Ever since America’s earliest days, tales of witchcraft have been lurking in the shadows of our history. From the Salem Witch Trials to the era when High Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau presided over New Orleans even to the present day (concerned about the current state of politics? Don’t worry… witches are on it), they’ve always been around.
Often facing persecution for their beliefs, witches mostly remained quiet. In the rare instances that witches have been thrust into the public eye, though, they usually capture the imaginations of locals. So much so that, even to this day, legends and lore have been passed down about witches for generations, long after the accused have died. There are countless graves across the country that said to be where witches rest in eternal slumber. We’ve gathered a few of our favorites. Read their stories, and even visit the graves… if you dare.
Marie Laveau – St. Louis Cemetery
Okay, okay, so voodoo isn’t the same as witchcraft, but if you’re looking to visit the grave of one of the most powerful women in magic, you’re going to want to visit the grave of Marie Laveau. Very briefly, voodoo is a hodgepodge of spiritual beliefs, including elements from African Vodun and French Catholicism which fused in 1700s New Orleans. Marie Laveau was born to a free black woman and a politician in 1801, and since we don’t actually know a lot about her life, people tend to repeat myths and legends about her.
We do know that she married a man named Jacque Paris at around 18, and he died shortly after under mysterious circumstances. After his death, she became a hairdresser for some of the most prominent socialites in New Orleans. It’s believed that this gave her access to all kinds of gossip, which she used to convince the slaves and servants of these socialites that she had mystical powers. As she rose to prominence as a Voodoo priestess, she used her status for good. She was known to nurse the sick back to health during epidemics of cholera or yellow fever and was dedicated to providing counsel to prisoners who were condemned to death, even going so far as to beg for mercy on their behalf.
To Marie Laveau, Catholicism and Voodoo weren’t mutually exclusive; in fact, they were compatible belief systems, and she was a devout Catholic as well. She would hold weekly services in the front room of her house where white and black New Orleanians alike would gather to chant and leave tokens like liquor for various Voodoo spirits. She also met with countless individuals one-on-one to advise them on matters ranging from love to business. Some of the more colorful (but probably less accurate) stories about her rituals involved drinking, dancing, and even orgies in the dead of night out in the bayou. There are also unconfirmed rumors of her having a pet snake named Zombi. Marie Laveau’s daughter, Marie Laveau II, was the one who recognized that adding a bit of dramatic flair to these rituals attracted even more curious onlookers interested in dabbling in dark magic, and was the one who carried on her mother’s legacy as a Voodoo Queen.
Marie Laveau I is famously buried in St. Louis Cemetery in New Orleans. It’s somehow become a tradition to mark her white mausoleum with three Xs, although there’s no basis for this in voodoo. Since a hefty fine will be slapped on anyone who defiles her grave, you’re probably better off leaving a token of respect at her final resting place instead.
The Grave of the Witch of Yazoo
In Yazoo City, Mississippi’s Glenwood Cemetery is a creepy grave, surrounded by broken chains. As the story goes, this is where the Witch of Yazoo is buried… and she broke the chains herself, after she was laid to rest.
As the story goes, the witch was a woman who lived by the river in the 1880s, and her favorite hobby was luring fisherman off the river so she could torture and kill them. One day, the sheriff came knocking, and found a few skeletons in her closet. Literally. He left, and returned with a posse, and as the witch fled, she sank to her death in the quicksands of the swamps. As she was swallowed by the mud, she vowed to return in twenty years’ time to exact her revenge and burn Yazoo to the ground.
Exactly twenty years later, the town of Yazoo was, in fact, burned to the ground. Evidence points to the source of the fire being a young bride preparing for her wedding, but die-hard believers think that the witch was behind the unusually strong winds that blew the fire along, causing flames to almost leap through the air.
Ironically, it’s impossible to get any solid information on the person buried in the grave, or if there was a woman who lived by the river and lured men to their deaths… because most of the town’s records were burned in the fire. As they say, the greatest trick the devil (or the Witch of Yazoo, in this case) ever pulled was convincing the world he (or she!) didn’t exist. The city has since placed a memorial to the witch and the legend in the middle of the chains, further perpetuating the haunting tale.
Bell Witch Cave
The tale of the Bell Witch is another one of those Southern folklore stories that’s become so popular, it has taken on a life of its own. It all started for the Bell family, who lived in rural Tennessee, back in 1817. Father John Bell spotted a strange dog-like creature on the property, son Drew watch a strange and massive bird sitting on the fence, one of their slaves was followed by a large black dog, and daughter Betsy witnessed an unknown girl in a green dress swinging from an oak branch. Things quickly got more sinister from there, as the weirdness started to occur in the home.
It started with knocking sounds on the floor and walls, followed by the sounds of the beds being gnawed, dogs fighting, and chains being dragged across the ground. John Bell started experiencing sleep paralysis, and sheets were being ripped off of the beds of the kids while they slept. Then the scratching and hair-pulling started. Betsy was particularly tormented by the unseen entity; it would slap her, pinch her, and even stick her with pins.
A family friend, James Johnston, was summoned to help, and after a night of experiencing the supernatural torment, he decreed that it was some kind of spirit, “like in the Bible.” Eventually, the spirit started talking. It claimed to be from a disturbed Native American burial ground, but given its penchant for trickery (it sent Drew and a friend on a false treasure hunt… why someone would trust a malicious spirit when it says it can lead you to treasure, I’m not quite sure…), this was likely just a story. Other accounts hold that it was the ghost of an overseer John Bell had murdered in North Carolina. A more popular version claims that the witch was Kate Batts, a neighbor who believed that she had been cheated by Bell in a land purchase. Either way, it sounds a bit demonic to me.
It liked to argue about religion, and would often repeat sermons from various churches, and also liked to gossip about the neighbors. Weirdly, the spirit took a liking to son John Bell, Jr. and John Bell Sr.’s wife, Lucy. Lucy would often receive fruit or be serenaded by the witch. According to the story, the witch was particularly fond of threatening John Sr. and eventually poisoned him… and she didn’t stop there. She even interrupted his funeral by singing drinking songs.
The witch finally left in 1821, when Betsy called off her engagement to a man named Joshua Gardner. The witched promised to return in seven years, which she did… but Lucy and her remaining sons decided to ignore the spirit, which actually proved an effective way to stop the haunting. Some hold that the Bell Witch never left, and still hangs out in a cave on the old Bell property. You can tour the Bell Witch Cave for yourself, which allegedly contains the remains of a robbed Native American grave. Spooky.
Rhoda Ward – Bridgeport Cemetery
Being accused of witchcraft was just as bad as actually being a witch, as it turns out. Take, for example, the case of Rhoda Ward from West Virginia. She lived in Bridgeport in the late 18th century, and was accused of “spewing up crooked pins” by a neighbor during a bout of the chicken pox. She had to stand trial for witchcraft and deliver a sworn statement, in which she says that even if she had puked up needles, she wouldn’t have known since she was delirious with fever. Though she was found not guilty, she was tried again for witchcraft 12 years later. Even after she died and was buried in an unmarked grave, people still seek her out, especially around Halloween.
The Witch of Hex Hollow
Pennsylvania is known for being a melting pot of religions. In many areas, the lore of Quakers, German “Dutch” immigrants, Anabaptists, and Native Americans melded into a distinctive culture, where “pow-wow” (or folk) magic was believed… and feared. The innocent-sounding Spring Valley County Park is home to the more sinisterly-named Hex Hollow (also called Rehmeyer’s Hollow), and the story of the spot is pretty spooky.
The year was 1928. Local Nellie Noll was the one who started stirring the pot. She claimed to be a witch, and told a neighbor, John Blymire that he had been cursed by a man named Nelson Rehmeyer, who Nellie said was also a witch. Blymire understandably freaked out, so he and two friends, swept up in the witch-curse hysteria, broke into Rehmeyer’s house, hoping to find and destroy his folk magic spell book. They didn’t find the book… but they did find Rehmeyer himself. Rather than destroy the book, they murdered Rehmeyer, hoping that would solve Blymire’s problem. As far as we know, Blymire’s solution worked… kind of. He did have to stand trial for murder, which became something of a national phenomenon. Naturally, Rehmeyer’s house, which is still standing, still attracts ghost-hunters and folklore buffs to this day.
Hannah Cranna – Gregory’s Four Corners Burial Ground
Hannah Cranna Hovey is another famous American witch. Local suspicion started to surround her after her husband died under mysterious circumstances; according to her, he went out for a walk one day and just randomly fell off a cliff to his death. After that, she depended on neighbors for food and firewood, but it sounds like she wasn’t exactly the nicest about asking for charity. She would curse anyone who refused to help her, even if they offered her a smaller pie when she really wanted the larger one. Same thing if you fished on her property without her permission: cursed for life. Apparently, though, if she liked you, she’d cast good spells for you, so it wasn’t all bad. She also had a rooster named Old Boreas, who was her “familiar”, and locals surmised that her house, on top of a hill in town, was “guarded by snakes of every type and size”.
When Old Boreas died, she took it as an omen of her impending death, and she started to figure out how she wanted to be buried. She told a neighbor that she wanted her coffin carried to the graveyard by foot; according to some legends, the locals tried to bring her coffin in by sleigh, but it fell off. That was when they decided to honor her wishes and carry it the rest of the way by foot. People still visit her grave, and some even claim to see her spirit wandering the cemetery.
Bathsheba Sherman – Harrisville Cemetery
If you’ve watched The Conjuring, then this witchy tale might seem familiar. Bathsheba Thayer Sherman was the wife of farmer Judson Sherman, and lived a pretty typical life taking care of the house and farm. Except for the fact that she maybe sacrificed a baby to the devil. Stories maintain that an infant died while in Bathsheba’s care, and was found to have been murdered with a knitting needle to the neck. Whether or not she murdered the child, she was found innocent due to lack of evidence. Some stories go even further, and claim that Bathsheba died of a strange illness that left doctors stumped, and her body paralyzed, or even (in some versions) turned to stone. Things didn’t stop there, though. Bathsheba remained relatively quiet until the 1970s, when she began to torment the Perron family, who moved into the farmhouse she once lived in… which is the story famously told in The Conjuring. Check out her grave, if the movie didn’t scare you off.
Interestingly enough, the tales of Witch Bonney started circulating more because of a creepy statue on a grave rather than from the deeds of the person buried within. The statue is admittedly extremely creepy, and features a witchy-looking woman has her arms outstretched, and her toga-like dress is falling so far off that even some today would consider her outfit scandalous. Her totally blank, empty eye sockets stare out into the graveyard, and the statue is tarnished to spooky perfection: there appears to be a single, black tear rolling down her cheek. Also, there are usually offerings scattered at her feet; things like beads, half-burned candles, coins, and other trinkets litter the statue’s base. (Not that anyone would consider it, but don’t take any of the offerings to the statue– you’ll be cursed with bad luck). Rumors of Wiccan rituals being performed at the grave are quite common, and EMF detectors supposedly go nuts when they get near the statue.
The statue, which is located at the Bonney family plot in a Lowell, Massachusetts graveyard, is in memory of Clara Bonney Lilley, who died in childbirth at the age of 39, and was, by all accounts, not particularly unusual. But, for some reason, spooky legends about Witch Bonney have run amok. It’s said that each year, the top of her dress falls lower and lower, and once it reaches her waist, the Bonney Witch will return to get revenge on the descendants of those who did her wrong. As the story goes, she’ll be reborn in the hollow of an old tree in the cemetery. Scoff all you want at the story, but take a look around the graveyard– you’ll be hard pressed to find any hollow trees. The caretakers reportedly make sure to cut down any dead or splitting trees…just in case.
Giles Corey – Howard Street Cemetery
If there’s one thing we know, it’s that Giles Corey wasn’t a witch… but he was accused of witchcraft during the infamous Salem Witch Trails of 17th century Massachusetts. While most of the accused plead not guilty and were hanged (the few who actually plead guilty were spared, ironically enough), Giles Corey refused to enter a plea of either guilty or not guilty. As punishment, he was ordered to be “pressed” until he admitted his guilt. Pressing was a grotesque form of torture wherein the victim was stripped naked, laid down, and had a board placed on top of him; gradually, heavy rocks were loaded onto the board until he either confessed or died. Rather than add more fuel to the fire that was the Salem Witch Trials, he refused to enter a plea. Allegedly, his last words as he was pressed to death in the Howard Street Cemetery were “More weight.”
He’s buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in the cemetery. This is the only known burial location of an accused person from the Salem Witch Trials. For those who were hung for witchcraft, the denial of a proper burial was part of the sentence, and it was technically a crime to remove the bodies of the accused after they were executed. Despite this, it’s widely accepted that family members spirited the bodies of the hanged away for private burials… but since it was still a crime to do so, the locations of the graves remained secret and have been lost to time. Of course, all of Salem is a fascinating place for witches and the curious alike to explore.
More tales of the spooky and the strange…
Header via Wikimedia Commons/James Roberts