Mortsafe

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I’ve never seen a mortsafe. I’ve heard about them. I’ve heard about mortsafes in the South and Europe, but not in Pennsylvania. Then I heard about not one, but two in a small cemetery in Catawissa. This type of mortsafe was popular in Scotland, but there is some evidence that these two are the only “caged” graves in the U.S..

Local legend says the woman buried in the one shown above was a vampire, or werewolf, or the body needed to be protected from a werewolf.

Yeah, no. But there are some questions I have about the grave.

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Why is Sarah Ann in a mortsafe? Like a gate or cages on and around mausoleums,  some mortsafes were put in place to protect a wealthy person’s resting place from graverobbers and bodysnatchers. This area doesn’t seem to be the sort of place that would attract graverobbers. I have no idea about the danger of bodysnatchers in this community in the 1800s.

Another possibility is protection against foraging animals. However, why protect only the three women and not any others?

This is a wider view of the entire cemetery:

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There’s plenty of room for more bodies, but with the exception of perhaps three more graves that have deteriorated to the point there is little sign that they exist, this is it in its entirety.

The earliest burial seems to have take place in 1822. Since some of the markers are almost impossible to read, it’s difficult to be certain without further research. Most of the markers that can be read are from the 1850s.

Both of the existing cages here have been restored. There was a third, but was in such poor shape that it was removed in the 1930s. At the foot of the cage is a door that originally had a padlock, probably for ease of care of the grave.

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On the top of the cage at each end is a silver bird.

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The one at the foot on Sarah Ann’s cage is missing.

The other remaining cage is over Aseneth Thomas’s grave. Her headstone has broken into three pieces.

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Rebecca’s cage is missing altogether.

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The three girls were all related, either by blood or by marriage. The families were originally from Scotland. I’m going to make a guess that this is the reason for the Victorian birdcage-looking mortsafes. I think these mortsafes were for nothing more nefarious than simple decoration.

It would be fun to investigate this further.

2 thoughts on “Mortsafe

  1. Hi Great Post, There is one of these in a cementery of my city in Hove UK, south of England. It is not common to see them here. So I was wondering why is the only tomb with this cage. The cementery is very spooky tho.

  2. Thank you! There are a couple possibilities why only one tomb is in a mortsafe. There might have been others, but either nature or vandals could have damaged them. Or it might have been a status symbol for the family. The iron cage is a step above the plain grave, but not as expensive as an ornate monument. Or possibly the family was superstitious. It’s hard to say without a lot of searching archives.

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