From early childhood, we absorb the idea that graveyards are scary places, the domain of ghosts and zombies. As we grow older, they retain a certain mystique and sometimes an allure. Certainly cemeteries can be places of great sadness or deep peace, incredible beauty or poignant abandonment. But are they also haunted places? It seems counter-intuitive that spirits would linger in a place they most likely never frequented in life; wouldn’t they be more likely to stay near people and places they loved? However, there is the idea that spirits might be drawn back to their physical remains, unable to completely let go, or in cases of sudden death, perhaps they never left the vicinity of their bodies, clinging confusedly to the one thing they can recognize and understand. There also is the theory that the strong emotions brought to the gravesite by mourning friends and family might lure a spirit to that location or even leave a residual imprint that takes on a “life” of its own.
Personally, I adore graveyards. I find them beautiful. I’ve been to thousands of them, from Streatley-on-Thames, England to Orlando, FL. There are two small ones located within half a mile of my house. My very first official paranormal investigation was in an old cemetery in Brooksville, FL, where an apparition was said to appear at the stump of what was once a hanging tree. The group I was with had previously gotten strange photos in the area, including orbs and rods. Even back then I had doubts about the validity of these photos; with the plethora of bugs and moisture in Florida, you’d be hard-pressed NOT to take an outdoor photo with lots of extraneous features in it. Needless to say, we didn’t really experience much that night, although we creeped each other out pretty well by following a path into the woods to search out the reputedly haunted hot spot of a dilapidated slaughterhouse (we didn’t find it, but wandering around the Florida woods in the dark is an experience all its own). We also were forced to wait for almost an hour while a patrol officer ran all our driver’s licenses; we had called the local PD to obtain permission, but wires got crossed (eventually it all ended well). Please, before attempting an overnight investigation of a cemetery, check with local and state authorities; in states like Virginia, it’s illegal to be in a cemetery after sunset.
Since then I’ve taken numerous cemetery tours. Some of the best: in New Orleans, the tour of St. Louis Cemetery Number 1, where voodoo queen Marie Laveau’s tomb is located, and the tour of Lafayette Cemetery Number 1, across the street from Commander’s Palace, where you can see the real tomb that figures largely in Anne Rice’s fictional Mayfair Witches series. During the Lafayette Cemetery tour, I also got to witness an authentic New Orleans jazz funeral, which defies description and is something everyone should see at least once. Then there was the tour in Charleston, SC, which I took with several friends. One stop was at my favorite Charleston church, known as the Circular Church. While the guide was speaking, we heard some strange noises, and suddenly a couple of my friends shrieked that they had just seen a shadow darting across the graveyard and disappearing. The guide was intrigued, as the apparition of a lady in red has been seen in that same area, but of course I didn’t see a thing.
Last October I spent a few cold, wet, and miserable hours in a private cemetery in Doe Hill, VA. Prior investigation had resulted in an EVP of a child’s voice in a corner of the cemetery where several children’s graves were situated. I huddled in that corner for a couple of hours, running audio the whole time, and got nothing. Which was not that disappointing, really – nothing bothers me more than the thought of a child spirit being stuck someplace, especially in a lonely graveyard. That investigation was enjoyable despite the weather, though, because of the history of the place. The tombstones dated back as far the late 1700s, which is very early for that part of Virginia/West Virginia. Living alone on a farm in West Virginia myself, I have to admire anyone who successfully eked out an existence so far from civilization at such an early date. I can barely do it now, with modern conveniences. The people who lived on that farm, and their descendants, must have been remarkable individuals.
One of the most ill-fated trips I ever took was to the Greenwood Cemetery in Orlando, FL. The tour guide began by presenting photographs and EVPs previously caught in the cemetery, and as he did so, I realized my camera was still in my car. So I ran out to get it, tripped on the brick driveway, and landed hard on my hands and knees, leaving rivulets of blood running down my leg (luckily the group all contributed handiwipes and Bandaids along with condolences). Then, while taking the first picture, my camera’s brand new batteries drained. When the tour was over and we returned to our vehicles, mine wouldn’t start, despite all attempts to jump start it, and a friend had to come pick me up. Spiritual activity or just plain bad luck? At least on that night I felt a bit singled out.
So: are graveyards really as terrifying as one might be led to believe? I haven’t seen much evidence to make me accept that premise; however, what I have seen only serves to illustrate how much respect we should have for these cities of the dead. Whether restless spirits still lurk among the graves or not, these monuments and memorials, even the illegible time-weathered stones, are all that remain of people who were once like us. As such, they should be approached with decency and kindness, not with fear. As we are now, so once they were; as they are now, so shall we be.