Though tales of witchcraft are rare in the American Heartland, nearly every state has a remote, rural cemetery in which a witch is said to be buried. In the distant past, legends say, a recluse or eccentric woman was put to death for practicing magic and the community tried to cover it up. To this day, local teens test their courage in nighttime treks to these “witch graves,” hoping to catch a glimpse of the incredible. Mysterious Heartland has researched many of these tales. Which one will prove to be the most compelling of them all?
10. The Smith Grave
Kirtland Hills, Ohio
A stone memorial sits along Hart Road near the intersection of Hart and Baldwin roads, northeast of Cleveland in the scattered rural community of Kirtland Hills. Locals whisper that if you face the memorial, turn your back to it, then turn to face it again, it will move closer. This memorial, surrounded by a low stone wall, contains the remains of the Levi Smith family, early settlers of the area who migrated from Derby, Connecticut in 1814. Levi’s wife, Ruth, died in 1818 and Levi died in 1820. Some claim Levi Smith helped bring Mormonism to the area, but Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, was only 15 years old when Levi died. He did not publish the Book of Mormon until 1830. Another popular legend is that Levi and Ruth were witches who had been driven out of Connecticut, which was a hotbed of witch persecutions. The problem with this theory is that the last witch trials in Connecticut (and in New England) took place in the late 1690s. These facts have not prevented the legend of the Kirtland witch’s grave from spreading, and each year brings a fresh batch of curiosity seekers to this isolated stretch of road.
9. Chesterville Witch’s Grave
Chesterville is a small Amish and Mennonite community that consists of no more than a few dozen houses located a couple of miles away from Rockome gardens. Within the neatly trimmed grounds of Chesterville Cemetery, an old oak tree stands at the edge of the woods that separates the graveyard from the river. The peculiar thing about this tree is the iron fence that surrounds it, and the old stone marker that no longer bears a name. According to Troy Taylor, this is the grave of a woman who turned up dead after being accused of witchcraft in the early 1900s after she challenged the conservative views of the local Amish church elders. The town planted a tree over her grave to trap her spirit inside and prevent her from taking revenge. Her ghost can still be seen from time to time hanging around the area. In 2014, this legend was featured in episode one of An Amish Haunting.
8. Bertha’s Grave in Lakeside Cemetery
Itasca County, Minnesota
Located at the southern tip of Trout Lake off Crooked Road, just north of Trout Lake Road, the tiny rural graveyard of Lakeside Cemetery is just a collection of scattered headstones, at least to the casual observer. According to local legend, however, it is home to the grave of a notorious witch named Bertha. Bertha Maynard was born on January 26, 1872 and died January 27, 1910, exactly one day after her 38th birthday. Not much is known about her life, but the legend has been around for many decades. Bertha’s grave sits alone at the bottom of the hill, because her family did not want it to be moved with the others when they were relocated due to concerns over flooding. Due to frequent vandalism, however, her headstone disappeared for seven years until it was replaced at the request of the family. This led to rumors that her headstone moved around and became invisible on Halloween. Bertha’s ghost has also allegedly been seen lurking in the cemetery.
7. Aurora Witch’s Grave
Aurora Cemetery is a square, garden-like cemetery at the southwest corner of Route 14 and West 14 Road, north of Aurora in central Nebraska. The grave of Susan A. Gavan sits in the northwest corner of the cemetery, surrounded by iron posts that formerly held up heavy chains. Historically, Susan died in 1882 at the age of 40 and was buried with her 7-month-old daughter, May. Oddly, her husband and she were married on Halloween in 1861. Every Halloween, on their wedding anniversary, local teens venture out to her grave and dare each other to step on it. Susan, they say, was a witch who put a curse on the town before she was executed. Anyone who steps on her grave will either die within nine years, or by the age of 21. In reality, however, Susan was a respected woman. Her obituary read, “the community realizes that from our midst in life has gone an estimable lady, and extends heartfelt sympathy to the bereaved family.” That has not stopped generations of local children from making nighttime journeys to the infamous Nebraska “witch’s grave.”
6. The St. Omer Witch’s Grave
St. Omer Cemetery is home to an unusual family monument that some say looks like a crystal ball on top a pyre. According to local lore, Caroline Barnes, one of four people buried under the massive stone, was put to death for practicing witchcraft. It is said that no pictures can be taken of her monument, and that it glows on moonless nights. The only evidence for the legend seems to be the gravestone’s dramatic design, the way local citizens grow nervous whenever the story is mentioned, and most strikingly, Caroline’s impossible date of death chiseled in the granite: February 31. The monument also faces north and south, while most headstones are oriented east-west. There is no historical or documentary evidence supporting the notion that Caroline Barnes was accused of witchcraft, but never-the-less, the legend has persisted.
5. Mary Jane’s Grave
Deep in the swampy woods north of Spirit Lake and the Minnesota-Iowa border, lies Loon Lake Cemetery. Now abandoned, fewer than 18 of the original 67 headstones remain. According to legend, in 1881 the townspeople of the nearby village of Petersburg accused an 18-year-old girl named Mary Jane Terwileger (sometimes simply known as Mary Jane) of being a witch and beheaded her. She was buried on a hill in Loon Lake Cemetery. Their troubles with witches did not stop there, however, and they saw fit to execute two more young women in subsequent years. The graves of these women became something of a local tourist attraction, so their headstones were removed to protect them from vandals. Unfortunately, the exact location of Mary Jane’s grave has been forgotten, and legend says that anyone who walks across it will die within 72 hours. According to one account, “This was perpetuated by reports of a young man who walked over the grave while hunting in the area. On the way home, a heavy fog ascended, and after he pulled his car over, he suffered carbon monoxide poisoning.” The cemetery is believed to be haunted by other anguished spirits as well.
4. Felix’s Grave
St. Joseph, Missouri
Felix-Liliger Cemetery sits on a hill surrounded by an old weather-beaten wrought iron fence, deep in the Sun Bridge Conservation Area. Named after the Kansa Indian belief that they ascend to the afterlife on a sun bridge, the Conservation Area runs along the Missouri River north of St. Joseph, Missouri. There are perhaps a dozen headstones in the tiny graveyard. Over the years, many visitors have travelled to this remote location to find “Felix’s Grave.” There are many different stories about Felix. Some say he murdered his family, or that he died in a car accident and his body was never recovered. According to another legend, a witch was hung in an old oak tree in the cemetery and buried beneath it. Her headstone, which warns “here I lie, cross this grave and you’ll surely die,” allegedly glows at night. The cemetery has suffered vandalism in the past. In 1980, Elizabeth Liliger’s grave was dug up, and only some pieces of the coffin were ever recovered.
3. Molly’s Grave
St. Charles, Missouri
Since the 1960s and ‘70s, a legend has circulated high schools in the St. Charles area about a witch named Molly Crenshaw. Molly, it is said, was a freed Jamaican or Haitian practitioner of Voodoo who lived in the 1800s. Her charms were occasionally sought after, but after one particularly nasty drought or long winter, the locals turned against her and executed her. In order to prevent her from rising from the grave, they chopped her body into pieces and buried the pieces in the woods around a remote cemetery. It wasn’t enough. Year after year, the pieces crawl closer together. Anyone who successfully locates Molly’s grave will meet a gruesome end. According to a local English teacher at Francis Howell High School, “There was a story about two football players who went looking for the grave in the 1950s. They found it and tried to take the tombstone. They met with an untimely end. The sheriff’s deputies found their bodies impaled on the graveyard fence.” As far as local historians are concerned, there is no basis for the legend. Mollie Crenshaw did exist, but she was neither Jamaican nor Haitian, and she died in 1913 after swallowing carbolic acid. That has not prevented Molly Crenshaw from becoming one of the most popular and enduring legends in St. Charles County. Crenshaw’s surviving relatives removed her gravestone in 1979 to prevent further damage, but every year hundreds of thrill seekers still search for it.
2. Pere Cheney Witch’s Grave
Rural Crawford County, Michigan
Now a ghost town, the village of Pere Cheney in north-central Michigan has a tragic history. Perhaps that is why its cemetery, which contains the graves of around 90 persons, is rumored to be home to a witch’s grave, as well as many supernatural occurrences. Pere Cheney was originally settled in 1874 by lumberjacks, who believed the site of George M. Cheney’s sawmill was an ideal location to set down roots. In 1881, its population was 922. Just a few years later, however, diphtheria swept through the area and many children died. As the community tried to recover, a fire broke out, and in 1893 there was an outbreak of smallpox, scarlet fever, and diphtheria. Diphtheria, a bacterial infection that mainly affects children, struck again in 1906. By 1818, only 18 residents remained in Pere Cheney, and the village was soon completely abandoned. According to legend, people from surrounding communities deliberately set fire to Pere Cheney to prevent the spread of disease. Others say that the epidemics and fires were caused by a witch who cursed the land after her neighbors banished her to the surrounding wilderness. She was later hung from a tree in the cemetery and her body was burned. To this day, some visitors claim to see her ghost in Cheney Cemetery.
1. Bloody Mary’s Grave
Tiny Baldwin Cemetery sits in the woods at the end of a drive off South County Road 25 W (Tunnel Mill Road), south of Vernon, Indiana. It is flanked on two sides by an exaggerated meander in the Muscatatuck River. For generations, local residents have searched for the grave of a woman named Mary Smith or Mary Crist, located somewhere in Baldwin Cemetery. The legend is so popular that every year the Jennings County Historical Society and Jennings County High School Drama Club include a vignette about Mary during their annual ghost walk. There are many stories about Mary, including one account claiming she was a witch who was hanged from the branches of a large tree in the cemetery and then buried beneath it. In 2003, a woman claimed to use a dowsing rod to locate Mary’s grave beneath a large tree. According to the Jennings County Historical Society, Mary and her sister Gladys lived alone on a farm in the 1830s. One night, an unidentified assailant raped and murdered Mary and escaped into the darkness. Months after her burial, a drunken man was staggering through the cemetery when he tripped and fell over her grave. The ghost of Mary appeared wearing a bloody nightgown, and the man fled in terror. Many also believe that if you step on Mary’s grave, blood will gush from the ground.