The Stories Behind 8 "Witch" Graves

These days, we know there’s no such thing as broomstick-riding, pointy-hat-wearing witches. But it wasn’t that long ago that people blamed witches for everyday problems such as bad crops and common colds. When these supposed spell-casters died, the stories about them lived on—and, in some cases, were fabricated afterward. Here are their tales.

1. LILIAS ADIE // TORRYBURN, SCOTLAND

In 1704, Lilias Adie confessed to being a witch and having sex with the devil. Though she was jailed for “admitting” to her crimes, Adie died before her trial and sentencing. To prevent her from returning to life and seeking revenge on the town, locals buried her in the mud between high tide and low tide, then sunk a heavy, flat stone over it. The BBC points out that this was also the method used to bury people who had committed suicide, which, at the time, was believed to be something one only did if he or she was in league with the devil. 

The extreme measures didn’t keep the alleged witch in her grave, but it wasn't because her angry spirit came back: Unfortunately, Adie's skull was stolen sometime in the 19th century and ended up at the St. Andrews University Museum. The large stone slab, however, remains embedded in the mud to this day.

2. RHODA WARD // BRIDGEPORT, WEST VIRGINIA

During the winter of 1786-1787, a woman named Rhoda Ward suffered from chicken pox. As if the ailment wasn’t bad enough, someone told city officials that Ward was seen throwing up crooked pins during her illness. This, apparently, was just cause to put Ward on trial in January 1787. Her official statement on the matter was, “If I did, I knowed it not, though it might be the case, and if the pins had not been showed to me, and I have been told that I spewed them up, I should have thought that the above had been a fiction, proceeding from being light-headed with fever.”

Ward was found innocent of all charges, even after a second trial 12 years later. But that hasn’t stopped people from declaring that there’s something unsettling about her unmarked grave in Bridgeport.

3. SUSAN GAVAN // AURORA, NEBRASKA

Local lore says that anyone who steps on Susan Gavan’s grave will die within 9 years or by age 21—and the whole superstition seems to stem from the simple fact that her grave is enclosed by a small fence. There’s no record of Gavan being accused of any witchy activity, and her 1882 obituary was perfectly respectful, so the cemetery superintendent believes her reputation as the town witch comes solely from the grave decoration: “In my opinion, the witch story got started, probably by some kids, because her grave has a fence around it and is different from the rest of the graves.”

4. HANNAH CRANNA // TRUMBELL, CONNECTICUT

After Hannah Cranna Hovey’s husband died—he mysteriously fell off of a cliff—villagers said she used witchcraft to curse people who weren't charitable toward her by providing extra firewood or food. It’s also said that Cranna foretold her own death and asked locals to carry her casket into the cemetery when she died. They opted to bring it in by sleigh instead, but the coffin fell off—which they took as a sign that they had better carry out her wishes.

5. MEG SHELTON // LANCASHIRE, ENGLAND

Brian Young, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

As far as witches go, Meg Shelton seems like she was pretty harmless: It’s said that she used her mystical powers to steal milk and grain from farmers. Even so, townspeople were fed up enough when she died to have her grave covered with a large rock to prevent the witch from returning. Though the boulder doesn’t appear to be big enough to cover a coffin, it is when you consider this: They had Meg buried vertically, head down—just in case she tried to dig her way out.

6. THE WITCH OF YAZOO // YAZOO CITY, MISSISSIPPI

Writer Willie Morris immortalized the Witch of Yazoo in his novel Good Old Boy: A Delta Boyhood. According to his story, this unnamed witch was known to lure fishermen off the river and into her cabin, where she tortured and killed them. In 1884, the town sheriff and his deputies eventually came to arrest her, and when she fled, she fled directly into quicksand in the nearby swamp. As she died, she swore that she would return and burn the city to the ground. She made good on her word—in 1904, Yazoo City suffered from a terrible fire that destroyed the entire business district, more than 100 homes, and all but one church. When the townspeople thought to check on the witch’s grave, they discovered that the chain-link fence surrounding it had been broken.

Whether or not the (very real) fire was the result of a witch, the townspeople have embraced the legend. In the 1990s, they placed this tombstone/monument in the middle of the broken chains. 

7. ELIZABETH GRAHAM // TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA

When 23-year-old Bessie Graham died in 1889, leaving behind a husband and two young children, her devastated husband apparently vowed to memorialize her by building the largest and most striking tombstone in the cemetery. He also had it inscribed with a passage from Edgar Allan Poe’s “Lenore”:

“Ah! Broken is the golden bowl.
The spirit flown forever!
Let the bell toll! A saintly soul
Floats on the Stygian River;
Come let the burial rite be read
The funeral song be sung;
An anthem for the queenliest dead
That died so young
A dirge for her the doubly dead
In that she died so young.”

The combination of the massive monument, the macabre poem, and fact that the grave faces the “wrong” direction (west instead of east) has led locals to conclude that Bessie must have been a witch—albeit a "good" one.

8. BATHSHEBA SHERMAN // HARRISVILLE, RHODE ISLAND

Made famous by the movie The Conjuring, Bathsheba Sherman allegedly sacrificed an infant child as an offering to the devil by jamming knitting needle into the base of its neck. She was acquitted of all charges, but the legend only grew. Bathsheba, some of the stories say, literally turned to stone when she died. And of course, according to The Conjuring, her spirit hung around her old farmhouse and terrorized the Perron family in the 1970s. Sadly, her grave in the Harrisville Cemetery has been repeatedly vandalized since the movie came out in 2013.

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An Ancient Sarcophagus Was Found in Egypt—And It's Never Been Opened
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In what could be the plot of the next summer blockbuster, a sealed sarcophagus has been found 16 feet underground in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, Science Alert reports. It’s still unknown who or what might be lying inside the nondescript black granite casket, but what’s clear is that it hasn’t been opened since it was closed more than 2000 years ago.

Ayman Ashmawy, head of the government’s Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Sector, observed “a layer of mortar between the lid and the body of the sarcophagus,” indicating it hadn't been opened, according to a Ministry of Antiquities Facebook post. Considering that many ancient tombs in Egypt have been looted over the years, an untouched sarcophagus is quite a rare find.

The sarcophagus was discovered when a site in the Sidi Gaber district, dating back to the Ptolemaic Dynasty (305-30 BCE), was inspected before construction of a building began. The casket is 104.3 inches long and 65 inches wide, making it the largest of its kind ever discovered in Alexandria. In addition, an alabaster statue of a man’s head was found in the same tomb, and some have speculated that it might depict whoever is sealed inside the sarcophagus. Live Science suggested that archaeologists may opt to inspect its contents using X-rays or computed tomography scans to prevent damage to the artifact.

Although it remains a mystery for now, Twitter has a few theories about who might be lying inside:

[h/t Science Alert]

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What Did Burr Do After Shooting Hamilton?
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Aaron Burr's first order of business was to go home and have some breakfast.

Having victoriously emerged from that deadly encounter with Alexander Hamilton on July 11, 1804, Burr returned to his estate in lower Manhattan for a hearty meal. Some accounts claim that the V.P. was also pleasantly surprised by a visiting acquaintance (either Burr’s cousin or his broker, depending upon the source) with whom he dined, politely choosing not to mention the bloody spectacle that had just transpired. The next day, Hamilton passed away. For Burr, his opponent’s death marked the beginning of the end.

On August 2, a New York coroner’s jury found Burr guilty on two counts. In their estimation, he’d committed the misdemeanor of dueling—and the felony of murder. To make matters worse, because his duel had taken place in New Jersey, the Garden State issued its own ruling, which also pronounced him a murderer.

“There is a contention of a singular nature between the two States of New York and New Jersey,” he dryly noted in a letter to his daughter Theodosia. “The subject in dispute is which shall have the honor of hanging the Vice President.” Facing a tempest of public outrage, Burr eventually set sail for Georgia, where plantation owner and former Senator Pierce Butler offered him sanctuary.

But, alas, the call of vice presidential duty soon rang out. As president of the Senate, Burr returned to Washington that November to oversee the impeachment of anti-Jeffersonian Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase. Shortly thereafter—with some help from a contingent of Republican senators—Burr’s case was dropped in New Jersey, though by then, he’d already stepped down from the vice presidency.

Burr’s saga was far from over, though. After leaving D.C., he began aggressively recruiting allies for a planned seizure of America’s western territories. Among those he managed to enlist were General James Wilkinson, who’d been named Northern Louisiana’s regional governor. Burr even went so far as to begin training his own army before he was arrested in present-day Alabama and put on trial for treason. Ultimately, however, he was acquitted. His scheme foiled and his image scarred, Burr departed for Europe and wouldn’t return to his native country until 1812.

By then, the nation was entrenched in a nasty war with Great Britain and had largely forgotten his attempted conspiracy. Towards the end of his life, Burr went back to New York (where, despite the 1804 ruling, he was never actually tried for murder), revived his law practice, and married his second wife, the notorious socialite Eliza Jumel. He died on September 14, 1836, at the age of 80.

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