The Mummy of Birchin Bower

Terrified of being buried alive, Hannah Beswick left a bequest to her family physician, Charles White, on condition that she be kept above ground for 100 years. So when she died in 1758, White added her embalmed corpse to his collection of anatomical preparations, and every day he and two witnesses raised the veil and confirmed that she was indeed dead.

But 100 years is a long time, and the observations passed from reverent to perfunctory and finally absurd. The doctor eventually stored the mummy in an old grandfather clock, whose face he would open once a year to check on the patient, and when he died Miss Beswick was actually put on display in the entrance hall of the Manchester Natural History Museum, from which, wrote Edith Sitwell, the “cold dark shadow of her mummy hung over Manchester in the middle of the eighteenth century.”

Only in 1868, 110 years after her death, did the secretary of state issue an order for Hannah’s burial, and she was interred in an unmarked grave. Perhaps by that time she was glad of the rest.

See also My Dearly Departed.