Six Seriously Spooky Cemetery Stories

It's that time of year, when we look to graveyards for tales that scare the dickens out of us. Ghosts, unexplained phenomena, and even vampires figure in these stories of graveyards from all over.

1. Silver Cliff Cemetery

Silver Cliff Cemetery in Colorado took its name from the nearby mining town of Silver Cliff, which was named for the Silver Cliff Mine. It was a silver mine. Despite an abundance of ore, bad management and financial shenanigans ran the company into the ground -three times! The cemetery is famous today for its dancing blue lights. National Geographic published an article about the lights in 1969. Witnesses say the lights are small, round, and come in other colors besides blue at times. The lights dance across the gravestones. Some say they are reflections of lights from town, but sightings were recorded before electricity came to Silver Cliff.

2. Stepp Cemetery

Stepp Cemetery is a small abandoned cemetery in the Morgan-Monroe State Forest in Indiana. Only a couple of dozen graves are there, some going back 200 years. It is officially a local family cemetery, but legend has it that it was founded by a cult called the Crabbites, whose rituals include snake handling and sex orgies. Some reports say you can still hear the chanting of their gatherings in the cemetery at night. However, I could not find any references to the Crabbites outside of Stepp Cemetery stories, which gives it urban legend status. Another story holds that a devoted mother stayed at the grave of her infant every day, even after the mother's death. Yet another story attributes the crying sounds heard to an old woman who put a curse on the cemetery after a fraternity group killed her dog and left its body at the cemetery.

3. Camp Chase Cemetery

Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio is the final resting place of 2,260 Confederate soldiers. Why Ohio? It was the site of a Union POW camp, which held 9,400 rebel soldiers during the Civil War. A smallpox epidemic struck the camp in 1863, and the victims, both prisoners and those who worked at the camp, were buried there. After the war, the camp was dismantled and the cemetery is the only remnant left. Gravestones began to replace wooden markers in 1895.

Louisiana Ransburgh Briggs was a Southerner from New Madrid, Missouri, whose father sent her north to Ohio to avoid the war. After the war was over, she married a Union veteran but never forgot her Southern sympathies. She visited the Camp Chase Cemetery and placed flowers on various graves, even those covered with overgrowth. Briggs wore a veil to hide her identity during her evening visits, earning her the nickname "the Veiled Lady of Camp Chase." She later spearheaded the efforts to reclaim and maintain the cemetery. After her death in 1950, reports of mysterious flowers appearing on graves and the sounds of crying were attributed to the ghost of Mrs. Briggs, who then came to be known as "The Gray Lady." Her activities are particularly connected with the grave of a 22-year-old soldier from Tennessee named Benjamin F. Allen. There have also been reported sightings of Confederate soldiers' ghosts at Camp Chase.

4. Highgate Cemetery

Highgate gothic

Highgate Cemetery in London, England, has its share of celebrities, but after it was filled, maintenance declined and the resulting overgrowth made it a classically spooky-looking place. So much so that a series of horror movies from Hammer Films were filmed there in the late '50s. In the 1970s, interest in the occult led to rumors and sightings of first ghosts, then vampires, in Highgate Cemetery. Vandalism and graverobbing stunts fueled these rumors, and ultimately led to a competition between "magicians" Seán Manchester and David Farrant. Both vowed to be the one who could rid the cemetery of the vampire. A series of escapades in the cemetery occurred between 1970 and 1973 in which crowds of people gathered after dark, and corpses were found unearthed, damaged, and sometimes posed. Police tried to keep order, and in 1974 Farrant was jailed for vandalizing graves. Manchester and Farrant carry on their occult rivalry to this day. A lasting document from the vampire scare 40 years ago is the Hammer film Dracula AD 1972, which was inspired by the Highgate Cemetery hijinks. Image by Flickr user Anders B.

5. Chase Mausoleum

The Chase Family Vault in Christ Church Parish, Barbados was built in 1724 and first used in 1807. Remains were interred and sealed with marble and cement. In 1812, the mausoleum was opened for the fourth burial, but the three earlier coffins were found to have moved! An infant's coffin was found standing on end. They were repositioned and resealed. Twice in 1816 and once in 1819, the crypt was opened for further burials and the previous coffins were found flipped over or turned end-to-end. The island governor ordered a seal placed on the door and sand was put on the floor to retain evidence of any break-ins. Yet when the crypt was next opened, the seal was unbroken, the sand was intact, and the coffins were again moved. That's when the family decided to relocate the coffins of their loved ones elsewhere. The vault has not been used since. Although contemporary accounts say there was no evidence of flooding, the simplest explanation is underground water seepage, which could move coffins without seeming to disturb a layer of sand. As the vault is built of coral, leakage does seem to make sense.

6. Chesnut Hill Cemetery

Chesnut Hill Baptist Church Cemetery in Exeter, Rhode Island is reported to be haunted by a vampire named Mercy Lena Brown. She was preceded in death by her mother and sister, victims of tuberculosis, and Mercy would often visit their graves. In January 1892, 19-year-old Mercy herself fell to tuberculosis and was interred with her family members. Mercy's father George claimed she haunted him every night, complaining of hunger. His son Edwin fell sick, also with tuberculosis, but as he experienced visits from Mercy, the family and townspeople considered the cause of his illness to be the restless dead. George Brown, with the help of others, dug up the graves of his wife and two daughters on March 17, 1892. Only Mercy, who died in January, was free of decomposition. This led George to believe she was a vampire. The villagers cut out Mercy's heart, burned it, mixed the ashes with water, and gave the concoction to the ailing brother Edwin as medicine. He nevertheless died a couple of months later. The story of Mercy Brown was an inspiration for elements in several novels, including Bram Stoker's Dracula.

If you don't see your favorite haunted cemetery in this list, you light try 10 of America’s Most Haunted Cemeteries.

See also: America’s Most Haunted: Six Seriously Spooky Sites
The Haunted Hospital
The Haunted Plantation
The Happy, Haunted Island of Poveglia

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Food
8 Surprising Uses for Peeps
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You can eat marshmallow Peeps, and you can put them in someone's Easter basket. But that's just the beginning of what you can do with those small blobs of sugary goodness. Branch out and use your Peeps in new ways this year.

1. S'MORES

Peeps are marshmallows, and can be toasted over a campfire just like their plain, non-sugar-coated brothers—which means you can make classic S'mores out of them. Best of all: You don't even need a campfire to do it. Serious Eats has a recipe for them that they call S'meeps, which only requires that you pop them in the oven for a short time. If you're a Peeps purist, forget the graham crackers and chocolate and enjoy the unique taste of campfire-toasted Peeps all by themselves.

2. WREATHS

Vanessa Brady at Tried & True has made several Peeps wreaths that are sure to inspire you to do the same. (She even has a tutorial to get you started.)

3. PEEPS-KABOBS

If you want to trick a kid into eating a fruit salad, just serve it up on a stick—with a marshmallow Peep in the middle. Blogger Melodramatic Mom made these for an irresistible after-school snack for her kids.

4. ART SUPPLIES

With their consistent shape and size, and variety of bright colors, Peeps can be used as pixels for larger artworks. Ang Taylor made this Mario jumping a Piranha Plant out of marshmallow chicks and bunnies. To be honest, there are many ways Peeps can be used as an art medium, as we've seen many times before (like in this collection of Peeps dioramas).

5. CAKE TOPPERS

Peeps chicks and bunnies are ready-made decorations that will easily stick to cake frosting and make for desserts that are both seasonal and colorful. If you need a recipe, check out this one for a Marbled Cake with Peeps and M&Ms. See some more cake decorating tips here.

6. PEEPS POPS

There's no danger of misshapen cake pops or drippy lollipops when you start with a Peep on a stick. Michelle from Sugar Swings made these candy pops out of marshmallow Peeps, and using Peeps left her plenty of time to decorate them as Star Wars characters. Michelle has plenty of other Peeps pops ideas you can try out, too.

7. PEEPS KRISPIES TREATS

We've seen that Peeps can be substituted for marshmallows in recipes, but remember that Peeps come in a variety of colors and can be bought in small batches. That makes them really useful for coloring separate portions of your Rice Krispies treat recipe. Kristen at Yellowblissroad has a recipe for Layered Peeps Crispy Treats, and a video of the process at Facebook.

8. DIORAMAS

Using Peeps as characters in a diorama, where you can let your imagination run wild, has become somewhat of an Easter tradition. Kate Ramsayer, Helen Fields, and Joanna Church put their heads together to recreate the Broadway musical Hamilton in marshmallow with a diorama that featured the lyrics to the show's opening number.

While The Washington Post has suspended its annual Peeps Diorama Contest after 10 years, other newspapers—including the Twin Cities Pioneer Press and the Washington City Paper—plus local libraries across the country are carrying on the tradition and holding Peeps diorama contests. But you don't have to enter a contest to have fun making a scene with your family.

This piece originally ran in 2017.

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The Bloody Benders, America's First Serial Killer Family
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In 1870, a group of new families moved to the wind-ravaged plains near what would become Cherryvale, Kansas. They were Spiritualists, a religion that was foreign to the homesteaders already in the new state, but locals tended to accept newcomers without asking too many questions. Two of the families moved away within a year, discouraged by the difficult conditions, and the others kept to themselves. But the Benders were different.

At first, they appeared be a normal family. John Bender, Sr., and his troupe settled near the Great Osage Trail (later known as the Santa Fe Trail) over which innumerable travelers passed on their way to the West. The older Bender, called "Pa," made a claim for 160 acres in what is now Labette County. His son John (sometimes called Thomas) claimed a smaller parcel that adjoined Pa's land, but never lived on or worked it. The Benders also included "Ma" and a daughter named Kate, who advertised herself as Spiritualist medium and healer. Ma and Pa reportedly mostly spoke German, although the younger Benders spoke fluent English.

The group soon built a one-room home equipped with a canvas curtain that divided the space into two areas. The front was a public inn and store, and the family quarters were in the back. Travelers on the trail were welcome to refresh themselves with a meal and resupply their wagons with liquor, tobacco, horse feed, gunpowder, and food. Kate, who was reportedly attractive and outgoing, also drew customers to the inn with her supposed psychic and healing abilities. These men, who usually traveled alone, often spent the night.

The trail was a dangerous place, and there were many reasons for travelers to go missing on their way out West—bandits, accidents, conflicts with Native Americans, disease. But over the course of several years, more and more people went missing around the time they passed through Labette County. It usually took time for such disappearances to draw attention—mail and news traveled slowly—but that all changed in March 1873 after a well-known physician from Independence, Kansas, named Dr. William York seemingly disappeared after getting off the train at Cherryvale. Dr. York had two powerful brothers who were determined to find out what happened to him: Colonel Edward York and Kansas Senator Alexander York.

Colonel York led an investigation in Labette County. When questioned, the Benders denied all knowledge of York's disappearance, although Ma Bender "flew into a violent passion," in the words of The Weekly Kansas Chief, when asked about a report of a woman who had been threatened with pistols and knives at their inn. Ma defended herself by claiming that the visitor had been a witch, a "bad and wicked woman, whom she would kill if ever she came near them again.”

Around the same time, the township held a meeting at the Harmony Grove schoolhouse; both male Benders were in attendance. The townsfolk decided to search every homestead for evidence of the missing—but the weather turned bad, and it was several days before a search could begin.

Eventually, a neighbor noticed starving farm animals wandering the Bender property. When he investigated the inn, he found it empty: The Benders had fled. The volunteers who later arrived for the search noted that the Benders' wagon was gone; little else had been taken from the home besides food and clothing.

Though the house was empty, all else seemed normal—until someone opened a trap door in the floor. What they found beneath it was chilling.

The trap door, located behind the curtain in the Benders' private quarters, led to a foul-smelling cellar, which was drenched with blood. Horrified, the group lifted up the cabin from its foundations and dug into the ground, yet found nothing. The investigation then turned to the garden, which was freshly plowed; neighbors recalled that the garden always seemed freshly plowed.

Working through the night, the volunteers first unearthed York's body. The back of his head had been smashed, and his throat slit. Soon, they found more bodies with similar injuries. Accounts differ about the number of bodies excavated from the site, but totals hover around a dozen. In all, the Benders may have committed as many as 21 murders. Their terrible work garnered the family only a few thousand dollars and some livestock.

Investigators later pieced together the group's modus operandi. It's believed that guests at the inn were urged to sit against the separating curtain, and while dining, would be hit on the head with a hammer from behind the curtain. Their body was then dropped into the trap door to the cellar, where one of the Benders slit their unfortunate victim's throat before stripping the body of its valuables.

One man, a Mr. Wetzell, heard this theory and remembered a time when he had been at the inn and declined to sit in the designated spot near the curtain. His decision had caused Ma Bender to become angry and abusive toward him, and when he saw the male Benders emerge from behind the cloth, he and his companion decided to leave. A traveler named William Pickering told an almost identical story.

The crimes created a sensation in the newspapers, drawing journalists and curiosity-seekers from all over the country. "Altogether the murders are without a parallel," read an account reprinted in The Chicago Tribune. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported over 3000 people at the crime scene, with more trains arriving. A book published in Philadelphia soon after the murders were discovered, The Five Fiends, or, The Bender Hotel Horror in Kansas, described how "large numbers of people arrived upon the scene, who had heard of the ... diabolical acts of bloody murder and rapacious robbery. Hardened men were moved to tears." The house in which the murders took place was disassembled and carried away piece by piece by souvenir seekers.

1873 stereographic photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders
An 1873 photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders

Senator York offered a $1000 reward for the Benders, and the governor chipped in another $2000, but the reward was never claimed. In the years following the sensational crimes, several women were arrested as Ma or Kate, but none were positively identified. A number of vigilante groups claimed to have found the Benders and murdered them, but none brought back proof. The older Benders were allegedly seen on their way to St. Louis by way of Kansas City, and the younger Benders were supposedly seen heading to an outlaw colony on the border of Texas and New Mexico, but no one knows what ultimately became of them.

Investigators were likely hampered by the group’s deceit: None of the Benders were actually named Bender, and the only members who were likely related were Ma and her daughter Kate. "Pa" was reportedly born John Flickinger in the early 1800s in either Germany or the Netherlands. "Ma" is said to have been born Almira Meik, and her first husband named Griffith, with whom she had 12 children. Ma was married several times before marrying Pa, but each husband before him reportedly died of head wounds. Her daughter Kate was born Eliza Griffith. John Bender, Jr.'s real name was John Gebhardt, and many who knew them in Kansas said he was Kate's husband, not her brother.

Today, nothing remains to indicate the exact location where the Bender house stood, although there is a historical marker at a nearby rest area. Though rumors still surround the case—some say Ma murdered Pa over stolen property soon after they fled, others that Pa committed suicide in Lake Michigan in 1884—after 140 years, we will probably never know what really happened to the Bloody Benders.

A version of this story originally ran in 2013.

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