Weird History Dead Bodies Can Liquify And Become Gushing Waterfalls Of 'Corpse Liquor'  

Lisa A. Flowers
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Coffin liquor. No, it's not a Halloween novelty item, nor is it a new strain of ultra-strong THC oil that gets you so high you feel like you're as good as dead ... e.g., unable to move. It's not even an exotic $4,000 bottle of specialty liquor fermented in ancient tombs. What is coffin liquor? Basically, and grotesquely, it's exactly what it sounds like: a kind of liquid (albeit a non-alcoholic one) that sometimes develops in coffins over vast periods of time (say, centuries). In other words, it's the result of a certain phase of body decomposition where human remains become liquefied, as opposed to desiccated.

Thirsty yet? Once you find out exactly what this "coffin-liquor lead-casket" process entails, you'll likely never want to drink anything again. So go grab a glass of water while you still can.

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Photo: Shutterstock

How Exactly Does Coffin Liquor "Distill" Itself?

What has to happen to make a body turn to liquid? The answer lies partially in the fact that we (the living, that is) are already composed of at least 65 percent water. However, dying doesn't automatically staunch that flow and edge us towards desiccation. Sometimes, much like a raging river with no dam, our corpses simply keep on rising. As an apparent human remains expert and archeologist on Yahoo Answers succinctly put it,

"Effectively your body 'liquidizes.' As decay sets in, and bacterial action takes place, the cell walls disintegrate and allow the cytoplasm to escape. (A cell is a bit like a water balloon, you can build a relatively solid wall with water balloons- that's how you are 70% water.). In most cases, this liquid slowly seeps [out] from the coffin and into the soil. 
In some cases though, like with older lead caskets, this liquid, called 'corpse liquor,' can remain sloshing around in the bottom of the casket (It's a highly dangerous 'soup' that allows bacteria to thrive and is treated as a bio-hazard, as it possibly contains diseases like T.B., Hepatitis, etc)."

So, there you have it: most corpse liquor simply goes to work hydrating/"nourishing" the very soil you grow your food in. And as interesting as that is, it starts to feel a little hazardous without having someone to test said liquid just to make absolutely sure it's non-toxic. The blog The London Dead recounts a 17th century encounter with the dubious fluid, as told by British writer and historian Ruth Schurr:

"A little before the Great Conflagration, somebody made a hole in the lead coffin of Dean Colet, which lay above the ground beneath his statue. I remember my friends...decided to probe the Dean's body through the hole with a piece of iron curtain rod that happened to be nearby. They found the body lay in liquor, like boiled brawn. The liquor was clear and insipid: they both tasted it. [They said] it had something of the taste of iron, but that might have been on account of the iron rod. This was a strange and rare way of conserving a corpse. Perhaps it was a pickle, as for beef."

Enjoy those dills.

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Photo: The Garden Museum, Lambeth

Lead Coffins Are More Likely To Turn You Into Corpse Liquor (Just So You Know)

In April of 2017, a secret crypt was discovered in an old church in London. A total of 30 coffins were uncovered altogether, 5 of which housed the remains of some of the former archbishops of Canterbury. However, journalists weren't allowed to see inside the final resting places because of one particularly macabre safety risk: the possibility of gushing corpses spewing forth like waterfalls. According to the article Beware of Exploding Bishops, "sealed lead coffins are especially prone to this sort of thing, and the contents can burst out violently when the seal is broken."

As Harry Mount of the Telegraph explained, 

“If you have a coffin that’s undisturbed for 400 or so years, most of us turn into dry human remains. Some of us turn into so-called 'coffin liquor.' So, if I’d gone straight in there and rapped on the coffins, I might have been covered in liquefied archbishop."

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Photo: Warner Brothers

Grave Wax, Or "Corpse Cheese": The Next, More Solidified Level Of Coffin Liquor

No, the term "grave wax" doesn't have anything to do with the legendary film House of Wax (though its appearance would be far more pleasant if it did). Rather, it describes something called adipocere, which Wikipedia defines as being "a wax-like organic substance formed by the anaerobic bacterial hydrolysis of fat in tissue, such as body fat in corpses. In its formation, putrefaction is replaced by a permanent firm cast of fatty tissues, internal organs, and the face."

In other words, instead of rotting, bodies just start turning into a something resembling candle wax or cheese. Atlas Obscura expounds on the process in their article Soap on a Bone:

"Adipocere, also known as corpse wax or the fat of graveyards, is a product of decomposition that turns body fat into a soap-like substance. Corpse wax forms through a process called has a soft, greasy gray appearance when it starts to form, and as it ages the wax hardens and turns brittle. Saponification will stop the [decaying] process in its tracks by encasing the body in this waxy material, turning it into a 'soap mummy.'"

What doesn't liquefy you makes you stronger.