Friday, July 22, 2011

Taphophiles: Cemetery Tales

(shot taken at the cemetery--no camera strap, clear warm night)

Let me give you a few cemetery tales.

There's a big old Catholic cemetery in a sketchy part of town. It's a sprawling beautiful place that has stained glass, huge walls for crematories, tons of wild cats some local person feeds. The nuns and priests are all buried there from the area. It's green and has plenty of trees (rarity in the desert) and a fantastically old feel to it.

I went there with a friend once. It was just the two of us around twilight. Her batteries on her camera died instantly, so she went back to the car for more. I stood there in a long outdoor corridor where cremated remains were stored and it had arched doorways leading to the cemetery grounds. I heard a man speaking in Latin very clearly. I hid behind the wall, thinking that I might be interrupting a funeral. He continued on in a singsong voice and I heard many Latin words I recognized including benedicamus domino. I peeked through the arch, but no one was there. I stepped out into the yard and there wasn't a soul anywhere in sight. I rushed to the other side and looked and there was no one. My friend came up to me and looked at my bewildered face. "What?" I asked, "Is there someone else here besides us?" She shook her head. "Nope. We're the only car, the only people. I just walked up to here and there's only you."

Another time, I came with my son and we stayed until sunset. When we went to leave at dark, the gates were locked with my car just inside the gate. So, we had to climb over the tall fencing and walk through a bad part of town to find a phone.

The scariest tale of all from the cemetery came from my son, a year after it occurred.

My intention when I began avidly ghost hunting and officially ghost hunting back in early 2003 was to learn more through trial and error and also to enjoy the art and beauty of cemeteries and their headstones. I often took my teenaged son, Alex, along with me to cemeteries. He found it morbidly interesting and mostly just liked to read the headstones. He never gave any thought to what became of their souls or whether their families visited them often. He was mostly appreciative of the park-like setting. He was a very analytical type and hoped to maybe become a computer programmer at the time. Mind you, my son was in gifted programs all his life with genius level IQ and also a typical "German engineer" type in that he was very straightforward, pure logic. He didn't believe in anything at all of any unknown nature.

He did, however, decide one boring night when he was 17 to talk his best friend into entering this Catholic Cemetery at nighttime to see if he was brave enough to go in. My son was fascinated by how people were superstitious and spooked by such things. He doubted his friend would go through with it.

In the end, that night changed his life so entirely that it affected his friendship--they grew apart quickly, but also it left him with a giant question mark in his mind when it comes to the world of the paranormal that he always assumed was total hooey.

So, to begin the story, I was riding in the car with my son when he was 18. I said, "you wouldn't understand why I look for answers about ghosts. You have to have something happen to you that no logic can explain and then you seek answers." He went kind of pale and quiet. I thought maybe I chastised him too much for asking me why I hunt ghosts. I didn't realize he was probing me for a conversation starter.

He said, "Yeah, well, actually I know exactly what you mean. I never told you this, but last year, me and (we'll call him Bud) Bud went to St. Francis around midnight. I never told you because you were adamant with me not to go to closed cemeteries. Something happened that I still can't explain and I never will." He shivered and his voice actually quavered. My son is so logic-minded his emotions are all logical too, so when he did this, my alarm bells went off. He proceeded to tell me of this experience and I felt my hairs standing on end. He was not only an excellent witness but he debunked by the methods he learned from me. His findings were, to me, irrefutable that there is something unknown, something interactive, something out there that deserves further observation.

Here's his story...

The boys were walking through the grounds of the cemetery in the dark when they stopped about 25' away from a large altar at the outdoor crematory vaults. My son saw something very dark and dense-looking next to the altar (see above picture). His first thought was, a homeless person. His friend next to him said, "do you see that?" and my son nodded. They proceeded to approach the altar until they were perhaps 10-15 feet away. My son held up his digital camera, clicked on the red light that helps him to target what he wants to photograph and figured it might alert the person to leave. The red target sat atop of this dark definitely solid mass. It did not shine through it. It also frightened it and the dark mass unfolded to the same height as the altar (3' tall) and scurried behind it.

My son's heart was pounding and his friend was horrified. My son rushed to the altar, beamed his flashlight on it and realized that the altar was attacked to the solid concrete wall. There was no behind to it.

Feeling a heavy sense of dread and doom, they both rushed away to the side of the altar some 20 feet away and looked back. When they looked back, this 3' tall black thing peered out from behind the altar and looked at them. They ran off to the far end of the cemetery. They gave the altar wide berth and took off out the far side of the cemetery where they saw it move between headstones and hide.

My son shook his head as he explained it. He had absolutely no idea what it was but it was nothing he could explain. It wasn't a creature. It wasn't a person. It was person-shaped but not detailed. It was definitely aware of them, as it startled and hid and then curiously peeked out at them.

In fact, he was so confused by the experience that he put in an audition tape to Ghost Hunters Academy's first season. He got a call-back interview from the producer, but then thought about it and realized he wanted to continue his college without interruption, but he often wondered what would have happened if he had followed that path and experienced more of the paranormal.

I say in my book, "Was That a Ghost?" and it's true. It takes only one incident to change a nonbeliever into a believer and it's nearly impossible to ever make someone not believe once they do. There are incidents that can happen that are completely life altering and the paranormal is one of those because it does not fit neatly into our view of how the world works. This is why we call it the unexplained.

On a last note, as a southern gal and a cemetery lover (taphophile), I appreciate that one of the best southern historians and writers I know has started a blog just for the lovers of precious southern resting places. Check out Southern Taphophile. Lewis has become a kind of keeper of our southern tales of ghostly happens, history, and graveyards. He has my respect and my avid following!

**Tonight is Lonely on a Friday Night. I'll be on to chat with y'all from 7 pm EST onward.**


  1. I'm so thrilled that i stumbled across your blog! I'm definitely a taphophile!! I also happen to live in the best part of the country for cemetery lovers - New England! Most the the historic graveyards in this area date as far back as the late 1600s. Gravestone rubbings is one of my favorite hobbies - although it is illegal unless you have obtained permission from the mayor.

    I definitely look forward to reading more of your posts! More people should be brave enough to blog about something so controversial!

  2. Thanks MMW. The tabs at the top will lead you in interesting directions. This blog is all about wonder and curiosity, humor and spookiness. You are so lucky to be in New England. Those are the most beautiful headstones ever! I've done a lot of photography of our southwest cemeteries. You can find it above on the photography/urbex tab.

  3. I usually look for tadpoles in ponds.

    Oh, and I'm somewhat of a minor-league taphophile.

  4. Love this post and agree with only takes one experience to change your what you think you know to be true.

    Thanks for sharing this with us. Have a great weekend.


  5. love the pics with the cateyes :3

    and I also like the tales, good stuff!!!

  6. Frog Queen; I hope your weekend is magical.

    BigOryx; Thanks. Those cats were creeping me out because there were hundreds of them, kind of like that scene in Jeepers Creepers with the cat lady.

  7. I can't imagine having to scurry across a bad part of town with a child because you got locked inside in the graveyard. Were you guys fined, or was the car towed when you got back to it the next day? I give you my word as a gentleman that I am trying my absolute best not to laugh at the image of you and your son exchanging a knowing look and realizing that you had to jump a fence.

    I really like the way you've shared adventures with her son like that, and I'm sure that he has plenty of stories to tell about he and mom.

  8. Oh, what the kid could tell. I was, if anything, an unusual mom, but also I take credit for helping my gifted child to live to his potential. He is an extraordinary human being because I kept his mind engaged constantly. He was a teen when we got locked in. I'd like to have beaten the caretaker with a stick. We did get a cell phone following that. Had to come back the next day to get the car. I also now park in the fence so they can't close it!