Life at Last Sight: A Window into Death

In the 21st century, it’s not unusual to find people living in glass houses. Literally in every sense of the word. Stranger still is the notion of glass coffins. Actually, it isn’t all that strange with the Victorians during the 19th century. Death naturally occurred so often among these people that mourning became a rite. With mourning came worries about preservation of the dead. The rise of post-mortem photography and memento mori jewelry proved successful as people found parting with loved ones too painful. The prevalence of theft didn’t disappear out of the respect for the dead.

One man by the name of Almond Dunbar Fisk decided to patent an iron air-tight coffin to combat unlawful resurrection. At the top, a glass window displayed the dead while the form fitting sarcophagus inspired lower half conformed to the shape of the human body. Grave robbers would be deterred from pulling the body out through such a small opening at the top. Among the wealthy this option became quite popular as many were buried in finery.

As the demand for Fisk’s one-of-a-kind coffin grew other inventors came up with equally astounding coffins. To represent the fashion of Victorian mourning, the coffins ranged in decor such as angels, roses, berries and leaves. Upon closer look, a coffin often bore the shape of a shroud with elegant draping to boot. However, purchasing one was quite pricey and the most elaborate was a low number in the hundred dollar category. While bodies residing in this metal housing found rest, research suffers from the inability to ascertain the time of death due to its air-tight factor. The decomposition of the body is hindered. Many times bodies have been found still on the verge of decaying. 

coffin glass
Fisk Airtight Coffin of Cast or Raised Metal
Victorian Glass Coffins

Early August last year, the Historic Oakwood Cemetery had the pleasure of re-interring 12 unmarked graves that came from the entrance of North Carolina State University’s Carter-Finley Stadium. The graves were found buried on an unremote hill along Gate 6 in an area referred to as Cemetery 2. The graveyard was a mere ¼ acre according to a property map in 1938. Among Southerners, the folk cemetery portrays characteristics of the hilltop interment with rudimentary material for grave markers. Several of the graves held remnants of broken glass suggesting the origin came from around the early to mid 1800s. Along with the graves came the dirt from the area which saw a significant amount of discoloration. Unfortunately, not much extensive research has been done due to limited records. The North Carolina State University has two other cemetery sites known as the Lincolnville AME Church Cemetery and Cemetery 1.

Remnants of the Glass Front Coffins



The reinterment of these graves is mutually beneficial for North Carolina State University as well as the Historic Oakwood Cemetery. As a public university, the area is always expanding and removal of these relics ensures no disturbance and damage would succumb. The final resting place of these graves is at the latter and it is with every intention that they remain undisturbed for a very long time.


Hair Comb Found in Remains From Cemetery 2