Fact Check

Phone Call From the Grave

A phone call from beyond the grave.

Published May 13, 1998

Legend:   A woman dies of a heart attack with a phone still in her hand. The telephone in her husband's crypt is later discovered to be off the hook.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 1998]

One of the Ball Brothers, of the canning jar family, had a great fear of being entombed alive. Anyway, he had a telephone installed in his so he could call out if this happened to him.

As the story goes, he dies...this story is to have happened in the late 1930's. A few days later, some of his wife's family got worried because they could only get a busy signal on her phone. Upon entering her home, they found her dead, a look of fright frozen on her face, clutching the phone. When they went to entomb her after the funeral a couple of days later, you can guess what they found...yep, the phone was off the hook INSIDE the crypt.


  • The dead man is variously described as an unnamed Englishman, a wealthy retired British businessman, or one of the Ball brothers (American).
  • The husband is interred in a crypt or buried in a coffin.
  • The wife dies two years after her husband, the implication being that when it was her time to die, he called to tell her so.

Origins:   The fear of being buried alive has led to the invention of various devices whose purpose was to allow the hastily-entombed to signal that a mistake

It's dead . . .

had been made. It wasn't a misplaced fear either — even in this century, physicians of solid repute have cited numerous instances of people being pronounced dead and then stirring to life again, reviving from a coma or some trauma that had reduced the pulse or respiration to imperceptibility.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, contraptions employing bells, buzzers and flags were devised to send such distress signals. As technology advanced, so did what people wanted to take to their graves as a precaution against such an eventuality. These days it's telephones and modems.

The last will of David Hughes provides for a laptop computer powered by a solar electric panel and linked by radio with computer networks throughout the world to be buried with him. Though his stated purpose is to continue to interact with the living even after his demise, one could see that such a connection would also serve him in the case of premature


(Our Buried Alive article explores in far greater detail the fear of being buried alive, some actual cases of it, and the variety of contraptions and precautions folks have taken to prevent live entombment being their own fate.)

Mary Baker Eddy was long rumored to have a telephone installed in her crypt, but this has proved to be naught but folklore. During construction of her monument at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Boston, her body was kept in that cemetery's general receiving vault. A guard was hired to stay with the body until it was interred and the tomb sealed, and a telephone was installed at the receiving vault for his use during that period. There was never a phone at her monument.

Yet lore has a way of building upon the tiniest fact until a story has been fully fleshed out. The Baker Eddy crypt phone became, through rumor, an instrument installed as a comfort for a fear-driven woman who was terrified by the thought of finding herself, er, encrypted. Even from there the story continued to grow:

[Collected on the Internet, 2002]

The phone was only connected to a special phone at her house. Therefore, if that particular phone in the house rang, it meant it wasn't just another phone call - it was an urgent call from Ms. Baker Eddy because she had been buried alive. So, one stormy evening lightning hit the phone line and the special phone rang and a servant at the house fainted (or died) of fright.

Our legend of the deceased husband summoning his wife to his side plays upon our fascination with the supernatural. We don't want to believe death is the end of things, so we embrace stories that seem to confirm it won't be. If communication between the dead and the living is possible, then death must not be all that final a destination.

Phone or no phone, to date there's no confirmed instance of contact being made from beyond the grave.

Barbara "but I've ghoul waiting, just in case" Mikkelson

Sightings:   A version of this legend serves as the plot of the 7 February 1964 Twilight Zone episode "Night Call."

Last updated:   9 November 2006


  Sources Sources:

    Edwards, Ann L.   "Readers' Corner: More Rumor Control."

    The [Raleigh] News and Observer.   14 February 1997   (p. E2).

    Scott, Bill.   Pelicans & Chihuahuas and Other Urban Legends.

    St. Lucia, Queensland: Univ. of Queensland, 1996.   (pp. 61-62).

    Smith, Paul.   The Book of Nasty Legends.

    London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983.   ISBN 0-00-636856-5   (p. 107).

    Wilson, Andrew.   "Letter to the Editor: Wrong Number."

    The Daily Telegraph.   2 February 1998   (p. 21).

    Library of Curious and Unusual Facts: Shadows of Death.

Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1992.   ISBN 0-8094-7719-X   (pp. 12, 130-131).

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