My Favorite True Halloween Story – Octavia Hatcher Was Buried Alive in Pikeville, KY
The date was May 2, 1891 and James Hatcher of Pikeville, Kentucky was devastated.
Up until recently his life had been going very well. James had made excellent business decisions in the Eastern Kentucky town and owned thousands of acres of coal and timber rich mountains. He had also added a wife--a very lovely 20 year old lady named Octavia who came from a prominent Pike County family. She quickly became pregnant with their son Jacob but shortly after birth the baby died from one of the many childhood diseases that took little lives in the 1800's.
Octavia was destroyed by the loss and spent most of her time in bed. She then took ill, began having trouble breathing and sank into a coma. Doctors were called and were unable to detect any sign of life and pronounced Octavia deceased. The date of her "death" -- May 2, 1891 -- was a very warm spring day in the Appalachian mountains and embalming was not common in the area so Octavia was quickly buried. But her "death" was not the only one of it's kind in Pikeville.
News soon reached James Hatcher of other people in the area dropping into a deep sleep which mimicked death but a few days later they woke up. This illness was most likely the unknown encephalitis ("sleeping sickness") that was a world wide epidemic about this time and may have been delivered by insects. James was haunted with the thought that he may have buried his cherished wife alive! He couldn't think of anything else so he obtained the necessary court order and had Octavia's casket exhumed. When the lid was opened James' fears were verified with a horrible scene.
The satin linings of the casket were ripped and torn and his wife's fingernails were blooded and broken as if she had been frantically trying to get out. James reluctantly reburied his wife's body and had a life-sized statue with Octavia holding their baby Jacob constructed above her grave.
When he built the James Hatcher Hotel in Pikeville, his office window looked directly up the hill at the statue. James outlived Octavia by 50 years and never remarried. He was buried in a specially constructed casket that can be opened from the inside. His body lies in a crypt at the foot of his wife's statue on the hill near Pikeville College.
The area has become a haven for college students looking for some solitude to - ummmm - do a little courtin'. Many visitors to the site have reported a sound much like a kitten crying coming from the graveyard. (or a buried young lady screaming for help?) As you can see in the photo of the statue someone broke off the part of her arm holding the baby Jacob. It lies at her feet today.