Moment in Oddity - Python Hysteria in Ohio
Back in September of this year, 2019, a story ran on Cleveland 19's website that a 6-foot-long boa constrictor was found in the frontyard of a home in Brecksville, Ohio. Obviously, somebody had let the snake go free. This isn't the first time that a town in Ohio had to deal with a large snake. Only the story I'm referencing in this oddity segment was about a 19-foot-long python. The story goes that a carnival truck was passing through Summit County in northeast Ohio, just south of Cleveland in 1944, when the driver lost control and smashed into Ira Cemetery. The driver was killed and his cargo was set free, this 19-foot-long python. The first person to see the snake was Clarence Mitchell and he told the Cleveland Press, "I don’t know what made me look up, but there, about fifteen paces away, was the biggest snake I ever see, sliding along easy and slow in plain sight on the bare ground. I just stood quiet, not aiming to attract attention. It seemed like ten minutes I watched. He slid into the river, swam across, and climbed out the other side… He was thick as my thigh, right here, and every bit of fifteen feet long—more like eighteen—sort of brownish spotted. I went over and looked at the track. It was like you’d rolled a spare tire across my field.” Sightings continued for weeks and soon there was a Peninsula Python Posse formed. A person would report seeing the python, but the posse was always a couple of hours behind the snake that was reported to have a head as big as a man's head. Evidence it would leave behind included this wide tire-like track. The town was getting hysterical about the snake, but there were those who didn't believe the reports of the snake were real. Eventually, the python was no longer seen and just seemed to disappear. The town of Peninsula never forgot those days of Python Hysteria and to this day they hold an annual Peninsula Python Day festival and that, certainly is odd!
This Month in History - Death Railway Completed
In the month of October, on the 17th , in 1943, The Burma Railway, also known as the Death Railway, was completed by the Empire of Japan. This was a 258 mile railway between Bangkok, Thailand, and Rangoon, Burma. There had been plans for this stretch of railway since the late 1880s, but the terrain was dangerous and so plans were abandoned. During World War II, the Japanese wanted to avoid having to use a 2,000 mile passage through the sea to move supplies to back up their forces in Burma and so they began construction on the railway in June 1942. The effort was considered an engineering feat with over 600 bridges and was completed ahead of schedule. A quarter of a million civilian laborers and POWs worked on the project with 90,000 civilian labourers and more than 12,000 Allied prisoners dying during the construction. Hence why it was nicknamed Death Railway. In 1947, the line was eventually closed, but the section between Nong Pla Duk and Nam Tok was reopened ten years later.
Haunted Cemeteries 15
Cemeteries are all unique and there are many varieties from classic Victorian garden cemeteries to forgotten and overgrown burial grounds for criminals. I love each and every one, although a handful make it onto my top 10 list and on this episode I will share a new one that has been added to that list. I always hope that in doing these Haunted Cemetery episodes that I will transfer my love of cemeteries to the audience that are not already taphophiles and this love will continue to grow and spread so that we have less and less stories of vandalism in graveyards. Unfortunately, there are stories of vandalism inside some of these cemeteries on this episode. Each also has tales of unexplained activity. Join me as I share about Bass Cemetery in Birmingham, Salem Cemetery in Winston-Salem, Woodpecker Hill in Canon City and Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta.
Bass Cemetery is found in Birmingham, Alabama on County Road 147. The cemetery was established around 160 years ago and is bordered by woods and a railway. The cemetery gets its name from the first known burial here for a Revolutionary War soldier named Burwell Bass who died in 1831. He was born in 1752 in Virginia and was the first white man to settle in Roebuck Springs with his wife Elizabeth Jane York. There are over 320 burials that include Civil War soldiers, slaves and Montezuma Goodwin, a farmer who was shot and killed by his brother-in-law, James Sims, in 1904. Apparently, Goodwin had gone to Sims house over a family feud and threatened him with a knife. Later, the two men met on the road and Sims shot Goodwin three times.
No one knows exactly who or what is haunting the cemetery, but people claim to hear disembodied screams and strange pictures have been taken inside. This is also one of those cemeteries where teenagers like to challenge each other. There is the familiar legend of fogged up windows after cutting off the engine and then when the kids get out of the car, they find hand prints all over the car. And then there are the rumors of Satanic rituals, but I don't give that stuff credibility.
The Alabama Haunted Houses website has a comment from a poster going by Giant Dropper that says, "Probably over ten years ago, went there on the week of Halloween with my girlfriend, best friend, and sister. We walked around a while and looked at the tombstones. They started playing with a oujia board on the trunk of my sisters car. They were just having innocent fun. I was leaning up against the car just staring at the tree line. I was facing the moonlight. In the woods, I saw the tall man. He walked just from one tree to another. His stride was about six or eight feet. I made everyone get in the car immediately and didn’t tell them until we were half way home. I’ve never been back."
And another comment on the Alabama Pioneers website by someone named Nicolas says, "Been there a quite a few times in my life. Just went there with my dad and nephew this night and we didnt expect anything to really happen but we all watched a very bright and vivid orb moving through the woods towards us. Then we stood there and talked about what we saw and it returned a second time but it was half as bright then vanished again. We decided it was time to go after that. Has anyone else experienced this orb thing?"
This cemetery has suffered a lot of vandalism and even a former crypt was destroyed, rebuilt and destroyed again.
Salem Cemetery in Winston-Salem
The Salem Cemetery in Winston-Salem is located at 301 Cemetery Street, right next to the God's Acre Cemetery that belongs to the Moravian Church. This cemetery was established for the burial of non-Moravian people in 1850. We talk about the Moravian People in Ep. 108. I had the pleasure of visiting Old Salem a couple of years ago and I walked through both of these cemeteries. They are very different with God's Acre being very uniform with flat gravestones that all look the same. Salem Cemetery is your standard large cemetery with upright stones and a more haphazard design. God's Acre has no stories of hauntings, but there is a haunting tale connected to the Salem Cemetery.
Before we talk about the ghost stories, let's talk about some notable burials. There is General William R. Boggs who was a Confederate General during the Civil War and since he worked as a civil engineer, he helped to design fortifications for the seaports. On the east side of Savannah is Fort Boggs, which was named for him. He had attended West Point with several other men that would go on to be Union generals. He went back to engineering after the war and eventually moved to Winston-Salem where he died at the age of 82.
One of the famous burials here is for a man who brought us lung cancer, R. J. Reynolds. He was born in 1850 to a tobacco farmer and soon joined the family business. He eventually sold his share and moved to Winston-Salem where he started his own tobacco company and was soon the wealthiest man in the state of North Carolina. He died in 1918 of pancreatic cancer and was buried in the family plot here in the cemetery.
Another notable burials is for Zachary Smith Reynolds who was the son of Tobacco Magnate R. J. Reynolds. He was born in 1911 and got into flying very young and because of his love for aviation, the Smith Reynolds Airport in Winston-Salem was named in his honor. Both of his parents were dead by the time he was thirteen and an uncle raised him and his siblings. Zachary married young at the age of 18 to a woman named Anne. They had one child, but the marriage would not last long as he began an affair with an actress named Libby Holman. The couple would have one child who was born premature weighing only 3.5 pounds. Although it was at a time when medical was not as good, their son Topper survived and lived to the age of seventeen when he died in a climbing accident. He was the youngest heir to the tobacco fortune when he died from a gunshot wound at the age of 20. He was found at his family's estate with a bullet wound in his head under mysterious circumstances. His wife Libby would later be indicted for murder, but the charges were later dismissed by the Reynolds family. I'm not sure if it was suicide, Libby did hollar after the sound of a gunshot was heard "Smith's killed himself," and they didn't want to admit that and finally did or if there just wasn't enough evidence. The latter seems to be the case with rumors that Libby was having an affair with a friend of Zachary's who was at the house, heard the gunshot and helped take the wounded Zachary to the hospital. Reynolds is buried in the family plot at Salem Cemetery.
Now, there is a story about something that happened in town that lead to a burial here that lead to a haunting. The Moravians were a moral people and they were not happy when the town became the county seat. They worried it would bring drinking and crime. Of course, it did. They had a fix for that bad behavior sitting right in the middle of town: a whipping post! Anyone found drunk on the street was sentenced to at least 13 lashes. Some got as many as forty. The whipping post got a ton of action with gamblers, ladies of the evening, drunks and criminals all getting their turn. One day, in the late 1850s, a woman arrived in town with some mental issues. Obviously, at this time there was no real care and she wandered about the streets shouting at people and carrying on to the point that people nicknamed her The Unwanted Guest of Winston. She was brought to the whipping post to be punished - for what I don't know. She seemed to gain clarity before the whipping began and she called out a curse on the town and the people there. Then the whipping began and when it was finished, she was dead. Even though this was very public, the town tried to hide what happened by whisking the body quickly away to the Salem Cemetery and dumping her in the ground without a casket and without a headstone. It was shortly after this that the hauntings began. There were glowing ghosts lights and strange sounds. Multiple shadow figures would be seen traversing the grounds. Whenever a funeral was held in the cemetery, people would claim to see the apparition of the woman. She would have a smirk on her face and say, "They are with me now, and all of you will never see them again."She would then disappear. The moans and screams coming from the cemetery became so much that it was decided to disinter the woman and move the body to a graveyard near Liberty. Eventually that cemetery disappeared when a new railway was brought in to that town. It is said that the Salem Cemetery is now peaceful. (I got this story from Michael Bricker's book "Haunted Winston-Salem" and I haven't found any historical evidence that this happened, so it could just be ghost lore.)
Woodpecker Hill in Canon City
Woodpecker Hill is the nickname for an area found on a bluff above Greenwood Cemetery in Canon City, Colorado. There are over 600 burials in this pioneer cemetery and the ones on Woodpecker Hill feature rusted, bullet-riddled license plates for headstones. Everyone buried here on the bluff was a former prisoner and that is why it is more overgrown and less cared for then the rest of the cemetery. The prisoner's headstones mostly just state "CSP Inmate" for Colorado State Penitentiary Inmate. Woodpeckers have left their mark on the cedar grave markers as they tried to splinter the wood to get to bugs and that is where the nickname comes from. The cemetery was established about the time of the Civil War.
Notable burials here include former Colorado governor James Hamilton Peabody who was born in Vermont in 1852. While he was at college in Vermont, his family relocated to Pueblo, Colorado. He followed them when he graduated and worked as an accountant for the family's dry goods store for three years. He then moved to Canon City and worked for James Clelland at his store. He married James' daughter and they had four children and he eventually bought the store in 1882. In 1885, he got into politics and worked his way up until he was elected the 13th governor of Colorado. During his governorship there were a lot of problems with miners striking, particularly over hours worked in a day. Things got so bad that on June 6, 1904, the Independence Railway Station in Victor was destroyed by dynamite killing 13 people. The Colorado National Guard was eventually called in to bring peace. Peabody helped the mine owners to crush the union of the miners and this did not go over well. As a result, he was not re-elected. But things aren't as clear as that. You see, both the Republicans and Democrats committed major election law violations. It appeared that Peabody's opponent, the Democrat, won. He took office on March 17, 1905, but the legislature was controlled by Republicans and they voted to remove him from office that day. They re-installed Peabody, but they knew that wouldn't go over well so they insisted that he agree to resign as a condition of him being reinstalled. He did and thus the governorship went to his lieutenant-governor. So Colorado actually had three different men as governor on that same day. Colorado is the only state with that claim to fame. Peabody died on November 23, 1917 and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery.
Another notable figure is Robert Alexander Cameron. He was a Brigadier General during the Civil War, fighting on the side of the Union. Cameron was a doctor and as a matter of fact, he was one of only two physicians that attained the rank of Major General officer during the Civil War. He eventually moved to Colorado and would become Greeley's town superintendent in 1870. In 1885, he became the warden at the Colorado State Penitentiary and served until 1887. He died in 1894 at the age of 66 and was buried here.
One of the prisoners buried here was Joe Arridy. He was developmentally behind and most say he had the intellect of a five-year-old. He was accused of attacking two young girls, Dorothy and Barbara Drain. They were sisters and aged 15 and 12, respectively. Both girls had been hit with an axe, Dorothy perished, but Barbara survived. Arridy was 23 at the time and the police managed to coerce him into a confession. There was no proof that he actually had anything to do with the crime, but he was convicted and sentenced to death. The warden said he was the happiest man he had ever seen on Death Row because Arridy had no concept of death. He was executed in the gas chamber and smiled as the guards strapped him in. The warden is said to have wept as Arridy died in the chamber. Governor Bill Ritter pardoned him 72 years after he was killed.
Edward Ives is another prisoner buried here. He killed a police officer and wounded another, so he was sentenced to death. He was hanged using a unique hanging apparatus. The state of Colorado had found it hard to find a proper way to hang someone cleanly, meaning in a way that snapped the neck easily. Too many prisoners had been left hanging and writhing for many minutes. So they developed a pulley system that would send a weight hurtling down a chute when a guard pulled a lever. This would pull the rope taut as the prisoner fell through a trap and was supposed to break the neck. Ives was a little guy, weighing only 80 pounds. When the weight fell, he went flying up towards the ceiling, pulling the rope off the pulley and he fell to the floor. He thought he had beat the system. But he was given no reprieve. Two more attempts were made with the final one working, although it took 23 minutes for him to strangle to death. This and a couple of other botched hangings got the Colorado legislature to switch to the gas chamber for executions.
William Cody Kelley is also buried here. He was the first man ever killed in the gas chamber in Colorado. His grave is covered with tumbleweeds and prickly pear cactus, perhaps as a reflection of the man. His crime was awful. In 1934, he wrapped a rancher up in barbed wire and then he beat him to death with a pipe. And there is a legend that James Armstrong was such a violent and dangerous criminal that when he was put to death and then buried, the warden ordered that his cell door be buried over the coffin. A metal detector has proven this legend to be true. The last man killed in the chamber is buried here too, Luis J. Monge. There was a riot at the jail in 1929 that killed three inmates and eight correctional officers. Those three inmates are buried here: Danny Daniels, A. H. Davis and Red Reiley
And perhaps, even with that cell door over the burial, James Armstrong has made good on his promise to return after death. There are many claims of haunting activity. There are the standard reports of orbs and shadowy figures, but people also claim to hear the laughter of children, which seems odd since not many children are buried here. Cold spots are felt and a ghost tour features the cemetery as one of the most haunted spots in Canon City.
Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta
Oakland Cemetery is located in the heart of downtown Atlanta and is not only a cemetery, but an arboretum full of flowers like roses and irises and daffodils and mums. We had the pleasure of visiting on our recent trip to Atlanta and this cemetery has become one of my favorite. The main gate is made of simple red brick and this red brick forms many of the walkways inside. There are several sections like the Jewish Flat, the Potter's Field, the African-American Grounds, Bell Tower Ridge, Confederate Memorial Grounds and the Original Six Acres. As we entered, a light rain fell that continued to pick up, but we were undeterred as we wound our way through the cemetery with Tammie and Brian Burroughs guiding us along the way. A must stop is the Bell Tower, which now houses a visitor's center and gift shop full of books. We walked out with several in hand. One of them that I picked up about the cemetery was written by Cathy J. Kaemmerlen and is titled, "The Historic Oakland Cemetery of Atlanta, Speaking Stones." There are so many things to love here from the variety of trees and vegetation to the statues to the huge mausoleums to the intricate symbols on the headstones. And there are some ghost stories as well.
Oakland Cemetery was first known as Atlanta Cemetery and was established in 1850 after the city of Atlanta outgrew its downtown municipal cemetery. The original grounds were just six acres of farmland, but additional land was bought over time and today it is 48 acres. There are approximately 70,000 people buried here. Anyone who died in Atlanta from 1850 to 1884 would have been interred here and the first person buried here was the wife of the farmer who sold the initial acreage to the city. Here name was Agnes Wooding. The cemetery took on elements of Victorian influence and became a park for the city with cast iron benches and hosted many picnics. The next burial was for Dr. James Nissen who died in Atlanta in 1850 while attending a physicians' conference. He was afraid of being buried alive, so he requested that his jugular vein be severed before he was buried. He is in the original six acres.
There are many notable burials here. One belongs to the first mayor of Atlanta who was Moses W. Formwalt. He was a self-made man making his fortune in the tin and copper business. Much of the copper was made into stills and he was against Prohibition, of course. When he ran for mayor, he ran against an opponent that was a law and order and pro-Prohibiton candidate. He won and served for one year. He later became deputy sheriff and in 1852 he was stabbed to death by an inmate he was escorting from council chambers. For some reason he was placed in an unmarked grave. In 1907, he was moved to a better plot and given a marker near the Bell Tower. Speaking of the Bell Tower, it is Romanesque in style and was built in 1899. The first floor originally had a chapel and office for the sexton with living quarters for the sexton on the second floor. The Watch House was built in 1901 and is the office for the cemetery's security team. The first greenhouse in Atlanta was also here in the cemetery and is still located here, but in a different form. The original was built in the 1870s, then replaced in the early 1900s. Because of neglect, much of it was removed in the 1970s, but the brick walls remain and the new greenhouse was donated in 2015.
Another notable burial is for the first African-American mayor of Atlanta who was elected in 1974., Maynard Holbrook Jackson, Jr. He served for three terms and helped bring the Olympics to Atlanta in 1996. He died in 2003 and he was buried with his marker facing the Atlanta skyline, which is interesting to see as a backdrop to the cemetery. There was a little girl who kept a diary during the Siege of Atlanta. Her name was Carrie Berry Crumley and she was ten at the time. Her journal is still used today by historians to get the perspective of a child's view of the Civil War. She died in 1921 and was buried here in the original six acres. Carrie Steele Logan died in 1900 and she was known as the Mother of Orphans. She was a former slave who founded the first African-American orphanage in 1888 and that home still exists today. Dr. Blanche Beatrice Saunders Thompson died in 1964 and she was one of Georgia's first African-American female doctors.
Margaret Mitchell Marsh is buried here with a headstone she shares with her husband. There are box elders at the corners of her plot with rose bushes. Mitchell was born in 1900 and wrote the novel Gone with the Wind for which she earned a Pulitzer Prize. A film of the same name was made in 1939 featuring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. The story is an epic historical romance featuring the love story of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara. Clark Gable was set for the part from the very beginning, but it took 1400 women being interviewed before Leigh was selected to play Scarlett. Mitchell died young at the age of 49. William Fuller was a pivotal person in the Great Locomotive Chase as he was the conductor on the train that the Union stole and he led the chase that ended in a capture of the raiders.
There are great memorials and statues here, some of which we've posted to Instagram. There is "The Great Locomotive Chase" Marker, which documents this moment in history that took place on April 12, 1862. What happened is that a group of Union raiders stole a Confederate locomotive and took it all the way north to Chattanooga with hopes of destroying the railroad lines. There was a chaotic pursuit. There is the Granite Carriage Step that is the last of its kind in Oakland and was used back in the days of picnics for women to get out of carriages. Another remnant from that time is a hitching post for horses that is found on the eastern boundary of the original six acres. The Neal Monument was created in the 1890s in the Neoclassical style and has many symbols. There is a woman holding an open book and a closed book indicating a completed life. There is a palm branch for spiritual victory over death, a laurel wreath indicating eternity and a Celtic cross for eternal life and faith. I love the "Out in the Rain" fountain that features two children standing under an umbrella with the fountain spraying down over them like rain. It was made from cast-iron by the J.L. Mott Ironworks Company of New York. The Gray Plot features a statue of Niobe who was a woman that had 14 children and she bragged to the goddess Leto about those children. Leto was the mother of twins Artemis and Apollo and they murdered all of Niobe's children thus the statue is a symbol of grief. The most amazing memorial is for the unknown Confederate dead and features a lion known as the Lion of Atlanta. The Atlanta Ladies Memorial Association erected this in 1894 and was inspired by Switzerland's Lion of Lucerne. The lion is mortally wounded by a broken spear and is clutching the Confederate battle flag. Another Confederate monument is an Obelisk made from Stone Mountain granite that was dedicated on General E. Lee's funeral day in 1870. It stands 65 feet tall and was the tallest structure in Atlanta at the time. We found a unique seashell that it turns out was not so unique. These memorials were sold in the Sears, Roebuck and Company catalogue and feature an infant sleeping inside a seashell and they were used to mark children's graves. The seashell symbolizes resurrection and baptism.
The Mausoleums here are amazing, both elaborate and large. I took many pictures. There is the Eclectic Elsas Mausoleum that is the final resting place for Jacob Elsas whose family owned the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills. The Jacobs Mausoleum is done in the Beaux Arts Classical style and was built in the 1890s. We have Dr. Joseph Jacobs to thank for Coca Cola because his downtown pharmacy was the first to serve the soft drink in 1886. He died in 1929 and was buried here. The Rawson Mausoluem is Ecelctic in style and built in 1880 and is the final resting place of Charles Collier, his daughter Julia Harris and her husband Julian Harris. Julian's father was Joel Chandler Harris who wrote Uncle Remus. The Jasper Newton Smith Mausoleum is neat and I spotted it almost immediately upon entering the cemetery and made my way over quickly because I had never seen a mausoleum with a statue of someone sitting outside of it and he is sitting up at the roof. The mausoleum is Eclectic in style and was built in 1906. Jasper was a real estate entrepreneur and wanted to face the entrance of the cemetery so he could watch all the comings and goings. The Calhoun Mausoleum was built in 1910 in the Greek Revival style and is the final resting place of Atlanta's first Eye, Ear and Nose doctor who performed the first cataract surgery in the city. The stained glass window is really cool featuring Jesus healing a blind man and a woman and man awaiting healing pointing to their ear and throat respectively. The Austell Mausoleum is probably the fanciest mausoleum in the cemetery and was the most expensive when it was built in 1883 in the Gothic Revival style. The Waid Hill Mausoleum is the only brick mausoleum here and one of the oldest. A tragic story is connected to it as Waid Hill's grandson killed his own brother and then himself. They are buried in an unmarked grave next to the building.
The Inman Family Plot is amazing with its symbolism. There are faces of the Inman children here modeled from their actual death masks. Hugh is depicted as a boy cherub flying above rocks and lifting a mantle from a casket symbolizing a life built on a firm foundation with a triumph over the mystery of death and Louise is depicted as a female cherub resting against a tree and recording life on a tablet symbolizing premature death. Many pets are buried in the cemetery including Tweet the Mockingbird. A
lamb graces his tombstone because the sculptor could not make a
The Potter's Field is believed to have 7500 unmarked graves that contain both whites and blacks. Some coffins have been revealed to be rather expensive, so not everyone buried here was indigent. The African-American section is a reminder of a time when even segregation affected cemeteries. This was not a coveted section of the cemetery and was set on lower ground that tended to flood and disinter coffins. There are believed to be 800 unmarked graves here and there is an effort to do restoration of the graves. There is a mausoleum on the grounds that belongs to Antoine Graves, a prominent real estate developer. The Slave Square Marker reveals that there was an original African-American burial area from 1853 to 1877 in the northeast corner of the Original Six Acres. This was called Slave Square and had 800 burials. The remains were disinterred and reburied in the African-American Burial ground and then their former plots were sold to whites.
I could go on and on about everything there is to see here, but it's time to talk ghosts. There are Confederate ghosts here probably for a variety of reasons. Part of the Battle of Atlanta took place inside the cemetery and many of the dead would be buried here. There were about 6,900 Confederate soldiers placed here with 3,000 of them not being identified. Full-bodied soldiers in Confederate uniforms have been seen in the Confederate section of the cemetery and have been seen hanging from trees, possibly those who were executed by hanging from the Great Locomotive Chase. When investigators do a pretend roll call, people claim to hear whispered names from disembodied voices. Also, disembodied "hears" and "presents" are heard.
A cemetery employee claims to have seen a shadowy figure moving through the cemetery. The statue featuring Jasper Newton Smith is said to get up out of its chair and climb down to the ground and then walks through the cemetery. Could this have been the shadowy figure?
Oakland Cemetery is a Cemetery Bingo dream! There are so many symbols in this cemetery and the self-guided tour map that you can purchase details many of the symbols and their meaning. This is a must see if ever in Atlanta. For us taphophiles, any cemetery is really a must see. I've been to two of these, so I've got two more to visit. Are any of them haunted? That is for you to decide!