If the Daily Mirror say a dead man woke up at his own wake, it must be true!
Well they do get the date right (most of the time). As for anything else… well maybe a pinch of salt here and there. Either way, however exaggerated or not this story is, it does make for pretty harmless entertaining journalism. Which actually makes a welcome change. Too many stories these days end up ruining peoples lives, so it’s nice to see one about somebody who purportedly actually came back to life!
The blurring of the line between true stories and fairy tales is by no means a recent thing though. One such story stemming from folklore is that of the origins of the word “Wake” being used as the name of the festivities before or after a funeral.
One such definition comes from the fact that medieval pewter drinking vessels contained a high proportion of lead. Folklore has it that that when they were used for drinking ale or whisky, the combination would sometimes knock the drinkers out cold for a couple of days.
If they were found slumped in the road they would be taken for dead and prepared for burial. Occasionally, due to the lack of sophisticated heart monitors and sober doctors, they would turn out to be merely dead drunk and eventually wake up.
This is where the custom of waiting (at least) three days before burial came from. The corpse would be laid out on the kitchen table and the family would gather around and eat and drink (and ultimately be merry!) and wait and see if they would wake up – hence the custom of holding a “wake.”
In reality, of course, lead is not a quick acting poison the effect of which would be cumulative over a period of time. The poor souls found slumped on the roads leading from the ale houses were either extremely inebriated or had actually died from some cause other than lead poisoning.
Nevertheless Ye Olde Daily Mirror would no doubt have carried the headline “Whiskey and Lead Kills Fred Stone Dead!”