was working.

Best regards,


Just a nitpick here. If you go to, you’ll find that they take offense at the suggestion that “urban legend” = “untrue”. As they point out, some urban legends are true, or are based on true incidents. They usually mark these with a green dot.

I agree with Cal. There’s a handful of urban legends that have their roots in fact, but they have ben so horribly embellished and conflated over time that they barely have a resemblance to the original, factual event.

The body can move after someone dies due to gas shifting in the body and perhaps even residue electric pulses? I know it can do small things at least like make a hand twitch, but I don’t know for sure if the body can be caused to sit straight up. I highly doubt it.

Now that I’ve posted a response with horrible grammar let me try again.

The body can move after it dies due to gas shifting in the body. That I know. But I am not sure of any other impulses or things which can cause motion. One of my high school teachers spent a day talking about it. I just remember him telling me about small things like hand twitches.

Now… isn’t that better?

What was the E.A. Poe story where the guy put a piece of whalebone in the corpse so it would sit up, and then used ventriloquism to accuse the murderer?


:smack: Thou Art the Man! I remembered the line, and indeed the line is the title of the story!

Please ignore my last.

I heard a version of this from a high-school teacher, but the way she told it, it did seem a bit plausible. Someone died while sitting at his desk; he was working after hours, so it was more than twelve hours later when he was found. By that time, of course, rigor mortis had set in, and his torso had to be strapped down during the wake. Halfway through, of course, it snapped, and the room cleared like a sinking ship.

Well, that is a nice rendition, but rigor mortis is not a permanent condition of the deceased, and certainly does not have “spring loaded” properties! :smiley:

It does take quite a few muscles to sit up, and some effort (depending on your current shape, I find pear shape to be especially difficult!) however, 100% of the population dies, thus there are pretty good odds that at SOME point somewhere a corpse has had a twitch which caused it to sit up. I really don’t think much of the stories surrounding these incidents however, a car crash, a hair dressed who is already uncomfortable with dead bodies, but I do think that it may very well be that a body has sat up somewhere, sometime.

At my great-grandpa’s funeral, while the family was waiting in the back to enter the sanctuary, his body decided to sit up in the open casket. The guy from the funeral home gently pushed his upper body down.

It gave my dad a bit of a shock, he was one of the pallbearers and saw this firsthand. The funeral director said that it happens from time to time.

My great-grandpa was a tall thin man and it didn’t take much to “straighten” him out again, so I can’t imagine a body pushing out of a closed casket, or even staying up for very long before the tissues tear.

There was a widespread fear of being buried alive during the Victorian era. In fact, it happened quite often that someone was thought to be dead, but weren’t quite. Even today, there is occasional doubt as to when someone is considered truly dead.

Some coffins had a rope attached to a bell, so that if the “corpse” woke up after being buried, the person in the coffin could pull the rope, ring the bell that was above ground, and someone would hear it. I don’t know how often this happened, but people were quite concerned.

The process of embalming pretty well guarantees that the person WILL be dead if they weren’t before. Ever wonder how the ritual of embalming became so popular?

Lovely topic, just in time for lunch.

Something like that once happened to my grandmother while she was working in a hospital. In this case, I believe it rolled over and made a groan. From what I understand, my grandmother set a new land speed record that hasn’t been beaten for the last 70 years or so. :slight_smile:

By any chance, did the corpse happen to say “Gotcha ya!”?

Someone had to say it

Pretty common, according to Snopes. Warning! Squeamish people need not click the link!

BTW, thanks for not perpetuating the saved by the bell fallacy (fifth paragraph before the sig).