11 Allegedly Haunted or Cursed Graves Around the U.S. 

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iStock.com/MmeEmil

Despite their macabre associations, graveyards aren't usually ground zero when it comes to reported hauntings—maybe because the connection is just too obvious. Nevertheless, there are a collection of strange graves around the country that have more than their fair share of legends, often nourished by disease epidemics and unusual inscriptions. Several of them are favorite spots for Halloween excursions, although if you visit, remember to respect the dead no matter how creepy their grave. Better yet, make yourself a seasonal beverage and enjoy these spooky tales from the comfort of your own home. You're much less likely to get cursed.

1. THE WEEPING WOMAN // CALIFORNIA

The Adelaida Cemetery in Paso Robles is a favorite haunt for local ghost-hunters, who describe strange mists, glowing scarlet eyes, and the sounds of footsteps following them around the graveyard. But the most persistent legend among the moss-draped trees relates to Charlotte M. Sitton, supposedly a Mennonite woman whose children both died in a diphtheria epidemic. A distraught Sitton ended her own life, according to some accounts by hanging herself in the local school. Today she's said to appear every Friday evening between 10 and 11:30 p.m. to lay flowers at her childrens' grave, and then to wander among the trees and headstones in a white dress, weeping.

2. THE VAMPIRE'S GRAVE // COLORADO

Perhaps it's not surprising that a grave with "born in Transylvania" etched on the stone would invite vampire comparisons, but the people of Lafayette have really gone all-out. Local legends say that a tree growing over the grave sprung from the stake that killed the vampire inside, and that the red rosebushes nearby are his bloody fingernails still growing after death. There are also reports of a tall, slender man in a dark coat with black hair and long fingernails who sometimes sits on the tombstone, and a local police chief said he once found a doll stuck with pins through its heart laying on top of the grave. It's not clear what the man who bought the plot—Fodor Glava, a miner who died in 1918—would have thought of all the stories, especially since he might not have actually been buried there. Nevertheless, his crudely etched tombstone (its evident haste perhaps the result of the 1918 flu epidemic) has become a popular place to take pictures on Halloween.

3. MIDNIGHT MARY // CONNECTICUT

The Evergreen Cemetery in New Haven is home to another grave with an unusual—and far more troubling—inscription: the phrase "The people shall be troubled at midnight and pass away" ring the top half of Mary E. Hart's grave. Hart reportedly died under unusual circumstances in 1872, and her quick death combined with her odd tombstone have given rise to some strange legends. It's said that Hart was a witch and that the inscription on her grave is a curse, and that if you visit her final resting place at midnight, she'll rise from the grave and make sure you die a horrible death. If you strike her grave at any time, you'll die that night at midnight. (Killjoy myth-busters like to point out that the line is actually a Bible verse, from Job 34:20.)

4. THE UNDEAD CRYPT-KEEPER // NEW YORK

In the bucolic West Edmeston cemetery off Route 8 near the Unadilla River stands an austere mausoleum in honor of one Eunice Welch. There was nothing unusual about Eunice's death—she was in her seventies when she died in 1922 of natural causes—but in the decades since, a legend has arisen of an undead crypt-keeper living inside her mausoleum. Supposedly, if you knock on the door, you'll soon hear a rustling from inside the brick, and after a few moments your knock will be returned. There are even reports of a voice hissing "Leave me, leave me, go!" from inside. By some accounts, the mausoleum is a former winter storage space where bodies were kept before the spring thaw—when it was too cold to dig graves—so it's possible that whoever is haunting the crypt today has nothing to do with Welch herself. In fact, her actual grave is located in another part of the cemetery.

5. MARY THE WITCH // NEW JERSEY

One of the oldest graveyards in New Jersey, Piscatawaytown Burial Ground is steeped in Revolutionary War history. Its oldest tombstone, from 1693, rests above a pair of brothers who died after eating poisonous mushrooms [PDF]. In 1731 the burial ground became the final home of one Mary Moore, a local woman who was allegedly a witch—or at least a woman who grew strange plants in her yard, made animals do strange things, and dressed oddly. Today, it's said that if you walk around Mary's grave three times at night and spit, her spirit will appear to you. However, finding the grave might be tricky; two boys are said to have stolen the tombstone decades ago, and, being cursed by Mary, died soon afterward, with the tombstone either being smashed to pieces or falling into a sewer.

6. THE CURSE OF THE COLONEL // MAINE

The gray stone tomb of Bucksport town founder Colonel Jonathan Buck looks ordinary enough, except for a rather suspicious-looking stain. The mark resembles a person's lower leg and foot, and is said to have come about after Buck burned a witch, whose leg then rolled out of the fire. Seeing his mother's charred appendage, the witch's deformed son allegedly shouted "Your tomb shall bear the mark of a witch's foot for all eternity!" According to Roadside America, the fact that Buck didn't have the authority to be burning any witches hasn't stopped the grave from becoming a bonafide tourist stop, complete with a wheelchair-friendly ramp leading up to the site and its image emblazoned on local postcards. Supposedly, Buck's heirs have repeatedly tried cleaning the grave, but the stain always comes back … clear evidence of a curse, or perhaps a particularly stubborn crack that lets in the rain.

7. BLACK AGNES // VERMONT

John Hubbard was a Montpelier businessman who could reportedly be stingy with his money, but he apparently wasn't too cheap to skimp on his tombstone. He left enough funds for a haunting copper sculpture near his grave that's become known as "Black Agnes." Local legends tell of its eyes glowing red at night, of piercing screams being heard nearby, and of a horrible fate that will befall anyone who dares sit in its lap: certain death within seven days. However, despite the moniker and a feminine-looking face, the statue is actually of a man—or at least an androgynous being. The sculpture is titled Thanatos, Greek for "death."

8. LEGEND OF THE VANDERBILT TOMB // NEW YORK

Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of the richest Americans of the 19th century (and indeed all of history), is interred in a three-story tomb on the bottom of Todt Hill in Moravian Cemetery, Staten Island. His elaborate tomb—a replica of a Romanesque church in France—is off-limits to the public, but there are reports of a strange light in the shape of a female figure, allegedly connected to the spirit a woman who died when a heavy iron door nearby fell on her. There are also accounts of a man in a gray suit (Cornelius himself?) chasing away trespassers, and—perhaps strangest of all—those who swear that pictures of the tomb tend to either be missing their human subjects or contain an extra figure who wasn't there when the photo was taken.

9. SMILEY'S GHOST // TEXAS

A single plot in the Mills cemetery in Garland, Texas, is home to five members of the Smiley family, who all died on the same day—allegedly because of a murder-suicide. Rumor has it that if you lie down on the grave at midnight (especially at midnight on Halloween), you'll find it very difficult to rise back up, as the ghost of old man Smiley tries to pull you down, hoping to add one more member to the family's eternal resting place.

10. THE GREEN GLOW // NEW YORK

The abandoned Forest Park Cemetery (also known as Pinewoods Cemetery) near Troy is known for several urban legends. One of the strangest concerns local taxi drivers, who say they pick up fares nearby asking to go home, only to have the passenger mysteriously vanish when they drive by the cemetery. Others tell of a decapitated angel statue that bleeds from its neck—although the effect may be attributed to a certain kind of moss. But one of the eeriest parts of the grounds is a dilapidated, roofless mausoleum said to be home to a green, glowing light about the size of a half-dollar, right where the coffins used to be located.

11. THE BLEEDING HEADSTONE // PENNSYLVANIA

The Union Cemetery in Millheim has one of the nation's weirder headstones: It's said to bleed, as if the letters were cut into flesh instead of stone. The grave belongs to 19th-century local William Musser, whose descendants tried repeatedly to replace the tombstone, but the blood kept coming back until they added an iron plate on top. Supposedly, a knife has also appeared on the tombstone, because Musser was a murderer (although by all accounts he was instead a peaceful local businessman).

BONUS: THE BLACK ANGEL // IOWA

It's not a specific grave, but the Black Angel statue that stands near the edge of Fairview Cemetery in Council Bluffs, Iowa, has accrued a collection of ominous legends. It's said to come to life after sundown and fly around the graves, to shoot fire from its eyes, to make children disappear, and to have turned black because of its inherent evil (or the evil of those buried nearby).

The Real Case of Spontaneous Combustion That Inspired a Death in Dickens's Bleak House

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iStock.com/GeorgiosArt

In The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth: And Other Curiosities from the History of Medicine, medical historian Thomas Morris presents a collection of bizarre but fascinating stories culled from the pages of old medical journals and other accounts. In this tale, he discusses the final moments of an aristocratic older women, Countess Cornelia di Bandi, whose demise would provide fodder for Charles Dickens over 100 years later.

 

Do human beings ever burst into flames? Two hundred years ago, many people believed that they could, especially if the victim was female, elderly, and a heavy drinker. Spontaneous human combustion became a fashionable topic in the early 19th century, after a number of sensational presumed cases were reported in the popular press. At a period when candles were ubiquitous and clothes often highly flammable, most were probably simple domestic fires in which the unfortunate victim’s subcutaneous fat acted as supplementary fuel. Nevertheless, the circumstances in which some were discovered—with the body almost totally incinerated, but nearby objects left untouched—led some to believe that these conflagrations must have another, more mysterious, cause. Numerous theories were put forward to explain the phenomenon: some supernatural, others scientific.

One of the true believers in spontaneous combustion was Charles Dickens, who even killed off Krook, the alcoholic rag dealer in Bleak House, by means of a fire that left nothing of the old man except an object looking like a “small charred and broken log of wood.” Dickens had read everything he could find on the subject and was convinced that its veracity had been proved. His description of the demise of Krook was based closely on that of an Italian aristocrat, Countess Cornelia di Bandi, who was consumed by a fireball in her bedroom. Her case was reported in 1731 by a clergyman called Giuseppe Bianchini, and subsequently translated by a famous Italian poet and Fellow of the Royal Society, Paolo Rolli:

"The Countess Cornelia Bandi, in the 62nd year of her age, was all day as well as she used to be; but at night was observed, when at supper, dull and heavy. She retired, was put to bed, where she passed three hours and more in familiar discourses with her maid, and in some prayers; at last falling asleep, the door was shut."

The following morning, the maid noticed that her employer had not appeared at the usual time and tried to rouse her by calling through the door. Not receiving any answer, she went outside and opened a window, through which she saw this scene of horror:

"Four feet distant from the bed there was a heap of ashes, two legs untouched from the foot to the knee with their stockings on; between them was the lady’s head; whose brains, half of the back part of the skull, and the whole chin, were burnt to ashes; amongst which were found three fingers blackened. All the rest was ashes, which had this particular quality, that they left in the hand, when taken up, a greasy and stinking moisture."

Mysteriously, the furniture and linen were virtually untouched by the conflagration.

"The bed received no damage; the blankets and sheets were only raised on one side, as when a person rises up from it, or goes in; the whole furniture, as well as the bed, was spread over with moist and ash-coloured soot, which had penetrated the chest of drawers, even to foul the linen."

The soot had even coated the surfaces of a neighboring kitchen. A piece of bread covered in the foul substance was given to several dogs, all of which refused to eat it. Given that it probably consisted of the carbonized body fat of their owner, their reluctance to indulge is understandable.

"In the room above it was, moreover, taken notice that from the lower part of the windows trickled down a greasy, loathsome, yellowish liquor; and thereabout they smelt a stink, without knowing of what; and saw the soot fly around."

The floor was also covered in a “gluish moisture,” which could not be removed. Naturally, strenuous efforts were made to establish what had caused the blaze, and several of Italy’s best minds were put to the problem. Monsignor Bianchini (described as “Prebendary of Verona”) was convinced that the fire had not been started by the obvious culprits:

"Such an effect was not produced by the light of the oil lamp, or of any candles, because common fire, even in a pile, does not consume a body to such a degree; and would have besides spread it-self to the goods of the chamber, more combustible than a human body."

Bianchini also considered the possibility that the blaze might have been caused by a thunderbolt but noted that the characteristic signs of such an event, such as scorch marks on the walls and an acrid smell, were absent. What, then, did cause the inferno? The priest came to the conclusion that ignition had actually occurred inside the woman’s body:

"The fire was caused in the entrails of the body by inflamed effluvia of her blood, by juices and fermentations in the stomach, by the many combustible matters which are abundant in living bodies, for the uses of life; and finally by the fiery evaporations which exhale from the settlings of spirit of wine, brandies, and other hot liquors in the tunica villosa [inner lining] of the stomach, and other adipose or fat membranes."

Bianchini claims that such “fiery evaporations” become more flammable at night, when the body is at rest and the breathing becomes more regular. He also points out that “sparkles” are sometimes visible when certain types of cloth are rubbed against the hair (an effect caused by discharges of static electricity) and suggests that something similar might have ignited the “combustible matters” inside her abdomen.

"What wonder is there in the case of our old lady? Her dullness before going to bed was an effect of too much heat concentrated in her breast, which hindered the perspiration through the pores of her body; which is calculated to about 40 ounces per night. Her ashes, found at four feet distance from her bed, are a plain argument that she, by natural instinct, rose up to cool her heat, and perhaps was going to open a window."

Then, however, he lets slip what is probably the genuine cause of the fire:

"The old lady was used, when she felt herself indisposed, to bathe all her body with camphorated spirit of wine; and she did it perhaps that very night."

Camphorated spirits (a solution of camphor in alcohol) was often used to treat skin complaints, and as a tonic lotion. The fact that it is also highly flammable is, apparently, quite beside the point.

"This is not a circumstance of any moment; for the best opinion is that of the internal heat and fire; which, by having been kindled in the entrails, naturally tended upwards; finding the way easier, and the matter more unctuous and combustible, left the legs untouched. The thighs were too near the origin of the fire, and therefore were also burnt by it; which was certainly increased by the urine and excrements, a very combustible matter, as one may see by its phosphorus."

So it was the “internal heat and fire” that caused the countess’s demise. Only an incorrigible skeptic would point out that an old lady who was in the habit of bathing in inflammable liquids, before going to bed in a room lit by naked flames, was a walking fire hazard.

Book jacket for The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth
Dutton/Penguin Books

Excerpted from The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth: And Other Curiosities from the History of Medicine by Thomas Morris. Copyright © 2018 by Thomas Morris. Published by arrangement with DUTTON, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

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