Coffins Cannot Easily Be Opened from the Inside, Here’s Why

Coffins are not easy to open from the inside because:

  • There are often clasps or locks on the outside
  • The weight of the casket lid can be too heavy to lift
  • If buried the person will probably run out of air before escaping
  • It is extremely rare for someone to be incorrectly pronounced dead and placed in a casket before the mistake is realized

Unless you decide to opt for a natural burial in a shroud, chances are you’re going to be buried or cremated in a casket. You’re probably aware of the common fear of being buried alive.

This is a common fear, although it is unclear why. Such an event is rare, but it can occasionally happen, as news stories confirm.

This is probably why you are curious about whether a coffin can be opened from the inside. I decided to dig into this topic to see if I could find out the answer.

I’m going to share my research with you here, so you can find out the answer without needing to do the hard work on your own. There is far more to learn about the topic than you might think, too.

I have gone into many different areas that are related to this question. They are all presented to you here. There is plenty to think about. You may even realize that this question is just the beginning.


Caskets Have Closures on the Outside

Since the person going inside the casket is deceased, there is no need to have a lock on the inside.

This means if you were incorrectly presumed dead and woke up inside a casket, there would be no way to open it. However, banging on the inside of the casket and making lots of noise would undoubtedly alert whoever was around to open it.

Not all caskets have exterior closures. Some have hinged lids that are heavy enough to require effort to open them. Since there is no chance of the lid being dislodged, no closure may be required. A steel coffin would require real effort to open, for example.

If a casket does have a closure, it is likely to be a simple clasp or similar locking mechanism.


A Closed Casket Can Be Opened from the Outside

This is normal practice. When you die, your body is going to be prepared according to your instructions and placed in the casket intended for burial or cremation.

If the casket comes in two pieces – the lid and the body – the lid would be placed on the casket. If the casket has a hinged half- or full-couch lid, it would be closed that way.

The lid would then remain shut between the process of preparing your body for viewing and the viewing itself. If the viewing occurs inside the funeral home, the lid would be opened in advance of people arriving to pay their respects.

As such, the casket can be opened and closed as many times as is necessary from the outside. Stories of one being opened from the inside are exceptionally rare.

Even when such things occur, it tends to go that the person inside attracts the attention of others by banging inside the coffin until they are heard and rescued.


Casket Materials Affect How Easy It Is to Open

If you were inside a casket and needed to get out, you would likely push against the lid to try and open it. How easy this would be depends on the materials the casket was made of.

For example, wooden caskets can be made from plywood, softwood, or hardwood. Plywood would be easier to break through, while hardwood… well, you can guess the answer to that challenge.

In a plywood casket, you wouldn’t worry about any lock stopping you from getting the lid off. You’d kick at it and get through the wood that way.

Since coffins can also be made from more expensive materials including steel and even bronze, you wouldn’t stand a chance of lifting the lid on those – lock or no lock.

You can see that the weight of the materials used in the construction process have a significant effect on how successful you might be in opening the casket from the inside.


Items Can Be Placed in the Casket to Aid Escape

There are limitations on what can be placed inside a casket. These may depend on where the burial is going to take place. Combustible items would be banned, for instance.

However, safety coffins or caskets have been around longer than you might think. They are designed to include something useful inside, too.

The idea is simple – if you are inside that casket, you’ll have a way to get someone’s attention, so they can rescue you from your premature interment.

The design came from a priest’s idea in 1798 that a cord could run from inside each casket to the church bell. If the decedent turned out not to be deceased, they could ring the bell… and thus be saved by it.

Other designs had a small bell situated above the grave. This was connected to a device inside the casket. So, if you were buried alive and managed to sleep through the whole occasion, you could still ring the bell to be rescued when you woke up.


You’d Have Limited Time to Get Out of a Casket

A question asked on Quora pondered whether it would be possible to dig yourself out of a casket if you were buried alive in one. The answers went into detail and covered many important points, such as:

  • How little air you’d have to breathe
  • How long the oxygen would last
  • What might happen if you panicked (a reasonable assumption)
  • The weight of earth sitting on top of the casket if it had already been buried

In this scenario, the question of whether the lid was locked becomes a moot point. Even if it were unlocked and easy to open under normal circumstances, you can only imagine what the earth would weigh that had been shoveled in above you.

The weight of the earth would vary depending on how far below ground level you were buried. The common terminology is ‘six feet under’ – yet this is incorrect in the US, where 18 inches of soil above the casket is the minimum permitted by law.

It was suggested that it would be best to use whatever you had been buried in to cover your nose and mouth before attempting your escape. This would stop earth pouring in and choking you if you did manage to break open the casket.

Of course, with limited oxygen and no way of replenishing the supply, you would likely run out of air before you escaped. The above link includes an answer that calculates you would have no more than 28 minutes to get out, given the available oxygen you’d be able to breathe.

That would be the best-case scenario. It also does not consider how long you would already have been in the casket for.

As the oxygen is replaced by exhaled carbon dioxide, you would likely pass out and finally meet your end long before you managed to escape or attract any attention.


Caskets Are Not Impermeable

There is a myth that caskets must be 100% sealed, so the body cannot decompose into the earth. Unless the burial plot is close to a water supply (which it should not be), there is no reason for a casket to be sealed.

In fact, if you ask for a rubber gasket on your own coffin when you pass, you should be aware that whoever is in charge of burial or interment is going to break that seal before the process is completed.

There is a good reason for this. Even if the casket did have a lock on the outside, it would likely be blown off when gases in your body build to a level that cannot be contained inside the coffin.

This can cause extensive damage to the ground,tomb, or similar burial place. Some sealed caskets are now sold with the ability to ‘burp’, i.e. to let those gases free.


Conclusion: An Interior Lock is Not Required

This makes sense, and while you can see why the question crops up, it has more to do with an innate and common human fear rather than practicality.

If you were embalmed, the process of replacing your blood with embalming fluid would finish you off if you were not already dead. Don’t panic, though – the odds of that happening are long, too.

If you were incorrectly pronounced dead and you did wake up, it is far more likely to happen while your casket is still inside the funeral home… or even the hospital. If you banged on the interior of the casket, someone would eventually hear you and rescue you. No need to bust open the casket by being able to unlock it yourself.


Writer: Allison Whitehead

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