The Tragic & Sensationalized Death of Anna Hockwalt

Anna Hockwalt
Date of Death: January 10, 1884

“Wisely they leave graves open for the dead
‘Cos some to early are brought to bed.”

During the flurry of activity in preparation for her brother’s wedding, Anna Hockwalt (also spelled Hochwalt) sat down in a chair, overcome with the excitement of the day. Moments later her mother found her in that chair, dead. A doctor determined she “was of excitable temperament, nervous and affected with sympathetic palpitation of the heart.” The wedding carried on, but with marked sadness permeating the ceremony.

The following day, attendees of Anna’s funeral remarked how natural her skin looked and that her coloring was that of a living person. Later, they told Anna’s mother they couldn’t shake the impression that she may not have been dead when buried. They approached her parents asking them to check. This idea persisted until finally the parents couldn’t take it anymore, and unearthed Anna’s coffin.

The horrified onlookers saw Anna’s body turned on the right side, hair torn from the head in handfuls. The skin had been bitten from the fingernails and the coffin had deep scratches along the inside. Anna was reburied, and the facts of this story were hidden.

But is this story true? Articles related to the case from outside the state tell a tale of a woman buried then later discovered to have been alive. Newspapers from that time period published articles from other newspapers, meaning one story could run in dozens of newspapers across the country, verbatim. This story traveled across the country, one version during the time of yellow journalism, which, in a nutshell, was publishing the most sensational and exaggerated version of a story, facts be damned.

Anna was actually buried in Calvary, although the bulk of the articles stated she was in Woodland. The Dayton Herald ran an article on February 5, 1884 to set the story straight, stating a report thoroughly investigated the story and the corpse was lying peacefully in her grave, as she had been buried weeks before.

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