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

iStock.com/MmeEmil
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).

When Skeleton Rocking Chairs and ‘Vampire Killing Kits’ Fooled People Into Thinking They Were Rare Historical Artifacts

A vampire killing kit at Ripley's Believe It or Not! in San Francisco
A vampire killing kit at Ripley's Believe It or Not! in San Francisco
Glen Bowman, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In 2012, bizarre rocking chairs—usually dark brown, with various kinds of ornate flourishes, always in the shape of a skeleton—began popping up on sites across the internet. Gothic.org and io9 ran stories about them, and Facebook pages like Steampunk Tendencies soon followed. The chairs were sometimes described as modeled on 19th-century Russian examples—and other times described as 19th-century Russian items themselves.

The grotesque chairs were funny, but got even funnier in 2013 when someone appropriated a photo from an auction house and meme-ified it. They added a blurred effect and magnified the skeleton’s anguished, open-mouthed expression, making it seem as if it were screaming into the void—perhaps upon realizing that it must spend the rest of eternity as a rocking chair in some eccentric collector’s parlor. By early 2014, someone on 4chan had associated the meme with the words “Wake Me Up Inside (Can't Wake Up)” after lyrics from the 2003 song "Bring Me to Life" by rock band Evanescence. Then, in true internet fashion, people started adding their own text.

By then, another story had attached itself to the chairs. In 2009, the Lawrence Journal-World discussed the macabre furniture item in a column titled "Ghoulish pieces attract collectors," and suggested that the chair had something to do with a Masonic ritual.

So—aside from the joy of a good meme—what’s the deal? Was this chair used in some secret society's ceremony, or is it just a strange artifact made by some long-forgotten Russian woodworker?

A Macabre Fantasy

According to James Jackson, the answer is neither. Jackson—the president and CEO of Jackson’s Auctions in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and a specialist in Russian art—sold the chair that was featured in several of the early news stories.

He says most of these chairs were probably made in the '90s, but were designed to look older to fool buyers into forking over more money. “These are the type of things that are created in various markets to appeal to the eclectic, exotic tastes of a wannabe fine art consumer,” Jackson tells Mental Floss. “So the person making this chair—and the guy buying it and reselling it—they understand this brain very well.”

The precise origins of the chairs Jackson's sold are murky. A couple of the chairs were sold to a third-party seller called a consignor, who then resold them to Jackson’s Auctions. Jackson suspects they were probably made somewhere in Europe—probably at a workshop where the primary goal is to “make a buck.” That would explain why no artist or craftsman's name is ever attached to the chairs.

These “fantasy chairs” were initially thought to be rare, and some sellers may have benefited from the myths and stories surrounding their origin. Over the years, people started to see more and more of these chairs at auction, which contributed to their diminishing value. Jackson said his auction house sold one of the chairs for $2600 in 2008, but in 2012, the price dropped to $1500. At its lowest price point, a skeleton chair sold for $900 in Detroit, according to Jackson's database of different auction houses.

Artifacts of the Hyperreal

Jackson says the skeleton chairs remind him of the vampire slayer kits that were popular in the '90s, and continued to be sold throughout the 2000s (they still pop up on eBay and other online auctions from time to time). Wooden trunks—purportedly full of vampire-repelling tools from the 1800s such as wooden stakes, garlic, a crucifix, and sometimes pistols—used to command high prices at auction. Sotheby’s even sold one for $25,000 in 2011.

“It was BS,” Jackson says of the trunks, explaining that while they may have contained old tools, the pieces were assembled later for commercial purposes and given a phony backstory. “Whenever we see anything weird like that, it’s an automatic red flag. To the consumer, though, they want it to be some rare and unusual thing—and that’s not true.”

Jackson said one obvious sign that the slaying kits were inauthentic was that "they don’t show up in any literature prior to the 1990s, [and] something like that would have been written about somewhere.” In hindsight, Jackson thinks the whole scam was pretty comical. He said you had experts on TV doing careful analyses of the paper labels inside these kits, when in reality, all they had to do was use a magnifying glass to see that the letters were printed by a dot matrix.

"It’s like doing a metallurgic study on a brand new Mercedes-Benz," he said. “I didn’t have to get a microscope out and a black light and spend an hour fondling it. It’s common sense.”

Jonathan Ferguson, a curator at the UK-based National Museum of Arms and Armour, also debunked these hunting trunks. He wrote in a blog post, “Nowhere was there evidence to support real vampire slayers carting about one of these kits.”

Still, he wrote that they were somewhat valuable as “genuine artifacts of the Gothic fiction,” and rather than being seen as fakes (since there never was a Victorian original), should be seen as "'hyperreal' or invented artifacts somewhat akin to stage, screen or magician's props."

As for the Sotheby's kit that was snatched up for $25,000, its creation was also probably inspired by the popularity of Dracula (1897) and other late 19th century vampire lore, according to Dennis Harrington, head of Sotheby's European furniture department in New York City. Harrington notes that some of the pieces inside the kit are valuable in their own right.

"[The kit] was complete and did contain individual elements that have some intrinsic value themselves, like silver bullets and an ivory figure of Christ on the Cross (though we can no longer sell ivory items today) ..." Harrington tells Mental Floss. "The curiosity value would also have helped, and of course the golden rule of auctions is that any one lot is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it on a particular day."

Likewise, the skeleton rocking chairs—despite not being antiques—certainly have their own unique appeal. “They’re cool, they’re neat. These are ‘man cave’ type things for the most part,” Jackson says. However, “They’re obviously not functional. You can’t sit in it comfortably.”

And what of the skeleton meme? Do the makers of these chairs know that their creation has been turned into an absurd internetism? Jackson, for his part, hadn’t heard anything about it. “I’m glad they made a joke out of [the chairs],” he said, “but I don’t know what meme means.”

Gas Leak at University of Canberra Library in Australia Revealed to Be Durian Fruit

iStock.com/dblight
iStock.com/dblight

On Friday, May 10, firefighters in the Australian Capital Territory received a concerning call: There was a possible gas leak in the University of Canberra library. After evacuating the building and conducting a thorough search, the team found the source of the toxic smell was actually a harmless durian, a Southeast Asian fruit that's infamous for is pungent odor, The Guardian reports.

Writers have been attempting to capture the durian's stench on paper for centuries. Bangkok-based food writer Bob Halliday said Durian smells like "a bunch of dead cats," and 19th-century journalist Bayard Taylor wrote, "To eat it seems to be the sacrifice of self-respect." It may smell like something that died, but Durian's distinct odor actually comes from special genes that release sulfur at a supercharged rate.

The stench apparently is also reminiscent of deadly gas. Emergency services searched the University of Canberra library and conducted "atmospheric monitoring" before tracing the reported gas leak to some fruit. The durian had been placed near an air vent on the building's second floor by an unidentified culprit. It's since been removed in a sealed bag and the library has reopened.

This marks the second time in recent memory that a durian fruit has inspired panic at an Australian university. Just over a year ago, the library at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology was evacuated following reports of a gas leak that also turned out to be a forgotten durian.

[h/t The Guardian]

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