The Chase Vault is a burial vault in the cemetery of the Christ Church Parish Church in Oistins, Christ Church, Barbados best known for a widespread legend of "mysterious moving coffins". According to the story, each time the heavily-sealed vault was opened in the early 19th century for burial of a family member, all of the lead coffins had changed position. The facts of the story are unverified, and skeptics call the tale "historically dubious."
The first published version of the story appeared in 1833 in James Edward Alexander's Transatlantic Sketches. According to Alexander, a Mrs. Goddard was buried in the vault in 1807, followed in 1808 by Ann Maria Chase, and in 1812 by Dorcas Chase. When the vault was opened in late 1812 for the burial of Thomas Chase, the caskets of the Chase girls were said to be found "in a confused state, having been apparently tossed from their places." Alexander wrote that when the vault was later opened "to receive the body of another infant, the four coffins, all of lead, all very heavy, were much disturbed" and that similar disturbances were found when opening the vault for burials in 1816 and 1819:
|“||Each time that the vault was opened the coffins were replaced in their proper situations, that is, three on the ground side by side, and the others laid on them. The vault was then regularly closed; the door (a massive stone which required six or seven men to move) was cemented by masons; and though the floor was of sand there were no marks of footsteps or water. The last time the vault was opened was in 1819. Lord Combermere was then present, and the coffins were found confusedly thrown about the vault, some with their heads down and others up. What could have occasioned this phenomenon? In no other vault in the island has this ever occurred. Was it an earthquake which occasioned it, or the effects of an inundation in the vault?||”|
Different versions of the story appeared over the years, with other accounts published in 1844 and 1860.
According to author Jerome Clark, the story of the Chase Vault appears to originate from anecdotes told by Thomas H. Orderson, Rector of Christ Church during the 1800s. Orderson gave "conflicting accounts" of the tale, each containing variations. Clark says the story was subsequently repeated in Alexander's 1833 Transatlantic Sketches, and further repeated the same year in the "Anecdote Gallery" section of Reuben Percy's The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction.
Clark says that most stories that proliferated about the Chase Vault referred back to sources that could be traced to one of Orderson's accounts, and that folklorist Andrew Lang identified the differing versions told by Orderson in a December 1907 article published in Folk-Lore Journal. After combing through existing documentation to determine the veracity of the Chase Vault stories, Lang reported that he could find nothing to substantiate them, either in the burial register of Christ Church or in contemporary newspapers on Barbados, aside from an "unpublished firsthand account" by a Nathan Lucas, who claimed to be present at the opening of the vault in April of 1820.
Skeptical investigator Joe Nickell said that stories about the Chase Vault were often repeated, but he called them "historically dubious." Nickell, who had investigated an earlier alleged Masonic hoax involving a tale of buried treasure at Oak Island, contended that the Barbados story was fashioned around the Masonic allegory of a "secret vault" which, according to a Masonic text, "was ... in the ancient mysteries, symbolic of death, where alone Divine Truth is to be found." Nickell wrote that two of the men named in the Chase Vault story were members of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, and that a similar tale of "restless coffins" was circulated in 1943 that specifically included a party of Freemasons and a vault containing the founder of Freemasonary in Barbados. Nickell noted that Chase Vault stories were loaded with symbols and phrases which Freemasons would have recognized.
- Sir James Edward Alexander (1833). Transatlantic sketches, comprising visits to the most interesting scenes in North and South America, and the West Indies. R. Bentley. pp. 162–. Retrieved 24 July 2012.
- Jerome Clark (1999). Unexplained!: Strange Sightings, Incredible Occurrences & Puzzling Physical Phenomena. Visible Ink Press. pp. 573–. ISBN 978-1-57859-070-4. Retrieved 14 May 2012.
- Reuben Percy (1833). The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction. J. Limbird. pp. 51–. Retrieved 14 May 2012.
- Nickell, Joe; 1982. "Barbados' restless coffins laid to rest." Fate, Part I, 35.4 (April): 50-56; Part II, 35.5 (May): 79-86
- Joe Nickell (24 October 2001). Real-Life X-Files: Investigating the Paranormal. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0-8131-2210-6. Retrieved 14 May 2012.
- Gould, Rupert T. Oddities. New York: Paperback Library, 1969.