When the Shadows Lengthen: Haunted Cemeteries
No Place for the Living
Most of us have visited a cemetery in order to pay our respects to a lost loved one. On these solemn occasions, we bring flowers or some other token to leave behind at the gravesite. These gestures normally occur in the light of day since cemeteries lock their gates at dusk. In some instances, this is as much for your protection as it is for that of the eternal residents.
My cousin Larry was someone who was plagued by the presence of dark spirits throughout his short life. Even so, at times, he sought out that which he feared the most.
In the late 1970s, while he was staying with his sister in North Carolina, he would push his curiosity of the unknown to its limits. It would begin with a road trip he and a group of friends had taken to a purportedly haunted cemetery in Virginia and end with a horrifying discovery.
Larry and his partners in crime had gotten a late start on the day of their excursion. He would recall that it was already dark when they arrived at their destination. When they reached the entrance of the cemetery, he said that they had backed their car in next to the front gate before deciding to explore the premises.
The group of would-be ghost hunters found that the gate had already been locked for the night, dashing their hopes of exploring the grounds. Not knowing what else to do, they climbed back into the car and pondered their next move.
As they talked among themselves, their chatter was cut short by the sound of someone banging on the trunk of the car. The group sat in silence as the loud pounding suddenly halted. They were soon aware that whoever the intruder was, they were now trying to open the back passenger side door.
The terrified group immediately hit the locks as they yelled for Larry to start the car and get them out of there. As he put the car in gear and prepared to pull away from the gate, the back end was lifted completely off of the ground by an unseen force.
Larry remembered everyone in the car screaming for him to drive. He had the accelerator pushed to the floor, but the car would not budge. Suddenly, whoever was holding them back dropped the rear end of the car back down to the ground. The panicked group wasted no time speeding off into the night.
Thoroughly shaken by their experience, Larry and his friends drove straight back to North Carolina. It would be in the first light of morning that they would see the evidence left behind by their tormentor.
Whoever, or whatever, had been guarding the cemetery gate on the previous night had marked their car with two bloody handprints that dwarfed the lid of the trunk. They also noted a bloody print on the handle of the back passenger door.
Larry's sister Donna, who he had been visiting, bore witness to the bloody reminder of the night at the cemetery. She recalled her wild-eyed brother rushing into the house early the next morning and insisting that she come outside and look at his car.
Donna saw the bloody prints and accused Larry of pulling a prank. He assured her that it was no joke and she believed him. She knew him well enough that she could tell when he was kidding and when he was serious. On this occasion, his terror was palpable.
Larry and his group of friends had made a narrow escape that night, but from what? Cemeteries are meant to be places where the dead can rest. Perhaps, something we cannot imagine was simply reminding this band of adventure seekers that graveyards are not always welcoming places for the living.
The Final Resting Place
Parkersburg, West Virginia has more than its share of tales of ghosts and other paranormal phenomena. Among local lore is the assertion that the Mothman's lair is located on Quincy Hill. Indrid Cold is also said to have paid the city a visit back in the 1960s. I am bombarded with stories of the supernatural on a regular basis, many of which I have shared in my books and articles.
Riverview Cemetery is thought to be one of the most haunted places in the region. Located in the heart of the historical district, the gothic appeal of the graveyard cannot be denied. Black, wrought iron gates lean this way and that along the perimeter of the property. Many of the tombstones have decayed with age, some lying in broken pieces. To enter the gates is akin to stepping back into another time and place.
One of the most prominent residents of the cemetery is a statue known as "The Weeping Woman." The stone depiction of a mournful woman kneeling with her head bowed marks the gravesite of someone named "JACKSON."
Legend has it that "The Weeping Woman" walks the cemetery grounds whenever there is a full moon. She is also known to whisper into the ears of unsuspecting visitors. Although her presence as a wandering spirit is well-known, it is not her claim to fame. What makes the cemetery a destination for curiosity seekers is the statues alleged power to grant wishes.
Supposedly, if a woman who cannot conceive visits the statue and asks for help, she will soon find herself with child. As farfetched as this notion may sound, I have spoken to scores of people over the years who swear that this is true.
As with most things in life, "The Weeping Woman" isn't always a positive force. It is said that she does not suffer fools lightly and will retaliate if she feels that someone is simply there to mock her. Visitors have reported that they have been shoved to the ground or tripped by something that they could not see. Others have said that unseen hands tug on their clothing and, sometimes, unzip their trousers.
Many visitors leave tokens on or near the statue as they stop to pay their respects or ask for favors. Upon visiting the cemetery, I witnessed candles that had been placed close to the figure. Oddly, playing cards—most notably jokers—were also strewn about the site. Perhaps these were left as an homage to her mischievous nature.
To my knowledge, "The Weeping Woman" is not representative of a living person who has passed. Rather, she is an overseer of the grounds who takes her job very seriously. If the stories are to be believed, she plays the role of either friend or foe, depending on one's motives.
Besides "The Weeping Woman", Riverview is also home to at least one other resident ghost. A Connecticut born mariner by the name of George Deming has been interred there since 1861. His headstone, marked with the image of a ship in full sail, is said to be visited regularly by a tall man wearing a long black coat.
The man in question has reportedly been sighted on numerous occasions hovering near Deming's grave for decades. No one knows his identity. The forlorn mourner enters and exits the cemetery with not a soul being aware of where he comes from or where he goes. The dark figure is thought by many to be the spirit of the long-dead Captain, paying his respects to the place that bears his marker.
Coinciding with the mysterious visits, light orbs have been seen darting about near the headstone of Captain Deming, as well as in other areas of the cemetery. The sounds of the iron gates opening and closing have also been heard when no one is either coming or going.
Captain Deming's house still stands not far from the cemetery. Although none of his descendants remain in the home, an anchor is displayed on the exterior to remind all who pass that this was the place where a man who had traveled the world had chosen to settle down and raise a family.
Since Parkersburg plays host to a number of ghostly legends, it should come as no surprise that the Captain's former residence is also said to be the site of paranormal activity. Perhaps Captain Deming is still on a journey, only this time it is between worlds rather that continents.
A Word of Warning
Cemeteries are not places to fear, but they do demand respect. So, the next time you visit a graveyard, be mindful that every marker you see represents a life that is no more. That name etched in stone belonged to someone who loved and was loved.
If you do enter a cemetery in the hopes of seeing a ghost, you might get more than you bargained for. Be aware that not all spirits are benevolent. Opportunistic entities are always on the prowl for those foolish enough to perform rituals in places that are steeped in death.
With Halloween approaching, do yourself a favor and don't invite the departed into this world by means of a Ouija board or séance, especially in cemeteries. Keep in mind that you might just conjure up something that you can't send back.