I find The Encyclopedia of Urban Legends by Jan Harold Brunvand to be captivating and comprehensive. Countless urban legends are meticulously alphabetized by title. I enjoy the atmosphere that many of these tales evoke and wanted to share one with you:
The Corpse in the Cask
In this legend, an English family discovers a barrelful of rum stored in the basement of an old house they recently purchased. Over the course of a year or two they consume the rum in drinks and cooking; then they cut the barrel in half to use it as a planter. Inside they find the body of a man who had been shipped home from the colonies long ago, preserved in spirits.
Corpses of fallen military officers and other officials were, in fact, sometimes returned to England inside barrels of wine or other spirits. Even Lord Nelson’s body was preserved in a barrel of brandy after he fell at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and in that container was sent back to England for burial. One tradition claims that sailors drilled into the barrel and sipped out some of the brandy with straws, giving rise to the expression “tapping the admiral.”
“The Corpse in the Cask” is similar to American legends about bodies found in city water tanks, and it is also reminiscent of various legends about accidental cannibalism.