Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, SC holds many curiosities and fine examples of 19th Century funerary. Among these is the receiving tomb just at the banks of the Cooper River marsh. This building was a holding area for the deceased while a permanent grave was being prepared, prominently lettered “Receiving Tomb” over the entrance in almost iconic fashion.
“A receiving tomb was an important building in any graveyard that was subject to harsh winters. The bodies of those who died in the winter were stored in a receiving tomb, so that they could be buried in the spring when the ground was softer.
Silent City on a Hill, a book about Mount Auburn Cemetery near Boston, notes that receiving tombs had other uses as well. Bodies were stored there for short periods if the grave was not ready, or if a monument or tomb was not complete, or even if the body was to be shipped somewhere else. Storing a body in a receiving tomb had an added perk of preventing the “dead” from being buried alive, if in fact they were not dead.”
Roche, Rebecca. (August 27, 2010). Receiving Tomb. Pine Grove Cemetery of Brunswick, Maine. Retrieved November 16, 2012. From http://tinyurl.com/c6jla45.
The interior (which may now be sealed) looks to have held four or more caskets at a time. At the time of this post, I believe the tomb has been completely sealed, based on other pictures I have seen on the web.. Dating from 1849, the Receiving Tomb has been exposed to extreme temperatures, high humidity as well as heavy storms and hurricanes. This wear and tear by the elements for over 167 years has caused crumbling and structure damage. I have read about an effort to restore the tomb and this is most likely the reason for sealing it.
If you are able to visit Magnolia Cemetery–and I highly recommend that you do, if you are ever in historic Charleston, SC–be sure to stop by this excellent example of early 19th Century funerary architecture.