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Wildwood Cemetery and Crematorium - Williamsport, PA

Updated: Aug 18, 2022

We were in Williamsport, PA area in the fall of 2020 and stopped by the Wildwood Cemetery and Crematorium to visit Thomas Pursell’s resting place.

In the 18th and 19th centuries there was wild spread fear of being buried alive. Mr. Pursell was a retired firefighter who created an escape burial hatch so he and his family could escape if accidentally buried alive. Mr. Pursell designed the vaulted apparatus to allow ventilation into their coffin via a patented wheel lock he created. Each tomb was lined with felt for warmth, an ax, a hammer and a piece of bread. A ringing bell in an empty cemetery would not suffice; he ensured that he and his family could escape on their own if prematurely buried - something he so desperately dreaded.

Mr. Pursell’s burial hatch is a stone structure bearing five metal wheels, one for each tomb beneath the grave marker. Pursell was buried in his own creation at the age of 83 in 1937 with no sign of attempted escape. He and his family are all buried at this cemetery.

The Wildwood Cemetery is a 300 acre cemetery that was established in 1863. It has stood as a cornerstone resting place for those who founded the Keystone State.

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