Werewolf Radar: Last Dance With Buried Jane
By Nate Balding
Published Issue 115, July 2023
Hustler: It’s not just a wet magazine people have wildly claimed to have found in the woods before the invention of the internet. It’s also a full-on profession for people with the absolute moxie to operate tricky mind games on marks and rubes, perhaps no more fully than during the onset of the Great Depression. And perhaps one of the greatest players in the game was Corinne Nienstedt, aka Gloria Graves, the Buried Alive Girl.
It was the 1930s. A nation had rallied around goulash and johnnycakes; movies were short and bread lines were long. In a prototypical version of quiet quitting many laborers were engaged in screaming layoffs. It was a perfect environment for cheap entertainment and there was unanimity that endurance contests were the hottest thing since the inside of an iron lung. Gloria Graves would go down as the most famous of the persons charging 10 cents to take a peek at the smiling face of someone who’d been buried alive. But she was only one among many.
One of the first was Lois Shirk. She’d just graduated high school and it was time to get to draw an income. Being a young woman of course meant that the only position society was ready to accept her in the workforce was on her back. So when her family needed some cash she decided it best to humor them and be interred beneath 8 feet of soil at the Lincoln Lawn Miniature Golf Course in Gettysburg in 1933. It simply made the most sense.
A short time later an out-of-work vaudeville comic emerged: Irwin Westheimer — whose stage name was Billy West because, much like Lois Shirk, the public wasn’t overly prepared to engage with a performer named Irwin. Who could possibly have predicted that the same public would get super-hard into the American Nazi Party just a few years later. Billy was buried at Ocean View on the Jersey Shore and, similarly to the cast of MTV’s eponymous television show, was sponsored by the color orange. To this day he holds the world record for most Orange Crush — the local bottler being the event sponsor — consumed while buried alive. That sounds like a made-up fact but is, in fact, a regular true one.
Gloria Graves was first buried in 1935 to commemorate the opening of Ocean Park Beach in Santa Monica. Even more craven was the side-hustle of her “manager,” Mr. Q, and his wife, Florence, who posed as Graves’ nurse for the duration. Mr. Q, like a psychotic Tony Robbins who knows all the secret reasons you can’t beat a carnie on their home turf, claimed to have invented a form of self-hypnosis that allowed a person to overcome any obstacle; a claim he used to manipulate the minds of depressed people everywhere who just wanted something to believe in. Oprah would have hired the shit out of him. Supposedly Graves was utilizing this self-hypnosis to prove the ultimate truth of mind-over-matter and, seemingly, it worked. She spent 92 days, 5 hours and 28 minutes beneath 5 tons of sand and a viewing port where some 72,693 people paid a dime a piece to have short little conversations with the woman living very much at the beach, amounting to just over $150,000 when adjusted for inflation.
According to the nefarious Mr. Q, during that time she received 27 marriage proposals, 13,652 offers for a date, 27 job offers from nurse to movie star, 7 books on exercise, 5 offers to join churches and 14 to join the Communist Party, proving once and for all that if you fuck up the name attached to the quote, Lenin could reasonably say he was more popular than Jesus.
Due in part to the extremely dangerous practice of people who were getting buried alive just for love of the game — notably madman Jack Loreen, an Alaskan lumberjack who roller skated from New York to Miami before moving to San Francisco to be buried multiple times, and Harry Morrison, the “Human Groundhog” who did 120 days before emerging to see his shadow and ensure six more weeks of hospitalization — endurance contests of all kinds were outlawed in cities across the country. So when ‘ol Q, shortly after releasing a series of breadcrumbs about the coming storm on 8chan, convinced Gloria to go for one more — this time in an empty lot in Koreatown — she only lasted 192 hours before a pair of detectives rolled up to let her know that she was under arrest. She replied, “You got jellybeans for brains flatfoot? I ain’t under arrest, I’m under the ground! Oink oink bacon boys!” It may have been less invective but in the movie this will be a bold artistic choice.
Mr. Q and Ms. Graves were arraigned and, at trial, she produced her coffin to explain the mechanics of being buried alive. Apparently 1) Get in the coffin; and 2) Stay in the coffin were concepts too esoteric to believe. The arresting detective disagreed that her entombment was anything but a scam and the judge agreed, fining them both $50 or about $1,100 in 2023 money. The initial complaint, however, was incorrectly filed and an appellate court threw out the decision, provoking the LA Times to print the headline: “Buried-Alive Girl Wins in Appeal from Penalty” proving that as long as you almost die for your art you, too, can make it in Hollywood.
The Gloria Graves name disappeared from history and Corinne Nienstedt returned to her life to pursue her dream in aviation, becoming a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) where she was one of the few women to put her stylish pump on the throat of the Hun and smash over that career horizon at a cool 300 miles per unburied hour.
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It’s a big, weird world. Don’t be scared. Be Prepared.
Nate Balding is a freelance humanoid who occasionally manifests in print and can most likely be seen at Werewolf Radar. Should you wish to hear him manifest audibly you can do so at the aforementioned Werewolf Radar’s associated podcast on Spotify and Apple, and if anything ever becomes humorous again, on a variety of stand up stages around the nation. If you’re truly craving further content there’s always @Exploder on Twitter — even if it is only a form of digital self flagellation at this point. His one thing that he considers actually accomplished was this time he was published in the journal Nature and then later collected into a volume called Futures from Nature, still available in places that have things.