Strange tales and urban legends surround graves from the burial grounds across America.
Sometimes unique in appearance, sometimes legendary for the bodies beneath their stones, America’s most-haunted graves attract visitors from across the country, as well as tourists from other nations. While the stories behind the strange happenings are often more fact than fiction, the legends remain unchanged regarding these unusual sites.
Ranging from the burial tomb of a vampire to the grave of Satan’s son, many of the star attractions of cemeteries across the U.S. are often decried by locals or debunked by fact finders as the subject of false rumors. Despite the fact or fiction status, the strange tales and bizarre legends have become part of the pseudo-history and paranormal accounts of American history.
The Vampire of Exeter
Mercy Brown supposedly haunts the old Exeter Graveyard known as Chestnut Hill burial grounds in Rhode Island. The story claims Mercy, who perished in the 1800’s, was the last of three family members who died of TB-like symptoms.
When her brother returned home and mysteriously fell ill, however, her father had the graves exhumed. While Mercy’s mother and sister were decomposing, Mercy’s body looked life-like as it lay in the coffin with a smear of blood across the mouth. Thus was born the legend of the “vampire of Exeter” which fed upon local humans.
The Witch of Old York
The Old York Cemetery in Maine plays host to the grave of a legendary witch, exorcist, and herb woman who perished in 1774. The legends are linked to the grave of Mary Nasson, whose beautiful carved headstone is one-of-a-kind in the old New England cemetery. Featuring a footstone and a slab covering the in-between ground, the graveyard is supposedly visited often by crows, reputedly Mary’s “familiars”.
The Devil of Illinois
One of the strangest urban legends surrounding a grave belongs to Lake Forest Cemetery’s “Son of Satan” in Illinois. The lonely little grave marks the body of “Damien” born in the 1800’s, crudely carved along with the word “Roania” along the side of the stone.
Surrounded by newer graves, this strange stone was erected alone at some distance from the old burial grounds connected to the cemetery; among the folklore surrounding the grave is a story proclaiming him the son of the devil, who must walk through water to rise again and be pure.
While the tale is debunked by cemetery keepers and locals, many ghost story lovers still visit the site to see the unusual headstone which stands out amidst newer markers.
The Poet’s Grave in Maryland
One of the most famous graves in American history, Edgar Allen Poe’s body lies beneath a stone in Westminster Hall Burying Ground … or does he? Among the local legends regarding Poe’s grave is the claim that the wrong body was exhumed when Poe’s grave was moved to a more prominent spot in the burial grounds. Other tales of Poe’s haunted grave still linger in its unusual history.
The once-unidentified grave of the poet has been subject to confusion and strange circumstances in the centuries following his burial, including the destruction of the first gravestone erected years after his death. The stone, inscribed “here, at last, he is happy” was smashed in a freak accident.
Agnes of Glasgow
The lovely spirit of Agnes of Glasgow supposedly roams the burial grounds of Camden, South Carolina’s Old Quaker Graveyard. Local legend surrounding Agnes claims she is searching for her lost lover; her ghost is sometime spotted among the graves, along with other supernatural occurrences from her buried companions, notable local names from the 1800’s.
When exploring any cemetery or graveyard, visitors should show care and respect for the dead surrounding them by leaving the site as they found it; obtain permission to visit any private grounds, especially after dark. The experience of being face-to-face with a historic ghost may be tempting, but most visitors are willing to settle for a daytime encounter with history through its legendary graves.
- Ramsland, Katherine. Cemetery Stories. Harper Collins, 2001.