Cemetery lore is popular across the American Midwest, and unusual statues and monuments attract some of the most interesting and enduring tales. Lifelike human forms frozen in time present a haunting image to visitors. Mysterious Heartland has found many incredible accounts of statues that bleed, cry, curse, and even appear to come to life. Which will prove to be the most spine-tingling of them all?
10. Bohemian Cemetery’s Walking Death
Bohemian Cemetery is one of Chicagoland’s most beautiful graveyards, with hundreds of life-sized and life-like sculptures. Started in 1877 with the burial of an infant girl, this cemetery—as its name implies—primarily served the Czech residents of Chicago. “Walking Death” is perhaps its most famous monument. Designed by Albin Polasek, it is a bronze statue, now stained green, of an elderly woman walking toward the mausoleum belonging to the Stejskal-Buchal family. Her face is covered in a hood and she walks with a staff. This cemetery also contains Civil War and Spanish-American War memorials.
9. Crying Mary
Battle Creek, Michigan
Battle Creek, a city of around 52,000 in south central Michigan, is home to Oak Hill Cemetery, as well as one unusual legend. Located off Oak Hill Drive and Willow Street north of the North Branch Kalamazoo River, Oak Hill Cemetery was established in 1844. It is the final resting place of several notable people, including Will Keith Kellogg, founder of the Kellogg Company, and his brother John Harvey. A statue of the Greek Goddess Athena, holding two laurel wreaths, stands over the grave of a successful salesman named Johannas Decker. She is often confused with the Virgin Mary, so many locals have taken to calling her “Crying Mary.” According to legend, the statue represents either a woman who killed her children and then herself, or a woman who lost her children to natural causes. Either way, it is said to weep tears for the loss every Sunday at midnight. Like many similar statues, its weather-beaten, bronze face does appear to be stained where tears would flow from her eyes.
8. Let There be Light
Scenic Madison is located along the Ohio River in southeastern Indiana. Established in 1839, Springdale Cemetery is the city’s earliest still-active cemetery. It is located at the end of West 5th Street and runs along Crooked Creek. It features terraced plots and historic, stone lined drainage ditches. When the cemetery opened, bodies were disinterred from Old Third Street Cemetery located on the corner of Third and Vine Streets, which is now John Paul Park, and moved to Springdale. One of the most famous monuments in the cemetery is a white, Italian marble statue of a woman dressed in a semi-translucent shawl lifting her arms to the sky. Sculpted by George Grey Bernard for his parents, he named the statue “Let There be Light.” According to legend, the statue’s eyes bleed on Eastern morning. More incredibly, some local residents believe that the statue will step down off its pedestal and chase anyone who kisses its feet.
7. Violin Annie of Elmwood Cemetery
Originally called Centralia Cemetery, this graveyard was in use in the 1860s but not officially established until 1877. Its name was changed to Elmwood Cemetery in 1921. A popular local legend maintains that the sweet strains of a violin can be heard emanating from the cemetery at night. The origin of these ethereal notes is said to be none other than the statue of “Violin Annie.” Deep inside Elmwood sits a large monument shaped like a tabernacle or an ancient Greek temple with only four columns. At the top of the monument stands a nearly life sized statue of a young girl with flowing locks of hair. In her hands she holds a violin. The statue depicts Harriet Annie, the daughter of Dr. Winfield and Eoline Marshall. Annie died of diphtheria in 1890, a few weeks after her eleventh birthday. Some locals also believe that Annie’s statue glows on Halloween night.
6. Unknown Soldier of Evergreen Cemetery
In tiny Vinton, Iowa, a stone sentinel stands watch over Evergreen Cemetery. According to legend, this granite statue of a Union soldier stirs to life each night and patrols the burial ground. Evergreen Cemetery is located at the northeast corner of 10th Avenue and East 13th Street across from Trinity Lutheran Church. The Women of Relief Core dedicated this particular statue in 1912 “to our boys of 1861-1865.” At some point in the middle of the 20th Century, rumors began to circulate that this unknown soldier descended from his pedestal at night to chase off trespassers. In the dark, eyewitnesses say the statue is missing one of his eyes. Others have seen strange lightning or colored balls of light floating through the cemetery. Even more dramatic are tales of a headless man staggering among the headstones.
5. Fred Smith’s Wisconsin Concrete Park
In 1948, at the age of 62, local tavern owner Fred Smith had a vision, to create a collection of concrete statues celebrating various cultural and historic figures along State Route 13, south of Phillips in northern Wisconsin. By the time Smith suffered a debilitating stroke in 1964, he had created over 230 statues, each colorfully decorated with pieces of broken bottles from his tavern. Shortly after his death in 1976, a storm knocked over a majority of the pieces, leading the Kohler Foundation to help restore the collection while Price County took over ownership. After sundown, passersby have reportedly seen some of the statues lumbering around on their own, as if animated by some mysterious force. Others report hearing strange noises and seeing shadowy figures lurking among the eclectic folk art. Today, the park is maintained by the Friends of Fred Smith and is considered to be one of Wisconsin’s seven manmade wonders.
4. The Dark Angel of Maple Grove Cemetery
Maple Grove Cemetery is a small, rural graveyard located off Mason Road, south of Vermilion in north-central Ohio. Until recently, this cemetery was home to an infamous statue locals believed was possessed by the spirit of a woman named Alice, who was crazed with grief after murdering her child. The statue, variously referred to as the “Dark Angel” or “Death Angel,” was dedicated to Alice and Lydia Fischer. Lydia’s daughter, Betty, is also buried there. She died in 1918, before her first birthday. These facts form the basis of the legend, which quickly departs from reality. According to legend, Alice, not Lydia, was the child’s mother. After Alice died, blood began to appear on the hands and mouth of the angel statue placed over her grave. Locals began to believe the statue had come to life and was responsible for a string of mysterious livestock deaths. They cut off the statue’s hands and clipped its wings, so that it could not do any more damage. Over time, vandalism took its toll and the angel’s head was knocked off as well. Cemetery officials recently removed the statue from the cemetery altogether, to prevent further mischief.
3. Graceland Cemetery’s Living Statues
Graceland is one of the oldest and most famous of Chicago’s graveyards. It was established in 1860 when overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in Chicago’s original cemetery forced the city to move the bodies to a new location. Some of the wealthiest and most powerful Chicagoans are buried here, but two monuments in particular stand out in local lore. The first, a bronze statue of a cloaked figure called “Eternal Silence,” marks the burial place of Dexter Graves. According to legend, visitors who look into the face of the cloaked figure will be granted a vision of their own death. It is also said that no pictures can be taken of the monument, but this is certainly untrue. The second legend concerns the statue of a young girl reclining in a chair, encased in glass. The statue is a life size recreation of Inez Clark, who was six years old when she died. Not much is known about her life, but there are many reports of her statue vanishing from inside the glass case. Stranger still, Helen Sclair, a local cemetery expert, believes that Inez Clark is not buried at that location, and that the statue was a gift to the Clarks from the sculptor, A. Gagel. Whether or not Inez’s mortal remains are at rest under her statue, it continues to be a place of pilgrimage for many Chicagoans.
2. The Girl of Lac La Belle
The town of Oconomowoc in southeastern Wisconsin is built up around two lakes. The larger of the two, Lac La Belle, is northwest of town, while the much smaller Lake Fowler is located near the center of town. Main Street divides the two lakes. La Belle Cemetery sits on the far eastern shore of Lake Fowler at the end of Grove Street. A statue of a beautiful young woman holding lilies stands in front of a large granite cross in the cemetery. This statue has become the focus of several legends, including that the ghost of the young woman emerges from the statue and walks into the nearby lake. Others claim the statue itself comes to life and makes this journey. According to another legend, blood drips from the statue’s hands and it has caused misfortune to befall anyone who fails to pay it the proper respect. The monument belongs to the Nathusius family, who all lived past the age of 80, so rumors that the statue belongs to a family member who died at a young age are untrue.
1. Oakland Cemetery’s Black Angel
Iowa City, Iowa
A blackened, bronze statue of an angel, its arms outstretched and head bowed, is the focus of much curiosity among visitors to Oakland Cemetery. The cemetery was established in 1843 and sits along Brown Street and Highway 1 in Iowa City. The angel statue was designed by a Bohemian artist and erected in 1912 to commemorate Nicholas and Eddie Feldevert. Hundreds of people come every year to see the “Black Angel,” and there are many explanations for why it has changed color. Many believe that Teresa Feldevert was interested in the dark arts, and her interest corrupted the statue. Anyone who is brave enough to kiss the angel, it is said, will die instantly. Others believe (incorrectly) that a man erected the statue in honor of his wife. His wife’s infidelity, however, left a permanent stain on the statue as a reminder of her sin. According to legend, anyone who touches the “Black Angel” will suffer a horrible fate. One young man tried to remove its hand with a hacksaw and went insane. Later, his body turned up in the Chicago River. The statue is said to turn a shade darker every Halloween.