An old small town physician is now free to tell this yarn since his patient, a one-time undertaker, has died. The physician’s predecessor, Dr. Davis, had heard the same tale, but never discussed the particular incident in which the undertaker, George Birch, “acquired a limitation” and changed his profession back in 1881. At that time, he locked himself for nine hours in the receiving tomb of the Peck Valley Cemetery.
Mention a bucolic Yankee setting, a bungling and thick-fibred (sic) village undertaker, and a careless mishap in a tomb, and no average read can be brought to expect more than a hearty albeit grotesque phase of comedy. God knows, though, that the prosy tale which George Birch’s death permits me to tell has in it aspects beside which some of which some of our darkest tragedies are light.”
Birch, “a very calloused and primitive specimen,” was on the negligent side when it came to almost everything. Thus the receiving tomb, where the deceased were stored until the spring thaw allowed their permanent resting places to be dug, was not graced with a reliable lock. Nor were the departed kept in particularly secure caskets. Those whom Birch favored were allowed the studier caskets. Those whom Birch hadn’t cared for—well, suffice to say no castoff casket went to waste. He really should have paid closer attention to what he was doing.
While some is humor intended, it’s hard to laugh. The reader doesn’t feel a much sympathy for Birch. As severe as his punishment is, the reader might nod in agreement with Dr. Davis who told Birch: “You got what you deserved.” The story is not one for children, but Lovecraft fans will enjoy it, as should horror fans and fans of unusual stories.“In the Vault” was first published in “The Tryout” in 1925 later in “Weird Tales” in 1932.