Friday, October 20, 2017

A Haunted Hoosier Cemetery - Oak Grove

Oak Grove Cemetery
On a wind-swept hill in broad daylight, the sounds of children laughing could be heard. But in the middle of this 23-acre cemetery, there are no children to be seen. Welcome to Oak Grove Cemetery in Washington, Indiana.

Arthur Greenwood
Oak Grove was once the burial place of the movers and shaker of the community. Congressman Arthur Herbert Greenwood served as Indiana’s representative for the 2nd District from 1923-1933, and represented Indiana’s 7th District from 1933-1939 in the US Congress. He was also House Majority Whip during the 73rd Congress. Greenwood began his foray into politics in Washington Indiana when he served as a member of the Board of Education in Daviess County from 1911-1915. He died in 1963 in Maryland and was buried in Oak Grove.

William Bynum
Another US Representative from Indiana buried here is William Dallas Bynum who served as Washington Indiana’s first City Clerk. Bynum was also City Attorney and Mayor. He was a member of the Indiana House of Representatives from 1881 – 1885, and was elected to the 49th and four succeeding Congresses, serving from 1885- 1895 during which time he was House Minority Whip. Bynum died in 1927.

A stone is hidden by growth
Oak Grove Cemetery began to fall into disrepair at the beginning of the 21st century. With no perpetual care money left to maintain the cemetery, the grass and weeds were left to grow in the older sections. These are the sections where unrest has been felt – and experienced.

Then they were gone
I have visited this cemetery three times in the past few years with different people. Each time we’ve come away with otherworldly stories to tell. My first time there I discovered a large black dog roams the cemetery. I heard a large dog running up behind me with the tags rattling on his collar but when I turned, there was nothing there. When I looked over at the woods that borders the property, a man, dressed in black, stood there with his black dog. They looked at me for a moment, took one step back and they were gone.

An encounter was experienced down this lane
A friend who had never had any paranormal experiences was given quite a scare when we decided to roam the grounds to photograph graves. Meeting up later, we discussed the condition of the cemetery. At that time, it was privately owned and was not being properly taken care of. The grass in the older section where we stood was knee high. After chatting a few minutes, we each headed out in different directions. Half an hour later she came rushing over the hill. Tossing her camera into the car she asked if I had slipped up behind her and called her name in an attempt to scare her. But I and our other cemetery buddy had already packed it up and were sitting in the car talking. The fact that the spirit had mimicked my voice frightened her the most. When we drove to the location where the incident occurred, there was nothing: no sounds, no odd feelings, no one we could see.

The boy who watches
There is a lifelike statue of a small boy who died in the 1800s. He sits on his stool as if unsure what to do, but his eyes seem to follow you around the cemetery. The truly weird part is when you approach the stone - the eyes appear to go flat and are covered in lichens.

I have also encountered a portal of some sort in the middle of the cemetery, which opened with an odd sound and a quick blast of air, and closed the same way – similar to an elevator. Voices can be heard talking, but the words are undistinguishable.

An untended area of the cemetery
Apparently, some “residents” are not pleased that their burial sites have been ignored. The cemetery had not been adequately cared for in over half a dozen years, and since it was privately owned, little could be done about it. But earlier this year a group called the Oak Grove Caretakers took over the cemetery promising better maintenance and upkeep for the more than 12,000 graves.

Where children play
Several people have heard the children playing high on the hill. Their laughter floats through the air as they go about their ethereal play. Let’s hope the remainder of the spirits will be appeased once their graves are giving the care and respect that is deserved.

~ Joy

My new book The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide is now available at bookstores across the country. Click here for book information.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Haunted Blackfoot Cemetery

Once again, it's October - a time for hauntings, Halloween - and all things spooky.  This month, A Grave Interest takes a look at several haunted cemeteries. Get ready as we explore some ‘lively’ places, and the people who make them so…….

Pike County Indiana
Located in the rolling hills of southern Indiana, Pike County is a coal-mining region and farming community. A visit to the area in October offers a pleasant and scenic drive as leaves change colors, and farmers work to bring in the harvest.

The largest town in Pike County is Petersburg, known once as White Oak Springs by the earliest settlers at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Pike County Indiana boasts numerous cemeteries but the one that is rumored to be haunted is called Blackfoot Cemetery. Located in Morgan Township, there are over 800 interments in the cemetery, many of those early settlers to the region. The first burial was that of a woman in a group of settlers passing through. The Indians, thought to be Blackfoot, showed the group where to bury the woman at the top of a hill. This became the first burial ground in the region.

At one time, the Blackfoot Church was located near the cemetery. There were actually three churches by that name. The first pioneer log church was built around 1800 by the early settlers and named for the Indians. (My ancestors were part of the first settlers in this region and visits from the nearby Indians were common.) The first person buried in the cemetery after the church was built was Mrs. John Almon.

Interior of a Log Church
The second church was built in 1860 and stood until it was destroyed by a storm in 1896. The final Blackfoot Church was constructed in 1897. That church stood for almost 100 years. It was razed in 1992 after vandalism became so bad, the trustees decided it was the best course of action.

Blackfoot is a popular name in the region. Besides Blackfoot Church and Blackfoot Cemetery, there is also the Blackfoot Mine, and Blackfoot Landfill.

Down a lonely country road, Blackfoot Cemetery appears to be a quiet haven of peace, but visitors have reported seeing shadows dash past and hearing voices and noises whose sources could not be found. Legend has it that a grave set off by itself is that of a witch. When darkness falls, the cemetery takes on a life of its own – lights and orbs dart past, and the noises get louder, more intense. No one spirit is said to haunt this cemetery – maybe it is the Blackfoot tribe members, still enjoying the life they knew here over two hundred years ago.

~ Joy

My new book The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide is now available at bookstores across the country. Click here for book information.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The History of the Order of Knights of Pythias

The Knights of Pythias was founded during the Civil War in Washington, D.C. and was the first fraternal organization to be chartered by an act of Congress. Justus H. Rathbone founded the group based on the legend of Damon and Pythias, a Greek story of honor and friendship. 
Membership in the organization required a belief in a supreme being and was open to men in good health. According to the secret rituals of the organization, when a man was inducted into the group, he received a ceremonial sword usually bearing the letters FCB, which stood for Friendship, Charity, Benevolence – the three attributes of the organization. Their motto is “to speak the truth and to render benefits to each other."

Pythian Sisters
The fraternal group was comprised of three tiers – Castles made up local meeting places, state buildings were called Grand Lodges, and Supreme Lodges were the designation for national buildings. Officers included the Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Prelate, Secretary, Treasurer, Master at Arms, Inner Guard, Outer Guard and the Past Supreme Chancellor. The organization also had a women's auxiliary – the Pythian Sisters, along with the Pythian Sunshine Girls and the Junior Order of Princes of Syracuse for boys.

Knights of Pythias at the turn of the century
During the high point of fraternal groups, the Knights of Pythias had close to one million members, but once interest in secret societies died off, numbers dropped. There were fewer than 200,000 members by 1980. Today, there are more than 2,000 lodges in the world with membership over 50,000.

The Knights of Pythias of North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa (KPNSAEAA) was formed in 1869 after an African American lodge was denied membership. By the turn of the century, the KPNSAEAA had close to 40,000 members with lodges in 20 U.S. states and countries around the world.
By the 1870s, the organization began offering fraternal insurance benefits to members. In the 1930s, this endowment group broke from the mainstream Pythians and became the American United Insurance Company.
The Improved Order, Knights of Pythias began in 1892 as the result of a ruling that only English could be spoken at meetings. Many members also spoke German so in the 1895, the group fractured yet again but mended itself a few years later.

Louis Armstrong
Well-known Knights of Pythias included Presidents William McKinley, Warren G. Harding, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Vice Presidents included Nelson Rockefeller and Hubert H. Humphrey along with numerous Supreme Court justices, members of Congress and state representatives. Jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong was also a member.

The Knights of Pythias still exist in more than 20 states in the U.S. along with international groups. The Pythians provide camps for under privileged children, and homes for older members. The American Cancer Society is the national charity of the group.
Pythian Castle in Missouri
Pythian Lodge structures can still be found throughout the United States. Many of these grandiose castles and lodges have been listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and with the National Park Service.
Although a central register of deceased members does not exist, the organization is happy to answer genealogy questions. Contact them at
~ Joy

My new book The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide will be hitting bookshelves across the country this month. Click here for book information.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

It's National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, reports that each year in the United States, over 22,440 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. That means 1 in 75 women will develop ovarian cancer in her lifetime. More than 14,000 will die from it!  

I began researching this disease after finding the grave of Jane Todd Crawford in Sullivan County, Indiana several years ago. Jane was the first person to survive abdominal surgery – for a 22-pound ovarian tumor.

Jane Todd Crawford
It was December 1809 when Jane Todd Crawford became concerned about a pregnancy that was long overdue. At the age of 46, and as a mother of four, she knew something was wrong and that she needed medical attention.

Ephraim McDowell
Jane wrote to Dr. Ephraim McDowell in Danville, Kentucky, explaining her condition. McDowell traveled to Green County, Kentucky and diagnosed a 22-pound ovarian tumor. He was interested in performing an experimental abdominal surgery that might save her life, but he warned her that so far the surgery had never been performed successfully.  Knowing that her condition was fatal, Crawford agreed to allow Dr. McDowell to operate on her.

Dr McDowell's Surgery Tools
It was a harsh December day when she set out on horseback from south of Greensburg to Danville, Kentucky, a journey of 60 miles. McDowell had refused to do the surgery anywhere but at his home where he had the necessary assistance and equipment available.

The operation took place on Christmas Day in McDowell’s home. (McDowell hoped the church music and bells would diminish the sounds of Jane's agony.) Jane was strapped down to a table and given an oral dose of opium before being cut open. (Anesthesia did not exist yet.) Jane recited the Psalms while the operation took place. During the 25 minute procedure, McDowell removed a twenty-two pound tumor in two sections. This was the first successful abdominal surgery, and the first successful removal of an ovarian tumor, in the world!

Crawford’s recovery was uneventful. She returned home at the end of January 1810. A few months later, the Crawford’s’ sold their land in Kentucky and moved to Indiana. 

McDowell became famous as the pioneer of abdominal surgical techniques. He performed the same operation on two more women within the next few years and published his report “Three Cases of Extirpation of Diseased Ovaria” in 1817.  He continued practicing medicine until his death, ironically from an apparent appendicitis, on June 25, 1830.  His home in Danville, where the operation took place, is now a museum and National Historic Landmark.

Jane's Grave
Jane Todd Crawford died in 1842, at the age of 78, at her son’s home in Graysville, Indiana. She is buried in the Johnson Cemetery, near Graysville, Indiana in Sullivan County.  In 1871, the Women’s Auxiliary to the Southern Medical Association dedicated a stone for her grave.  In 1940, the American Hospital Association placed a granite monument near her grave.

Not only did Jane Todd Crawford make history as the first woman to survive ovarian surgery, she gave thousands of women hope concerning a disease that is slow, cruel, and still difficult to survive.

I am currently working on a full-length play about Jane’s life. Keep apprised of how the work is going on Facebook at A Grave Interest’s page.
~ Joy

My first book, The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide, will be out in bookstores nationwide the end of September. To order an advanced copy, visit Family Tree.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Ten Eclispe Superstitions

Monday is a much anticipated day for many around the world. This will be “The Event of the Century,” when the sun, moon and earth line up to create a total eclipse.
A total solar eclipse is a unique visual occurrence. In the US, it will be visible, in some form, in all 48 states. The eclipse will pass over North America, Western Europe, Northern and Eastern Asia, Northern and Western Africa, a large section of South America and the Arctic along with islands in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Millions of people will see it.

A lunar eclipse occurs about once every 18 months, but one of this magnitude that will be viewed by millions occurs approximately once every 375 years according to Belgium astronomer Jean Meeus. (Now you see why this is such a BIG deal!)

But our ancestors have always had a dubious relationship with the heavens. In fact, most people thought the world was ending when an eclipse – full or partial – occurred. 
Here are 10 superstitions that our ancestors may have harbored during an eclipse.

1. Gods Were Angry
Ancient Greeks believed that Helios, the Sun God, (or Apollo, take your pick) drove his fiery chariot across the sky each day, and could see and understand what was happening on Earth. He would then report this behavior to Zeus. When the sun disappeared during the day, the only conclusion drawn was that the people had offended the gods and were being punished.

2. Sun and Moon Quarreling
Ancient cultures in Togo and Benin believed that the Sun god and the Moon god were arguing. The only way to make amends between the two was for those on earth to set an example and let go of their grievances toward one another.

3. Sun Being Devoured
Photo from NASA
Each culture had its version of what was happening when an eclipse took place, and most of these ancient cultures thought that something was eating the sun. 

In Hindu mythology it was believed that the demon Rahu’s severed head was devouring the sun. When this occurred, the people would grab something to bang on in order to scare Rahu into coughing up the sun.
Ancient Egyptians thought that a sow had swallowed the moon.
In Korea, ancient dogs were blamed for taking a bite out of the moon as they tried to steal it.
Other societies would throw things into the sky to scare away the demon that was trying to swallow the sun.
Native Americans believed that an eclipse happened because the sun and a bear were quarreling. The bear grabbed the sun and bite out a chunk.
4. Spirits of the Dead
Incas thought that the souls of the dead, in the shape of a jaguar, had attacked the moon and once finished with it, would come to earth. In order to save mankind, they would throw spears into the sky to keep it away.

5. Danger to the Monarch
Kings and queens believed that their power to rule was in danger of being overthrown during an eclipse. To thwart an attempt, a person was hired to sit on the throne during an eclipse so nothing bad would happen to the ruler.
6. Sacrificial Offerings
The Aztecs believed that the gods were angry and must be appeased. People of lighter complexions were immediately sacrificed and any captives were killed to quell the god’s wrath and keep them from walking the earth looking for men to eat.

7. Trickery
In 1503 Christopher Columbus and his crew were stranded in Jamaica. The natives became tired of assisting them. Columbus, knowing that an eclipse was due, told the Jamaicans that his god was angry with their treatment and would take away the moon as punishment. When the eclipse occurred, the natives agreed to tend to the crew until help arrived if the moon was restored.
8. Deform Children
The Aztecs also thought that if a pregnant woman went outside to view the eclipse, her child would be born with a cleft palate in a similar fashion to the bite that had been taken out of the moon.
9. Karma
Tibetan Buddhists believe that during an eclipse our actions are multiplied one thousand times – be they good or bad.
10. Cause of Natural Catastrophes
The Chinese believed that an eclipse foretold of the coming of famine or disease. 

Others believed that the solar eclipse of 1652 caused the Great Plague in London. 

Modern astrologers report that an eclipse can cause natural phenomenon like earthquakes and storms.
Today, in certain cultures, an eclipse still portends evil, but most of the world will be celebrating the sight of the total eclipse on Monday. If you happen to miss it, mark your calendars because there will be an annular solar eclipse on October 14, 2023, and another total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024 that will be visible mainly in parts of the Midwest and the East Coast.
~ Joy
And a note: My new book The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide will be shipping out next Tuesday for early orders. Click here to get your copy.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Haunted New Harmony - Worth a Trip

New Harmony, Indiana is a quaint town with bustling businesses surrounded by two hundred years of history, and some spritely spirits. In fact, most of the buildings in the town are haunted. What could cause so much paranormal activity? A myriad of things, apparently.

Johann Georg Rapp
The first settlers to the area were members of the Harmonie Society, more than 800 German Lutheran immigrants who were followers of  Father Johann Georg Rapp. Also known as Rappites, the religious group believed in a literally interpertation of the Bible and sought Christian perfection by practicing celibacy while living highly ordered and productive lives. 

Rapp-Owen Granary
These men and women built more than 160 buildings including a church and graveyard,  school, cotton mill, grain mills, sawmills, tanneries, winery, brewery and other businesses. The Harmonists lived here from 1814 to 1824 when they returned to Pennsylvania to form another community.

Robert Owen

Then came another utopian group called the Owenites. This group was the polar opposite of the Harmonists. Founder Robert Owens wanted to establish a new moral social utopia, one that stressed education and the equality of men and women while shunning marriage and religion. Members of his movement, more than 700 people, came to live here along the banks of the Wabash River. Although the community lasted only a couple of years,  it established the first free school system in America including something known as kindergarten. The group completely disbanded in 1829 due to a lack of funds.

Wabash River
Two groups so radically different in their beliefs could make for an interesting paranormal situation. Then factor in the influence of the river and the beliefs of the Native Americans, and you have an interesting mix of beliefs and cultures. 

Destruction of Griffin, Indiana - nine miles away
Then there was the Tri-State tornado of 1925 . The mile-wide twister ripped through Missouri, Southern Illinois and Southern Indiana killing 695 people during its three hours on the ground. New Harmony was in its path and 52 people died here. Their bodies were taken to the Ribeyre Gymnasium so next of kin could identify them. That’s another spot with lots of paranormal activity.

The Harmonist or Rappite Cemetery
Native Americans seemed to know that the area was a hotspot of activity. The Harmonists didn’t mention it, but the Owenites, with their interest in science, would have been curious as to what was causing all the incidents.

Fauntleroy House
The first reported haunting was in 1848 in the Fauntleroy Home when a guest reported passing “the resident ghost” on the stairs as she was retiring for bed. The home was renovated a few years ago and paranormal activity has picked up. In fact, it's the most haunted house in town. One reason may be the adjacent cemetery. 

More than 200 Rappites are buried in the Harmonist Cemetery, all in unmarked graves due to the sect's belief in equality for all of its members. A wall constructed of bricks from the old Harmonist church surrounds the graveyard. Also located here are several burial mounds of Native Americans from the Middle Woodland period, about 2,000 years ago. 

Outside the Cemetery Wall
New Harmony, Indiana is worth a trip just to soak up the ambience, but don’t be surprised if you catch a shadow person pass by – it's a town where some residents never leave.