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The Immovable Coffin of Donald Beamish- The Man They Could Not Bury: Dumfries 1672

Updated on October 26, 2015
Dumfries Bridge 1793
Dumfries Bridge 1793

In the late 17th Century the Scottish town of Dumfries was the scene of an inexplicable supernatural event which astounded the local population. What should have been a simple funeral transformed into an incredible paranormal phenomenon which remained a source of wonder for generations afterwards.

Although now long forgotten, the story begins in September 1672 when Donald Beamish, an old man, ‘of an ordinary fortune’ who lived on the outskirts of the town, was seized by a violent fever. His condition worsened until he became convinced he was going to meet his maker. Although his wife and neighbours tried to keep up his spirits, eventually they conceded that he would not recover and did their best to make his last days as comfortable as possible. The day immediately before his death the old man sat up in bed and made a strange announcement. He told his wife that she must bury him within three hours of his death otherwise she would not be able to bury him at all. His wife was somewhat taken aback at this statement but humoured him and put it down it to his wandering mind. The old man earnestly repeated it several times during that day to his wife and his bemused friends and neighbours who called to see him. He told them that if they did not comply, they would never be able to move his body. They questioned him as to why he believed this but he gave no reply other than “It would be so”. He would not settle however until they promised him that his wishes would be honoured.

Dumfries from the Hillside
Dumfries from the Hillside | Source

The old man did indeed expire the following day on Wednesday 28th September. His friends recalled his strange appeal to them to bury him swiftly and as a mark of respect did their best to comply. They placed his corpse in a coffin and laid it on a table in the downstairs room as was the usual custom. All the preparations were hastily made for his burial that evening but despite their best efforts, the three hours had elapsed as the pall bearers arrived to take him to the churchyard half a mile away.

Four men took hold of the coffin and attempted to lift it off the table but they could not budge it. Mystified at their apparent sudden weakness, they called for others to help, but they too could not shift the simple wooden coffin from the table.

The strongest men in the village were sent for who could neither budge the coffin, nor the table on which it was standing. Witnesses described it as being rooted to the ground. For several hours attempts were made to move the coffin until all present were exhausted with the effort. A decision was made to leave the coffin where it was until morning. The poor widow and her children spent a restless night waiting for the undertaker and the burly men of the village to return the next day.

Market Place Dumfries
Market Place Dumfries | Source

On Thursday morning the pall bearers and their helpers were met with the same astonishing inability to budge either the coffin or the table. By now the widow was becoming frantic as she recalled the last prophetic words of her departed husband. After another several hours, it was decided that drastic steps were necessary and that they would attach a team of oxen to the coffin to drag it outside. In order to allow the cattle access, one side wall of the house had to be completely pulled down. A team of oxen were attached to the coffin and the table and driven forward but even their immense pulling power could not shift it. They strained so hard that their tackle broke and yet incredibly they had not moved the coffin an inch.

Attempts were made to remove the old Donald’s body from the coffin and carry it away but found they found it impossible to open or even damage the coffin which seemed to be protected by an invisible force.

In despair, the villagers made the decision to remove the widow and children from the house and leave the coffin it where it was. It stood there exposed to the elements for three days. Word began to spread about this immovable coffin and a great many people flocked to see it, some of whom tried their hand at moving it or breaking into the coffin but none succeeded. Eventually the landlord, who lived some miles away heard of the situation and went to see for himself. He found the house in a state of virtual collapse and took the decision that he would never be able to rent it out again so ordered that it be burnt to the ground. All were in agreement as it would also resolve the problem of the funeral. The townsfolk gathered kindling and piled it all around the cottage and set it ablaze. They watched as the building was consumed in the inferno and the local minister held a makeshift service committing the soul of old Donald to the next world. As the flames subsided and the smoke began to clear, the horrified onlookers were aghast to see that the coffin and the table stood untouched amidst the ashes.

Hillocks around Dumfries
Hillocks around Dumfries

In desperation, friends and relatives of the dead man dug up the earth and piled it on the coffin. The rest of the townspeople joined in until it was buried beneath a huge bank of soil and rocks.

Although the precise location has long since been lost, somewhere in the hillsides around Dumfries lies the immovable coffin which proved to be the final resting place of old Donald Beamish- the man who could not be buried.


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