There’s something about cemeteries that involuntarily places us all in a state of dread. It’s a reminder of our own mortality and the tragic deaths of our fellow man. Silent and serene, the rows and rows of carefully cared for headstones can set your teeth on edge and make you worried about turning a corner and seeing an apparition. While this isn’t as common as many think, most cemeteries are peaceful places. Today’s subject is certainly not that. In fact, the silence is broken by the sound of screams and disembodied voices. The feeling one gets walking into the Greenwood Cemetery in Decatur, IL is a unique and terrifying feeling.
The cemetery first began with a couple of scattered graves in 1820, being officially designated as a burial ground in 1857. One can still see many of the ancient graves from the 19th century, though the names and dates may be a little more worn by now. More graves sit serenely on the hill that details a large number of confederate soldiers who were taken by a bout of yellow fever. Legends say that many of the soldiers were buried in mass graves near the location their headstones sit now. Another rumor says that not all of the soldiers were dead before being buried in the pit filled with their brethren.
The cemetery was rife with grave robbing in the early 1910s, before security or groundskeeper were employed to keep would-be thieves from the resting places of the county’s dearly departed. The cemetery fell into ruin and many mausoleums had to be demolished due to crumbling and flaking walls and columns. It’s also said one of the mausoleums was once known for lights emitting from its walls and the sound of screaming and scratching occasionally breaking up the quiet of the night.
With the tragedy and tales of those buried at Greenwood Cemetery, it’s not surprising that there’s a little ghostly activity. For this burial ground, however, it’s a lot more than just a little. The cemetery is sometimes regarded as one of the most haunted places in the entire country, with the reports of ghostly activity being frequent and common. Many walking past the cemetery have reported hearing voices calling to them from inside the gates.
Professional paranormal investigators have conducted ghost hunts in this haunted cemetery and captured dozens of compelling pieces of evidence. EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon) and spirit box conversations gave the impression of the infested nature of the haunted location. A young girl who was once lost in town found her way to the cemetery and when she was found after a long search, she said that “The people that live in the cemetery told me to stay with them.” Was it a kind act to keep the youngster out of more trouble, or a sinister invitation to join them below the ground? No one knows for sure, but the girl was found unharmed and playing in the grass inside the gates of Greenwood Cemetery.
There are tales of seeing civil war soldiers wandering the ground, seemingly confused about where they were. Before aid could be offered, the apparition would disappear into thin air. More vanishing spirits walking the cemetery have been mistaken for mourners or other visitors to the cemetery until vanishing before the eyes of the observer. Sounds still echo from the quiet burial ground, as well as another rumor about a ghostly bride wandering the grounds, looking for her fiance. It’s unknown if her fiance survived her or was buried nearby her own final resting place. Either way, to be searching in the afterlife for your partner must be a heartbreaking experience, even for those whose hearts stopped beating decades or centuries before.
Finally, there is a more demonic presence in the cemetery, that of the Devil’s Chair. The chair is carved out of stone and sits nearby the other graves, a sinister presence sinister watching and waiting in the quiet. It’s said that if you sit in the chair, you will be making a pact with the Devil himself, agreeing to give him your soul after 7 years.
Remember, whether you’re visiting to sit in the Devil’s Chair and take your chances, or just coming to see the graves of confederate soldiers, respect is expected in any burial ground. Enjoy the haunting atmosphere, don’t vandalize anything, and be sure to keep from stepping directly on the graves. With a cemetery as haunted as this one, who knows what might follow you home if you’re not careful.
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Born in Death Valley and raised on the prairie, Deborah is a Wyoming-based paranormal researcher and a senior at the University of Wyoming, studying Communication. Her interests lie in folklore, history, rhetorical analysis and research. With an obvious love for ghost stories, frequently those interests combine with her work on Ghostlandia.