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).

The Gruesome Medieval Masquerade That Inspired Edgar Allan Poe

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In March 1849, Edgar Allan Poe published a short story with one of the most macabre dénouements in his entire body of work. Called Hop-Frog, it was the tale of an eponymous court jester who endures repeated humiliations from an abusive king and his ministers before finally exacting his revenge. Like other works of the great horror master, it may have been inspired by historical events—in this case, by a particularly grisly episode from 14th-century France.

In Poe's short story, both Hop-Frog and Trippetta are people with dwarfism stolen from their respective home countries and brought as presents for the king from one of his generals. Hop-Frog is described as having a disability that makes him walk "by a sort of interjectional gait—something between a leap and a wriggle." Forced to be the court's jester, he's the target of the king's practical jokes, and while enduring near-constant humiliations grows close to Trippetta, whose status at the court isn't much better.

One day, the king demands a masquerade, and as the evening draws near, he asks Hop-Frog what to wear. After a scene in which he and Trippetta are abused once again, Hop-Frog sees the perfect chance for revenge. He suggests the monarch and his ministers dress as escaped orangutans chained together, which he calls "a capital diversion—one of my own country frolics—often enacted among us, at our masquerades." The king and his ministers love the idea of scaring their guests, and especially the women. The jester carefully prepares their costumes, saturating tight-fitting fabric with tar and plastering flax on top to resemble the hair of the beasts.

On the evening of the masquerade, the men enter in their special outfits just after midnight. The guests are duly terrified, and amid the hubbub, Hop-Frog attaches the chain that surrounds the group to one hanging from the ceiling that normally holds a chandelier. As the men are drawn upwards, he brings a flame close to their bodies, pretending to the crowd that he's trying to figure out who the disguised men really are. The flax and tar ignite quickly and the noblemen burn to death, suspended above the crowd. "The eight corpses swung in their chains," Poe writes, "a fetid, blackened, hideous, and indistinguishable mass."

Bernard Picart, "Bal des Ardents"
Bernard Picart, "Bal des Ardents"
Rijksmuseum, Europeana // Public Domain

The gruesome scene was likely inspired by a historical event: the Bal des Ardents (literally, "the Ball of the Burning Ones"). This obscure episode took place during the reign of Charles VI of France (1380-1422), known to posterity as "Charles the Mad." His periods of illness are well-documented by contemporary chroniclers, who tell us that he ran through his castle howling like a wolf, failed to recognize his own wife and children, and forbade anyone to touch him because he believed he was made of glass. After his first bout in 1392, when delirium led him to kill several knights, his physician prescribed "amusements, relaxations, sports, and pastimes."

Meanwhile, the royal council was controlled by his brother Louis d'Orléans and his uncle the Duke of Burgundy—who both had their eyes set on the throne. It was also the middle of the Hundred Years' War, and England was seen as a severe threat to national stability. In spite of the unrest, on January 28, 1393, Charles's wife, Queen Isabeau of Bavaria, held a ball in the royal palace of Saint-Pol to celebrate the third marriage of her lady-in-waiting Catherine de Fastaverin. The plan was also to entertain the king, as the royal physician had prescribed. One of the guests, the knight Sir Hugonin (sometimes Huguet) de Guisay, suggested that a group of nobles dress as "wild men" or "wood savages," mythical creatures associated with nature and pagan beliefs. The king liked the idea so much that he decided to join in as one of the masked dancers.

The six noblemen wore garments made of linen covered in pitch and stuck-on clumps of flax, so they appeared "full of hair from the top of the head to the sole of the foot," according to contemporary historian Jean Froissart. Poe preserved these details in Hop-Frog, though his characters weren't dressed as wild men, but as orangutans—an animal he had also used in The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) to great effect.

Unlike his fictional counterpart, Charles VI was aware that the costumes were highly flammable, so he ordered all torch-bearers to keep to one side of the room. As they entered the ballroom, five of the wild men were chained to one another. Only the king was free. The men probably humiliated the newlyweds, howling and dancing; some historians believe the wild dance was a charivari, a folk ritual intended to shame newlyweds at "irregular" marriages. (As a widow getting married for the third time, Lady Catherine would have been a target.)

But there was an important guest missing: the king's brother, Louis d'Orléans. He arrived late, carrying his own torch, and joined the dance. While the exact sequence of events is unclear, before long his torch had set fire to one of the wild men's costumes. The fire spread quickly. Two of the knights burned to death in front of the guests, and two more died in agony days later. Court chronicler Michel Pintoin, known as the Monk of St. Denis, describes the dancers' "flaming genitals dropping to the floor … releasing a stream of blood."

Only two of the wild men survived. One of them, named Nantoiullet, had reacted to the blaze by throwing himself into a barrel of water, which spared him a horrid death. The other was the king. He was saved by the Duchess of Berry, who used her gown to extinguish his costume before it was too late.

The event shook French society. It was seen as the height of courtly decadence, causing outrage and further unrest. That the king had engaged in this extravagant amusement, and that his life had been spared only by chance, was further proof that he was unfit for the throne.

Meanwhile, the part that Louis d'Orléans played in the tragedy was subject to some debate. Most chroniclers blamed his youth and recklessness for the terrible accident; some reportedly suggested it was a prank to "frighten the ladies" that got out of hand.

Although it seems that the Bal des Ardents wasn't a planned crime, the king's brother must have felt responsible for the fatal accident, since he founded a chapel in the convent of the Célestins shortly afterwards, hoping it would buy him a place in heaven. It didn't save him from a violent end, however: In 1407, Louis was assassinated on the orders of his cousin and recently minted political rival the Duke of Burgundy, which triggered a civil war that divided France for decades. The Duke of Burgundy justified the murder by accusing Louis of having used sorcery and occultism to attempt regicide on several occasions—one of them, he claimed, during the Bal des Ardents.

Regardless of the truth behind the matter, the horror of the event filtered down through the centuries to inspire one of Poe's most macabre works. (It's not clear where the author first heard about it, but it may have been in the pages of The Broadway Journal, where he was soon to become editor, and where a writer likened it to the accidental onstage burning death of the dancer Clara Webster in London.) Today, the shocking historical event lives on in Poe's story—and in Hop Frog's memorable final line: "I am simply Hop-Frog, the jester—and this is my last jest."

Additional source: Chronique du Religieux de Saint-Denys

A Scientific Spirit: Sir Francis Bacon and the Ghost Chicken of Highgate

iStock.com/GrabillCreative
iStock.com/GrabillCreative

Most ghost stories involve suspense, evil deeds, and a terrifying specter, but this one is a bit different. This is a ghost story about a philosopher, an innovation, and a plucked chicken.

It was an unseasonably cold and snowy day back in April 1626 when the famed philosopher, statesman, and proto-scientist Sir Francis Bacon was driving through Highgate, north London, in a horse-drawn carriage with his good friend Dr. Witherbone, the king's physician. The learned pair was discussing the best methods to preserve food when, inspired by the snowy landscape, Bacon proposed that ice might be used to keep food fresh. So excited was he by this bold new idea that he demanded the carriage stop in Pond Square, where Bacon procured a chicken from a nearby farm. After it was plucked and gutted, he proceeded to pack it with ice from the ground—in effect creating the world’s first frozen chicken.

Sadly, Bacon never lived to see the results of his innovative experiment in refrigeration. His exposure to the freezing temperatures reportedly led to a case of pneumonia, and he died on April 9, 1626.

Sir Francis Bacon painted by Paul Van Somer
Sir Francis Bacon painted by Paul Van Somer
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In a more typical ghost story, Bacon himself might come back to haunt the scene of his undoing. Instead, it was the chicken who returned.

Reports supposedly soon surfaced of a half-plucked chicken appearing in Pond Square, running madly in circles or sitting sullenly in a tree. When approached, the mysterious chicken would vanish into thin air. The sightings continued over the following decades: During World War II, an air raid warden patrolling Pond Square caught sight of the mangy bird and thought to catch it for his supper. He chased the fowl, but was thwarted when it disappeared before his eyes. In 1943 a man crossing Pond Square heard the sound of a horse and carriage before witnessing the squawking ghost fleetingly appear. In the 1970s a young couple was courting in the picturesque square when their romantic moment was ruined by the arrival of the ghostly chicken, flapping its plucked wings and charging around in indignant circles.

In recent years, sightings of the frozen ghost chicken have become less frequent, the specter of the fowl perhaps assuaged by the passage of time. Both the ghost, and reports of Bacon's experiment, have their doubters, but the story lives on. It reminds us of an important scientific development—and might prompt us to whisper a little thanks to the ghost chicken of Pond Square as we prepare our frozen chicken for dinner.

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