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8 Weird and Spooky Urban Legends about Cemeteries

View of old cemetery park in the mist
Jurgita Batuleviciene/Shutterstock

Cemeteries are a lot of things. They’re quiet; they’re calm, and they’re often lovely. But despite their tranquil air, cemeteries play host to tons of urban legends—weird tales, spooky stories, and legends so dark they’ll certainly make sure you never find yourself alone in one at night.

Death doesn’t have to be scary, of course; it is, after all, merely a part of life itself. But for many people, cemeteries are places to avoid visiting unless you have to—places to hold your breath while passing and refrain from whistling in, lest you tempt death, the Devil, or both.

Knowing the way so many feel about cemeteries, it’s unsurprising that so many would end up associated with some truly spectacular legends. Are they true? Probably not. But they’re fascinating all the same.

These eight stories might have you thinking twice about the gnarled, twisted graves hidden in the corners of your local cemetery.

100 Steps Cemetery: Cloverland, Indiana

In the unincorporated community of Cloverland, Indiana—about six miles from the city of Brazil— there’s a small cemetery. It’s old; no one is sure just how old, but the oldest graves within it—of which there are about 325—date back to the mid-19th century. But perhaps its precise age isn’t of much importance; what is important is that it’s old enough to have acquired a unique legend over its many years of…well, not life, exactly. After-life, perhaps.

Some call it Cloverland Cemetery. Others call it Carpenter or Carpenter’s Cemetery. But these days, it’s more commonly known as 100 Steps Cemetery—a name which speaks volumes about the legend attached to it.

Within the cemetery, you see, there’s a stone staircase. It’s not steep, but it’s long—and at least since the 1980s, it’s been said that if you ascend the stairs at midnight, counting the steps as you go, you’ll see a vision of how you’ll die when you reach the top. But that’s not all there is to the legend; there’s a second part, as well: After you witness the vision, you’re meant to walk back down the stairs, again counting the steps as you go. If you count the same number of steps both ways, then the vision may have been false. If it’s different, the vision is said to be accurate.

Back in the day, the staircase didn’t have 100 steps; most visitors counted around 65. In recent years, though, the old, crumbling staircase has been replaced by a shiny, new one—one that does have about 100 steps.

Feel like tempting fate? You’d best count carefully.

The Devil’s Chair: Kirksville, Missouri

image of the Devil's Chair, a funerary monument in Kirksville MO
DavidOaks / Public domain

The chair does have an official name. It’s called the Baird Chair, after the fellow who commissioned it: William Baird, businessman and founder of the First National Bank of Kirksville. Located in Highland Park Cemetery, it’s quite a beautiful piece, carved with such detail that the stone seat looks like it’s draped with a sumptuous cloth.

But no matter how nice it looks, most people in Kirksville call it something else.

They call it the Devil’s Chair.

To be fair, it’s not uncommon to find stone chairs and benches scattered throughout cemeteries of a certain age. They actually have a pretty innocuous origin: During the Victorian era, it became de rigueur to place stone chairs, benches, and other seating at gravesites in cemeteries so that surviving family members had somewhere to sit when they came to visit their deceased relatives.  But there is still something a little… odd about seeing a chair next to, or even on top of, a grave—so, in Kirksville, people dealt with the discrepancy by creating a legend. It’s said that if you sit on the Devil’s Chair after midnight, a hand will burst forth from the grave and drag you to Hell.

The Kirksville Devil’s Chair is far from the only one in existence, by the way. Devil’s Chair legends exist not only across the United States but across the entire world. Other notable Devil’s Chairs include one in Cassadaga, Fla.; one at Union Cemetery in Guthrie County, La.; and one in Shropshire in the UK. Take your pick—but sit carefully.

The Witch Grave of St. Omer Cemetery: Ashmore, Illinois

There are a lot of members of the Barnes family buried in St. Omer Cemetery. The burial sites of four of them are marked by a curious monument shaped not like a traditional headstone, but as a huge ball made out of stone. But if you look closely at the giant stone ball, you’ll notice something curious about the dates of one particular member of the Barnes family: Caroline Prathers Barnes is noted as having been born on Jan. 23, 1858…and having died on Feb. 31, 1882.

That’s right: Caroline Prathers Barnes seemingly died on a day that doesn’t exist.

The truth of the story is much more mundane than the legendary explanation often ascribed to this mysteriously impossible death date. Records state that Caroline died of pneumonia on one of the final days of February—either the 26th or 28th (it’s unclear which)—and when her name was added to the family memorial. This unfortunate typo was too expensive to fix and saddled her not only with an incorrect death date but with one that’s straight-up nonexistent.

But according to local lore, Caroline was accused of witchcraft and died by hanging, burning, or live burial, depending on who you ask. The impossible death date was inscribed on the memorial for safety purposes. Legend stated that the witch would rise again on the anniversary of her death day—but if her death never arrived, then she wouldn’t be able to raise her witchy little head. Some claim that the stone ball is actually a crystal ball that glows on moonless nights, and that photographs taken of the monument on physical film will never develop properly, no matter how careful you are.

Caroline’s death date isn’t the only typo on the monument, by the way. Barnes family patriarch Granville Anderson Barnes was also the victim of poor record-keeping: His first name is spelled “Granvil.” However, no one has attempted to make the argument that the misspelling is to keep an accused warlock from rising from his grave, which seems a little unfair, don’t you think?

Phantom Jogger of Canyon Hill Cemetery: Caldwell, Indiana

Canyon Hill Cemetery in Caldwell, Ind. has been around since the 1800s—and like many old cemeteries, it plays host to several unearthly visitors (or so it’s said). Sometimes, for example, you might see an old woman sitting on one of the benches late at night—but if you look away for even a moment, when you look back, she’ll be gone.

Weirder still, though, is the legend of the phantom jogger: If you drive to the cemetery at night and park your car at the right location, the story goes, you might hear someone knock on the window of your car briefly. If you look, you might see someone jogging away—but if you look closer, you’ll notice that they’re not jogging at all. Indeed, you’ll see that the apparition’s body just sort of fades away where their legs should be.

In true urban legend fashion, the details of precisely where you’re meant to park remain hazy. According to some versions of the tale, the spot is located between two trees that face the cemetery, while in others, you’re instructed to park right at the gates. Which is it? Who knows. But hey, if you’re in the neighborhood, why not try both?

The Gateway to Hell: Stull, Kansas

Stull Cemetary, Stull, Kansas
Gatsbydog3 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

The tiny, unincorporated community of Stull, Ks. has a shockingly large number of legends associated with it—but the most prevalent is the one that claims its cemetery houses the gateway to Hell. Or at least, a gateway to Hell; depending on who you ask, there’s more than one. (Hi there, Hellam Township, Pennsylvania.)

The cemetery is just about as old as Stull itself. Initially founded in the 19th century as Deer Creek, it had a population of six families by 1857; the oldest graves in Stull Cemetery, meanwhile, date back to the late 1850s and early 1860s. By the turn of the century, the community’s name was Stull, named after the postmaster of its newly-opened post office. (The post office is no longer in operation.)

In 1974, though, the University of Kansas’ student newspaper published an article claiming that twice a year—once on the spring equinox and once on Halloween—Stull Cemetery received a nefarious visitor: The Devil himself. And thus, a legend was born—one which drew huge crowds on two occasions (in 1978 and 1988, for curious) who wanted to witness the Devil’s arrival themselves, and which has persisted to this very day.

The creature is said to arrive via a set of stone stairs hidden somewhere within the cemetery grounds—stairs which, if you were to find them and traverse down them yourself, would take you to the gates of Hell. No one has ever found these alleged stairs, of course; they don’t exist. And no, the Devil does not actually appear in Stull Cemetery twice a year. It’s still a fascinating piece of local lore, though—and given the number of tales that circulate about Stull, that’s really saying something.

The Grave of Alice Flagg: Pawleys Island, South Carolina

The grave has only a single word on it—a name with no dates: Alice. But locals who visit this grave at the All Saints Episcopal Church Cemetery in Pawleys Island know that it belongs to Alice Flagg, who died in 1834 of a broken heart.

They know, too, that if they arrive at the cemetery at the correct time, they might see the ghostly figure of Alice herself, searching for something, one hand pressed to her chest.

Alice’s story is a classic tale of star-crossed lovers: According to the legend, she fell in love with someone her family deemed unsuitable for her and sent her away after she refused to give up her beloved. They got engaged in secret anyway—but when Alice returned home after falling ill, her brother discovered her engagement ring, which she wore on a ribbon around her neck, and snatched it from her. It was never returned to her—not even after she died. To this day, her spirit wanders the cemetery where she was buried, forever seeking the token of her love that was so cruelly taken from her.

People still visit her, though, often bringing gifts and flowers to lay at her grave. Some even come to make a wish: It’s said that if you circle her gravestone six times counterclockwise, then six times clockwise, stop right where the “A” in her name is on the headstone, and leave a gift for her, any wish you make will come true.

If it doesn’t, though? Well, maybe she’s not in. She’s also sometimes said to haunt the stairs at the Hermitage—her family home and the place where she died. You can always try your luck there if you like.

The Black Angel of Oakland Cemetery: Iowa City, Iowa

The towering angel monument in Iowa City’s Oakland Cemetery is hard to miss: It’s not only huge, but it’s also all pitch black. And naturally, folks have a lot of ideas about why it’s the color that it is—and what might happen if you spend too much time near the Black Angel of Oakland Cemetery.

Some say that the angel turned black after being struck by lightning—the lightning having been a sign that the woman buried beneath the angel was completely and utterly evil. Others say it turned black to make sure the family to whom it belongs never, ever forgets the sins carried out by their ancestors. Some claim that anyone who is kissed before the angel, or who kisses the angel will die—either immediately, or in six months. According to others, touching the angel at midnight on Halloween ensures death within seven years.

The real story behind the Black Angel is nothing so dramatic: It’s merely a particularly eye-catching memorial. It was erected by Teresa Feldevert,  who had been born in 1836 in what is now the Czech Republic and emigrated to the United States with her son sometime after that. She left Iowa City for Eugene, Ore. in 1891 when her son, then 19, died of meningitis, but although she married in Eugene, she returned to Iowa City after her husband died in 1911. She commissioned the bronze angel monument to mark the graves of her son and husband, whose remains she had transported to Iowa City—and when Teresa herself died in 1924, her remains, too, were buried beneath the shadow of the angel.

As for why it’s black? That’s also simple. The statue is made of bronze, which oxidizes over time with exposure to the elements.

But the many myths surrounding the Black Angel persist all the same—and like all good pieces of folklore, they’re unlikely to disappear anytime soon.

Resurrection Mary: Chicago, Illinois

Resurrection Cemetery, Justice, IL
MrHarman at the English language Wikipedia / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

If you go dancing at a particular nightclub in Chicago, you might catch sight of a young woman who looks…slightly out of time. Or, you might see her along Archer Avenue after you leave the club. If you dance with her, or if you stop to talk with her, you might find yourself offering her a ride. And if you do offer her a ride, you’ll ultimately end up at Resurrection Cemetery in the nearby town of Justice. She’ll get out and tell you that you can’t go with her. She’ll slip through the gates and vanish.

You’ll never see her again, of course—because she was never there to begin with. They call her Resurrection Mary, and she’s one of Chicago’s most infamous ghosts.

Resurrection Mary is, of course, just one example of a particularly prevalent type of urban legend: That of the vanishing hitchhiker. These stories take a variety of different forms. Still, one of the most common involves a person—usually a young man—either meeting a young woman at a club or bar or seeing her at the side of the road, offering her a lift, and then finding one of three things to have occurred by the end of the tale: That the woman has vanished from the back seat by the time he arrives at the destination, that she used to live at the address but died some years before, or that the address itself is that of the local cemetery where she is buried.

Most of these kinds of vanishing hitchhiker legends have a backstory involving a hit-and-run—and the same is true of Resurrection Mary. She’s said to have been out dancing with a boyfriend, only to leave the ballroom early and alone after arguing. But while walking along Archer Avenue, tragedy struck: A hit-and-run driver killed her and sped off, leaving her to die. She was buried in Resurrection Cemetery, it’s said, where she lies still. The driver who killed her was never found.

It’s debatable whether there was a real hit-and-run that might have inspired Resurrection Mary—some believe there was, while others don’t —but either way, she’s been sighted on and off since the 1930s.

If you drive down Archer Avenue at night, maybe you’ll see her, too.

Or maybe you won’t.

You’ll never know unless you try, will you?

Lucia Peters Lucia Peters
Lucia Peters is a writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. Her work has appeared at Bustle, The Toast, Crushable, The Gloss, and others. She also writes and manages The Ghost In My Machine, where she haunts readers several times weekly with spooky stories of the strange and unusual. Her first book, Dangerous Games To Play In The Dark, was published by Chronicle Books in September of 2019. Read Full Bio »