Cemeteries are where bodies are buried. To soften the flow, the dead are spoken of in an array of euphemisms: the dearly departed, the recently deceased. They have passed on, been laid to rest, met their maker, gone to their final reward, or as one newbie television news reporter gushed, “waiting to be funeralized.” They have in more colloquial terms kicked the bucket, croaked, or given up the ghost. They are buried six feet under yet, a few have managed to break the barrier and let us know they are still around.
At McRaven House in Vicksburg, Mississippi the cemetery is little more than depressions in the ground. Former caretaker Leonard Fuller has to point them out “just past the oak tree.” There are twenty-eight gravesites. According to Fuller, McRaven House was used as a hospital during the Civil War. A fierce battle took place in the side yard. Fuller explains that “We don’t know who they are, but their ghosts still walk around here. The ghosts of the Confederate soldiers have been here since I was a kid.”
Ghosts of Confederate soldiers haunt the grounds at McRaven House
Five young girls, buried together at the Natchez City Cemetery, did not die for any cause. They simply went to work. On March 14, 1908, Carrie Murray, Ada White, Inez Netterville, Luella Booth, and Lizzie Worthy sat at a long, wooden table and poured chemicals from large beakers into smaller ones in the fourth-floor laboratory of the Natchez Drug Company. Carrie, the oldest was twenty-two, and Lizzie Worthy, at one month short of her thirteenth birthday, was the youngest. At 11:00 in the morning, Sam Burns, arrived to check on a recently installed gas heater. He detected a leak in the meter, tightened it up and left. At 1:30 in the afternoon someone smelled gas. Sam was called back. He did as he had been trained. He ran a lit candle along the gas line: if his candle flame flared, it would reveal the location of the gas leak. He found it. The explosion rocked the city. Like a house of cards, the brick building imploded. The rear wall fell in, the east wall came down, and the upper floors collapsed all the way to the cellar.
The body of seventeen-year-old Inez was found near the sidewalk. Carrie was found in the rubble; rescue workers identified the body by her corset cover. Nineteen-year-old Ada’s body was carried away in pieces. Luella’s body was charred almost beyond recognition. Lizzie wasn’t found until three days later, it was the smallest body recovered.
The girls’ simple headstones line up side-by-side in Natchez Cemetery. Over them looms the cemetery’s most notable statue. It’s called the Turning Angel. The life-sized statue is seated on a pedestal, an open book in her lap. Those who drive by Cemetery Road at night swear the white angel turns her head to stare at them. As their cars pass by, the angel turns back to guarding her young charges resting in tombs beneath her feet. The effect is unsettling.
The Turning Angel at Natchez City Cemetery still guards her young charges
At another unusual grave in this massive cemetery, many believe that the mother of poor little Irene Ford, returns over and over to comfort her daughter. Nothing odd in this tale so far, except that ten-year-old Irene died of yellow fever on October 30, 1871, and her inconsolable mother has been at her task for nearly a century and a half. Eileen Ford (the mother) went to extraordinary lengths to allay her daughter’s fears in life and in death. Little Irene was terrified of storms and lightening so Eileen had a concrete stairway built behind her daughter’s headstone that led down to the level of the casket where a glass window allowed her to look in. The child’s casket also had a glass window on top. When it stormed, heedless of the rain pelting her head and shoulders, the protective mother climbed down the stairs. Eileen Ford was said to have talked, read, prayed, and sang songs to her daughter, trying to console her in death as she had in life. In later years, the grave became a popular draw to curiosity seekers who would climb down to stare at the casket. To keep the inquisitive out, cemetery workers bricked over the window at the bottom of the stairs, and installed a hinged metal trap door to cover the opening at the top.
The Natchez City Cemetery is closed at night, but those who have made clandestine forays to little Irene’s grave report sightings of the shape of a woman kneeling near the burial site. The mournful ghost shakes her head in frustration that the steps are blocked and she can’t go down to comfort her child.
Wherever there is a cemetery, it is hallowed, haunted ground. Each tomb that survives is like a chapter in an old discarded book: its edges are frayed, its binder broken, its pages wrinkled and yellowed. However, the story that lies within is more than myth and legend. It is the final place where a once-vibrant person left his or her imprint for us to find. Their stories are all there to be gathered and cherished.
A rural cemetery in West Point, Mississippi
To find out more about these and other tales, read The Haunting Of Mississippi. And if you enjoy this blog, please add your name to the CONTACT PAGE to be notified of new blogs coming soon. Or hit REPLY and add your own comment or experiences. The results of the vote of the previous blog “Old Ghosts vs. New” was overwhelmingly in favor of “old” ghosts, those who continue to make their presence known.