Ican already hear the screams, moans, and creepy whispers of Halloween while death, blood, ghosts, and all things macabre do the rounds. That wicked little devil inside me haunts and pleads my soul to write about something that has always captivated my interest and aroused my curiosity. Death and what comes right after dying – the burial and the grave. Makes you uneasy in the stomach? Death is not a very appealing topic now, is it? But then we are all going to die eventually. So why not make it more alluring by thinking and planning for it? Sounds crazy? Too morbid?
Come to think of it, don’t we all plan long and hard before buying a car or home or even deciding where to vacation next summer? Hell, we even spare time for planning our dinner menu. The grave is just as important, after all its where our mortal remains will hopefully “Rest in Peace” for eternity. Some people have made odd choices in regards to what kind of grave marker or headstone they wish to have. There is almost everything from scary skeletons to zombie cages. Here is my list of 13 carefully curated grave sites that are sweet, sad, scary, weird, creepy, or just downright bizarre.
1. A Grave with a Window for the Deceased
Timothy Clark Smith
Tucked away in the West River neighborhood of New Haven, in suburban Vermont USA, lie the bones of Timothy Clark Smith buried within the confines of the Evergreen Cemetery. Timothy was a surgeon, physician, and a teacher with an impressive career, yet he harbored a strange fear of being buried alive.
Now let me introduce a word to your vocabulary – taphophobia. Believe it or not, taphophobia, is an abnormal (psychopathological) fear of being buried alive as a result of being incorrectly pronounced dead. Before the era of modern medicine, the fear was not entirely irrational. There are several true horror stories of people presumed-dead clawing at their coffin lids after being mistaken for dead and later “awaking” in their coffins, only to shout, scream, and to finally die a terrifying death due to asphyxiation (suffocation).
Dr Johann Gottfried Taberger’s “safety coffin” was invented in 1816 and Timothy Clark Smith decided to incorporate this technique into his grave. If that was not creepy enough, Smith died on Halloween in 1893. Before his demise he elaborately designed his final resting place. His grave was dug 6 feet deep, which is the standard, with special concrete walls, making it a clear concrete shaft. His coffin was placed at the bottom, with a clear glass viewing window above his face. A breathing tube was attached and his hand tied to a bell, which would give him a chance to keep breathing and ring the bell should he “awake” from death, and help someone save him. Many people possess a morbid curiosity to visit the grave and peep through the 14-inch glass window at the top to view his badly decaying body. The view is bizarre and horrific, to say the least … but curiosity never killed the cat. Or did it?
2. A Mummy That Blinks from Inside Her Glass Tomb
About a 100 years ago, in 1920, a young girl named Rosalia Lombardo died at the age of two due to an aggravated case of pneumonia. Her father, Mario Lombardo was shocked and traumatized by her sudden passing and refused to bury his precious daughter. Her body was finally embalmed and preserved by Alfredo Salafia. Apparently, her father wanted to keep the little girl “as alive as possible.” The embalmer Alfredo was an expert Italian chemist and in the day was considered the best, since he had a lot of experience preserving corpses.
Her mummified body is preserved to this day in the Catacombe dei Cappuccini in Palermo, Sicily, southern Italy. Tourists visiting the massive underground graveyard are freaked out to witness, what appears to be, her mummified corpse blinking and staring back at them with partially opened eyes. People believe that it is a miracle that she blinks despite being dead for decades. However, some experts claim it is merely an optical illusion of the light that filters through the windows of the catacombs.
Back in the 1970s, Alfredo’s notes describing Rosalia’s mummification were found, with details of the process and the chemicals used to preserve her mortal remains. Today the catacombs provide a somewhat macabre tourist attraction as well as an extraordinary historical record with thousands of graves and mummies on display in a breath-taking underground cemetery.
3. A Tortured Soul Desperate to Return to Its Grave
Around the year 1910, Josie Arlington purchased a cemetery plot at Metairie Cemetery. Josie was one of New Orleans most notorious, influential & wealthy madams working out of the city’s shady red-light district, Storyville. She engaged sculptor Albert Weiblen to design her final resting place and placed a bronze statue that appears to be a young girl, attempting to knock on the door of the tomb to gain entrance.
Some visitors believe the statue symbolizes Josie Arlington’s doomed entry into the shameful profession, while others feel it indicates her trying to get back into her father’s home, after running away. But wait it gets creepier. After her death, her relatives quarreled over her vast wealth and sold off her house and even her gravesite to Jose A. Morales, a New Orleans attorney. Overnight, Metairie Cemetery officials removed Arlington’s remains to a remote, undisclosed location in the cemetery. The name on the tomb was changed to indicate the Morales family and was soon occupied by Morales’s wife and four children. Visitors to the cemetery claim to “see” the specter of a young woman walking among the graves carrying an armload of flowers. During such manifestations, visitors claim, the bronze statue at the Morales-Arlington Tomb disappears. It is believed that the mysterious sighting is that of Josie Arlington’s tortured soul trying to get back into her rightful grave.
4. The Grave with a Secret Meeting Chamber
Florence Irene Ford
It is impossible to fathom the depth of a parents love for their child. This one is a truly agonizing story of a young 10-year-old girl named Florence Irene Ford, who died of yellow fever on October 30, 1871, and was buried at the Natchez City Cemetery in Mississippi, USA. During her tragic short life her parents found that she was petrified of thunderstorms and lightening, so much so that when one occurred, the child would run to her mother to find solace and safety in her arms. Upon her passing her mother was so struck by grief that she had her daughter’s casket designed with a glass window near her head.
A grave site was prepared and a separate area was dug out at the same depth as the coffin to allow the mother to descend to the level at which Florence was buried so that she could sit there and console her daughter during scary stormy nights. Hinged metal trap doors were installed to shelter the mother while she occupied the enclosure near her beloved child’s coffin. Even today, visitors to the gravesite can open the trap doors and descend the steps to enter the chamber where the grieving mother would sit.
5. Not Even Death Can Make Us Part
Long before the American singer and actress Beyoncé sang “Sweet Dreams”, a man seems to have had a similar concept in mind. The man was Belgian sculptor Adolphe Wansart, who designed the tombstone of Fernand Arbelot – a small time musician, actor, and architect. Arbelot, shot to fame because of his creepy tombstone located on his grave at Paris’s Pere Lachaise Cemetery.
According to legend, Fernand Arbelot’s last wish was to look at the beautiful face of his wife for all eternity. That is not too gruesome, is it? Another legend goes, that Arbelot committed suicide after killing his wife, by chopping off her head. Either way, these legends give us a clue to the inspiration behind the design of his tombstone. The eerie tomb depicts a man lying on his back, holding up a disembodied head (believed to depict his wife) and gazing into its cold, stone eyes. An epitaph reads, “They were amazed at the beautiful journey which led them to the end of life.”
Christian marriage vows incorporate a promise by partners, stating: “To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” Fernand, apparently has and continues to hold his wife’s head till eternity, and as Beyoncé crooned: “Not even death can make us part.” In fact, I discovered that this song “Sweet Dreams” has several lines that seem to have an uncanny connection to the gravesite of Fernand Arbelot. For e.g. “With hopes that maybe I’ll get a chance to see you when I close my eyes”, “I’m going out of my head”, “I wish that when I wake up, you’re there”, “I, don’t wanna wake up from you “and “You can be a sweet dream or a beautiful nightmare”. Not to mention Beyoncé lying stretched out on her bed and levitating in the music video. Whatever the case, the tombstone of Fernand Arbelot brings on the chills and makes one’s blood run cold.
6. The Quirky Scrabble Mosaic Tombstone
Paul G. Lind
They say some people take their secrets to the grave, other like Paul G. Lind took his passion to the grave … literally. After his passing, the family, and friends of Lind, erected a tombstone to depict his greatest passion in life i.e., his love for Scrabble. Visitors to his gravesite are intrigued by the strange, yet light-hearted headstone that resembles the board game.
Sadly, vandals recently defaced the grave, however, local Scrabble players held a tournament to raise money for its restoration. Lind now lies inside Lone Fir Cemetery in Portland, Oregon, USA, that has several other strange graves as well. Visitors are captivated by the grave of an artist buried underground in a paint can and that of a bartender that has a large concrete urn beside his grave from which he and friends used to drink, until he died in 1883. Crazy? You bet!
7. The Creepy Zombie Trap Graves of The United Kingdom
The Mortsafe Graves
During the Victoria era, strange graves began to appear all over England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. These graves looked like cages and local folklore and belief began to grow that these graves were designed to prevent the dead – the zombies, from walking out of their graves and terrorizing people. By far the place with the most frequent occurrence of these “hooded graves” is Scotland.
Of course, this was supposedly not the reason. To learn anatomy, medical students were legally able to dissect the bodies of criminals executed via the gallows, however not nearly enough cadavers could be obtained in this manner. Out of necessity medical students began to source their own lab specimens, arranging for “freshly deceased” bodies by digging up graves. To prevent this theft, families began constructing cage like structures around the graves of their loved ones.
The iron cages, more properly known as “mortsafes,” are commonly found on graves from the 18th and 19th centuries in cemeteries and graveyards in the UK, particularly Scotland.
8. A Little Girl and a Love Story That Lives on in a Dollhouse
Vivian May Allison
When Vivian May Allison died unexpectedly in 1899 at the age of 5, her parents decided to build her the dollhouse she had always wanted and fill it with some of her favorite dolls. Vivian’s grave is located in the Connersville City Cemetery in Indiana, USA.
This is a site that is the burial ground for a love story. Not a “love story” in the traditional sense per se, rather a love story of the bond between parent and child. Losing a child is probably the most traumatic incident a parent can ever encounter. The grave marker of Vivian May Allison should not be looked upon with morbid curiosity or the eccentricity of a distraught father. It should rather be seen for what it is – an embodiment of grief and love, from a father to his beloved daughter. In fact, Connersville residents have called it “the little house that heartache built.”
Similar dollhouse graves exist elsewhere too, such as those of 4-year-old Roselind Nadine Earles (d. 18 Dec 1933) located in Oakwood Cemetery, Chambers County, Alabama, USA and 6-year-old Lova Frances Cline (d. 18 Oct 1908) located in Arlington East Hill Cemetery, Rush County, Indiana, USA.
9. The Tazacorte Martyrs Memorial
A watery grave site 60 feet under the North Atlantic Ocean
At first sight this, rather unusual, memorial may look like the site is flooded. However, that could not be further from the truth. Way back in 1570 a group of Jesuit missionaries were travelling from Portugal to Brazil, when their ship was intercepted and brutally attacked by French pirates led by Jacques Sourie. They ruthlessly murdered all the priests on board, to the horrifying extent of even dismembering the limbs of some of the holy men and throwing them overboard.
A memorial for the dead was set up near La Palma Island, which is part of the Canary Islands, at the exact same site of the horrific massacre. The memorial is located 60 feet under the North Atlantic Ocean and comprises of 40 crosses representing the 40 victims that lost their lives in the inhuman attack.
10. A Grieving Mother Buried Alive
Readers of Edgar Allan Poe’s gory tales (remember “The Premature Burial”?) may comfort themselves with the notion that Poe probably exaggerated: surely no one in the 1800s could have been at the risk of being buried alive? That couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, to be buried alive figures near the top of most people’s ‘Worst ways to die’ list, and indeed is one of mankind’s most primal fears.
Imagine waking up six feet underground in your coffin with no one to hear you scream … no one to let you out. This is exactly what happened to Octavia Hatcher. According to the story, she gave birth to a son, Jacob, on January 4th, 1891. Her son passed away within hours of birth and the grieving mother fell into a deep depression. She remained bedridden for months, eventually slipping into a coma. By May 2nd, she was pronounced dead and buried in the Pikeville cemetery. Over the next several days many people fell mysteriously ill with a “sleeping sickness” only to awake days later. Octavia’s husband had her grave dug up for investigation and it revealed a terrifying sight. Her face was contorted in a horrified expression. The lining of the coffin was torn up and her fingernails were broken and bloody. It was apparent that Octavia Hatcher had been buried alive and then died in terror while trying to escape her coffin.
Locals of Pikeville believe she haunts the grounds where she was buried alive, they speak of hearing a woman crying, believed to be the tortured spirit of Octavia. Many have attempted to find the source of the weeping which leads in the direction of Octavia’s grave only for it to suddenly stop as they approach her tombstone.
11. The Socialite Buried Inside Her Ferrari
Sandra Ilene Hara West
A 1964 model, powder blue Ferrari 330 America is buried inside the Alamo Masonic Cemetery, Bexar County, Texas, USA, however the concrete box that the classic sports car is entombed in is not alone. Sandra West, a wealthy Beverly Hills socialite whose 1977 death made national headlines, was buried sitting in the front seat of the Italian supercar in an elegant, white nightgown. In her will written four years prior to her sudden death, she requested that she be buried inside her car “next to my husband in my lace nightgown by Porter Loring (Mortuary) and in my Ferrari with the seat slanted comfortably.”
On May 18, 1977, roughly two months after her death, a crane was engaged to place the box containing the car (and Sandra’s body) into a grave measuring 19 feet long, 10 feet wide and 9 feet deep. Once the box was inside the grave, construction crews covered it with concrete to discourage potential looters.
12. The Deathly Procession Which Never Moves
Colonel Henry G. Wooldridge
Tucked away in the Maplewood Cemetery in Mayfield, Kentucky, USA is a queer, and what could be called a rather ghostly memorial called the Wooldridge Monuments. The peculiar set of 18 statues are known as “the strange procession which never moves”. Colonel Henry G. Wooldridge erected the set of monuments shortly before his death on May 30, 1899.
What is rather bewildering is that, while Colonel Wooldridge is the only person buried at the site, the monument consists of statues of his mother, brothers, sisters, and nieces, as well as two statues of Henry, himself—one riding his favorite horse, the other standing beside a lectern, and statues of his dogs and other animals. Another twist to the story is the absence of his father’s statue within the plot … one can only wonder why. In September 1984 the monuments were featured on the TV show Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
13. The World’s Largest Grave
Inside the Paris Catacombs
The Paris Catacombs is undoubtedly the world’s largest grave site. The remains of more than six million people are buried in a vast network of tunnels below the streets of Paris, France. Skulls and bones are arranged to form the walls of the tunnels in the catacombs. The creepy place is not safe to explore for the solo traveler. There have been instances of people getting lost or trapped and people have died inside, simply because they have been unable to find their way out. For e.g., a simple Google search for the lost man of the Paris Catacombs throws up a video allegedly taken by a man who lost his way inside the tunnels and was never found again.
According to the Smithsonian Magazine, so many Parisians had died by the 17th century that there was simply no place in the cemeteries. Thus, in 1786 a decision was made to move the mortal remains of the dead from cemeteries into the vast network of tunnels. These tunnels had been created from the mining of limestone quarries. Over the course of the next decade or so over 6 million people were moved into the world’s largest gravesite, which is now known as the Paris Catacombs.
A visit to Paris would be incomplete without a visit to the Catacombs although anyone uncomfortable with small spaces or the prospect of being up close and personal with lots of skeletons may find it difficult to visit. It is an amazing, albeit extremely morbid, sight that is certainly not for the faint hearted. The Paris Catacombs have a notorious reputation for being haunted considering the millions of bodies buried deep within its recesses.
A Request … In Conclusion
There is nothing to fear in death, it is as natural as breathing … and living. The date, time, and location of our tryst with death is written in the “Book of Destiny” upon our birth, and we spend a lifetime on our journey getting there. With that humbling thought in mind, I feel, the dead need to be revered for the life they have lived, the contributions they have made to our world and the lessons, whether good, bad, or ugly, they have left us with. Death may be the ultimate end but the persistence of memory demands its reward from the living.
I personally love visiting cemeteries and burial grounds whenever I chance upon one. Under whatever circumstances a person may have been laid to rest, there is one thing all these places have in common – they are vast libraries of unknown and untold stories. Each headstone, rock, bouquet, or candle represents a life lived. To me these consecrated grounds are places of refuge, of solace and reminiscence, of hopes and achievements, of happiness and tears, of tragedies endured, of heartbreak, of broken dreams and unfinished business and a constant reminder of the blessing it is to be alive and the persistent fragility of life.
Be it general visitors, enthusiasts, ghost hunters or paranormal investigators – it is nothing short of pure evil to desecrate or vandalize graves, and to disrespect, taunt or provoke the dead. Wherever you are in the world, I request each one of you to let the dead “Rest in Peace” and humbly keep in mind the wisdom of the Biblical verse below, for though our paths are different, our fates are all the same … eventually.
"All are from the dust, and to dust all return." - Ecclesiastes 3:20
Article (C) 2021 S. B. Ryder
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