Kings and presidents have always been keen to be seen as wise. Similarly, generals and warlords have always wanted to be seen as fearless, while men of science and literature have wanted to be remembered for their great, rational minds. But even the most powerful king or the most enlightened scientist is human just like everybody else. As well as their strengths, they have their weaknesses. And some had fears just like us. What’s more, some of the most notable figures in history suffered from extreme phobias.
Some phobias were understandable, like the dictator who was terrified of flying after a close call in a helicopter crash. But others were far more bizarre, from artists who lived in fear of grasshoppers to the president who was convinced he was going to be buried alive. So, here we have the phobias that kept kings, rulers and other notable figures from history awake at night:
19. Hans Christian Anderson had a vivid imagination and obsessive thoughts of being buried alive dominated his later years
The Danish writer Hans Christian Anderson had a colorful imagination. Over the course of his prolific career, he wrote a number of children’s classics, including ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes, ‘The Ugly Duckling’ and, of course, ‘The Little Mermaid’. However, his ripe imagination and active mind was often a curse as well as a blessing. Anderson had a number of fears, not least the fear of being buried alive. He even took active measures to ensure that he would never endure this fate worth than death.
Not that such a fear was completely irrational. At the very least, it was certainly understandable given the time. The Victorian era was undoubtedly the golden age of taphephobia (literally meaning ‘fear of the grave’ in Greek). The popular press regularly printed sensational – and, almost certainly inaccurate – tales of people waking up in a coffin six feet under the ground. Anderson, as a well-read gentleman in cosmopolitan Copenhagen, would surely have read such urban myths. And he wouldn’t have been the only one to have taken them seriously. The practice of having a bell installed above a grave, with a piece of string going into a coffin so that the person inside could ring for help if they somehow woke up, was revived, having formerly been widespread during the days of the Plague. But Anderson had his own safety measure.
According to some of his biographers, Anderson leaves a note saying “I only appear to be dead” beside his bed when he went to sleep. He also took other precautions. For instance, he would deliberately avoid dogs since he also suffered from an acute fear of them, plus he never ate pork as he was paranoid about being poisoned. What’s more, it’s also claimed Anderson would always travel with a large piece of rope in his luggage since he was afraid of fire and feared he might need to escape from a burning hotel. In the end, however, it was cancer that killed the great Dane. Anderson passed away in his own bed in 1875 at the age of 70. He was surrounded by his friends and family. What’s more, since he was a very wealthy man at the time of his death, he could afford Copenhagen’s finest doctors, and they would have made double-sure Anderson was definitely deceased before he was buried in the city’s finest cemetery.