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Posts Tagged ‘haunting’

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Both of the tours we went on this past weekend were very enjoyable and will feature in upcoming blog posts for months to come. Euclid’s walk in the morning was much more focused on the geography and history of the local area, led by historian Roy Larick. It was coordinated with the Euclid Historical Society and was followed by an open house at the Euclid Historical Museum. It was more of a coincidence that this tour coincided with Halloween – it was not holiday-themed.

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East Cleveland Township Cemetery Foundation, on the other hand, explicitly tailored their tour to the holiday. They combed through the records of the cemetery to find residents who had arrived there by tragedy: suicide, murder, and, in one case, a fire.

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Our tour guide led us through the cemetery by tiki-torch-light. There were also a few other lanterns and flashlights, but the light overall was very dim. (Hint: If you ever find yourself in this situation, shuffle your feet so that you bump into the sides of low monuments rather than trip on them.) Each stop on the tour was marked by a single tiki torch, and there was a fairly even distribution of marked and unmarked graves. The tour guide also stressed that the stories on this tour differed from any they had used before, and they had enough stories that they would be able to provide different tours for many years to come. This is great news for those who enjoy these kinds of tours.

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I’m planning to do some more research on the actual stories covered in the tours and post about them at a later date, so please forgive the generic nature of this review. If you get an opportunity to take one of these tours in the future, I recommend it.

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If you try to look up other people’s stories of this place, you will find it under Kirtland, Ohio, but it is really in Mentor. The story goes that grave is for a witch who was murdered by the locals for her crimes and then buried way out here because no one wanted a witch’s grave in their cemetery. Occasionally the story is changed to state that there are two witches buried here, obviously legends shifted to accommodate the fact that there are actually two names on the stone.

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The reality is much more mundane. The stone is for two early settlers of this area, who moved from Derby, Connecticut to what would become the edges of Mentor and Kirtland, Ohio. Just like a lot of folks, they died on their land and were buried there in a family plot. For reasons that I can’t be sure of at this time, their graves are the only ones here: maybe other family members were buried on the property and re interred at local cemeteries, were buried in cemeteries immediately, or maybe the family moved away before there were any more deaths.

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I guess a lonely grave by the side of the road just begs for a creepy story, but the reality is pretty mundane.

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Fate, they say, is a cruel mistress. The ghost of Charles Collins may be more acutely aware of that than most. Charles Collins was the chief engineer for the Lake Shore and Michigan Railway – the man who helped Amasa Stone design the fatal bridge and who inspected it very soon before the accident. In the ensuing investigation, he was heavily interrogated about his role in failing to prevent the disaster. And, the newspapers reported, one day after testifying, Charles Collins returned to his room and put a gun to his head. And that is how the story has come down to us. One of the two primary villains of the Horror was conveniently dead, and the public seemed to feel that his blood was some small payment for the destruction he caused.

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In fact, investigators at the time saw all the signs of a homicide rather than a self-inflicted gunshot wound. But at the time, allowing Collins’ death to go down on the books as a suicide resulting from his feelings of guilt was the more politically expedient choice than attempting to identify the murderer of a highly unpopular man.

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Collins’ family laid him to rest in the mausoleum in quiet Chestnut Grove Cemetery, mere miles from the disaster that seems to have precipitated his death. And then in 1895, the monument to the unrecognized dead was placed in the cemetery in the exact same section, almost next door to the Collins’ mausoleum. Cemetery visitors occasionally report a repentant, weeping man wandering that section. If ghosts do exist, it appears that Charles Collins can never escape his culpability for what happened outside Ashtabula in that gorge on a freezing December night. He and those who his negligence killed seem destined to haunt the same piece of hallowed ground, their fates permanently entwined.

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Just a reminder that this Saturday there are tours featuring the darker stories of East Cleveland Township Cemetery’s residents. Tours are scheduled for 7 pm and 8:30 pm. Come out, have a good time, and support the efforts to preserve this historic cemetery.

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Visitors and caretakers at this cemetery have reported families in 19th century clothing wandering around this obelisk with their luggage. It seems that the victims of the Ashtabula Train Disaster, ripped so suddenly from life, do not realize they are dead and continue their travels in eternity

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On December 29, 1876, the Lake Shore and Michigan Railway’s No. 5 Pacific Express train traveling from Erie, Pennsylvania, was approaching Ashtabula, Ohio. Despite the bitter cold outside, the interior of the train was warm and bright courtesy of oil lamps and coal-burning stoves, and the passengers were cheerful and in the holiday spirit. Crossing a bridge that spanned a deep gorge, the engineer of the first engine felt a ominous pull as the cars behind him began to fall with the failing iron truss bridge bridge. Somehow, he managed to uncouple the engine but watched helplessly as the passenger cars plunged into the freezing water. Passengers who weren’t killed by impact faced new threats as they struggled to escape the sinking cars: the paralyzing freezing water filled their voluminous winter clothes while fires erupted from the now-broken oil lamps and overturned coal stoves. Help was slow in arriving at the water’s edge down the steep embankment, and an estimated 90 to 100 people lost their lives that night. The exact number of deceased could never be determined due to the lack of passenger records and the fires that burned many bodies past the point of recognition, but scholars believe at least 160 people were on the train.

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The monument in Chestnut Grove Cemetery stands specifically in memory to those unrecognized dead. The names of those known to be among them are engraved on the base of the obelisk. Perhaps they are the warmly clad wanders out of time that can be seen milling around the monument some days, seemingly uncomprehending of their fate.

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Spire of St. Patrick's near sunset

I heard another tale of a ghost dog from across the ocean that seemed fitting for this month’s series of tales. St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin (as well as Glasnevin Cemetery) are haunted by a ghostly dog. The black Newfoundland belonged to John McNeill Boyd, who is buried in the cemetery but memorialized inside the cathedral with a statue. Boyd, a sea captain, died trying to rescue sailors on the Irish Sea during a storm in 1861. His body was recovered, and following his funeral, his dog refused to leave the grave, eventually starving to death in the cemetery. Since then, the dog has appeared both at the grave at and the base of his master’s statue inside the cathedral.

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There were parts of writing about ghost stories for most of this month that were really fun, but I also experienced a lot of frustration. For all of the spooky, creepy graveyards we see in movies and tv and hear about in the wee hours of the morning around a crackling fire, the majority of cemetery ghost stories just don’t have much substance. Whether people truly believe in ghosts or not, most still can enjoy a spine-tingling story with lots of suspense and details, even if they are suspending disbelief to listen to it. But a lot of cemetery ghost stories lack that flair: mysterious lights that you shouldn’t investigate or “something bad” will happen? A grave you shouldn’t approach because…”something bad” will occur? “Something bad” is just not a compelling description of horror to make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end.

Most people who study the paranormal argue that a cemetery is one of the least likely places to find ghosts. Those who perceive spirits usually attribute hauntings to strong emotion or major events that occurred during the ghost’s life, and there really aren’t many of us who spend a great deal of time in cemeteries before we die. There are exceptions, like the Ashtabula Horror ghosts who haunt the Chestnut Grove Cemetery (I’ve saved them for almost last), where the deceased were ripped so suddenly from life that they seem unable to figure out how to proceed.

And ultimately, I’m not sure that publishing ghost stories about cemeteries does the cemeteries much good. I don’t want my posts to be used as an excuse to vandalize and deface monuments. I want to write about ghost stories because I am interested in the way we remember the dead and the stories we tell ourselves about those places, but not everyone approaches the topic with that base level of respect. I will probably try to collect the spooky and the weird for next October, but I see that I will not be able to fill years worth of Octobers with those kinds of posts.

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