Today I wanted to share another piece of Indiana folklore: the chain on the tombstone.
In Bonds Chapel Cemetery (Orange County, Indiana) sits a gravestone that reads “Floyd E. Pruett, 1894-1920.” On the side of the stone is the ghostly appearance of a chain. Many argue the chain developed over time and the number of links continue to grow in number. The chain has been the topic of speculation for quite some time.
Folklore scholar William M. Clements interviewed Terry, an “expert” on this tombstone, in 1968. Terry explained the tombstone’s unusual appearance.
Well, the tombstone itself isn’t unusual. I mean, it’s a small tombstone; but when you get up close, you can see what appears to be a chain. And small links of a chain look maybe engraved in the tombstone to form a cross […] sometimes there’ll be seven or eight; sometimes there’ll be up to fifteen or sixteen. And, well nobody knows why it changes. Some people think maybe it’s the weather and something in the stone itself; and other people just think it’s psy…(whistle) supernatural. (from Indiana Folklore: A Reader, 1980)
A chain, huh? According to S.E. Schlosser (Spooky Indiana, 2012), legend says Pruett died by a cursed chain. He had killed his wife with a logger chain (he was a logger) and, before her dying breathe, she put a curse on her husband. A few days later, a chain broke loose from a timber wagon, whipped in the air, and snapped the man’s neck. Some legends say it was the same chain he used to kills his wife. If you touch the chain today, you will be killed by a chain. This is just one of many versions of the story, though.
For example, a more romantic version has been posted on hauntedplaces.org. A user writes:
He was killed in battle, and his girlfriend stood across the road, watching his burial from afar. Some say her ghost to this day still awaits his return. The chain is said to grow [edited from groe] one link longer every year, symbolizing her growing love for him, and it is said to glow at night. An apparition in a black dress can be seen standing on the other side of the road.
But, Clements interviewed a grocer who remembered Pruett died from tuberculosis, and that the mysterious chain was probably the result of a rusty chain that had come in contact with the stone in the quarry. Another informant gave a similar explanation for the chain mark and Pruett’s death.
Clements concluded that “a legend has been created among the youth of several southern Indiana counties in order to explain a physical phenomenon as well as to provide a supernatural ‘thrill’ as an escape from boredom” (264).
Pruett most definitely died of usual circumstances and was unfortunately given an unusual gravestone. How did the story start? I don’t know. It is interesting to see the various explanations for the chain, from the believable to the wild. But, let us remember to see past the legend and acknowledge he is a person.
Want to hear more locals (of the past) tell their version of the story? Read more here.
Update. There’s a similar story about a Carl Pruitt in Kentucky. Same last name but different spelling. Weird right?
Clements, William M.. “The Chain on the Tombstone.” Indiana Folklore: A Reader, edited by Linda Degh, Indiana University Press, 1980, 258-264.