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This edited article about the Chase Crypt of Barbados originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 729 published on 3 January 1976.
Fearfully, the onlookers waited as the entrance slab was drawn back from the tomb. Surely the coffins could not have been strewn about the interior yet again? Previously they had been hurled around, despite the fact that it was impossible for humans to get into the tomb, once it had been sealed up, without leaving tell-tale traces.
There was a moment’s silence as the daylight flooded into the gloomy vault, then gasps of horror rent the air. Within the last resting place of the Chase family, chaos reigned. Even the heaviest of the coffins was upright against a wall. The curse of the Chases had struck again.
The place was Barbados in the West Indies, on a headland above a bay. There was, and there still is, a church with a cemetery beside it which contains a strongly built stone vault that has lain empty ever since 1820. Its large stone blocks are cemented together and a great slab of blue marble once acted as an impregnable door, sealing off the interior which is 12 feet (4 metres) by 6 (approx. 2 metres), the resting place of the dead being reached by several steps. Only when another coffin was ready for housing, was the door of the vault opened.
Yet between 1812 and 1820, someone or something continually opened the tomb. Always the contents were strewn about in maximum disarray, yet the door was apparently untouched.
This series of strange events began on February 22, 1808. The tomb was opened so that the small coffin of an infant, Mary Ann Chase, could be lodged there, along with the only other coffin then present, that of a Mrs. Goddard. On July 6, another young Chase was placed in the vault; the mortality, especially among infants, was high in those days. The interior was just as it had been when last seen.
On August 9, 1812, Thomas Chase’s body was carried to the tomb, but to the amazement of the mourners, when the door was opened, the coffins of the little Chase girls were both on end and upside down against one of the walls. No explanation seemed feasible, but the coffins were replaced alongside Mrs. Goddard’s, and Thomas Chase’s very solid leaden one was put on the floor by eight burly men. Then the stone masons sealed up the vault once again.
On September 22, another member of the family was brought to the vault and the mourners had another shock. Only Mrs. Goddard’s coffin once again, had not been touched. And on November 17, it happened yet again.
By now the whole of Barbados knew the eerie story, but no explanation was forthcoming, though one was eagerly sought by the family who, as can be imagined, were growing steadily more desperate. It was clear that the entrance, unlike the rest of the vault, was impregnable and untouched.
When yet another coffin was due for what should have been its resting place on July 17, 1819, the island’s Governor, Lord Combermere, attended the funeral and saw for himself the by now usual desecration, only Mrs. Goddard’s coffin being unharmed. His Lordship watched extra precautions being taken, including the laying down of fine sand in the interior which would pick up the footsteps of any intruder. Then the tomb was sealed.
On April 18, 1820, the still fascinated Lord Combermere suddenly demanded that the Rector should have the vault re-opened even though no member of the Chase family had died. The chaos inside was even worse than usual, one of the largest coffins having been flung against the door, which fortunately opened outwards. The only way into the tomb meant moving the slab on top of the entrance, but its weight was colossal. Besides, all the sand left within was untouched, except where coffins had been “thrown” onto it. It was now that a decision was taken to move the coffins elsewhere. Later that year the Chase family removed the coffins of their ancestors to another corner of the churchyard.
This was not done to spare the feelings of the family. It was done because other islanders were becoming more and more alarmed at the strange events in the churchyard.
What possible explanation can be offered? No one believed that a break-in had occurred and it was hard to imagine that anyone would have dared to, for superstition was rife. One writer claimed that Thomas Chase was a hard, cruel man, who had enemies among the natives on the island, and he went on to state that two of the Chases. Thomas and one of his daughters died by their own hands. The daughter had starved herself to death and so, claimed the author, the other corpses had tried to expel her.
Some preferred the idea that earthquakes had caused the upheavals. But how can earthquakes be confined to a few square feet of ground? And those who claimed that floods were the culprits failed to take into account that the tomb was at the very top of a headland. Besides, why were the remains of Mrs. Goddard never disturbed?
However, once the bodies received earth burials there was no more trouble.
It would be pleasing at this point in the story to reveal all, to show just how some clever local tricksters pulled off a remarkable feat and fooled everyone on the island. It would be pleasing, yes, but no one has yet come up with a plausible solution.