Throwback Thursday – 1954’s Buried Alive at Beech Bend stunt

We visit southern Kentucky’s most famous amusement park this week, Beech Bend. In the summer of 1954, owner Charles Garvin, put together perhaps one of the park’s most intriguing yet terrifying stunts to date. Known for his creative ideas to create publicity for the park, this week we literally dig deeper into the buried alive stunt.

The ad in the Bowling Green Daily News read, “See it to believe it. Woman buried alive. No tricks. No pranks No illusions.” And that was the truth! In July of 1954, Charles Garvin asked about 50 people if they would be interested in being buried alive with only a comparatively small metal pipe separating their coffin from the earth’s ground surface. All but three people said no way. Two of the three were women. 

Thirty-two year-old Elsie Norris Hamilton, mother of three and wife of Bowling Green radio announcer and program director Joe Hamilton from WLBJ, was selected for the stunt. Her identity was kept secret for the first few days, to arouse more public curiosity. She was buried in a coffin six feet under on July 30, and was set to be exhumed in two weeks’ time. A 10-inch wide pipe was used to communicate with her and feed down liquids. 

A Bowling Green Daily News reporter actually spoke to her with a telephone down to the coffin, and doctors were on call 24 hours a day should an emergency arise. The media covered the story daily, with news of Elsie’s health. She was confined to a space that was only two-feet nine-inches wide, six-feet six-inches long, and two-feet eight-inches deep.

Because of the hot summer conditions, the temperature in the coffin could reach over 100 degrees in the daytime, but cooled to about 70 degrees overnight. Her movements were limited, and doctors often sent an electric vibrator into the grave to ease muscle tensions. Rumors of a secret tunnel out of the grave circulated, but Garvin and Dr. G.M. Wells quelled them. 

By the time two weeks was up, media reported Garvin’s nerves were nearly shot. He was said to be relieved as soon as Elsie was dug up from the grave. After 25 minutes of digging, she had to be carried out since her muscles couldn’t stand her weight. But alas, the stunt was complete and Elsie was safe. 

Throwback Thursday is brought to you by Hart County Tourism.