Let’s say you’re exploring a cemetery in rural Missouri. The headstones are cleaned and pristine, the landscaping has been attended to with care, and the shimmering light of the sun peeks through the trees that line the path. It feels like a perfect day and you feel the peace that comes with visiting cemeteries. But then you come across a monument that stops you in your tracks. About the size of an average rocking chair sits a stone sculpture of a chair, twisted with branches and trunks of a tree carved into an enticing seat. Do you sit in the chair, or keep walking after appreciating the artistry? Well, if you’re Kirksville, you might want to think a little harder about sitting in the chair known locally as “The Devil’s Chair.”
Several legends surround the sometimes unsettling chair in the middle of the Highland Park Cemetery. Some say if you sit in it on the wrong night (like halloween) you may be pulled from the chair into the underworld. Others say that those who sit in it will suffer a terrible loss in the weeks after. Some even say the Devil himself will appear to you if you relax into the stone seat. The cemetery has even put up a sign, warning visitors not to sit on the chair, but many still travel to the cemetery at midnight to test their courage by sitting on the chair that might spell their doom.
The chair was placed in the cemetery not as a monument to any one person buried there, but as a tribute to the town a local banker loved during his life and the family members that made it memorable. While William Baird does not rest in the cemetery, instead being interred at a nearby mausoleum, he contributed greatly to the town of Kirksville, with his former house even being the new Chamber of Commerce. The bank he once ran is now a local pizza shop, though they still hang Baird’s photo on the wall as a reminder of what once was. William placed the monument in memory of his brother, David, and David’s wife, Anna. The two passed in 1865 and 1869 respectively and their loss was felt throughout the close-knit Baird family.
While the chair is not a grave marker, some say that the bodies of David and Anna were once nearby, their actual burial stone being lost to time as the cemetery grew. The chair still sits today as an example of the famous Victorian practice of placing “mourning chairs,” in many cemeteries at the height of the time period’s obsession and reverence for death and grief. Some of these chairs are shaped like a tree trunk, some, like the Baird’s Chair, are made with the appearance of tree branches carrying the same theme. You might find others like the chair that might drag you to hell in hundreds of other cemeteries with Victorian era graves, offering a place to sit to contemplate the grief that a cemetery can inspire. As peaceful as it is, the legends continue about the chair and give it an eerie presence among the manicured lawns and foliage.
The Baird’s Chair is not the only one like it, and many carry the tradition of urban legends surrounding the mourning chair, many of them given the same moniker of the “Devil’s Chair.” Supernatural events are still said to occur to those who sit in the chair at midnight or on a specific, important night. Local teens will hop the fence to test their bravery and sit in the cursed seat, daring specters and demons to take them to hell, or cause their life to become hellish. This chair in particular carries more weight than that of others, simply because of the mint condition it is in after 150 years. It’s even categorized in the Smithsonian archives as an example of 19th century mourning.
This stone sculpture is not only a reminder of those who were lost too young, some even say the bravery to sit in the chair will reward the sitter a positive turn in their life. Teens who have sat in the chair claim to have felt a soothing calm feeling upon perching on the Devil’s Chair, while others claim the opposite. They say the chair gives them a creeping feeling of not being welcome. Whichever it is, the sitting on the chair seems to be significant, even if there’s a possibility that a hand may reach from the chair and drag one down to hell. Would you risk the danger for the promise of a reward? Would you sit in the chair at midnight and see what happens? While we cannot condone disobeying the rules of the cemetery, Highland Park Cemetery is an old one and offers many moving memorials to the passing of loved ones. Be respectful, or the devil might just get you at the Devil’s Chair in Kirksville, Missouri.
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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.