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What It's Like To Be Buried Alive — And Survive

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What It's Like To Be Buried Alive — And Survive

Strange News

What It's Like To Be Buried Alive — And Survive

What It's Like To Be Buried Alive — And Survive

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/441772626/441775246" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Last glimpse: When the first bucket of soil hits, Antony Britton says, it's "quite a shock." Marc Dufresne/iStockphoto hide caption

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Marc Dufresne/iStockphoto

Last glimpse: When the first bucket of soil hits, Antony Britton says, it's "quite a shock."

Marc Dufresne/iStockphoto

Antony Britton literally dug his own grave — and it very nearly killed him.

After failing to dig his way out from under 6 feet of dirt, Harry Houdini went on to try other, safer versions of his "Buried Alive" stunt — like this coffin stunt, featured on the cover of an old copy of The Literary Digest. Library of Congress hide caption

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Library of Congress

After failing to dig his way out from under 6 feet of dirt, Harry Houdini went on to try other, safer versions of his "Buried Alive" stunt — like this coffin stunt, featured on the cover of an old copy of The Literary Digest.

Library of Congress

Britton, an escape artist in the tradition of Harry Houdini, had been attempting a stunt Houdini made famous: Britton was handcuffed, shackled, plopped in a grave and buried under 6 feet of dirt.

There's something to know about that particular "Buried Alive" stunt: Even Houdini himself couldn't pull it off. In fact, part of the reason it's still remembered today is that Houdini failed, and nearly died along the way.

Earlier this month, a similar scene played out at a charity event in England. A crowd of horrified spectators looked on as Britton had to be dug out of the soil and revived by paramedics.

Against the odds, Britton lived to tell the tale to NPR's Arun Rath.


Interview Highlights

On the feeling of being buried alive

To start off with, it's painful. There's no coffin there, there's no casket — nothing there to protect your body. I remember the first bucket of soil hit me — it was a bit of a shock. But then it was a case of, "Right, we're here, we're doing it." And then when the second one hit me, it was more like a foot on your body, and you could feel the soil compressing around you.

You know, you just got to clear your mind and just completely forget that that's happening if you can. Each bucket that went on to you — obviously the crushing that is coming from the front, you know, underneath you. It's coming from the sides of you, it's going on top of you.

But yeah, it's not a good one.

On the moment he realized he was in trouble

For some reason, I think the soil shifted or something, and I got my right arm trapped. It was trapped between my body and the actual soil itself. So, at that point, it was, "Crikey, I can't move my right arm."

Anyway, I felt myself going unconscious, and I was just trying to focus on, "You've got to do this, you've got to escape the grave." To keep myself calm, believe it or not, I was actually, in my head, singing the song of "Great Balls of Fire," by the wonderful Jerry Lee Lewis, to try and keep myself calm.

But you know, it just got to the point where I'd given it my entire best shot. I had nothing left in my body. ... I could feel myself going under. At that point, everyone knew exactly what to do — and they got to me as quick as they could.

On how close he got to escaping on his own

I've been told once they managed to get to me — well, get to me and the get soil from me and start dragging me up — they quickly realized that I was approximately 2 feet away from breaking through the surface. So close, but so far!

On how he was feeling physically after the ordeal

I just had bruising and a few scratches, and a cracked rib. That's better than the other outcome that could've happened. So I'll settle for that.