An almost macabre publicity stunt brought thousands of visitors flocking into Skegness in June of 1968.
Who could resist the morbid temptation to take a peep at the face of a living body incarcerated in a coffin below 100 tonnes of earth?
For 100 days and nights, a former nun called Emma Smith from Nottingham, agreed to be buried alive.
By all appearances she was an everyday housewife with children. And it is not clear why she agreed to partake in such a sinister publicity stunt apart from the fact she had a vague desire to beat the world record of staying underground.
She certainly didn’t gain any money from the stunt and admittance fees to see her apparently went to charity.
Retired Skegness builder Ron Ellis remembers well the day that a company called “Instant Help” contacted him.
“The company had set themselves up to offer unusual emergency services.
“I got the impression that wasn’t working out too well so they wanted to organise a publicity stunt.”
Naturally, when Ron heard the nature of the stunt he was unhappy: “I stressed that the only way my firm would get involved was if the stunt met my safety standards.”
Work began on the site which belonged and still does to John and Justine Hurt. A concrete area was excavated on their amusement ground in North Parade.
JCBs were brought in, wooden platforms for the public to stand on erected and two coffins made.
“It was a work of art,” said Ron. “A close circuit television was placed inside the coffin so Emma could play bingo at night, a trap door was fitted into the bottom of the box so she could do what comes naturally!
“I remember thinking it was going to start smelling pretty bad down their after a few days and fitted a stench pipe to get over that problem.”
Nothing was left to chance. Emma was given earphones enabling her to talk with a doctor each evening and of course feeding tubes were inserted into the coffin.
Visitors paid a shilling to stand on a platform and look down a tube at Emma’s face in a mirror. Surgical masks had to be worn so that no germs could be passed down the tube as they spoke to her.
Recalled Ron: “The day we dug her out we made sure we got our money first! It was said at the time that Emma never made a penny from it.”
Justine Hurt was also heavily involved in the bizarre operation.
She told The News: “There were rumours at the time that Emma came out of her coffin at night. That was a load of rubbish.
“John and I lived on the site at that time and she did not come out once. The day she came out was good timing, The coffin lid had started to strain.
“She looked quite thin but otherwise well.”
Justine, then an established Skegness hairdresser, treated Emma to hair-do before her “coming out” ceremony at the Seacroft Hotel.
Years later, Emma contacted John Hurt, asking if he would help her with another stunt: “She wanted to be buried inside a glass coffin within a glass aquarium with sharks swimming around.
“We refused because of the danger. She was a very brave lady and we’ll never forget her,” said Justine.
The photographs of this event are by kind courtesy of Mr Ron Ellis who loaned The News a video recording of the stunt. Our photographer Ben Hardaker was able to record some of the film on camera.
- Emma Smith tries the coffin for size.
- Emma says goodbye to the sun, husband and well wishers as she prepares for the coffin to be lowered.
- A sinister sight as crowds flock to the “burial”.
Source: Skegness News 3rd November 1993