Thursday, January 6, 2022

HGB Ep. 417 - Haunted Cemeteries 21

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Moment in Oddity - The Italian Bride Julia Buccola Petta (Suggested by: Jim Featherstone)

The grave of Julia Buccola Petta is found in Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois. She is known as the Italian Bride and her burial is quite odd. It's not because of the grandiose statue erected over her grave that is a duplicate of her wedding photo, or that she was buried in her wedding dress because she was considered a martyr for having died during childbirth. And it isn't because her child who also died in childbirth is buried with her. The odd thing here is that Julia's mother had her exhumed in 1927 after being buried for six years and Julia's body was found in a state of non-decay. She looked life-like, as though only sleeping. Her skin was still soft and supple. A picture was taken and we agree that Julia looks like she was just buried. However, the baby is in a state of decay as is the coffin. This indicates that this wasn't some kind of trick played by Julia's mother. The mother had claimed to have dreams of her daughter for those six years with Julia saying in those dreams that she was still alive and needed her mother's help. No one could explain what had happened here other than a really great embalming job and/or corpse wax, which is formed during decomposition. Julia's mother not only raised money after the exhumation to build the memorial, but she also attached two pictures to the grave. One was the wedding photo and the other was the postmortem picture after exhumation. The story of the Italian Bride, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Francis Salvador Becomes First Elected Jew in the Americas

In the month of January, on the 11th, in 1775, Francis Salvador became the first Jewish person elected to office in the Americas. Salvador's family were Sephardic Jews from London. His grandfather brought a group of Jewish settlers to Savannah, Georgia in 1733. They then bought land in South Carolina. Salvador's great grandfather had been the first Jewish director of the East India Company. When that business collapsed and the family's land in Portugal was destroyed in an earthquake. Salvador decided to follow his grandfather's path to America and set himself up in South Carolina in 1773 with a plan to send for his wife and children later. He was elected to that seat on the South Carolina Provincial Congress a little over a year later. Salvador was a strong supporter of the independence movement and he soon was known as the Southern Paul Revere after riding 30 miles through back country settlements to warn them of a Cherokee attack. He later would himself be attacked by a group of Cherokee and Loyalists while leading a militia group. He was shot and scalped, but lived long enough to find out that his group had won the engagement. He was 29 when he died and was recorded as the first Jewish soldier to die in the War for Independence.

Haunted Cemeteries 21

We love our cemeteries around here. They are places of such peace and for many of us, strangely, a place of comfort. And as we have found, many have a spirit or two unable to let go of their terrestrial bonds. On this episode, we are going to share some of the burial practices of rural families at the turn-of-the-twentieth-century and some of the traditions that are still carried on in cemeteries today. We also have several more haunted cemeteries to share from Ohio, Oregon, California and Indiana. Join us as we share Haunted Cemeteries 21!

Tammie Burroughs got some interesting information from her genealogy group that we thought would be fun to share. When death occurred among rural families at the turn-of-the-twentieth-century, the body of the deceased was prepared for burial by neighbors and/or family members. This was done by placing the corpse on a cooling board, which was generally a wooden plank between a couple of chairs, and then washing the body and putting clean clothes on the deceased. Back in the day, this was either their Sunday best or a burial shroud. Coins were placed over the eyelids to keep the eyes shut and a cloth was tied around the head and under the chin to keep the mouth closed. Rigor mortis set in within two to three hours, so all of this needed to be done quickly.

Before the advent of the embalming process, few preservatives were available. Those that were, however, were either liquids or mixed with a liquid. Placed on a white cloth, they were administered primarily to the face. Turpentine was often used, though the most commonly available preservative was camphor (made of camphor gum and pure liquor). In both cases, the drenched cloth was applied repeatedly to the dead person's face to try to stop it from "changing" or turning black. If the coffin had been completed, the body was placed in it; if not, the corpse remained on the cooling board until it was finished. The job of making the coffin fell to the neighbors and/or family. While they were busy building it out of pine or oak, then lining it, other neighbors took on the task of digging the grave. While these activities were carried out mainly in the day, in the evening an all night vigil around the corpse began.

"Settin' up with the body" or "the wake" as it was universally known, usually occurred on the night immediately following the death. The custom, which found its way into the North Carolina backcountry via Scotch-Irish settlers, served several purposes. It was a time of making sure the deceased had truly died and it allowed friends and family to pay their last respects. Animals and insects were kept away from the body. When Tansy was in bloom, it was commonly used because insects were repelled by its scent. Burial in the cemetery took place as soon as possible because it was impractical to keep a body out for even a short amount of time. Some burials took place on the same day of death because the bodies were in such poor condition. Most were interred within one to three days. It was really dependent on the state of decay the body was in and whether the coffin and grave were done.

Graves were usually dug by several men in the community. When asked what was done with corpses in the winter if the ground was frozen, Raymond Coins, 88-year-old resident of Stokes County, stated that they went ahead and buried them. "We never stood back on the ground being frozen. If necessary, a fire was built to thaw the ground some." Other people dealt with frozen ground differently. One woman's solution was to store her dead husband's body in their corn crib until the ground thawed in the spring. To reach the place of burial, which was either the family cemetery or the church, the coffin was often placed on a wagon drawn by mules or horses. Once here, the coffins were lowered into the ground using rope or plow lines, whichever was on hand. Planks were then lain across the top of the vault to cover the top of the coffins, then dirt was put on top of the planks to complete the grave.

Cemeteries face east toward the rising sun, associating the deceased with the Christian belief of Resurrection. Trees and plants commonly found in cemeteries include: dogwood, cedar, and perriwinkle. All of these are referred to as "evergreen." Symbolic meanings are as follows: Dogwood stands for love and adversity. Cedar stands for nobility. Perriwinkle stands for sweet memories of unerring devotion. And as we know, garden cemeteries became the most popular form of cemetery, giving families a beautiful place to spend time with their deceased love ones. And some of these places are haunted. Here are a few more of them.

Milan Cemetery

Milan Cemetery is located in Milan, Ohio. The cemetery is bordered by St. Anthony's Catholic Cemetery and Galpin Wildlife Sanctuary It was founded in 1851 and has over 7,000 burials, many of them early pioneers. Two of those pioneers were Benjamin and Lorena Abbott. Benjamin died in 1854 and a mausoleum was built for him. The unusual thing about it was that it faced away from all the other monuments. And the location was down an embankment, near a swamp-like body of water. Mr. Abbott clearly wasn't interested in having visitors to his grave. And it didn't help that legends started growing up around the mausoleum. People claimed that if you knocked on the door, the ghost of Mr. Abbott would chase you away. Sometimes his wife would get in on the action too.  

Along with Benjamin and his wife, their two granddaughters were buried in the vault. The two died of natural causes as happened to many children in the 1800s. But legends claim that the two girls died at the hands of their grandfather and that he buried their bodies in the back area of his property. After they were discovered, they were placed in the vault. The bodies were actually buried on the Abbott property as families sometimes did at the time, but new owners wanted them removed, so they were then placed in the vault. So a pretty tame story as compared to the murder story, but as we know, moving bodies can have haunting consequences. Another interesting tidbit is that Mr. and Mrs. Abbott are no longer in the tomb having been moved to a different plot. We're not sure why. The granddaughters remain though. And perhaps that movement also has caused problems. There are claims of strange lights in Milan Cemetery at night. People claim that these lights are the spirits of the Abbotts making their way around the cemetery.

Eugene Pioneer Cemetery (Suggested by: Angel Macias)

The Eugene Pioneer Cemetery is one of the three oldest cemeteries in Eugene and is basically located right next to the University of Oregon in Eugene. This covers sixteen acres with about 5,000 burials. Prime real estate in the university's eyes which had once planned to expand the campus there, but that clearly never happened thankfully. Three different sessions of the Oregon State Legislature had bills introduced trying to condemn the property and have the graves removed with the last one occurring in 1963. And as should be the case, the cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. The cemetery was founded in 1872 by the Spencer Butte Lodge No. 9 of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. 

The biggest area of the cemetery is the Grand Army of the Republic burial plot, which is in the center of the cemetery. General John W. Geary bought the plot in 1887 and there are 57 graves here, with 51 of them being Civil War veterans. The center features a twenty-five foot statue of a Union soldier. This is an 8-short-ton statue that was brought here by an eight horse team from Vermont and financed by Union veteran John Covell's estate in 1903. The head of the statue is not original. Vandals broke into the cemetery in December 2001 and pulverized the head. Local artist David Miller remade the head from Vermont blue marble and it was rededicated on Memorial Day in 2003. More restoration was done to the memorial plot in 2007. Another notable burial here is for Louis Renninger, who was awarded the Medal of Honor in the American Civil War.

Angel wrote, "I've taken occasional strolls through the cemetery heading home from lab, and unfortunately (although I use that term hesitantly) haven't seen or experienced anything first hand. However, common stories include hearing the sound of bagpipes late at night, movement of statues, and the classic woman in white." Stories about the woman in white claim that she does more than just walk around the cemetery. She appears to clean some of the headstones, so she acts as a caretaker. The movement of statues Angel mentions is said to happen on a particular night of the year around midnight. All the statues are said to get in the actions as they walk around and seem to talk to each other. 

Spadra Cemetery (Suggested by: Angel Macias)

Spadra was once a grand town, but today it is completely forgotten because there is not much left of it. There's the Phillips Mansion and the Spadra Cemetery and that's it. This is a small place near California State Route 57 in Pomona. Ricardo Vejar and Ygnacio Palomares received a Mexican land grant in 1837. Vejar built his Rancho San Jose de Abajo on the southern portion of this grant, but was eventually forced to sell the property. A Prussian Jewish immigrant named Louis Phillips started managing the ranch and he did so well with it that he eventually bought it and started selling plots of it to settlers coming to the area. This developed into the town of Spadra. The name comes from Spadra Bluff in Arkansas where many of the settlers had come from. This grew into a prominent city and was the dominant town in the Pomona Valley. The Butterfield Stagecoach and Southern Pacific Railroad both stopped here. 

The Spadra Cemetery was established in 1868 out of a need for a burial place for non-Catholics. Melinda Arnett was the first person buried there that year. Many prominent citizens of the town would follow including Phillips and his wife Esther. The cemetery was deeded to the Spadra Cemetery Association for $1 in 1897. There are around 200 people buried here. The last burial was here in 1965. Spadra's moment in the sun ended and the railroad left along with the businesses. The people left and their cemetery fell into disrepair. Today, it still is a jumble of broken and missing tombstones. The Historical Society of Pomona Valley owns the cemetery and the president Deborah Clifford said, "This has long been a happy hunting ground for anyone with a Ford F-150 and a chain. You roll in, lasso a headstone and take it with you.”

Perhaps this is why the spirits are at unrest at this cemetery. Many who have visited, come away completely creeped out by their experiences. Jonathan R. wrote on Yelp, "After walking around with a bunch of friends for a while, we decided to leave. However, on our way out the girls in the group ran out from feeling a hand grab them. One girl stayed behind, and once we were out she took a picture of the exit and what we found in the picture was really scary. A tall slim like figure with a very distorted face appeared in the picture. Ever since then I have not gone back."

Rudy M. shared his experience after visiting the cemetery, "We were on the 10 freeway almost back home about 20 minutes after leaving and I felt this overwhelming feeling of death. I felt so panicked & controlled, like something attacked me in [my] homie's car. I asked my grandpa to pray for me once I got home. This place is truly haunted and demonic.”

One of the famous spirits here is James Fryer. He likes to make disembodied noises and shows up as a full-bodied apparition. He was a man who died in 1921. A paranormal investigator names Huesca has been to the cemetery multiple times and had a run-in with Fryer's ghost. He said, "Out of nowhere I felt strange, and from the corner of my eye I saw this dark figure just look over my shoulder. It either wanted me to get out or make itself known, but it was really creepy.” A local named Wayne Owings who didn't believe in ghosts had his own experience. He said, "I seen him. I ain't lying. Heard something and I looked. Standing right there." Owings claimed that the figure was dressed in an old-fashioned black suit with a vest. 

Cherokee Cemetery (Suggested by: Chee Xiong)

Cherokee Cemetery is located at 3927 Cherokee Road in Oroville, California. This is a private cemetery governed by The Cherokee Cemetery Association. Ed Campbell is the sexton and it is something that has run in his family. Both his father and brother were sextons at the cemetery. The cemetery has a lot of evergreen plantings. Plots are marked out in borders of concrete. The front gates are metal and have the name Cherokee Cemetery near the top of the gates.

There is a legend that in the 1800s, a girl in the town was murdered by a man that lived in a house across from the cemetery. The town took vengeance by burning him alive in that house. People visiting the cemetery have heard his loud heavy footsteps. There are also claims of loud bloodcurdling disembodied screams. Another legend claims that if you place flowers on the grave of a child who died on the same day as his father, his apparition will visit you and thank you. Several people say they have seen a young boy hiding behind a tree or a gravestone. And the faint laughter of a child is heard sometimes. A woman named Cynthia claimed to see a woman in white standing near the entrance when she visited in July of last year (2021).

Doc wrote, "I lived near the Cherokee cemetery for years, right behind where the murderer was burned in his home. Many unusual things would happen at the cemetery and surrounding homes, one time after out of town friends thought it would be fun to visit the cemetery at night we had a couple weeks of music boxes playing by themselves, lights turning on and off and eerie silence when the area was a haven for many birds and bugs."

Kelly wrote, "My Brother lives in nearby Paradise, so when I go to visit I like to go the the nearby, old cemeteries. We were at Cherokee Cemetery, and there was a fresh grave dug for a burial the next day I guess. The grave was right next to the main gate of the cemetery. I took some pictures of the gate and the grave. In the pictures were smoke like figures, one hovering over the new grave and one over the gate."

Ashley wrote in 2019, "I live near the cemetery. For fun me and my son like to ride our bikes there. One day we looked at some old graves and it started to get dark so we got on our bikes to leave and near a woman grave unexpectedly I got strong smell of rose and vanilla perfume. It was a smell I had never smelt before and for some reason it seemed to smelled like old perfume. It’s possible there was a plant near by that I just got a woof of wind. Who knows?"

Highland Lawn Cemetery

Highland Lawn Cemetery is found in Terre Haute, Indiana. The cemetery is the second largest in the state of Indiana and was built on land that had once been home to a farm and a distillery. The land was very marshy, so not ideal. The graveyard opened in 1884 with its first burial who was Samantha McPherson who died from typhoid fever at the age of thirty. The entrance gate is gorgeous, featuring a Romanesque Revival bell tower and Gothic-style arch. This was designed by Architect Paul Leizt and built by Edward Hazledine out of local limestone. There are beautiful statues and memorials inside and a little chapel on the hill with gabled roofs and stained-glass windows.

Some of the notable people buried here include Union leader Eugene V. Debs. He ran for president a couple of times and was well-known in Terre Haute. People visit his grave from all over the country. He died in 1926. Vaudeville actress Valeska Suratt was buried here in 1962. All eleven silent films she starred in were lost in the 1937 Fox Vault Fire. Most of her work was done in the 1920s. She died penniless having squandered not only the money she had made, but also money that was raised for her during a benefit hosted by an author who had heard of Suratt's dire living conditions. She apparently liked to gamble. There is a grave with a large angel standing in front of a cross on the grave of lawyer and writer Max Ehrmann. He wrote the poem "Desiderata." This poem was very popular during the counterculture movement. Dr. Allen Pence, who founded the First Spiritual Society of Terre Haute in 1867 is buried here in section three. The second floor of his building, Pence Hall, was the society's meeting hall. Seances and lectures were hosted at Pence Hall and it became a spiritualist center. Pence remained a believer until his death even though the Spiritualist Movement had started waning by that point.

Claude Herbert is buried in a mausoleum off the main driveway. Herbert died a hero. He had been playing the part of Santa Claus at the Havens and Geddes Department Store on the evening of December 19, 1898 when a fire broke out. Herbert hadn't been real excited about the job, but he needed something to help support his widowed mother and he had just come home from the Spanish-American War. Children were taking turns on his lap in the basement of the department store when an incandescent bulb in the display window burst, setting nearby items on fire. There were thirty children with Herbert and he went into action to get them to safety. He got them all outside and then heard that there may be other victims in the building. He stripped off the costume and ran back into the building, but he never came out. Some witnesses thought they saw him jump from a fifth story window. Firefighters found two of his bones in the smoldering ruins the following day. Those remains were buried in the mausoleum and activity has been reported near the tomb. Strange lights and orbs are seen and weird mists have been caught on camera.

Many legends are connected to Highland Lawn Cemetery. One features a phantom bulldog. His name was Stiffy Green who acquired his nickname due to the stiff gait he walked with and the fact that he had bright green eyes. His owner was a nice elderly man named John Heinl. John died in 1920 and was buried in a mausoleum. Stiffy Green was taken to the graveside funeral and refused to leave the mausoleum. Like so many of these stories, the townspeople took pity on the dog and brought food and water to the cemetery for him. He eventually died there next to the mausoleum. The townspeople put their money together and had Stiffy Green taxidermied and he was placed inside the tomb. Shortly after that, people started hearing barks coming from the mausoleum. Especially the caretaker. He heard the barks all the time. The ghosts of both the bulldog and John have been seen near the mausoleum and the phantom smell of John's pipe tobacco has also been detected. 

Another cemetery legend is connected to a businessman named Martin Sheets. He had been a stockbroker and then a cattle farmer. He had made himself a lot of money and part of what he did with that money was planning his death. He was terrified of being buried alive like many people of his day. So he designed a custom casket with latches on the inside so he could open it if he needed. He had a mausoleum built and rigged it with a telephone. Sheets had the phone service paid for through many years. Not sure if he expected to rise at some point years later or what. He eventually died and wasn't embalmed and he stayed inside his coffin. His wife Susan died three years later from a massive heart attack. She was found clutching the phone in her hand. Her family assumed she had been calling paramedics. The odd thing is that when they brought her body to the mausoleum for burial, they found the phone inside there off the hook. Had she and Mr. Sheets been talking to each other before she died? 

Not every cemetery is haunted, but we have found that many of them do have a spirit or two hanging around in the afterlife. Are they unwilling to leave their bodies? Are they afraid of what may meet them beyond the veil? Could they just be lost in some way? Are these cemeteries haunted? That is for you to decide!

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