Some of the most haunted places are usually cemeteries. There are cemeteries that become haunted as years pass by and cemeteries that become haunted because they have been built upon burial grounds from ages past. Whatever the real story is you can be sure that the dead in such cemeteries do not rest in peace.
Tragic Tale of Love
We will begin our journey heading into the grounds of Greenwood Cemetery in Decatur, Illinois. Many legends and tales have been told about Greenwood throughout the years and apparently not everyone there rests in peace. The story of Greenwood’s most famous resident ghost began around 1930. It concerns a young couple who were engaged to be married. The young man was a reckless fellow and was frowned upon by the future bride’s family. This was the time of the Prohibition and young men did what they could to make money. In this case he sold illegal whiskey. One summer night the couple decided to make plans to elope. They would meet just after midnight, as soon as the young man delivered one last shipment of whiskey and had enough money for their wedding trip. Unfortunately while delivering the whiskey he was murdered. The killers dumped his body into the Sangamon River, where two fishermen found it the next morning.
The young woman had gone to meet him the night before and had waited until daybreak. Worried she returned home and was devastated to late learn that he had been killed. She became crazed with grief tearing at her hair and clothing. A doctor was summoned who gave her a sedative. Later that night she disappeared and was found the next day floating face down in the river having taken her own life hoping to find her lost love in eternity. Her parents laid her body to rest on a hill in Greenwood Cemetery and it has been said that here she does not lie in eternal slumber. Dozens of credible witnesses have reported encountering the “Greenwood Bride” on that hill in the cemetery.
They claim that the ghost of a woman in a glowing bridal gown has been seen weaving in and out among the tombstones. She walks her head down, holding a scrap of cloth in her hand and occasionally raising it to her face as if to wipe away tears. It is assumed that this is the young woman who took her own life. It is not known where her lover was laid to rest. What is most interesting is that if she walks about seeking her lost love would it not seem that he, who also met a tragic death would come forth to seek her out?
There is also the legend of Greenwood’s phantom mourners. One witness was in the cemetery visiting her father’s grave. Walking up a small hill carrying flower she saw a woman in a long, black dress standing near a tree. She was holding a small bunch of yellow flowers. For a moment the woman turned away and when she looked again the lady in black had disappeared. She was nowhere to be seen.
A former employee working with some other men said that they were taking a break one summer afternoon when a funeral party arrived in the area where they were mowing grass. They walked away for about 5 minutes and when they returned the funeral party had disappeared and there had been no funerals scheduled that day.
Another man visiting the cemetery walked over a hill to find a funeral taking place. He waited for a few minutes out of sight and then continued to climb the hill. The party was gone. He could find no sign of the mourners and no open grave. Walking around he came to the realization that the mourners had been gathered around the tombstone of a woman who had died on that day – nearly 60 years before.
A former staff member was raking leaves one fall afternoon when he spotted a funeral. Finding it odd that no funerals were scheduled that day he took a closer look and noticed that the hearse and the other cars parked nearby were from the 1940s. He was intrigued by this idea and asked another grounds crew member if he knew which funeral home arranged vintage cars for funerals. When the man looked at him strangely he explained what he had seen. Together they checked things out and discovered that no funerals had taken place that afternoon and there were no open graves in that area of the cemetery.
A man called Kenny Becker recalled his grandfather’s funeral when he was a young boy. The family had attended the service and then followed the hearse to Greenwood. After the service Becker and his grandmother were walking back to the car when he saw something unbelievable and realized that his grandmother was seeing the same thing. Inside the car sitting on the driver’s side was his dead grandfather. He looked completely solid and appeared to be alive. He looked ready for a Sunday drive looking straight ahead out of the windshield his hands gripping the steering wheel. Grandfather remained that way for about 20 or 30 seconds and then gradually faded away. One would think that a small boy seeing this would run away screaming. However I remember sitting in my grandma’s lap in 1967 being comforted after my dad had died and both of us saw him standing in the kitchen doorway. I did not feel fright instead I felt great comfort that dad was around still.
One of the cemetery’s most enduring legends is the story of the “ghost lights” that appear on the south side of the burial grounds. The legend tells of a flood that occurred many years ago, around 1900-1905, which wiped out a portion of the cemetery. The Sangamon River having been dammed in the late 1800s was often prone to floods. One wet spring the river overflowed and washed into the lower section of the cemetery. Tombstones were knocked over and surging waters washed graves away and forced buried caskets to the surface.
Many of the caskets went careening downstream on the swollen river. After the waters receded it took many days to find the battered remains of the coffins. For some time afterwards farmers and fishermen would find coffins and even corpses washing up on riverbanks miles away. Since identity could not always be established many of them were buried again in unmarked and common graves. These new graves were placed on higher ground up on the southern hills of Greenwood and since that time mysterious lights have appeared on these hills. Some say the wandering ghosts are now doomed to search forever for the place where their remains are now buried. No one has been able to solve the mystery of the lights.
Located in the very heart of Greenwood Cemetery is a low flat area where the old public mausoleum was once located. The site rests at the bottom of a steep hill and grass and earth now cover the foundation. The Greenwood Mausoleum was built in 1908 and for years it held the bodies of several hundred of Decatur’s former citizens. It was a long, narrow building fitted with crypts in both interior walls. A long open hallway ran down the center and opened on both ends. Overhead were glass skylights. Each corner of the building had a tall fortress-like tower and a set of iron gates. The tomb deteriorated rapidly and began to crumble and lean. The skylights began to leak. It became a place where neighborhood children would go only on a dare and people started telling strange tales of unexplainable shadows and strange noises. It was often said that one could hear ominous sounds of whispering and disembodied voices echoing off the stone interior walls. When the mausoleum was finally closed in the mid-1960s the last of the bodies were removed and the mausoleum was left with nothing inside but empty crypts. The remains that could not be identified were placed in a common grave. The building itself was torn down in 1967.
In 1998 during an outing with a “Haunted Decatur Tour” a group of more than 35 people experienced something very strange. On a warm night in early October walking down a hill to the site of the mausoleum everyone noticed that the temperature dropped at least by 30 degrees to the point that one could see the vapor of their breath and this happened only in the area where the mausoleum had once stood. It could be that the spirits of the dead are searching for their former resting place.
Old Burial Ground
Located at the edge of the forest that makes up Greenwood’s northwest corner is an old burial plot that sits on a small hill. It is the plot of a family named “Barrackman” and upon approaching this plot from the east you will find a set of stone steps that lead to the top of a grassy hill.
There are four rounded stones here marking the burial site of the family. No records exist of who this family was only that the father, mother, son and his wife are buried here. The story goes that a visitor is directed to the Barrackman staircase as dusk falls upon the graveyard and a semi-transparent woman in a long dress appears on the stone steps. She sits there on the staircase with her head bowed and appears to be weeping although she makes no sound and she always vanishes as the sun goes down.
Civil War Soldiers
In the far southwest corner of Greenwood on a high, desolate hill are identical stone markers inscribed with the names of local men who served and died during the Civil War. It was during the years of the Civil War that many trains passed through the city of Decatur since it was on a direct line of the Illinois Central Railroad and ran deep into the south. Northward this line ran to Chicago and near a prison camp, Camp Douglas. Soldiers aboard these trains were often wounded, sick and dying. Those who died were taken and buried in Greenwood Cemetery which was close to the train tracks. Sometimes the trains coming north also carried Confederate soldiers. When any of these soldiers died they were not treated honorably but taken from the train and buried in shallow, unmarked graves in forgotten locations. The reasons for such treatment were that the men of Decatur served in the Union army and a number of places in Decatur were also used as stations on the “Underground Railroad” so abolitionists had a stronghold here.
In 1863 a prison train holding southern prisoners pulled into Decatur. Many of these prisoners had contracted yellow fever. It was difficult to tell which men were dead and which alive but dying from the infectious disease. Wagons were brought and the bodies from the train were taken to Greenwood. The bodies were then stacked in piles at the base of a hill in the southwest corner of the graveyard. This was the most undesirable place to be buried so it was chosen for the enemies of the Union. However year later the top of this hill was fashioned into a memorial for Union soldiers who had died in battle.
But at that time the only concern was to bury the Confederates some of which may have been buried alive and so it turned out that this area became the most haunted section of Greenwood. Many years later spring rains and floods caused a side of the hill to collapse causing a mudslide which disturbed the bodies of both the Confederates and the Union soldiers. The bodies were unidentifiable. The bodies were then placed in the Civil War Memorial section and the graves marked “Unknown U.S. Soldier”.
There have been tales of strange energy lingering around this hill, disembodied voices, strange sounds, footsteps in the grass, whispers, cries and feelings of being touched or pushed by unseen hands. Transparent men in uniform have been seen walking among the tombstones. A young man walking along the road in the back corner of the cemetery was beckoned by a man standing on top of the hill. As the young man walked toward him he saw that the man was wearing tattered gray clothing, which was very dirty and appeared to be spotted with what looked like blood. There was an expression of confusion on his face. The man said, “I don’t know where I am…and I want to go home.” Before the young man could answer, the man before him vanished.
Believe it or not Greenwood Cemetery is a step into another world and stands waiting for its next visitor. If you dare this is one trip you should take to decide once and for all if you believe. The ghosts here can be very convincing.