Saved by the Bell

There are certain sayings that have become common use in everyday life that we just don’t realize the origins of. Some of them are way darker than the light or even happy connotation we may have with them.



The cast of Saved by the Bell

Saved by the Bell is an American television sitcom that aired on NBC from 1989 to 1993. The show follows a group of high school friends and their principal; primarily focusing on lighthearted comedic situations. ‘Saved by the bell’ is also a common used term for something that you say when a difficult situation ends suddenly before you have to do or say something that you do not want to. But the origin of the saying is a lot different than the friendly sitcom may suggest.


Before modern medicine and technology it was often not possible to 100% conclude someone’s death. Often times when digging up graves for relocation, the coffins were opened. Some coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside of the lid; it was then realized that people had been being buried alive. While we can’t say statistically how common this actually was, it became a widespread scare and myth. People genuinely feared the idea of being buried alive happening to them.

So an idea was introduced to prevent people from being buried alive; drill a hole in the lid of the coffin, tie a string on the wrist of the deceased and lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell on the limb of a tree or pole placed nearby. Hence, came about the term ‘saved by the bell’. If you were lucky enough to be buried in a coffin witch such contraption you could ring the bell and it would literally save your life.


A related term, the ‘Graveyard Shift’, or ‘Graveyard Watch’, is commonly used to refer to a shift of work that is during the early morning, typically midnight until 8am. Many people commiserate on their bad luck on being stuck with such a difficult shift. And while the shift itself isn’t typically considered scary (generally just unappealing) the term comes from a darker time.

Graveyards traditionally have a shady reputation in both actual practice and literature. The origins of graveyard shift involve a night watchman at a graveyard listening to make sure that individuals were not buried alive. With the aforementioned ‘saved by the bell’, once the bell was rung, someone had to be the one to dig up the undead.

photo-1485135711227-eee0b82501d2Around this time many also believed in myths of vampires, zombies, ghosts, and witches; and what better place for those monsters to hang out than a graveyard late at night. Someone on the graveyard shift also was thought to endure the night of keeping watch over the graveyard and keeping people’s dead loved ones safe from the unknown horrors that would lurk around a graveyard.

Lastly, we have the term ‘dead ringer’; now used to define  a person that looks very similar to someone else; a lookalike. But in colonial days, a ‘dead ringer’ was just that, the person who was saved by the bell. Someone that was thought to be alive but rang the bell, and saved themselves from a suffocating death.

Next time you’re saved by the bell, not having to spill a secret because the conversation ended abruptly, or if you’re unhappily working the graveyard shift, or run across someone that you swear is a dead ringer for Elvis Presley, remember the disturbing stories behind the reasons we use those idioms.

This post is apart of our 13 days of Halloween series. Checkout our other spooky posts:

  1. Washington Ghost Stories
  2. Out of Place Artifacts
  3. Henry Rathbone
  4. Charon and the Journey to Hades
  5. Post-Mortem Photography
  6. All Hallows Eve Divination Games
  7. Saved By The Bell and other Idioms
  8. Halloween Coins
  9. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
  10. Coins Connecting You to the Spirit World
  11. Ancient Egyptian Alien Coins
  12. Superstitions Around the World
  13. A Brief History of Halloween