What If All the Dead People in Cleveland Came Back to Life?

Zombieland, Ohio. 

Flickr.com/Josh Jensen

Here at Inverse, we like to explore horrifying, if unlikely, scenarios, which is why we’ve publicly mulled what would happen if a Tyrannosaur got loose in Minneapolis, if there was a nuclear meltdown in Kansas, and if a meteor hit Connecticut. This week, we consider the reanimation of Cleveland’s corpses.

If you see a deceased Case Western Reserve associate professor dragging his tombstone down St. Clair Avenue, maybe you try to bean him with your empty Great Lakes bottle. But once you see an ex-corpse with a bad complexion going for throats and brains, the smart course of action is to yell “Zombie attack!” and get the hell away from The Mall.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that every corpse within Cleveland city limits wakes up, what then? Just how many zombies are we talking about here and what would the best course of action be?

Since 1828, the total number of interred graves, according to the Cleveland Division of Park Maintenance & Properties, is 393,131. That said, it’s safe to assume that not all of these cadavers are in prime shambling condition — the un-embalmed human body, exposed to the elements, decomposes completely within a year. And there are a ton of factors that go into the rate of decay of an embalmed body in a coffin: The fattier a corpse is, the greater the chance formaldehyde or other embalming fluids won’t seep into all the biological nooks (and about a third of Cleveland is obese, according to adults surveyed between 2005 and 2009). Should water and bacteria get into a coffin, the body will decompose much more rapidly. But on the high trailing end of the corpse half-life, a sealed coffin can keep a body fresh, more or less, for hundreds of years. In half a decade, a typical embalmed body won’t change much beyond a bit of mold.

Still, there’s the exit problem: Assuming that zombies have the same strength as humans, they’d have a tough time getting out of even a simple pine coffin. If a zombie could punch its way out, which would take on the order of hundreds of human-powered three-inch punches, the weight of six feet of soil would likely be enough to keep human muscles from climbing out.

That being said, should only 1 percent of the bodies buried in Cleveland manage to make their way to the surface, that’s nearly 4,000 zombies running amok. But don’t freak out, it ends better than you think: Biting is an ineffective method of transmission, which is why civilization is not overrun by rabid dogs. A mathematical modeling of zombies that ends in a doomsday scenario relies on hyperaggressive, highly infectious World War Z-type monsters, though even here a coordinated anti-zombie offensive would turn the tide. And the Ohio National Guard has a long history of squelching unarmed gatherings.

Once the zombies are under control, as the creators of zombie survival horror game Dying Light understand, things start looking brighter:

A single zombie in a hamster wheel might not generate all that much power, but combined, their ceaseless hunger drives hundreds, then thousands of turbines. Once zombie containment procedures are in place, crews start disinterring zombies in order to put them in wheels, ramping up Cleveland’s young zombie power industry. Hospice centers pop up around Cleveland, where — per your will — you’ll fly in from anywhere in the world, die peacefully, and sell your reanimated body to power plants. Your children, of course, get a share the proceeds, but a huge supply of dead bodies causes energy prices to plummet. The zombie treadmills, having effectively solved the technological problem of renewable energy, usher in a Cleveland-based era of cheap electricity and global prosperity.

This is all presuming the undead are not of the possess-your-soul Evil Dead or spore-emitting Girl With All the Gifts varieties. Then it’s a one-way ticket on the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Association, next stop Worldwide Dystopia Station, which would realistically be in Western Pennsylvania.

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