It was a cool October night just before midnight, and the crowd gathered at a grave near the haunted forest. As they looked on, pallbearers lowered a casket into the ground and began shoveling dirt on top of it. No one in the crowd made an effort to stop them, even though they all knew the man inside the coffin was still alive.
The man buried alive was local radio personality Scott Shawver, and on October 13th – Friday the 13th to be exact! – of 1989, the 23-year-old Marion native was a willing participant in his own funeral. The 24-hour burial was all part of an effort to promote the Marion Jaycees’ annual haunted forest fund-raiser out on Pole Lane Road.¹
I first ran across this story in an old Marion Star. My interest piqued, I pestered Scott into letting me interview him, and a few weeks ago he invited me out to the WMRN station (he’s still in the radio business) to discuss the nearly 30-year-old stunt.
The idea, he told me, was for people to come out to watch him get buried alive and then stay for the haunted forest. It was also good way for WMRN to promote Scott himself since he had recently been hired as the station’s new morning guy.
He told me the “casket” was, in reality, more like a good-sized wooden shipping box. There were two little hatches, one over his face and one over his feet, which he could open and close. Both hatches had air tubes going all the way to the surface, and people could look down these tubes and see him lying there. The box was also outfitted with a little light, a ventilation fan and working telephone.
Scott estimated he received a couple hundred phone calls in the 24 hours he was underground. He said the phone rang and rang, the callers generally asking inane questions like “Are you really down there?” and “How do you pee?” He said he eventually had to take it off the hook so that he could get some sleep.
A magician named Bill Shayner supervised the whole process. Although Scott said he’s not claustrophobic, he did request for a backhoe to be standing by in case the box collapsed. However, as Mr. Shayner was preparing Scott for the burial, Scott noticed there was still no backhoe.
“Where’s the backhoe?”
“Well,” Bill said, “that was the responsibility of the Jaycees…”
In the end, however, the whole event went off without a hitch, and the next night, a group of men dug him back up (sans backhoe).
Today Scott is the senior vice president of programming for Marion and Mansfield at WMRN as well as co-owner of Marion’s iconic OK Café. He told me that even now people occasionally come up to him and say, “You were the guy who got buried!”
Believe it or not, Scott was not the first person in Marion to make the Star for being buried alive.
On September 4th, 1929, the paper ran a story about a man calling himself the “Great Pasha” who was also buried alive in Marion County.²
For those unaware, Marion was once home to an amusement park, Crystal Lake, which was located north of town on Rt. 4. During a carnival sponsored by the local Elks Lodge, the Great Pasha was buried alive for two hours.³
Unlike Scott Shawver, the Great Pasha claimed his coffin, once sealed, had only a limited amount of air in it. In fact, the public was invited to inspect his coffin for air tanks or hoses before he was lowered “into the earth six feet and covered with fine earth.” Once buried, he claimed to work a spell on himself that reduced his heart rate to three or four beats a minute.
Whatever the case, the Great Pasha wowed the large crowd when he was dug up and revived two hours later. According to author Charles J. Shields, The Great Pasha performed his act all over the country until the day his show coffin became a real one:
Then…in another city, [his assistant] ordered the Pasha to rise, but he remained still. She repeated the command. He was motionless. When she screamed, it dawned on the audience that the Great Pasha was dead.
– Josh Simpkins
¹ The now-defunct Jaycees are a community service organization that was once active in the Marion area.
² The Great Pasha was not a local. He claimed to be Egyptian, but he was actually just a guy from the Bronx named Sam Goldberg. Interestingly, Goldberg was managed for years by Arch Capote, father of In Cold Blood author Truman Capote.
³ The Star article states that local undertaker WC Boyd assisted in burying Pasha. The Boyd Funeral Home, which was founded by Mr. Boyd in 1922, is still in business and located on Columbia Street.
Capote: A Biography by Gerald Clarke
The Marion Star, October 15, 1989
The Marion Star, September 4, 1929
“Doing in the Great Pasha — plus a deleted scene from Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee” by Charles J. Shields