The Stories Behind 8 "Witch" Graves
These days, we know there’s no such thing as broomstick-riding, pointy-hat-wearing witches. But it wasn’t that long ago that people blamed witches for everyday problems such as bad crops and common colds. When these supposed spell-casters died, the stories about them lived on—and, in some cases, were fabricated afterward. Here are their tales.
1. LILIAS ADIE // TORRYBURN, SCOTLAND
In 1704, Lilias Adie confessed to being a witch and having sex with the devil. Though she was jailed for “admitting” to her crimes, Adie died before her trial and sentencing. To prevent her from returning to life and seeking revenge on the town, locals buried her in the mud between high tide and low tide, then sunk a heavy, flat stone over it. The BBC points out that this was also the method used to bury people who had committed suicide, which, at the time, was believed to be something one only did if he or she was in league with the devil.
The extreme measures didn’t keep the alleged witch in her grave, but it wasn't because her angry spirit came back: Unfortunately, Adie's skull was stolen sometime in the 19th century and ended up at the St. Andrews University Museum. The large stone slab, however, remains embedded in the mud to this day.
2. RHODA WARD // BRIDGEPORT, WEST VIRGINIA
During the winter of 1786-1787, a woman named Rhoda Ward suffered from chicken pox. As if the ailment wasn’t bad enough, someone told city officials that Ward was seen throwing up crooked pins during her illness. This, apparently, was just cause to put Ward on trial in January 1787. Her official statement on the matter was, “If I did, I knowed it not, though it might be the case, and if the pins had not been showed to me, and I have been told that I spewed them up, I should have thought that the above had been a fiction, proceeding from being light-headed with fever.”
Ward was found innocent of all charges, even after a second trial 12 years later. But that hasn’t stopped people from declaring that there’s something unsettling about her unmarked grave in Bridgeport.
3. SUSAN GAVAN // AURORA, NEBRASKA
Local lore says that anyone who steps on Susan Gavan’s grave will die within 9 years or by age 21—and the whole superstition seems to stem from the simple fact that her grave is enclosed by a small fence. There’s no record of Gavan being accused of any witchy activity, and her 1882 obituary was perfectly respectful, so the cemetery superintendent believes her reputation as the town witch comes solely from the grave decoration: “In my opinion, the witch story got started, probably by some kids, because her grave has a fence around it and is different from the rest of the graves.”
4. HANNAH CRANNA // TRUMBELL, CONNECTICUT
After Hannah Cranna Hovey’s husband died—he mysteriously fell off of a cliff—villagers said she used witchcraft to curse people who weren't charitable toward her by providing extra firewood or food. It’s also said that Cranna foretold her own death and asked locals to carry her casket into the cemetery when she died. They opted to bring it in by sleigh instead, but the coffin fell off—which they took as a sign that they had better carry out her wishes.
5. MEG SHELTON // LANCASHIRE, ENGLAND
Brian Young, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0
As far as witches go, Meg Shelton seems like she was pretty harmless: It’s said that she used her mystical powers to steal milk and grain from farmers. Even so, townspeople were fed up enough when she died to have her grave covered with a large rock to prevent the witch from returning. Though the boulder doesn’t appear to be big enough to cover a coffin, it is when you consider this: They had Meg buried vertically, head down—just in case she tried to dig her way out.
6. THE WITCH OF YAZOO // YAZOO CITY, MISSISSIPPI
Writer Willie Morris immortalized the Witch of Yazoo in his novel Good Old Boy: A Delta Boyhood. According to his story, this unnamed witch was known to lure fishermen off the river and into her cabin, where she tortured and killed them. In 1884, the town sheriff and his deputies eventually came to arrest her, and when she fled, she fled directly into quicksand in the nearby swamp. As she died, she swore that she would return and burn the city to the ground. She made good on her word—in 1904, Yazoo City suffered from a terrible fire that destroyed the entire business district, more than 100 homes, and all but one church. When the townspeople thought to check on the witch’s grave, they discovered that the chain-link fence surrounding it had been broken.
Whether or not the (very real) fire was the result of a witch, the townspeople have embraced the legend. In the 1990s, they placed this tombstone/monument in the middle of the broken chains.
7. ELIZABETH GRAHAM // TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA
When 23-year-old Bessie Graham died in 1889, leaving behind a husband and two young children, her devastated husband apparently vowed to memorialize her by building the largest and most striking tombstone in the cemetery. He also had it inscribed with a passage from Edgar Allan Poe’s “Lenore”:
“Ah! Broken is the golden bowl. The spirit flown forever! Let the bell toll! A saintly soul Floats on the Stygian River; Come let the burial rite be read The funeral song be sung; An anthem for the queenliest dead That died so young A dirge for her the doubly dead In that she died so young.”
The combination of the massive monument, the macabre poem, and fact that the grave faces the “wrong” direction (west instead of east) has led locals to conclude that Bessie must have been a witch—albeit a "good" one.
8. BATHSHEBA SHERMAN // HARRISVILLE, RHODE ISLAND
Made famous by the movie The Conjuring, Bathsheba Sherman allegedly sacrificed an infant child as an offering to the devil by jamming knitting needle into the base of its neck. She was acquitted of all charges, but the legend only grew. Bathsheba, some of the stories say, literally turned to stone when she died. And of course, according to The Conjuring, her spirit hung around her old farmhouse and terrorized the Perron family in the 1970s. Sadly, her grave in the Harrisville Cemetery has been repeatedly vandalized since the movie came out in 2013.