These types of flintlocks were placed in and around cemeteries to stop people from vandalizing and grave robbing. Lara Croft and Indiana Jones better watch out. These cemetery guns were banned because innocent people were hurt trying to visit graves.

Here is an article about the cemetery gun:

In the 18th and 19th centuries, grave-robbing was a serious problem in Great Britain and the United States. Because surgeons and medical students could only legally dissect executed criminals or people who had donated their bodies to science (not a popular option at the time), a trade in illegally procured corpses sprang up. This cemetery gun, held in the Museum of Mourning Art at the Arlington Cemetery of Drexel Hill, Pa., was one dramatic strategy used to thwart so-called “resurrection men.”

The gun, which the museum dates to 1710, is mounted on a mechanism that allows it to spin freely. Cemetery keepers set up the flintlock weapon at the foot of a grave, with three tripwires strung in an arc around its position. A prospective grave-robber, stumbling over the tripwire in the dark, would trigger the weapon—much to his own misfortune.

Grave-robbers evolved to meet this challenge. Some would send women posing as widows, carrying children and dressed in black, to case the gravesites during the day and report the locations of cemetery guns and other defenses. Cemetery keepers, in turn, learned to wait to set the guns up after dark, thereby preserving the element of surprise.

Because the guns were rented by the week and were prohibitively expensive to buy, the poorer people most likely to end up beneath the anatomist’s knife—historian Michael Sappol writes that these included “black people, criminals, prostitutes, the Irish, ‘freaks,’ manual laborers, indigents, and Indians”—probably wouldn’t have benefited from this form of protection.

Thanks to curator Elizabeth Wojcik of the Museum of Mourning Art at the Arlington Cemetery.


  • HH

    very interesting indeed. What a cool looking gun. I can imagine a gun like this also being mounted on the deck of a boat to help address pirates or whatnot slipping onboard under the cover of darkness.

  • John

    You can donate your body to medical science if you like. Just have to find and fill out the official paperwork. Also, in the United States you can volunteer to be an organ donor on your driver’s license. It’s on mine.

    • Phil Hsueh

      That’s now a days, but back in the 18th and 91th centuries this was not really an option, hence the grave robbing.

      • dickG

        Of course it wasn’t an option, dummy. They didn’t have cars then!

        • JK

          That’s a dickG thing to say.

    • Bill

      I plan on making certain all my organs are used up before I punch out, and the main value of my corpse would be in a carnival sideshow.

      • Will

        I’m to be cremated. A friend has volunteered to reload my ashes into shotgun shells. There will be a wake, all attendees must bring a shotgun of their choice. The ashes shells will be distributed. Everyone will, on the count down, fire my ashes into the air, tell lies about what a great guy I was, then proceed to empty the contents of my bar.

    • flyingburgers

      In some states/counties, indigent and unclaimed bodies are automatically donated. So basically same result as back 200 years, just formalized.

  • Wouldn’t look to out of place in a horror game

  • Bill

    There were some what today appear to be bizarre practices in those days – apparently, medical practice being what it was, many people were afraid of being buried alive, so gravesites and coffins would have speaking tubes or bells on the surface that were connected to the deceased in the casket, all sorts of weirdness. Flowers at funerals became customary because of the less than stellar embalming techniques.

    Personally, I’m getting buried with one of my 1911s and a bottle of vodka.

    • Wolfgar

      I have to laugh, an old rancher who I knew for many years was buried on his ranch 2 years ago with a German Luger he got in WW2 and his favorite bottle of Whiskey. I guess great minds think a like!

      • Joshua

        father of a friend of mine was a French Partisan in WWII, he’s getting buried with the tommy gun he carried in war, as for myself, lace up my boots and put my rifle at my side, and drop an acorn on my chest

    • Jonathan Ferguson

      I don’t think those premature burial measures were very widely adopted other than by the very eccentric. Just because they were marketed doesnt mean they were successful. How many people buy those pistol bayonets we see advertised, for example?

      • It was a pretty common fear at one point. Poor people often were buried with a shovel. Of course embalming, cremation take care of the premature burial issue.

    • ghost

      I understand the vodka, but, who you gonna shoot in that coffin?

      • Joshua

        it’s a bit of a holdover from older cultures, who would bury their honored dead with items they might need in the afterlife. taking a bottle of vodka and a weapon with you to Valhalla sounds like a great idea.

        as a side note, getting buried alive, you’d want a way to opt out, a loaded gun serves that function just fine

    • Random Disabled Person

      Sadly that was the truth. The Postmortem examination wasn’t very big(taboo to dissect the body which led to few organ donors in the first place) and many people who had weak pulses or were passed out with lowered responses(plenty of causes where we revive people today, or the come back awake on their own from very shallow breathing….), were pronounced dead. This was back before they had the whole sanitation and poop in the drinking water making everyone sick….. So medicine was often wrong when they actually bothered with a doctor. hence one the traditions of laying in state and having someone watch the body. Traditions can have some scary roots.

      Take the scratches found inside some of the coffins from suffocating and panic people clawing at the lid to get out(or attract someone). Which helped feed the vampire hysteria. When graves wre open the scratch marks , the hair and nails looking longer since the skin shrunk away, then if they put a stake into the chest for of rotting gas and the hole cause a release of pressure and the chest fell….well there you have the science of the day for proof of the living dead.

  • Bill

    I’m betting one humid night would make certain the powder in the frizzen pan was soggy. I just wrote that because there aren’t many opportunities to use “frizzen,” let alone in the same sentence with “soggy.”

    • Will

      I once had a soggy frizzen but a trip to the doctor fixed it.
      My apologies. I just could not resist.
      Please forgive me.

      • ghost

        Thank god it was just syphilis. (my resistance is low tonight too).

  • sam

    Woah, so morbid! Poor innocent mourners, way to kick someone when they’re down.

  • Jonathan Ferguson

    This is an “alarm gun”, used for a lot more than just keeping people away from graves. More likely to be found on an estate to deter/alert to poachers.

  • Azril @ Alex Vostox


  • scaatylobo

    A blank firing version would suffice to alert the watchman !.
    And at most cause a robber to suffer a possible heart attack —– or crap their pants !.

  • A great idea. How about having these guns on duty today; especially around election time.

  • john huscio

    Similar to the grave/coffin torpedos of the same time period……I remember a few being excavated in Ohio some years ago

  • These guns were often custom made hence no standard design. They tended to not fire blanks either. Authentic ones are a collector’s item but you don’t fire them due to the fact they could blow up since they were often cobbled together.

  • Donald Darr

    They also had ‘grenades” or “mines” on top of the casket so that if you tried to dig it up, BOOM! No more grave robbers.

  • Robert L. Rice

    I never had a soggy frizzen,but,ive had very wet P—–S,and they were great,