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Prematurely Marked Grave

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"Under my feet was a tombstone carved with a death's head under which I was to be buried; it was marked with my name."
Memoirs of Frederick Baron Trenck, Written by Himself

A grave or other burial site whose marker bears the name of a person who happens to be alive and well and who most certainly did not order it made (not even for staging a mock funeral) is a horrifying sight. To increase the horror, the person who discovers it will usually be the anticipated occupant.

There are three variations of this:

  • The grave just appears with no explanation whatsoever. This is usually a supernatural situation and appears in the horror genre.
  • The grave is put there by one person as a threat to another he is facing that Your Days Are Numbered.
  • The grave is put there by the townspeople for someone they think will die.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Gravestone of Daisuke Jigen is so named because the sniper who's after Jigen, Yael Okuzaki, is in the habit of making gravestones for his targets ahead of time.
  • Sailor Moon: In the Stars arc of the manga, Sailor Moon finds gravestones for herself, Princess Kakyuu, and Chibi Chibi in Sailor Heavy Metal Papillon's graveyard of Sailor Crystals, because Papillon intends to kill them. She doesn't get a chance to do so, though, because Chibi Moon and the Sailor Quartet come to the rescue.

    Comic Books 
  • A Running Gag in Lucky Luke is that the town morticians, being Consummate Professionals, would often start measuring Luke, or some other unfortunate character, for a coffin when they're about to face down a dangerous outlaw. Apart from the first (of many) Dalton's Escape, when it is the four brothers who split the job, between Joe doing the killing and the rest preparing an open grave, much to the consternation of the local undertaker for stealing his job, along with everything else.
  • Spider-Man: In the covers to Kraven's Last Hunt, we see a grave marked for Spider-Man with either an empty tomb or Spidey himself rising from the ground, showing that he is far from dead.
  • Superman: In an early Jimmy Olsen comic, Jimmy, investigating a gunslinger in an Old West-style town, discovers a tombstone with his alias on it and a rhyme notched into it. However, the guy who had the tombstone made wasn't hardened enough to kill anyone in reality. (Jimmy discovered during his investigation that the opponents he had "killed" were his assistants in disguise and their "graves" contained rocks.)
  • In the EC Comics story "Impending Doom!" (Tales from the Crypt #20), a man comes across a stonecutter cutting his name into a gravestone. The date of birth is his own, and the date of death is today's date, which turns out to be prophetic, of course.
  • Tintin: In Tintin: Cigars of the Pharaoh, Tintin and Snowy enter an Egyptian tomb where several bodies of other archeologists who dared to enter it have been mummified. They all stand next to each other on display. At the end of these, to his horror, there are empty sarcophaguses bearing the names of himself, Snowy, and Dr. Sarcophagus. He immediately realizes he needs to escape.

    Comic Strips 
  • Garfield: In the October 28, 1982 strip, Garfield and Jon decide to stay in a spooky old house for the night, since their car has broken down en route to Jon's parents' home. As they head for the house, Garfield spies a tombstone with his name and a death date of October 30, 1982. Two strips later, Garfield and Jon are terrified out of their wits by a shadowy figure, who turns out to be Jon's dad (who'd come looking for them when they didn't show). With this reveal, Garfield remarks "One life down, eight to go."

    Fan Works 
  • A.A. Pessimal's Discworld fic The Prospectus, aimed at parents of prospective Assassins' Guild School pupils, describes the exciting range of craft activities open at the School. Stomemasonry, for instance, has boys carving their own tombstones (with dates of demise left blank) as, well, you never know. Similarly, the Woodwork Department turns out coffins and caskets to a very high professional standard. This is designed to focus the minds of student Assassins on the unfortunate fact they are aspiring to enter a high-risk profession, and it also means all eventualities of a typical School term are covered.

    Films — Animated 
  • Played for Drama in Balto. When the sled dog team transporting medicine gets lost, it looks like the children who are suffering from diphtheria won't make it, with Balto seeing a carpenter preparing children-size coffins. This is what drives Balto to go out and bring back the medicine.
  • For Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers, Pete, the treacherous Captain of the Guard prepares something special and proves his credentials in villainous flair by going further than preparing mere tombstones with a name. He goes with specially-ordered, literal headstones where the skull of each of the musketeers is carved. And they don't even come in handy as two of the three are supposed to leave their bones somewhere where no coffin will be necessary.
  • Rango. After Rango takes on the job of the new sheriff of Dirt, the citizens quickly prepare for his demise, including the undertaker constructing a new coffin for him.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Addams Family. At the climax, the villains Tully Alford and Abigail Craven are blasted by hurricane winds through a window and into the air. They end up falling into open coffins lying in graves freshly dug by Pugsley and Wednesday (who had the commendable if inexplicable foresight to get both the location and almost the names right).
  • Back to the Future Part III has the photograph of Doc's grave change to that of Clint Eastwood (who Marty named himself while in 1885) after Buford challenges Marty to a duel. Marty sees a similar (nameless) grave at the undertaker. Before the duel with Buford, one of the undertakers prematurely sizes him up for a coffin.
  • In A Fistful of Dollars (a remake of Yojimbo), the local undertaker looks the protagonist over before leaving. Another character comments that the one hard look is all that the coffinmaker needs because there has been so much business lately.
  • High Noon. Marshall Kane is not amused to find the local carpenter building several coffins in anticipation of the impending gunfight.
  • Horrific: The six people trapped in the cabin find crosses with their names and today's date on them in the small graveyard in Masters of Death.
  • The coffin version also appears in Jonah Hex. The eponymous Bounty Hunter turns up with the corpses of the four men he'd been sent after but notices that there are five newly-made coffins waiting. Turns out the sheriff and his deputies would rather claim the bounty on Hex than pay him. One of the would-be ambushers is actually hiding inside a coffin — needless to say Hex puts him right back in there.
    Hex: Five coffins. [beat] Sure you don't need eight?
  • Spectre. James Bond finds his name graffitied on the memorial wall of the former SIS Building at Vauxhall Cross, now awaiting demolition.
  • In The Three Musketeers (1993), d'Artagnan is being brought out for execution by beheading. Before he is forced down onto the headsman's block, two girls measure him for his coffin by putting a yardstick next to him and making a prominent chalk mark near the base of his neck.
  • In The Wraith, Packard Walsh sees a tombstone with his name on it when he and two of his goons get into a confrontation with the titular Wraith in a graveyard.
  • In Yojimbo, the local gravedigger sizes up the titular ronin for the coffin he'll need to make.

  • The EC Comic story mentioned above is almost certainly based on W.H. Harvey's "August Heat".
  • Corwin from The Chronicles of Amber had a longtime, sudden and unexplained exile (longtime even for an immortal), and eventually his family presumed he was dead and built him a memorial tomb. When Corwin does finally return he is very amused by this, and occasionally likes to sit there and think, as it's a fairly scenic and undisturbed place. He also takes an inordinate amount of pleasure in pissing on his own grave.
  • In The Dresden Files, one of Harry's enemies buys him a tombstone engraved with "Here Lies Harry Dresden. He Died Doing The Right Thing." She has enough clout to have it installed at Graceland Cemetery and illegally held open until such time as it is needed. In Ghost Story, while Harry is temporarily dead, the grave protects his spirit from being destroyed by sunlight, ironically enough. Turns out your own grave is actually an incredibly comfortable place to lay in when you're dead. The grave gets used again in the following book when Harry tries to summon Mother Winter, due to her association with death and entropy.
  • In the Louis L'Amour short story "One Night Stand", the hero (an actor disguised as Wild Bill Hitchcock) intimidates a hired gunman in this fashion, looking him over, and then hiring two men at the bar to dig a grave and procure a headstone for the man as (successful) psychological warfare to scare the gunman into abandoning his job.
    'The impersonator: Don't bother with the name. Within the week, they'll have forgotten who he was, anyway. Just carve on it HE SHOULD HAVE LEFT TOWN BEFORE THE SUN WENT DOWN.
  • In Fazil Iskander's story "Old Crooked Arm", a man is falsely reported dead while recovering in a hospital. By the time the truth is discovered, the funeral, including a grave, was prepared. The guy orders that it be kept ready just in case... which turns out to be long enough that he has to put a fence around the grave due to all the other people falling in.
  • "The Room in the Dragon Volant" by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: Having secretly met with the Countess Eugénie in the Château de la Carque in order to elope with her while her husband is busy attending to the funeral of a distant cousin, Richard Beckett (aged 23), being left alone for a moment, looks into an adjacent room and is shocked to discover a coffin, the plate on its lid identifying it as the coffin of "Pierre de La Roche St. Amand, agé de XXIII ans". Eugénie quickly reassures a spooked Richard that the Count's cousin's body arrived too late at the Château and that the Count is waiting for it at the cemetery. It is left for the reader to sense (as indeed is made clear two chapters later) that the coffin is empty and intended for Richard Beckett himself.
  • The Prussian baron Friedrich von der Trenck claimed in his memoirs that during his 10-year imprisonment on the orders of King Friedrich II of Prussia, he was kept chained in a cell with his own gravestone embedded in the floor at his feet (so as to assure him of the king's intention of letting him die in prison). An illustration of this scene provided the title page of the 1787 original edition of Trenck's book.
  • A variation in Watership Down. After being told that Hazel was shot during the Nuthanger Farm raid, the rabbit seer Fiver goes into a dream trance where he sees a man in the process of putting up a sign announcing Hazel's death, Evil Gloating over how he's going to hang Hazel's body on the sign once he's put it up. However, the man complains that he can't complete the job because he can't get Hazel out of the "bloody hole" he's stuck in. Fiver wakes up and goes looking for the hole Hazel has crawled into and finds his brother wounded but still alive.
  • Triss Merigold of The Witcher is known as the "Fourteenth of the Hill" because she was thought to have died during the Battle of Sodden Hill. Her name is carved on the obelisk that Geralt visits in The Last Wish.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In The Adventures of Superman episode "The Bully of Dry Gulch", Clark, Lois, and Jimmy find Jimmy's tombstone in the local boot hill, a threat from the local gunslinger who dislikes him.
  • In the final episode of Cowboy Bebop, Vicious shows Spike the crypt he had prepared for him back when they were blood brothers in the Syndicate. Given that the family church is now a desolate ruin, he has no problem putting Spike in there now.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "Revelation of the Daleks", the Doctor finds a memorial to himself.
    • But that's not as bad as in "The Space Museum", where the Doctor and his companions find themselves as exhibits in a museum. No one argues about the damaging effects of changing the timeline in that episode!
  • In Game of Thrones episode Mother's Mercy, Jon Snow is killed in a mutiny by his men, with the only warning he gets being a cross marked "TRAITOR" in front of him.
  • Get Smart. In "Island of the Darned", Maxwell Smart has an Oh, Crap! moment when the Villain of the Week is into Hunting the Most Dangerous Game, and has a plaque already set up on the wall for Max's head. "The Mess of Adrian Listenger" starts with them attending the funeral of a fellow CONTROL agent, and seeing somebody's already made a tombstone for Max.
  • On Justified, one of the many abusive things Arlo Givens did to his son Raylan was to put up a grave marker with Raylan's name next to their house. When Raylan's mother died, Arlo decided to bury her in the plot next to the house and he got such a great deal on the gravestone that he decided to save money and ordered gravestones pre-made for himself and Raylan. Arlo was not deliberately malicious in this instance but he still insisted on putting up the markers to "reserve" the spots rather than storing them in the shed or basement. So poor Raylan spent a large part of his childhood being greeted by the sight of his own gravestone every time he left his house.
  • Red Dwarf: In "Terrorform", while exploring a moon reshaped to Rimmer's self-loathing mind, the Boys find a small graveyard of Rimmer's positive traits, most of which "died" in his youth. They find an open grave ready and waiting for hope, as Rimmer faces The Unspeakable One.
  • In the Remington Steele episode "Elegy in Steel", Laura and Steel are in pursuit of Major Descoine (after he threatened to kill them in the next hour) when they come across a selection of tombstones. Two of them have their names and that day's date carved on them (the date was that of the original broadcast of the episode).
  • In this Saturday Night Live sketch, a man antagonizes a group of animatronic puppets during a haunted house ride. His girlfriend notices that they already have a gravestone for him, to which he responds that Peter is a common name. She then points out that the gravestone has his face, too.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series:
    • In the second pilot "Where No Man Has Gone Before", Commander Gary Mitchell has gained tremendous psionic powers, threatening the Enterprise and its crew. When Captain Kirk tracks him down and confronts him, Mitchell causes a grave and a headstone to appear. The headstone has Kirk's name and the stardates of his birth and (anticipated) death. Ironically, the gravestone lists the name as James R. Kirk, despite the series later establishing that Kirk's middle initial is "T". This discrepancy has never been directly addressed canonically, but one Expanded Universe novel gives the (obvious) explanation that Gary Mitchell simply did not know what Kirk's middle name was.
    • In "The Empath", the Power Trio finds two scientists dead in experiment cases and three more cases with their names.
  • The Tribe has a rare heroic example. When the laboratory under Eagle Mountain collapses, several of the Rats die and Amber can't be found. The surviving Rats, assuming she's dead like the rest, grieve by digging an empty grave and marking it with her name. Unfortunately, Amber was still alive (albeit heavily injured), and seeing the grave once she finally regained enough strength to follow the group did not do her mental state any favors. It's implied that her irrational feelings of betrayal were the main reason she didn't tell her tribe she was alive and went off to join the Ecos.
  • Yancy Derringer: In "Gone But Not Forgotten'', Yancy and Pahoo take a train to Virginia City to check on a silver mine Yancy is part owner of. On the way, a woman and a man try to prevent their arrival. When he gets there, Yancy finds a gravestone with his name on it and learns that the daughter of his partner in the mine has been kidnapped.

    Professional Wrestling 

    Puppet Shows 
  • Towards the end of Muppets Haunted Mansion Gonzo and Pepe discover that the mansion's groundskeeper had already carved the tombstones for their graves because he didn't expect them to escape the mansion before sunrise. Rather than being unnerved like he'd been for most of the special, Pepe is annoyed because his is marked "Pepe the Shrimp".

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • In module I6 of the Ravenloft setting, an NPC named Ireena Kolyana is accompanying the PCs so they can protect her. Deep in the crypts under Castle Ravenloft she (and they) will discover an empty crypt with her name on it — her intended resting place after Strahd turns her into a vampire.
    • Module I10 Revenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill. In the Weathermay Mausoleum, the Player Characters will find a room with a number of open drawers in the wall equal to the number of PCs. Each drawer has a plate mounted on it with the name of one of the PCs. They have been prepared by the Creature for the PCs when they die.
    • The module Death House from 5th Edition Ravenloft also has the party discover this in the basement of the titular house in the form of two crypts for Rose and Thorn, the brother and sister who tasked the party with clearing out monsters from the house and a big hint about their true nature. You eventually find the two children's bodies up in the attic where their insane parents locked them in their room and forgot about them until they starved to death, and their souls can be laid to rest by placing their bodies in the crypts.

    Video Games 
  • October from Cthulhu Saves the World keeps her own tombstone in a Bonus Dungeon Graveyard of Memories despite being far from dead. When confronted about that, she replies that possessing your own tombstone is supposed to bring good luck.
  • The Last Story: In the optional horror-inspired Chapter 20 the party goes to investigate a haunted mansion. When they first progress through the building, they are taken away one by one by supernatural monsters. Eventually, Zael finds all of them locked in coffins in the courtyard. If you check around, the same courtyard also has several tombstones, each labeled with names of your party members — and not just the current party, but also those who weren't involved in the investigation at all.
  • In the Mystery Case Files game Escape From Ravenhearst, the Master Detective finds a tombstone with her title on it and a date of death that matches the Real Life date on which the scene is played.
  • In Ghost of Thornton Hall, Nancy Drew's name appears on a previously-blank tombstone once things start getting creepy.
  • In Paranormal Files: Fellow Traveler, player character Rick Rogers has been hit with a curse that gives him just three days to break it or he will die. While conducting his sleuthing, he comes across the gardener of the cursed estate digging his grave; the gardener has stolen his driver's license and mounted it on a pole to indicate that it's for him. Rick is not impressed.
  • In the Resident Evil "REmake", George Trevor's last journal entry describes finding one of these. The player finds it a bit further along the passageway, heavily implying this trope is no longer in effect.
  • In the original Shadow Hearts, one mechanic is "Malice", which steadily builds up as you kill enemies and summons a powerful mini-boss if it gets too full. To purge Malice, you must enter the Graveyard, a zone inside main character Yuri's mind, and defeat a representation of that Malice. In the Graveyard, throughout most of the game, there's an empty grave with a tombstone that slowly builds itself as you progress. After Alice takes on Yuri's Malice, the tombstone finishes itself and becomes labeled "Alice Elliot".
  • The end of the mysterious labyrinth beneath the Historical Society in Silent Hill 2 contains a small burial plot with three freshly-dug graves. Two of the headstones are marked with the names of other people you've met on your quest, Angela Orosco and Eddie Dombrowski, while the last bears the name of the protagonist and player character, James Sunderland. You have to jump into this grave to proceed, but whether it becomes true Foreshadowing for James or not depends on the choices you make. It's definitely foreshadowing for the other two, however...
  • Undertale: In New Home, there is a room with seven coffins marked with a heart in a different colour. These are the coffins of the previous humans, as monsters don't leave behind a solid body, and the hearts represent their souls. The closest coffin has a red soul like the player's, is empty, and has the the name entered at the beginning of the game. However, this turns out to be a subversion. The name you entered is not the player character's name, but instead the first human to fall, and the coffin was theirs. It was empty because their body was taken and buried elsewhere.
  • In Voodoo Castle by Scott Adams of Adventure International, you can find a graveyard that has one grave with a beam of light shining on it and a sign that says "This grave reserved for you!"
  • Waxworks has a segment in the graveyard where you find a series of four coffins. Three of them contain the bodies of your ancestors. The fourth, "The Last", is empty. Guess who that is for.

  • The short comic It's Your Funeral, Nintendo... Again features one with the date being updated.
  • In one strip of Men in Hats, Aram leads Beriah on a three-hour walk. Beriah wonders what this "adventure" will lead to, which turns out to be an empty grave with his name on it and the epitaph, "Frankly he was rather annoying."
    Aram: This is where the adventure ends.

    Western Animation 
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy: A variation of this appears in "Know it All Ed", in which a squirt gun craze (actually turkey basters) causes the cul-de-sac kids to adopt a Wild West atmosphere; the Eds are set to face the Kankers in a high noon-style showdown, but as they journey to the construction site, they pass what looks like three graves dug in the ground for them — Ed thinks it's cool, and Double D is only frightened even more, but Eddy brushes it off. After they continue on their way, it turns out that they were individual mud pits that Rolf dug for his pigs.
  • The Simpsons:
    • "Mother Simpson": When Homer fakes his death, Patty and Selma visit Marge to present her a gravestone with Homer's name on it, revealing they have been saving for it since Marge's wedding day (the epitaph is "We are richer in having lost him"). After Marge throws them out, they start using it as a coffee table, which is how Mr Burns and the FBI eventually find out who Mona Simpson is.
    • In "E-I-E-I-(Annoyed Grunt)", after watching a Zorro movie, Homer goes around slapping people with a glove and challenging them to a duel to get whatever he wants. No one takes him up on it, so Homer keeps on doing it and getting his way, until one day, Homer goes to the Kwik-E-Mart, where he slaps a Southern Gentleman who actually accepts the challenge. Afterwards, Apu chimes in, saying "You'll need a will and a headstone. Aisle Six!". Later, we see Homer has bought the headstone, which includes the epitaph "Friend to all".
    • "Little Girl in the Big Ten": This episode has Skinner be given a dedication for his many years as principal, which includes a plaque being installed on the school wall. Unfortunately, for some reason, the carvers put in a death date on it as well (which has, ironically, passed since the episode aired).
      Skinner: Did they have to guess my date of death?
      Chalmers: Just be grateful for once.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • In the episode "Club SpongeBob", Patrick is seen building coffins for himself, SpongeBob and Squidward when they're lost in a kelp forest.
    • In "Squidward the Unfriendly Ghost", SpongeBob and Patrick dig a grave and create a tombstone for (what they believe to be) a ghostly Squidward.
  • In one Tom and Jerry short, Tom applies to be a witch's cat. On his first time on the broomstick, the witch shows him a row of graves ending with an unoccupied one, warning him that he'll end up there if he doesn't hang on tight.

    Real Life 
  • During the Warring States period in ancient China, the army of Wei, led by Pang Juan, attacked the state of Han and their allies in Qi sent a force led by the general Tian Ji and his famously brilliant advisor Sun Bin to assist them. According to folklore, Sun Bin lured the Wei forces into a night ambush and carved the words "Pang Juan dies under this tree" onto the trunk of a tree. When Pang Juan lit a torch to read the words the Qi archers fired on the light, wounding him and slaughtering his men, leading Pang Juan to commit suicide on the spot from shame. For added irony, Pang Juan was an Evil Former Friend to Sun Bin who, driven by jealousy of his talents, had framed him for treason, causing him to be crippled for life.
  • In March 2016, a granite tombstone bearing the inscription "Donald J. Trump 1946 - " and the epitaph Made America Hate Again was discovered one morning in Central Park. It was shortly removed, as "litter".


Video Example(s):


It's Not The End?

Trapped in the Kelp Forest, Squidward remarks that this was the end, but SpongeBob says otherwise, much to the surprise of Patrick, who was building coffins for the three of them.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (15 votes)

Example of:

Main / PrematurelyMarkedGrave

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