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November 27th, 2008

THE GHOSTS OF THANKSGIVINGS PAST

 Upcoming Show

November 28

Untamed Grassy Knoll with Adam Gorightly
Happy Spooksgiving

Hour 1: Andrew Colvin and the Ghost Box Transcripts 
Hour 2: The return of Allen Greenfield, noted ufologist and ritual magician


Allen Greenfield at Chase Vault, 1983

In an antiquated churchyard on the island of Barbados in the southern Caribbean sits a massive tomb, its white coral weathered to a dingy gray by the passage of the years. To the passerby, it looks like just another monument, as dead and ancient as the rest of the colonial cemetery in which it lays. But this vault has a story. It has been empty for 180 years, and to this day no one knows exactly why.

The story of the crypt that became the Chase Vault can be traced back to the early 18th century, with its construction by the Waldrons, a wealthy sugar plantation family. The vault was hewn from the very coral that the island is made of, sunken halfway into the ground near the entrance of the Christ Church Parish Church cemetery (below)The VaultA tombstone was once in place that indicated the burial of the "Honourable James Elliot, Esq., who died on May 14th, 1724, son of the Honourable Richard Elliot, Esq. and husband of Elizabeth, daughter of the Honourable Thomas Waldron, Esq." It is not known if Mr. Elliot was ever actually interred there or, if he was, what happened to the coffin. Nonetheless, the crypt was empty on July 31st, 1807 when it received its first occupant with the death of Mrs. Thomasina Goddard. She was buried in a wooden coffin; a large marble slab was used to seal off the entrance. Soon afterward ownership of the crypt passed to the Chases, another wealthy plantation family. The family patriarch was one Colonel Thomas Chase, a man with the reputation of having a bad temper and a propensity for cruelty to his slaves and family alike.

The first Chase burial was that of Mary Anna Maria Chase, who died at age 2 and was interred on February 22nd 1808 in a leaden coffin. Dorcas Chase, her older sister, followed on July 6th 1812, also in a leaden coffin. It was whispered that she had slowly starved herself to death due to stress from her overbearing father. A month later, Colonel Chase himself died. He was buried in the vault on August 9th in a wooden coffin placed inside a leaden one.

The eight pallbearers who carried Colonel Chase's coffin down into the vault were the first to notice that the two leaden coffins already in the tomb were not where they had been left a month earlier. Mary Anna's coffin was lying upside-down in the opposite corner from where it had been placed. The workers returned the coffins to their side-by-side positions and left that of Colonel Chase next to them. The smaller coffin of Mary Anna was placed on top of one of the larger ones. After the crypt was resealed with its heavy marble door, a curious murmuring started amongst the Bajans. The mourners soon resolved to place the blame on the slaves who had assisted in the burials. The alleged cruelty of Colonel Chase toward his servants offered an easy revenge motive. The case apparently having been solved, the crypt remained undisturbed for four more years.

It was opened for the burial of Master Samuel Brewster Ames, a young Chase relative aged 11 months, on September 25th 1816. The funerary procession was once again greeted by the macabre sight of a jumbled mess of caskets. A month later, on November 17th, the coffin of another Chase relative, Samuel Brewster, who had been killed by his slaves during a revolt the previous April, was removed from its original resting place in the St. Philip cemetery (a few miles northeast of Oistins) to be reinterred in the Chase Vault. The Reverend Thomas Orderson, Rector of Christ Church, was on hand along with a magistrate and two other men. Word had gotten around the island about the strange goings-on and a "flock of the curious" assembled to witness the opening of the vault. They got what they were looking for. The coffins had been shifted with such violence that Mrs. Goddard's wooden coffin had practically disintegrated. The Reverend Doctor ordered the vault thoroughly inspected for cracks in the walls, floor, ceiling, or hidden entrances, but the structure proved as solid as it ever was. The nervous mourners bundled the splintered pieces of Mrs. Goddard's coffin together and placed them between Samuel Brewster's coffin and the wall. The rest of the coffins were reorganized and the door sealed with mortar.

With the revolt still fresh in their minds, the baffled populace again looked at the slaves suspiciously, even though such accusations were difficult to justify. The slaves stayed away from the cemetery completely, fearing the work of malevolent "duppies" (spirits). If asked by curiosity-seekers where the Vault was, many would pretend not to know anything about it at all. A feeling of dread fell over the islanders.

 

The sunny tropical days brought thousands of visitors to the churchyard over the next several years, drawn by a certain morbid curiosity. The nights were a different story.

By 1819, when the tomb was reopened on July 7th to receive the body of Miss Thomasina Clarke, Lord Combermerethe Chase Vault had grown into an attraction of national interest. This time the newly appointed and popular governor of Barbados, Sir Stapleton Cotton, Viscount Combermere (left) was on hand to witness the opening. Also in attendance were two aides, the commander of the garrison, and much of the island's clergy. Throngs of spectators descended on the little graveyard, all vying for the best vantage point. The crowd waited in hushed anticipation as the heavy blue Devonshire marble doorslab was broken from its mortar seal and moved away by four workers. The interior was a jumbled mess of coffins once again. Colonel Chase's coffin lay near the entrance; the children's coffins were now on the floor. Mysteriously, Mrs. Goddard's decaying coffin stayed silently in its bundle. Lord Combermere's wife recorded the following details in her journal that day:

"In my husband's presence, every part of the floor was sounded to ascertain that no subterranean passage or entrance was concealed. It was found to be perfectly firm and solid; no crack was even apparent. The walls, when examined, proved to be perfectly secure. No fracture was visible, and the sides, together with the roof and flooring, presented a structure so solid as if formed of entire slabs of stone. The displaced coffins were rearranged, the new tenant of that dreary abode was deposited, and when the mourners retired with the funeral procession, the floor was sanded with fine white sand in the presence of Lord Combermere and the assembled crowd. The door was slid into its wonted position and, with the utmost care, the new mortar was laid on so as to secure it. When the masons had completed their task, the Governour made several impressions in the mixture with his own seal, and many of those attending added various private marks in the wet mortar..."

Below are two diagrams of the Chase Vault coffins as they were left on July 7th, 1819. One (left)is attributed to the Honourable Nathan Lucas, while the other (right) was compiled from a number of other eyewitness accounts.

The Lucas Sketch Sketch


The Vault was now impossible to ignore. Reports came of rumblings being heard within. The thought of what might be going on inside its musty interior crawled ceaselessly inside the minds of the islanders. The death of the next Chase was anticipated with morbid fervor. Viscount Combermere, wanting to resolve the enigma of the Chase Vault once and for all, decided to act. On April 18th, 1820, he assembled a party of his secretary, Major J. Finch, the Honourable Nathan Lucas, Mr. Robert Boucher Clarke, Mr. Rowland Cotton, and the Reverend Thomas Orderson. They would open the Vault themselves. Accompanied by 8 slaves, two masons, and a crowd that numbered in the hundreds, they arrived at the churchyard.

What happened next would place the Chase Vault in the lore of the ages.
(from  THE CHASE VAULT HOMEPAGE)

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