The Uneasy Dead of Barbados
Barbados' Christ Church Cemetery has been in existence for well over 200 years, but besides the obvious, which is that all its occupants are deceased, there was one family crypt that for many years suffered from unexplained events that even brought the governor of the island to the cemetery to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Barbados is an island in the Lesser Antilles of the southern Caribbean Sea and is best known as a sun-kissed, tropical island paradise popular among tourists and travelers aboard cruise ships. It is lesser known for its mysterious burial vault long known for the bizarre and unexplainable phenomena associated with it. During the time it was part of the British empire, its main industries was the growing of tobacco and cotton.
The Chase Family vault is a burial vault located on a hill overlooking the Caribbean at the entrance to the Christ Church Parish cemetery, an ancient colonial cemetery which is near the village of Oistin on the southern coast of Barbados.
The “Chase Vault” was constructed by the Waldrons back to the early 18th century, a wealthy sugar plantation family. The vault was made from the very coral that the island is made of with an arched roof, that was built just below ground and accessible with stairs. It was over 12 feet deep and about 6 feet wide. It is situated near the entrance of the Christ Church Parish Church cemetery.
A tombstone was once in place that indicated the burial of the “Honourable James Elliot, Esq., who died on May 14th, 1784, son of the Honourable Richard Elliot, Esq. and husband of Elizabeth, daughter of the Honourable Thomas Waldron, Esq.” Elizabeth who died on May 14th, 1792 was interred there was well.
When Thomasina Goddard a relative was interred there on July 31st, 1807, the vault was empty and her simple, wooden coffin was the only one inside. A large marble slab was used to seal off the entrance.
Soon afterward ownership of the crypt passed to the Chases, another wealthy plantation family. The family patriarch was one Colonel Thomas Chase, a man with the reputation of having a bad temper and a propensity for cruelty to his slaves and family alike.
On February 22, 1808, the 2-year old daughter of Chase, named Mary Ann Maria Chase, died and she was buried in a lead coffin in the vault.
In a tragic and almost sinister turn of events, the infant’s own sister, Dorcas Chase, died under mysterious circumstances 4 years later in 1812. When the vault was opened in 1812 for Dorcas, Mary Ann Maria’s coffin was upside down and placed in the opposite corner from where it was placed.
Circumstances around the death of Dorcas were questionable. Thomas was reportedly very abusive to his family and his slaves, and there are rumors that Dorcas starved herself to death. In another version he locked her away and starved her to death himself.
The two coffins were returned to their original location in the crypt along with Dorcas' and the heavy slab was slid into place blocking the entrance, however Death was not done with the family just yet.
In August of 1812, just a month after the death of his daughter, Dorcas, Thomas Chase himself died. Ominously, his cause of death was reportedly suicide. Thomas Chase’s body subsequently joined those of his two daughters within the vault when he was buried in a very heavy metal casket that reportedly weighed around 240 pounds and allegedly took 8 men to carry down and put in place.
Upon shifting the huge marble slab to bring in Chase’s casket, it was discovered that at some point the coffin of Dorcas Chase had mysteriously moved so that it was standing upright and upside down against one of the walls. The baby’s coffin has also been moved against the wall. It was not immediately apparent as to how such heavy metal caskets had been thrown into such drastic disarray, especially as no one else was known to have entered the vault since Dorcas’ death and the marble slab had remained exactly as it had been left. In addition, the coffins and the bodies had not been disturbed and nothing had been stolen. The incident was blamed on vandals, the coffins put back where they belonged, and the vault was resealed even tighter than it had been before to deter any future break-ins.
In September of 1816, the vault was opened for the burial of 11-month old Samuel Brewster Ames, and all the coffins were in disorder, including Thomas Chases' enormous and heavy coffin. The others were haphazardly placed about the room as if they had been tossed about like toys. As before, there was no sign of tampering on the entrance. Several bewildered men toiled to set the coffins back in their proper places and resealed the tomb yet again.
On November 16, 1816, Chase relative Samuel Brewster, who had been killed by his slaves during a bloody revolt the previous April, was removed from its original resting place in the St. Philip cemetery (a few miles northeast of Oistins) to be interred in the Chase Vault.
The Reverend Thomas Orderson, Rector of Christ Church, was on hand along with a magistrate and two other men. Word had gotten around the island about the strange goings-on and a “flock of the curious” assembled to witness the opening of the vault. They got what they were looking for. The coffins had been shifted with such violence that Mrs. Goddard’s wooden coffin had practically disintegrated.
The Reverend Doctor ordered the vault thoroughly inspected for cracks in the walls, floor, ceiling, or hidden entrances, but the structure proved as solid as it ever was. The nervous mourners bundled the splintered pieces of Mrs. Goddard’s coffin together and placed them between Samuel Brewster’s coffin and the wall. The rest of the coffins were reorganized and the door sealed with mortar.
The story began to take hold among the superstitious local populace. Whispers circulated of black magic and ghosts, and it was said that the tomb was haunted, cursed, or both. There were many stories around this time that have the feeling of creepy campfire tales. One such story goes that a woman on horseback heard menacing shrieks and groans emanating from the tomb as she passed it. Her horse allegedly went into a berserk panic, foaming at the mouth and threatening to throw the woman off. It was then reported that several other horses in the nearby village became insane in the ensuing days and mindlessly dove into the bay, where they drowned.
With the revolt still fresh in their minds, the baffled populace again looked at the slaves suspiciously, even though such accusations were difficult to justify. The slaves stayed away from the cemetery completely, fearing the work of malevolent “duppies”. If asked by curiosity-seekers where the Vault was, many would pretend not to know anything about it at all. A feeling of dread fell over the islanders.
In 1819 the crypt was opened for the burial of Thomasina Clark in a simple wooden coffin. Again the coffins were found to be thrown into disorder, moved drastically from their original positions.
The phenomena caught the attention of the governor of Barbados at the time, Lord Combermere, who had been present at Clark’s funeral and had witnessed the bizarre occurrence for himself. He ordered a thorough and extensive inspection of the tomb to look for any evidence to explain the strange happenings. The governor’s wife explained the investigation thus:
“In my husband’s presence, every part of the floor was sounded to ascertain that no subterranean passage or entrance was concealed. It was found to be perfectly firm and solid; no crack was even apparent. The walls, when examined, proved to be perfectly secure. No fracture was visible, and the sides, together with the roof and flooring, presented a structure so solid as if formed of entire slabs of stone. The displaced coffins were rearranged, the new tenant of that dreary abode was deposited, and when the mourners retired with the funeral procession, the floor was sanded with fine white sand in the presence of Lord Combermere and the assembled crowd. The door was slid into its wonted position and, with the utmost care, the new mortar was laid on so as to secure it. When the masons had completed their task, the Governour made several impressions in the mixture with his own seal, and many of those attending added various private marks in the wet mortar…”
After this examination of the vault, the displaced coffins were all restored to their original positions with great effort and measures were taken to ensure that such a thing would not happen again. The governor had the marble slab completely sealed with mortar and additionally put impressions of his signet ring into the wet cement to discourage vandals. As an extra, precautionary measure, the floor of the tomb was dusted with a fine, white sand in order to capture evidence of anyone breaking in to once again defile the coffins.
When 8 months had passed, the governor’s curiosity got the better of him and he ordered the vault to be reopened just to be sure. When he arrived with a party of men at the tomb, he was relieved to see that the mortar seal was unbroken, the ring impressions were intact, and there was no sign of trespassing. Satisfied that no one had broken in, a sort of macabre curiosity nevertheless compelled the governor to have the vault opened anyway.
Immediately, it became apparent that something was awry. Oddly, Thomas Chase’s coffin had been thrown up against the marble entrance almost as if in an attempt to bar entry. It took many men to dislodge the heavy coffin and finally gain entry. What they found inside completely shocked all present. The coffins were once again in disorder, only this time evidently more violently than on previous occasions. Some of the coffins were described as being upended and tossed upon each other, and the infant Mary-Anne’s coffin had been smashed against a wall with such force that a chunk had broken off the corner.
Eerily, the coating of white sand upon the floor was completely undisturbed, with not a single footprint to be seen. There was no sign of flooding or any other disruption either. The sand, floor and walls were totally dry. Additionally, it seemed unlikely that a perpetrator could have escaped past the large coffin that had been blocking the door, even if they had somehow managed to get in without breaking the seal of the door or even managed to budge the door at all to begin with.
Nathan Lucas, a member of the Barbados House of Assembly at the time, was present and had this to say about the strange scene unfolding before him:
“…I examined the walls, the arch, and every part of the Vault, and found every part old and similar; and a mason in my presence struck every part of the bottom with his hammer, and all was solid. I confess myself at a loss to account for the movements of these leaden coffins. Thieves certainly had no hand in it; and as for any practical wit or hoax, too many were requisite to be trusted with the secret for it to remain unknown; and as for negroes having anything to do with it, their superstitious fear of the dead and everything belonging to them precludes any idea of the kind. All I know is that it happened and that I was an eye-witness of the fact…”
Upon witnessing such a grim and inexplicable sight, the governor decided to put an end to the phenomenon once and for all. He went about ordering the interred bodies to be buried separately in individual graves throughout the Christ Church Parish cemetery. The Chase vault itself was ordered to remain vacant and no further bodies were ever buried there. It remains empty to this day.
No further unexplainable phenomena occurred at the vault after being emptied, so perhaps it is better that the bodies were ultimately separated to be buried on their own. It seems that when thrown together they had had some volatile reaction to one another that reverberated from the shadowy realm beyond our understanding into the concrete world that our eyes and ears tell us exists. These were the dead not meant to share space in an eternal darkness together. Could they have been perhaps able to find some iota of peace in their being cast apart from one another? Or was something else was at work?
Like other such mysteries of the supernatural, there have been many attempts to explain the events that transpired at the Chase Vault. The theories range from the paranormal, such as ghosts or even that Goddard was a vampire, to the more rational attempts to explain the phenomenon, like seismic activity or underwater flooding. These “rational” explanations tend to come up lacking. If seismic activity was to blame, there would surely have been similar damage to nearby tombs, of which there was none. Flooding also seems unlikely as such heavy caskets would be unlikely to float except in the most extreme cases, and there had been no sign of any such occurrence within the vault at any rate. Even if there had been flooding at work, why would it not have phased the more buoyant wooden coffin of Goddard, the only one to consistently remain unaffected by the weird phenomenon going on around it? Others believe the events that unfurled at the Chase Vault are neither paranormal nor more mundane in nature. Some skeptics believe that the story is completely fabricated, that it is nothing more than a local myth, or even a hoax.
Whatever the cause might be, there is no denying that the perplexing mystery of the Chase Vault endures. No explanations offered thus far have managed to satisfy everyone and so the mystery of the Chase Vault remains essentially unsolved. What happened within the dark, subterranean confines of this eerie tomb all of those years ago?
Only the corpses buried there would be privy to such revelations and they are not talking. Perhaps we will never really know for sure. For now, the tomb remains vacant, the echoes of its haunted past the only thing left to inhabit it.
Source - Mysterious Universe
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Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer