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Why Were Cages Built Over These Old Graves?

To keep something out...or in?

In an a tiny rural graveyard in Columbia County, Pennsylvania lies two very strange graves—the only two examples in all of the United States of a type of memorial known as a Hooded Grave. 

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These two graves, which lie under ornate wrought-iron cages, belong to a pair of young sisters-in law, Sarah Ann Thomas Boone and Asenath Campbell Thomas, who died in the same week back in 1852. Though there is no information about how the two women died, it is possible that they both died from complications of childbirth, as a nearby grave of a four-month-old child, also named Asenath, lists the day of her birth as the day of the older Asenath’s death. Similarly, Sarah died sixteen days after the birth of her child.

There is much speculation as to why these two graves alone were “hooded”, which was not a common practice in this country. Some believe that the women had been accused of witchcraft, or perhaps the family, having experienced so much tragedy in such a short span of time, believed them victims of some sort of supernatural curse that they hoped to contain by caging their graves.

Others argue far more practical origins for the cemetery decor. Hooded Graves, also known as “Mortsafes” (literally, “safe dead”) were a nineteenth century invention designed to protect those who had been buried from grave robbers, who would steal bodies to use for medical research. Two otherwise healthy young specimens, recently pregnant, would have presented a tempting opportunity for a would-be resurrectionist.

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Though the truth of why these graves were covered in cages might never be known, the spot proves so intriguing to visitors that the graveyard was renamed from Mt. Zion to Hooded Grave Cemetery.

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