Cemeteries are, naturally, creepy. They are a monumental reminder about our death and of human frailty, literally a testament to the little time we have on earth.
But they weren’t always considered creepy! They used to be a hot picnicking spot in the 19th century for families and couples alike. At the time, cemeteries were really the closest thing to public parks, which weren’t common yet – they were often beautiful, with well-kept trees and other vegetation; they were quiet, and there was plenty of space. You could break bread with your family members both alive and dead and enjoy a sunny day on the grass.
This was also at a time when, as a culture, we lived with death more casually than we do now. Funerals used to happen right in the home, mourning jewelry and art was common, and death was generally a routine visitor to, at the time, large families. Women died in childbirth much more often, as did children and others from illnesses like yellow fever, cholera, and tuberculosis. When death itself became less common due to our increasing knowledge about medicine and science it, ironically, became more frightening to us…and the tale of the haunted cemetery really began to take shape.
The following stories are adapted from our two-part episode series “Haunted Cemeteries” (#31 & #32) on the Ain’t it Scary? With Sean & Carrie podcast.
Howard Street Cemetery – Salem, MA
Salem, Massachusetts was home to the famous witch trials of 1692-93, wherein 19 men and women were hanged for witchcraft, and one man – Giles Corey, 81 years old – was pressed to death by heavy stones. This was used as a torture method to try and get Corey to plead either guilty or innocent of witchcraft. Corey refused to plead, even as his chest was being crushed, simply uttering the words “More weight” over and over again. Eventually, Corey’s chest caved in, and he never did enter a plea before his death.
Apparently, before his death, Corey muttered at the cruel Sheriff Corwin, “Damn you! I curse you sheriff and all of Salem!” Though Corey was probably not a witch, it seems his curse did take hold…since Corey’s death, all the Sheriffs – including Corwin himself – have died or resigned due to cardiac complications. As of 1991, there isn’t even a town sheriff’s office in Salem anymore, apparently for this reason.
Howard Street Cemetery was opened in 1801 on the very land where Corey was pressed to death and probably buried thereafter. Many have stated they’ve seen his apparition floating among the tombstones, or even attested to being touched by cold, clammy hands. Some saw his spirit hovering in the cemetery grounds just before the Great Salem Fire of 1914 that destroyed most of the city and where the fire began? Near Gallows Hill…the site of the hanging of Corey’s wife, Martha.
Bachelor’s Grove & Resurrection Cemetery – Chicago & Justice, IL
Bachelor’s Grove has become KNOWN for its alleged ghost sightings and is often reported as having been a dumping ground for victims of Al Capone and the Chicago mob during the ‘20s and ‘30s, though no evidence has come forward to prove this. However, there is an isolated lagoon near the back of the cemetery, which seems the perfect place to dump a snitch or two!
There’s a whole list of the reported phenomena at Bachelor’s Grove, starting with your typical floating orbs of light and extending to collisions with a phantom vehicle. One of the most famous ghost photos of all time was taken at Bachelor’s Grove, that of the “White Lady” or “Madonna” of Bachelor’s Grove. The photo was taken at the cemetery in 1991 during an investigation by the Ghost Research Society using infrared film. The group saw no person visible at the time, but the photo clearly shows a human figure – which certainly looks like a woman – sitting on the checkered monument located near the south entrance. There are parts of the woman that appear translucent, like her nose and feet. The woman is rumored to be the spirit of a woman who was buried next to her child and apparently has been seen wandering the cemetery during the full moon, holding the body of a baby in her arms.
The resident spirit of Resurrection Cemetery in nearby Justice, IL is so famous she has her own Wikipedia page! The story of this phantom, “Resurrection Mary”, is a classic vanishing hitchhiker tale, and usually goes something like this:
Mary, a young woman living in the Chicago area in the 1930s, had spent the evening dancing with her date at the Oh Henry Ballroom. At some point, they got into an argument and Mary stormed out of the venue.
She started walking up Archer Avenue, not getting very far before she was struck by a hit-and-run driver, who fled the scene, leaving Mary to die. Her grief-stricken parents found her body and buried her in Resurrection Cemetery, wearing a beautiful white dancing dress and matching dancing shoes. The hit-and-run driver was never found.
The stories about the spirit of Mary began not long after her reported death. Jerry Palus reported that in 1939 he met a person whom he came to believe was Resurrection Mary at the Liberty Grove and Hall at 47th and Mozart. They danced and even kissed, and she asked him to drive her home along Archer Avenue, exiting the car while saying, “I must leave you now, you cannot follow me,” and disappearing in front of Resurrection Cemetery right before his eyes.
Another story came in 1979 and 1980 from Chicago Tribune columnist Bill Geist. Ralph, a taxi driver, had dropped off a fare in the far southwest suburbs on a cold evening before the historic Blizzard of 1979. He spotted a girl with no coat, wearing a white dancing dress, walking beside the road. He offered her a ride, only to have her disappear through the cab door, then run to an outbuilding across from Resurrection Cemetery’s main gate. Since then, many others have come forward claiming to have given Resurrection Mary a chilling final ride home.
St. Louis Cemetery #1 – New Orleans, LA
St. Louis #1 is New Orleans’ oldest surviving gravesite, having been established by Spanish royal decree way back in 1789. In the space of just one city block, St. Louis holds over 700 tombs and more than 100,000 buried bodies. In fact, Mark Twain himself gave St. Louis the name City of the Dead…but is it also the City of the UNdead?
Related: Vampire History and Legend
One of the spirits said to haunt St. Louis #1 is that of Henry Vignes, a 19th-century sailor who entrusted his family papers, including the deed to the Vignes family tomb, to the owner of his boarding house while he went off to sea. Unfortunately, the landlord sold the tomb while Vignes was away, and eventually, when Vignes died, he had to be buried in an unmarked grave in the pauper’s section of St. Louis #1.
It seems Henry Vignes is not at rest. His spirit is, supposedly, still seen wandering the cemetery. A tall man with blue eyes approaches tourists asking if they know where the Vignes family tomb is located because he’s having trouble finding it. The ghost has even shown up at funerals taking place on the grounds, asking grieving family members of the deceased if there’s any more room in the tomb for him! He’s been caught on camera, and the voice of a male spirit has been captured on an EVP saying, “I need to rest!”
Of course, the most famous spirit at St. Louis #1 is that of Marie Laveau, New Orleans’ legendary Voodoo Queen. Marie Laveau is the most well-known voodoo practitioner in New Orleans history.
Born in 1801, Marie practiced fortune-telling, created herbal remedies, and worked under a variety of occult beliefs. Marie started work as a hairdresser, visiting the most affluent homes in town to style the hair of the women of the house, and in these homes in exchange for charms, prayers, and spells, the slaves owned by the homeowners would tell Marie the family’s secrets and dirty laundry. Because of this extraordinary knowledge, her fame in mediumship and insight grew, and as her fame grew, many townspeople sought out Marie to beg her for help with problems or assistance in their own rituals and spells, until she eventually became the aforementioned “Voodoo Queen of New Orleans”.
After death, Laveau was buried in St. Louis #1. Visitors to the cemetery have reported seeing the ghost of Marie Laveau, wearing her signature red and white turban, walking through the tombs. And for those who disregard her or her beliefs or religion, reports exist of people being scratched, pinched, or shoved down to the ground. Visitors have reported all sorts of paranormal happenings while trying to interact in good faith with the deceased voodoo queen, like feelings of being touched, becoming unexplainably ill, and hearing voices emanating from inside the tomb. Unfortunately, due to vandalism, the Archdiocese of New Orleans closed the cemetery off to the public after March 2015, with only licensed tours now being allowed inside.
Westminster Burial Ground – Baltimore, MD
The most famous gravesite in the Westminster Burial Ground cemetery is that of the famous Gothic author, Edgar Allan Poe.
After dying under strange circumstances in 1849, Poe was originally buried in an unmarked grave toward the back of the burial grounds, but in 1875 Baltimore school children raised enough money through their “Pennies for Poe” project to erect a monument dedicated to the author at the entrance of the cemetery, which also marks the final resting place of his wife Virginia Clemm Poe and his mother-in-law, Maria Poe Clemm. Many have reported seeing Poe’s spirit walking around his gravesite and even standing at the altar inside the nearby Westminster Hall church. But Edgar isn’t the only specter haunting the area at night.
The infamous “Skull of Cambridge” is also buried at Westminster. Whose skull? It’s unknown, but legend says it’s from the decapitated head of an unnamed minister who was violently murdered. Reports claim that the minister’s skull would scream at all hours of the day and night. These screams were said to be so terrible they would linger in the minds of those who spent prolonged time around it until it drove them to the point of insanity. The skull was even dug up and reburied, now encased in a cement block, to muffle the sounds of its screams, though some still hear disembodied screams to this day.
Stull Cemetery – Stull, KS
The popularization of the cemetery legend is mostly traced back to an article in the November 1974 issue of the University Daily Kansan, the student newspaper of the University of Kansas. The article, written by Jain Penner, publicized the main urban legend about Stull Cemetery: that the cemetery was one of the 7 Gates to Hell, the nearby Evangelical Emmanuel Church ruins were “possessed” by the devil, and the Devil himself appeared at the location twice a year…once on Halloween, and once on the spring equinox. Here’s a snippet of the article:
“Far removed from the horrible story of The Exorcist or the bizarre black masses recently discovered in Los Angeles, and tucked away on a rough county road between Topeka and Lawrence is the tiny town of Stull. Not unlike the town of Sleepy Hollow, described by Washington Irving in his famous tale, Stull is one of those towns motorists can miss by blinking. Stull and Sleepy Hollow have another thing in common. Both are haunted by legends of diabolical, supernatural happenings.”
According to lore, Satan comes by on the Spring Equinox because his wife is buried there, or possibly to visit the gravesite of his infant son. Other tidbits of the legend state that on a 1995 trip to Colorado, the Pope redirected the flight path of his private plane to avoid flying over the unholy ground of Stull, and the band The Cure refused to play in Kansas because of their superstition around the legend. There are claims by tourism-friendly locals of raps and banging sounds; disembodied voices are often reported, usually the voice of an old woman; ghostly children are seen playing at night in the cemetery; and visitors experience time shifts and discrepancies, inexplicable loss of memory, disorientation, and technological disfunction.
Union Cemetery – Easton, CT
Finally, we end with Union Cemetery, a mere 20-minute drive from my home and the alleged “Most Haunted Cemetery in America”, a distinction given to it by none less than Ed & Lorraine Warren, native Connecticut ghost hunters and inspirations for the Conjuring horror film franchise. Lorraine told the Westport Daily Voice in 2011, “I know for a fact that this place is haunted, it’s one of the most haunted places around.”
How did Union get this title? Well, it has its own “White Lady” legend, one so pervasive around the area (for decades!) that it’s become one of the most well-documented hauntings in the country. There have even been many officially reported sightings by professionals such as police or firemen. When seen, the White Lady is classically wearing a white nightgown or perhaps wedding dress, gliding between Union Cemetery and Stepney Cemetery down the road in nearby Monroe. She will commonly be seen in the middle of Route 59 and be “hit” by a passing car, only for the poor driver to stop, check, and find no one in the road. In fact, an off-duty fireman thought he hit a woman in white while driving one evening in 1993, only to find nothing in the road…but a large dent in his car! The White Lady has also been seen floating among the gravestones in the cemetery itself.
The legends are so famous that many locals and tourists flock to the cemetery to try and get a glimpse of the White Lady, which has forced the Easton Police Department to close the graveyard to the public after dusk and routinely patrol the area. However, that hasn’t stopped many paranormal researchers from capturing alleged evidence on the grounds, including photos, videos, EVPs and more.
For their part, the Warrens believed in the haunted nature of Union Cemetery so deeply that they wrote an entire book about it: Graveyard. Ed & Lorraine themselves were buried at the White Lady’s other favorite stomping grounds, Stepney Cemetery.
For more chilling tales of haunted cemeteries and of other hauntings, as well as true crime, cryptids, aliens, conspiracies, and more, check out Ain’t it Scary? with Sean & Carrie – wherever you get your podcasts!