One Last Stitch to Make Sure That He's Dead

(Image: Bridgeman Art Library)

Before ships had refrigerated morgues, it was common to bury the dead at sea. A sailor's body and weights would be sewed up inside a hammock. His mates would finish the task by sewing the last stitch through the dead man's nose--to be certain that he was really dead.

Here's a description provided by one sailor from his experiences in the 1960s:

The mate sent me down to assist the bo'sun to prepare and stitch up the corpse, as he said I would be unlikely to witness such an occurrence again. The bo'sun, a North Sea Chinaman (ie, he hailed from the Orkney Isles), was in his sixties and had performed the task several times before. He was a deft hand with the palm [leather glove] and needle used to sew the heavy canvas into a shroud around the body, and when he came to the final stitches around the face he pushed the large triangular-shaped needle right through the nose. I winced, and he looked up at me and said, "That's the law of the sea, the last stitch through the nose, if that don't wake him up I know he's dead."

Apparently, it was not uncommon for sailors or passengers to be mistakenly pronounced dead. This was the final test.

Link -via The Oddment Emporium


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Hm, i thought i once saw a hollywood movie where some prisoned/sailors on a ship escaped by pretending to be dead... cant't remeber the film... but with the stitch in the nose, it would not have worked..
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Reminds me of the 911 operator who got a call from Bubba. He said, "Help! We're out here in the woods huntin' and my buddy Junior just all the sudden keeled over and died! What do I do?"

Operator: "Calm down sir. First, make sure he's dead."

(Bubba puts phone down. Operator hears a gun shot.)

Bubba: "Okay, now what?"
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