You might consider cemeteries to be kind of creepy, but not very long ago they were actually popular meeting places for family and community picnics. These graveyard luncheons came complete with tablecloths laden with food and spread out over family plots. Saint Paul’s Churchyard in Lower Manhattan was often the scene of crowds of people carrying baskets filled with fruits, cookies, and sandwiches. Across the country people would seek out the serenity of cemeteries for relaxation. Times were different then, but how did this practice of eating and relaxing in graveyards get started?
But all good things come to an end. The cemetery dining fad slowly went out of fashion in the 1920s. By this time, real progress had been made in the field of medicine and, as a result, fewer people died. Those who saw to the day-to-day operation of cemeteries began to restrict food on the premises to discourage such gatherings. Today, cemetery picnics are just a memory.
Obviously, the dead and cemeteries go hand-in-hand, so it’s no wonder that many cemeteries are considered to be haunted. Although logic tells us that a cemetery would be the last place a dead person would want to visit, there are many cemeteries that are known to be haunted. Here’s a story that illustrates the type of activity reported in one rural Connecticut cemetery.
Gunntown Cemetery, Naugatuck, CT
It was a cold night in late November of 2011 when a group of amateur, teenage ghost hunters decided to pay a visit to one of Connecticut’s most haunted cemeteries, Gunntown Cemetery in Naugatuck. It was almost midnight, and the air was crisp and cold as the three young men exited their car and cautiously entered the grounds. Dead leaves crunched under their sneakered feet, and the wind that had started to pick up made whispering sounds in the upper branches of the surrounding pine trees. Walking by the light of the one weak flashlight they had brought with them was something of a challenge, but the three had staked out a grave of interested the day before, so they had a general idea of where they were headed. The autumn grass was covered with a stiff layer of frost, and it made their steps sound far too loud for such a quiet place. A dog barking in the distance made them think of the stories of a large black hound that was often seen in the cemetery, but they pushed the thought from their mind and forged ahead to the far edge of the graveyard. They stopped at what was probably one of the oldest gravestones, and which lay just a few feet away from the stone wall that surrounded the cemetery. The name of this long forgotten soul carved on the stone had worn away long ago, so they were uncertain who lay buried six feet or so under their feet. But the day before, this part of the cemetery seemed to call to them, as if someone had something urgent to tell them, so they figured that this would be the perfect spot to run a paranormal investigation. Now, in the dead of night, each of them secretly wondered if coming here was such a good idea. As they started to unpack their equipment -- a hodgepodge collection of cheap digital recorders, thermal imaging cameras, and EMF meters -- one of the boys suddenly whispered, “Shh ... What was that?” The other two carefully set down their equipment and listened. A minute passed. “I don’t hear anything,” one boy whispered. “Listen, just listen,” hissed the first boy. At first the only thing they could hear was the sound of their own breathing, and the sound of the wind whispering softly in the trees above them, but then they heard it too. Way in the distance. The sound of soft, tinkling music. It was impossible to tell from which direction it was coming from, and none of the boys could tell exactly what type of instrument would make such a sound. They later said it sounded like a cross between a music box and set of delicate metallic wind chimes, but there was also a hint of a female voice humming along tunelessly. The boys stood-stock still, listening intently to the music, and as they did they noticed something. “Holy shit,” whispered one boy harshly, “it’s … it’s getting louder!” And indeed, it was. But when they realized the reason it was getting louder, fear simultaneously gripped the three and they instinctively huddled closer together -- the music was getting louder, because it was getting closer. It sounded as if it had slowly entered the cemetery from all directions. Then all at once it closed in on them. The music got louder and louder, to the point where they had to put their gloved hands over their ears to keep it out, but that didn’t help. The music was now in their heads, and the woman’s voice sounded as if she were humming a demented, tuneless lullaby. Without thinking or giving the order to retreat, the three took off running for the car. They left their equipment at the base of the frost covered headstone and made a beeline for the cemetery entrance. As soon as they passed the iron cemetery gate, it stopped. The music stopped. The wind in the trees seemed to suck in its breath and hold it, and the only sound to be heard was the distant barking of a dog, and the frantic clamor of three terrified teenage boys as they dove into their car and sped away.
I’ve visited Gunntown Cemetery, and each time I was struck not only by a vague sense of creepiness, but also by the history that the stones reveal. Many local citizens who supported independence from British rule during the Revolutionary War are buried here, and demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren once gave it their stamp of approval by declaring the cemetery to be, and I quote, “Officially Haunted”. The type of activity people report in the cemetery varies, but the most common is the sound of disembodied voices and the eerie sound of children’s laughter. Many have also reported hearing music that sounds like it’s coming from the surrounding woods. As the previous story illustrated, the sound moves into the cemetery, getting louder and louder as it reaches the ears of the listener until it stops suddenly. As far as visual sightings, many people have reported seeing a large black dog both inside and outside of the cemetery. Strangely, sometimes one person will clearly see this dog, but the people they are with do not. Others have reported seeing a man dressed in period clothing holding a lantern in front of him as he leads a horse slowly across the grounds of the cemetery. Photographic anomalies such as orbs, gauzy shapes, mists, and beams of light have been captured at Gunntown Cemetery. Even more striking are the multi-colored orbs that many have seen with the naked eye as they flit amongst the headstones and race along the ground.
Bara-Hack, Pomfret, CT
Many haunted cemeteries have their roots in history. A perfect example is Bara-Hack in Pomfret, Connecticut, which isn’t technically a cemetery; it’s an abandoned settlement that was established in the late 1700s. The first settlers were of Welsh heritage, thus the name Bara-Hack which translates as “breaking of bread”. The settlement started with a company that supplied flax spinning to the surrounding area residents, but over time it grew into a small village complete with a waterwheel and a mill. Family homes were built, and some had slave quarters; and of course, there was a community graveyard. Even then, strange legends began to circulate throughout the town. One told by the Randall family slaves told of a ghost baby who was often seen resting against a tree in the graveyard. The town flourished at first, but then fell on hard times. There were economic hardships, and after the founding families died out the remaining residents moved away. By the time of the Civil War, Bara-Hack was abandoned. In the early part of the 20th century, it became a destination for people who wanted to spend a quiet time in the country exploring the picturesque ruins of the settlement. But the ruins were not totally quiet. Many who visited the area reported sightings of the ghost baby, even though they weren’t aware of the original story told by the former slaves. In addition, a bearded man’s face was seen floating around the grounds of the cemetery. Paranormal investigators captured streaks of light and orbs in photos taken of the ruins, but the most unsettling reports were of the strange sounds that emanated from the place. Imagine walking among the ruins of a long forgotten town and hearing the sound of farm animals, horse drawn buggies, and the voices of men, women and children. It would be enough to send anyone running from the area, which is usually what happens. The area became so popular among paranormal enthusiasts that it was closed to the public and ‘No Trespassing’ signs are now posted to discourage anyone from entering the area.
Evergreen Cemetery, New Haven, CT
The New Haven Register recently ran a story about the Evergreen Cemetery in New Haven. On a winter night in the late 1990s, the cemeteries manager, Dale Fiore, received notification from the security company that an alarm was going off in the cemetery so he jumped in his car and drove there to see what the problem was. The night was dark and cold, and there was ice and snow on the ground, and ice falling off of the trees. When Fiore got to the cemetery, he noticed that it was eerily quiet. He thought, ‘If an alarm was going off, why am I not hearing it? And why aren’t there any policemen investigating?’ Apart from the sound of snow and ice hitting his car, Evergreen Cemetery was totally quiet. Since there was not point in staying, he decided to leave and tried to make his way out of the cemetery’s Winthrop Avenue exit, but something strange happened. His car wouldn’t budge. Fiore said that it felt as if his car was being held in place. He looked down at the display on his car radio, and noticed the clock change from 11:59 p.m. to midnight. At that very second, his car began to behave normally and he was able to drive. The next day, he went to work as usual and decided to check the alarm to see which area of the cemetery it was going off in when the alarm company called. But something really strange was going on. There was absolutely no record of the alarm going off at any of the buildings the previous night. This was impossible since the alarm company hooks directly into the cemetery’s security system. If the company picked up an alarm going off, it would have registered on this system. Fiore attributes his experience to the cemetery’s own resident ghost, Midnight Mary.
Although some of the stories surrounding Midnight Mary may be nothing more than legend, one the thing is for certain. On October 15, 1872, Mary Hart collapsed at noon in her New Haven home and died exactly 12 hours later at midnight. How do we know this? The details of her death are carved into her headstone. The story goes that the night after Mary was buried, her aunt had a vivid and terrifying dream that Mary had been buried alive. She somehow convinced the family to exhume the body, and when they opened the coffin they were shocked by what they saw. Mary’s lifeless body lay twisted in agony. Her unseeing eyes bulged out of her head, and her face was frozen in terror. The fabric on the inside of the coffin lid was shredded, and Mary’s nails were bloodied from trying to claw her way out of the grave. It was true. Mary had been buried alive. At least that's one of the legends. Others are that Mary wanders the neighborhood around the cemetery at night, or that she is a witch and that a midnight visit to her grave will doom the visitor to a horrible death. Whether the stories are true or not, the engraving on Mary Hart's gravestone contains this creepy, foreboding message, "The people shall be troubled at midnight and pass away." The quote is actually from the Book of Job, but over the years some have interpreted the phrase to mean Mary Hart hated the world enough for burying her alive to curse it with her final epitaph -- which is kind of silly when you consider that in all likelihood, Mary wouldn’t have had the foresight to write the inscription on her own grave prior to her death.
Gregory’s Four Corners Burial Ground, Trumbull, CT
Gregory’s Four Corners Burial ground is a small cemetery located on Spring Hill Road in Trumbull, Connecticut. The burial ground was established in 1761, but little remains of the headstones that once marked the graves of those buried there. Most of the stones are either missing, or the elements have worn them away. Only one marker remains intact and in perfect condition -- the gravestone of Hannah Cranna, “The Wicked Witch of Monroe”.
Hannah was born in 1783 and married Captain Joseph Hovey. She apparently picked up the nickname Hannah Cranna while she was still alive because that is the name carved on her gravestone. According to most accounts of the story, Hannah’s reputation as a witch began after her husband died under mysterious circumstances. The tale goes that the Captain went out for a walk one night and died after somehow falling off of a cliff. The townsfolk were suspicious of the good Captain’s death, and there began to be whispers that Hannah had somehow bewitched him into becoming disoriented which lead to his untimely death.
Even when Captain Hovey was alive, Hannah’s shrewish personality gave her a bad reputation. But after the Captain’s questionable death, the residents really began to loath the woman. Putting the story in perspective, Hannah was a widow with no real means of supporting herself. She was forced to ask neighbors for help. But it was probably Hannah’s personality that got in the way and which lead to her witchy reputation. Apparently, she often insisted that her neighbors give her free food and firewood, and if they didn’t immediately comply she would threaten to use her dark skills to curse them. One story goes that a local farmer’s wife denied Hannah a fresh-baked pie, so Hannah cursed her and the woman was never able to bake again. Another story is that she cursed a man for fishing on her property without her permission. The result? He never caught another fish again. But not everyone who crossed Hannah’s path had bad luck. Good things came to those who gave her food, and who treated her kindly.
Over the years, Hannah Cranna’s reputation as a witch grew to the point where people said that her house on Craig Hill was guarded by snakes, and that she had a familiar; a supernatural entity that assisted her in casting spells on people. In this case, the familiar was a rooster named “Old Boreas”. Shortly after the rooster died, Hannah told a neighbor that she too would die soon, and she gave strict instructions about her burial. “My coffin must be carried by hand to the graveyard,” she insisted. “And, I must not be buried before sundown.” The day after giving these instructions, Hannah Cranna died at the age of 77.
It was snowing heavily on the day of Hannah’s burial, so the locals decided that rather than following her instructions, they would pull her casket across the snow on a sled. Rumor has it that as the sled made its way toward the cemetery, the coffin fell off of the sled and slid all the way back to her front door. They tried putting it back on the sled, but they had even more trouble with it. They finally decided to honor her wishes and carry her by hand to the graveyard. As she had requested, Hannah was buried just after sunset. On the way back to her home the townspeople saw a glow in the distance. When they arrived, Hannah’s home was completely engulfed in flames.
It’s said that Hannah Cranna’s ghost roams the cemetery and that she has been seen walking along Spring Hill Road. And rumor has it that drivers who see her wandering the road end up crashing their cars. So, if you’re ever out driving at midnight on Spring Hill Road in Monroe, Connecticut -- Beware!
Great Hill Cemetery, Seymour, CT
Some legends that are attached to haunted cemeteries are pretty outlandish; but most are based on fact and have been distorted over the years. Imagine the game of ‘telephone’ played by thousands of people over the course of a hundred years and you’ll get a pretty good idea of how difficult it is to separate fact from fiction. Such is the case with the stories surrounding the haunted happenings at Great Hill Cemetery in Seymour, Connecticut. The burial ground has stones that date back to the 1700s, and others that are more recent. Legend has it that a former cemetery caretaker who had a hook for a hand hung himself from a tree just outside the cemetery. A more gruesome version of the story says that the caretaker murdered a boy who had stayed in the cemetery after dark, and that the boy’s body was found impaled on a large hook and dangling from a tree. Yet another version of the tale involves a man with the last name of ‘Hookman’ who was accused of a crime he didn’t commit, and who was hanged in the cemetery.
Some say that if you park your car under the tree where Hookman was hanged -- or where he hung himself, whichever version you believe -- your car will stall and you will hear his metal hook scratching on your roof. The place is a popular spot for amateur paranormal investigators, and some of the EVP that are posted online by Connecticut Soul Seekers are pretty impressive. Whether or not they are related to the legends is debatable, but there is certainly something eerie going on in Great Hill Cemetery. So, if you’re up for the challenge, pay the place a visit one night. But don’t be surprised if your car stalls and eerie scratching sounds start coming from your roof.
Union Cemetery, Weston, CT
Union Cemetery in Weston, Connecticut has the reputation of being the most haunted cemetery in the state. Famed demonologist Lorraine Warren who lives right down the road from the cemetery once said, “I can tell you for a fact that this place is haunted. It’s one of the most haunted places around.” Lorraine and her late husband Ed Warren visited the cemetery on many occasions and have documented a variety of paranormal occurrences there. They even claim to have a video of the famed “White Lady” who supposedly haunts the grounds and surrounding streets. Unsuspecting people attending church there, or those riding along Route 59 have seen this mysterious woman. She is described as having long black hair and wearing a translucent white wedding dress or nightgown. Some reports is that she is a young woman, others that she looks to be in her 60s and that the sleeves of her nightgown have cuffs which come down over her hands. She has been sighted in both Union Cemetery and in Stepney Cemetery, four miles away in Monroe, Connecticut. She has also been sighted in other areas outside of the cemetery, such as the Smith Richardson Golf Course in Easton.
Lorraine Warren often talks about the White Lady in her lectures. In one interview, Mrs. Warren said, “We have actually witnessed her walk right down the gravestones, weaving in and out. We do have the White Lady on camera. Who she is, we do not know.” Over the years the Warren’s have talked a lot about the video, and they used to show it at lectures, but the video of the White Lady isn’t currently available for public viewing.
One popular story about the White Lady is that late one night a man was driving down Stepney Road just past Union Cemetery. Suddenly, a woman in a filmy white dress appeared in the middle of the road. She appeared so suddenly that the man didn’t have time to slow down, and he struck her with his car. As you can imagine, the man was in a total panic. He he pulled quickly over and leapt out of his car to investigate, but the woman was nowhere to be found.
In 2009, NBC Connecticut News interviewed a man who had a first-hand encounter with the White Lady. Rod Vecsey of Easton, Connecticut was driving past the Union Cemetery at about 1AM one night when he saw her. Mr. Vecsey said, "I saw a woman standing farther up the road, so I tapped on the brakes. As I tapped on the brakes, I felt something touch me. I looked over and there was a gentleman sitting in my (passenger) seat." Some reports of this story describe this mysterious passenger as wearing a straw hat. Although this ghostly fellow startled Vecsey, what happened next was truly horrifying. When he looked back at the road he saw a woman standing in the middle of the road right in front of his car. "She raised her hand up,” Vecsey said, “and what I remember the most was that her hand got very large. As soon as that happened, I looked over and the image I had seen next to me disappeared. As I got over the hill, the road seemed to turn red until I got to the bottom.” In other interviews, Vecsey said that he saw the road turn red, and that the pavement turned into cobblestone. All of this vanished when he reached the bottom of the hill.
To this day, the identify of this mysterious woman in white is unknown. But one theory is that she is the ghost of a local woman who died centuries ago. One gravestone in Union Cemetery belongs to Harriet B. Seeley, a woman who died on May 28, 1853, just seven days after giving birth to a son. Some feel that Harriet Seeley is the ghostly woman in white, and that she wanders the cemetery in search of her dead son.
Another theory is that the haunting has something to do with one of the two gruesome murders that are associated with the cemetery. The first occurred in the 1800s when John Smathers was viciously murdered near the cemetery and his body was dumped in a sinkhole behind the Baptist Church which adjoins the cemetery. His killer, Richard Dean Jason, was obsessed with Smathers’ wife Ellen. Jason murdered John Smathers in a twisted attempt to win over Ellen’s devotion to him. After the murder, he told Ellen what he had done, then he killed her when she, unsurprisingly, didn’t return his affection. Jason dumped Ellen’s body in the sinkhole next to her husband’s which he had weighed down with chunks of iron. He later confessed to the murders, blaming them on his passion for Ellen. Some feel that the White Lady is actually the ghost of Ellen Smathers, and that she haunts the area where her body was buried.
Another twisted murder associated with Union Cemetery occurred in the 1930s and involved a man murdered by his adulterous wife’s lover. Mrs. Ethel Nott was convicted of second degree murder when her husband, George Nott, was murdered by her lover whose name was Elwood Wade. The two had planned the murder together. Eerily, George Nott’s body was discovered in the same sinkhole where John and Ellen Smathers’ bodies were dumped. After the murder, Elwood Wade put George’s body in a trunk that was filled with lead and sunk it in the sinkhole behind the Baptist Church. Against all odds, the trunk surfaced a short time later, and Elwood Wade was charged and convicted of murder. Wade was executed for his crimes, while Ethel Nott received a short prison sentence and was released in 1937.
In addition to the woman in white, other ghostly apparitions have been reported in Union Cemetery. One involves a ghostly cemetery caretaker who walks along the wrought-iron fence that encircles the perimeter of the grounds. There are also stories of men dressed in old-fashioned military uniform who have actually conversed with people. When asked where they are going, the men say, “Straight through,” and point to a path that now leads to a man-made reservoir. (2) Other activity includes the sound of a baby crying, small rocks and sticks thrown at visitors, shadow people, glowing red eyes, and growling sounds. The growling and red eyes may be connected to occult rituals that have been performed at the cemetery over the years. Union Cemetery is now off-limits to the public after sundown, but access is allowed during the day.
Milltown Rural Cemetery, Brewster, NY
This last story is one I experienced first-hand at a cemetery just a few miles from the Connecticut border, “Milltown Rural Cemetery” in Brewster, New York. This quaint old graveyard is filled with historic stones and monuments, and one of the most prominent belongs to Seth B. Howes, a famous Brewster resident who has been called “the father of the American circus”. The legendary little person Tom Thumb was once part of Howes’ circus, as were the famous Siamese twins, Eng and Chang. Howes’ mausoleum is surrounded by a ring of fencing that some say represents the circus ring, and the impressive home he lived in can still be seen by driving along Brewster Hill Road.
But my story doesn’t have to do with Howes’ monument, or any other for that matter. It has to do with a stone structure at the very back of the cemetery. It looks like a mausoleum, but it contains no name, just the date 1909 prominently carved above the doorway. I believe it was once used as a holding place to store coffins during the cold winter months when the ground was frozen solid and impossible to dig.
One day I was exploring the cemetery and was drawn to this stone structure. The brass doors are now green with age, and a small stained glass window at the rear of the building is missing most of its glass. This window was long ago sealed up with cement cinder blocks, but there was just enough space left for me to place my digital recorder on. When I did, I felt a male presence with me and I invited this spirit to communicate with me. I asked a few questions, then left the recorder running as I took a short walk around the cemetery. I was hoping that this male presence would have something to say. When I returned a short time later, I thanked the spirit who I had felt earlier and made my way home. Upon listening back to the recording I was more than a little surprised to hear a male voice. The voice had started speaking about 3 minutes after I had left the recorder running in the mausoleum window, and it said something very strange. Actually, it asked a question. “How old do you think I am?” it said. I have no idea who this voice belongs to, or how he is connected to the Milltown Rural Cemetery, but something tells me that the answer to his question is, “Very old”.
There's a saying that goes, "You live only as long as the last person remembers you." Throughout history, people have gone to great lengths to make sure that no one forgets them after they’re gone. They commission artists to carve ornate statues and to craft beautiful stained glass windows. They build mausoleums and erect obelisques that point to the sky, monuments to themselves; ones that they hope will live on forever just as they hope that their souls will live on eternally. But some cemeteries contain more than just monuments and memories. Some are meeting places of lost souls who for one reason or another find it hard to move on. So the next time you pass by a cemetery, consider stopping your car and taking a stroll around the grounds. And pay close attention to that gentleman standing by that old gravestone. His outdated clothing may not be just a fashion statement, and if you look away briefly, he may not be there when you look back.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7SC8iyMGK - One paranormal group's EVP
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6IFpfg6PMc (Ed Warren talks about the video he captured of the White Lady)