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Why do they put locks on caskets?

Caskets with locks have been used for centuries to prevent unauthorized access to the deceased. While the practice may seem macabre to some modern sensibilities, there are practical and symbolic reasons for locking caskets that still apply today.

To Prevent Grave Robbery

One of the main historical reasons for locking caskets was to deter grave robbers. For centuries, there has been a demand for cadavers and body parts for anatomical study and medical research. Without legal ways to obtain specimens, unscrupulous parties would dig up fresh graves to steal remains. Locks helped prevent this unethical and illegal practice.

In the 1800s, grave robbing became even more rampant as medical schools proliferated. With high demand and short supply, professional gangs of “resurrectionists” or “body snatchers” emerged, stealing cadavers and selling them. The problem grew so bad that mourners would guard graves or hire security to watch cemeteries at night. Locked metal caskets offered added protection.

Today, laws restrict disinterment and regulate body donation. However, the threat of grave robbery still exists in some places. Locks provide a safeguard should this unfortunate crime occur.

To Delay Decomposition

Locking caskets helps preserve human remains by sealing out air, moisture, and pests. A secured, airtight casket creates an isolated micro-environment that slows down decomposition. This allows the deceased’s body to remain viewable and presentable for funeral services.

Slowing decomposition becomes especially important if there is a delay between death and burial. Locked caskets prevent insects, vermin, and water from entering, protecting the body as it awaits interment. The casket lock keeps closure secure during the interim.

To Prevent Accidental Opening

Casket locks also serve the practical purpose of preventing accidental opening. Given the weight andawkward size of caskets, mistakes can happen during transport and interment. A loose closure mightpop open, exposing the deceased in an undignified manner.

Locking the closure ensures it stays firmly shut, no matter how the casket is jostled or turned. This protects the dignity of the deceased from embarrassing exposure during funeral proceedings or burial.

For Family Peace of Mind

Beyond practical physical security, locks can provide symbolic psychological assurance to grieving families. The click of the lock ‘seals the deal’ and gives a sense of finality after the closure.

Knowing that their loved one’s remains are fully secured and protected can give relief and peace of mind to relatives in their time of mourning. A locked casket represents a dignified, undisturbed rest.

To Prevent Spread of Contagion

In cases where the deceased died from a contagious disease, locking the casket prevents exposure to pathogens. Air- and fluid-tight enclosure protects funeral staff and attendees by sealing in biohazards.

Historically, when deaths resulted from infectious diseases like smallpox or the plague, locked metal caskets prevented further spread of contagion. In modern times, this barrier of protection is especially relevant for individuals who died in quarantine from viruses like COVID-19.

To Discourage Tampering

While extremely uncommon, there have been disturbing cases of tampering with corpses inside unlocked caskets. Locks deter the unthinkable from occurring by securing the deceased’s physical integrity within.

Locking the casket also prevents any unauthorized ‘pranks’ or vandalism, ensuring the deceased rests in peace. The lock signals that any attempt to reopen the casket would be a criminal transgression.

To Prevent Coffin Birth

One rare but frightening phenomenon that casket locks aim to prevent is “coffin birth.” This occurs when latent gasses build up internally and force a dead pregnant woman’s fetus to be expelled through the birth canal, even after death.

Locking helps contain this disturbing eventuality. It keeps the woman’s remains undisturbed within the sealed casket during decomposition.

For Fear of Being Buried Alive

In past centuries, there was paranoia surrounding mistaken declarations of death. Stories proliferated about people reviving inside their coffins after premature burial. Locks gave the semblance of an escape mechanism.

Functional casket locks allowed a person to “unlock” their way out if revival occurred. Popular literature heightened fears in the Victorian era with lurid tales of live burial. It spurred production of “safety coffins” rigged with escape hatches, air tubes, or bells to signal from the grave.

While modern diagnostics make live burial exceedingly rare, some still opt for casket locks just in case.

To Send a Message

In some symbolic cases, casket locks are meant less to protect remains and more to make a cultural statement. Certain groups use secured metal caskets to demonstrate consequences in the afterlife for unrepentant souls.

For example, medieval Catholic tradition held that promiscuous women, usurers, and impenitent criminals went to hell with their caskets locked, symbolizing their dire fates. Locks simulated metaphysical punishment.

However, the trend decreased over time as Catholic doctrine pivoted to praying for God’s mercy on all souls. Nonetheless, some cultures still embrace the practice for supposed sinners.

To Prevent Superstitious Concerns

Secured caskets also ease various superstitious concerns surrounding death. Locks prevent folkloric revenants like vampires or zombies from escaping and protect mourners from ghosts.

In Eastern European folklore, locking iron or silver clasps warded off evil spirits and monsters. In Chinese tradition, locking caskets fortifies the soul’s precarious journey to the afterlife. Secured coffins dispel ominous thoughts.

While most no longer subscribe to paranormal beliefs, locked caskets maintain a comforting sense of prophylactic security.


Though the practice strikes some today as morbid, locking caskets has pragmatic origins and purposes. Securing closure protects bodily remains, contains hazards, deters violations, and prevents disturbing accidents. Casket locks also give grieving families symbolic peace of mind.

The custom traces back thousands of years, reflecting timeless desires to safeguard the dead with dignity. While casket locks hopefully deter evil more than contain it, they allow final rest free from harm or desecration.