Claude Herbert, having just returned home from the Spanish-American War, desperately needed a job to care for his newly-widowed mother. Luckily, the Havens and Geddes Department Store was in need of a Santa Claus. Located on Fifth and Wabash in Terre Haute, Indiana, the store was the largest department store in Indiana and took up the entire block.
On December 19, 1898, just a few days after being hired, veteran Claude Herbert (aged 18) found himself in the middle of a raging fire. He, along with about thirty children, were in the basement of the building when a incandescent light bulb exploded in a display window. The fire quickly spread.
Claude, while still in character, was successful in leading many children outside to safety. Stories differ on how many times Claude went back into the building, but witnesses can agree on his heroic deeds. According to one account, Claude ran back into the building after a mother screamed that her three-year-old child, Nettie Welch, was still in the building. Claude found the child in Santa’s Chair and carried her out to the safety of her mother.
After saving the children, Herbert shed his Santa Claus suit before going back into the inferno to save trapped sales clerks. On his second to last trip, a bystander shouted to Claude, “Come out, come out.” Claude responded, “No, I’m going back. There’s plenty of time […] and maybe there’s someone down there.” Those he went to rescue in that final attempt had fled from another exit. He, a new employee unfamiliar with the store’s layout, was unable to find this exit before being overtaken by the flames.
Fellow soldiers of Claude’s regiment worked to find Claude in the rubble. What remained of this hero was buried in Highland Lawn Cemetery.
Three other people perished in the fire: firefighter John Osterloo, volunteer firefighter Henry Nehf, and store clerk Katie Maloney. The building was completely demolished (about $2 million in property damage) and other buildings were affected as well.
Visitors of the cemetery have reported seeing orbs around the Herbert family mausoleum, sometimes catching this supernatural phenomenon on camera. Is Claude continuing to protect the people of Terre Haute? I think so.
One of my favorite activities as of late is browsing the newspaper archives with a cup of tea or a pint of pumpkin beer (depends how my day was). My most recent rabbit hole was reports of monsters in Indiana, which eventually opened up to surrounding states. Two pints of beer later, I realized I had a couple blog posts. Today, I will start with historic reports of monsters in Indiana.
In a prior post, I shared casual internet research I had done on monsters in the Midwest. The newspaper archives add another interesting, sometimes witty, layer to this topic. Hope you enjoy these historical tidbits as much as I did!
The Mill Race Monster (Columbus, Indiana)
I discussed the Mill Race Monster in the prior blog post and #humpdayhaunts (on Instagram). I will quote my past post to catch you up.
In the 1970s, Columbus, Indiana was tormented by a large, green, and bipedal monster (described by some as amphibious). The monster was tied to Mill Race Park, a park with lush forests, winding rivers, and two lakes. On November 1, 1974, two different groups of teenagers spotted the large beast. The second sighting was by far the scariest. Two young women spotted the monster while sitting in their car at night. The monster ran over and started banging on their windshield, leaving a thick mucus on the glass. They were able to turn on the car and drive away. There were other sightings reported and many enthusiastic monster hunters headed to the park with baseball bats and guns. The city eventually closed the park to the public at night.
I thought I was done with the monster, but he reappeared during my monster search. I came across an article with the title “Monster-ous Thing At Columbus Is Green, Hairy And Scares Cats,” which on its own is pure gold.
As stated above, there were multiple sightings of the creature. On November 8 at around 9:00 a.m., the city’s dog catcher Rick Duckworth (and John Brown) went to the park to rescue two cats from a tree. While trying to figure out the best way to get the cats down, the men spotted the monster about 200 feet away. Duckworth moved towards the monster, but it ran quickly into the forest.
The cats, when put back down on solid ground, ran off. Duckworth told the paper: “They were really scared.” Duckworth also told the paper he would use his tranquilizer, the same one he uses to catch dogs, to take down the monster if he witnessed it again.
The paper also shared a theory on the identity of the “monster”: “Police and a dogcatcher believe the monster is a man wearing green blankets and a green mask enjoying a frolic in balmy Indian summer weather and by the light of the harvest moon.”
Source: The Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis, Indiana, 09 Nov 1974 (pg. 1).
The Square Lake Monster (Portland, Indiana)
Five youths had their fishing trip at Portland, Indiana’s Hollow Block Lake cut short when a square-shaped monster with the scream of a banshee emerged from the water. The monster, half the size of a car, came from the water like a submarine. The police found the youths trustworthy, especially since this was not the first monster sighting at the lake; this was the third sighting in two years.
Some theorized this monster was the same monster that appeared earlier that summer in Lynn, Indiana (about 30 miles south of Portland). Some believed the “monster of Craig’s Well,” as it was named, moved to Portland after too many curiosity seekers came to visit the well.
I would love to see how the monster got from the well to the lake!
Sources: Muncie Evening Press, Muncie, Indiana, 04 Aug 1960 (pg. 2) // The Commercial-Mail, Columbia City, Indiana, 05 Aug 1960, Fri (pg. 4) // The Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis, Indiana, 05 Aug 1960, Fri (pg. 5).
Snake Monster? (Indianapolis, Indiana)
In 1946, Indiana received an increase in monster sightings, including giant snakes. Window shoppers in Indianapolis reported a giant snake in the side walk grates. Police started poking the beast with their guns, but “The snake didn’t budge. It was a novelty ash tray with a stuffed snake on it.” Mystery solved!
Source: “Stories of Monsters Spreading in Indiana,” Linton Daily Citizen, Linton, Indiana, 13 Aug 1946, Tue (pg. 1).
Monster Captured (Lebanon, Indiana)
In the same year (1946), tales of a monster that lived in a gravel pit, cried like a baby, and killed livestock spread throughout Lebanon, Indiana. The monster met its demise in September of 1946. Harry McClain and his assistant Roy Graham shot the monster with a rifle after a 15-mile chase through the woods. According the McClain, “It was definitely a black panther.” The Vidette-Messenger of Porter County reported on the hunt:
“We chased him out on the tip end of a big tree and he fell in a creek after Roy shot him.” The mud was so sticky and the water so deep, McClaln added, that It was” impossible to recover the body of the panther. “He’s probably floated Into the next county by now,” McClaln said.
McClain assured the people of Lebanon that they were no longer in danger: “If anything else shows up to scare people, it’ll just be imagination.” He also said, since there had been many monster sightings in Indiana, that he would start out again if there was an emergency.
Sources: “Stories of Monsters Spreading in Indiana,” Linton Daily Citizen, Linton, Indiana, 13 Aug 1946, Tue (pg. 1) // “Hunter ‘Slays’ Monster; Corpus Delecti Missing,” Vidette-Messenger of Porter County, Valparaiso, Indiana, 05 Sep 1946 (pg. 4)
The Monster as Big as a Jail (Indianapolis, Indiana)
There were multiple monster sightings in a field near the Castleton neighborhood of Indianapolis, Indiana in 1965. The monster was described as very large. One witness said, “It was big, about as large as the Marion County Jail.” The monster was black and made sounds like screeching tires.
Source: “Monster is as Big as Jail, 3 Report,” The Indianapolis News, Indianapolis, Indiana, 02 Oct 1965, Sat (pg. 2).
In my next post, I will talk about the Monster of Monroe, Michigan and other interesting monsters from the Midwest.
Yesterday, I shared a FREE Patreon post on hosting your own cemetery tour. Enjoy!
This past weekend, I visited Mount Hope Cemetery in Logansport, Indiana. The city is named for James Renick-Logan (“Captain Logan”), a scout (of debated background) who served under William Henry Harrison in the War of 1812. When it was incorporated in 1838, they chose the name Logan’s Port as the city was a port on the Wabash Erie Canal. The city’s slogan, “Where two rivers meet” speaks to the junction of the Eel and Wabash Rivers. Along with river transportation, the historic Michigan Road and several freight train routes run through Logansport
Logansport is home to a Dentzel Carousel, a national historic landmark. I remember riding the carousel as a young child, lifting my arm high to grab a brass ring. During this visit, I would not be grabbing brass rings, but visiting a (supposedly) haunted cemetery.
About the Cemetery
Mount Hope Cemetery is reportedly the third largest cemetery in Indiana with 200 acres. The cemetery came into existence in 1854, but also includes the 9th Street Cemetery which started in 1828.
I learned something very cool about this cemetery, but I’ll talk about that more in my next post!
About The Haunting
According to very casual internet research, this cemetery may be haunted. Paranormal activity includes:
the sound of galloping horses
the sound of cannon fire (there are canons next to the war memorial, see above)
the sound of whistles (especially in response to your own whistling)
inscriptions in/on the mausoleums which read “Knock three times and they shall come.”
I did not witness anything (whomp whomp).
I wrap up this post with some photographic highlights from my visit. First, I was intrigued by this gate memorial. “In Christian funerary symbolism,” Douglas Keister writes in Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography, “gates represent the passage from one realm to the next” (116). I love how the gate appears to be opening, welcoming William B. Lanchester to heaven.
There were a number of treestones (see bottom right of picture below), but I unfortunately was enjoying them too much to get photos. I guess I will have to make another visit (no complaints here). Popular to the Midwest, treestones (or tree stumps) were very popular from the 1880s to about 1905 (Kiester 65). According to Kiester:
Where one treestone is seen, often many will be found, suggesting that their popularity may have been tied to particularly aggressive monument dealer in the area or a ready local supply of limestone, which was the carving material of choice. Treestones could also be ordered from Sears and Roebuck. (65)
While I’m not sure the reasoning for the treestones of Mount Hope, I did find that piece of history very interesting!
I couldn’t help but notice this large and deep columbarium.
The cemetery also had a number of beautiful mausoleums. I loved the beautiful gates!
Thanks for coming along on my tour. Cannot wait to share more after my second visit.
It’s me, coming up for air from the spooky newspaper archives with a story for my fellow Hoosiers.
Today we are taking a float down Pogue’s Run, an urban creek in Indianapolis that starts at the intersection of Elizabeth Street and Lennington Drive and empties into the White River south of the Kentucky Avenue Bridge (Wikipedia). Running two-and-a-half miles, the creek is named after George Pogue, a settler who mysteriously disappeared. “Every few decades,” according to Atlas Obscura, “when unclaimed human bones turn up, there’s speculation that they might be Pogue’s.” But, I’m not here to talk about that mystery.
In March 1889, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (page 3) shares the peculiar legend of a haunted hollow tree in Pogue’s Run Bottom (near the creek). There’s a tree nicknamed “Gallows Tree” and neighborhood children believe it is the home of a ghost. Legend tells of a body that was found hanging from the tree during the war:
“Soldiers who climbed the tree to cut down the body found a curiously concealed opening into the tree. It was instantly concluded that the hollow interior of the elm should be the place of sepulchure. The body was lowered into the hollow tree, but apparently it struck no bottom. Certainly it gave forth no sound in falling. It may have been that the dust and accumulation of rotted particles of the tree’s heart had made a soft, deep bed within so that no sound of the falling body came forth. Or was it possible that the spreading roots of the elm walled in a deep ‘cave of the winds’ or well? At any rate, nothing was heard when the body tumbled to its uncertain grave.”
Over time, city development began to surround the tree, but the sounds of history could still be heard. Citizens could hear “mournful sounds of distress” when they walked by the tree. One day, a group of boys were playing with a ball when it knocked into the tree. The ball disappeared! To retrieve the ball, the boy hit the tree with a bat causing “horrible moans of pain.” The boys scattered.
One of the boys later returned to investigate, climbing high up the tree: “He was about to call out his discovery when a terrific blast from the cavern smote him and took away bis breath. There was mingled with the roar of the wind the rattle of voices and the moans of despair.” The boy barely escaped getting sucked into the tree, losing his hat in the process.
So what the heck? The article concludes with some theories: “Is it not possible that buried treasures lie under the tree, vainly seeking all these years to testify by these mysterious methods to its rich presence? Or is is the tortured spirit of the murdered man seeking rest and finding none?”
Happy 2020! Now that I have a major life project out of the way (finally!), I can devote all my free time to GHOSTS! So expect more constant and consistent blog posts. I am excited to explore this spooky world with you all.
I have been digging in the newspaper archives and noticed a fun trend of debunked hauntings and some are funnier than others. For the next couple weeks or so, I’ll be sharing some of my favorites.
A Haunting Solved by A Tornado
A schoolhouse in Frankfort, Indiana was believed to be haunted by a man named Entrekin who fell from the three-story brick building (possible image of the school here). “At night,” the The Indianapolis News reports, “when the wind cries plaintively among the nooks and crannies of the old building.” The superstitious believed “Entrekin’s spirit comes out and stalks amid the columns on the top of the building and sings to the trembling ones who go hurrying by on the sidewalks below.”
A tornado ripped through the town in June of 1902 and caused damage to the iron ornaments on top of the building. Workmen, when fixing the damage, found the source of the ghost: “one of the tall pillars was capped with an odd-shaped galvanized iron piece, and it was formed to produce a whistling sound, which, when the wind blew in a certain direction, gave forth a series of soul-chilling weird sounds.”
Source: June 1902, The Indianapolis News, Indianapolis, Indiana (pg. 7)
Spirits of a Different Kind
Witnesses saw odd lights in an old and isolated schoolhouse in Emerson, Man. Citizens assumed ghosts. The theory that it was spirits was not entirely wrong.
The lights were from nightly sessions of making moonshine (“and not the Sir Oliver Lodge variety”). “On the teacher’s platform,” The Star Press reports, “they [the police] found a huge still, with a capacity of forty-five to sixty-five gallons daily.”
Source: October 1921, The Star Press, Muncie, Indiana (pg. 21)
A Cemetery Ghost
People reported a flying ghost accompanied by “screeching noises” in an abandoned cemetery in North Manchester, Indiana. An investigation by skeptics revealed the source:
[…] it was found that mischievous boys had stretched wires across the grounds from fence to fence from which was suspended a woman’s nightrobe. This was drawn back and forth by the little scamps, who howled delight whenever frightened people took to their heels.
Source: March 1902, Princeton Daily Clarion, Princeton, Indiana (pg. 3)
I recently had the chance to finally visit the Rotary Jail Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana. The jail is the first rotating jail built in the United States and the only one that still turns. In the 19th Century, rotary jails popped up across the Midwestern United States. Jail cells shaped like wedges rotated on a platform, like a carousel, using a hand crank. Spinning the jail around allowed you to access single cells at a time through one
opening. The design was initially created by William H. Brown of Indianapolis’s Haugh, Ketcham & Co., and the intention was “to produce a jail in which prisoners can be controlled without the necessity of personal contact between them and the jailer or guard” (Source). Rotary jails eventually closed (the last one remained in use until 1969) as the spinning mechanism caught limbs (and in one case, a head), breaking and crushing them.
The Rotary Jail Museum in Crawfordsville houses a two-story model attached to the once living quarters of the Sheriff and his family. The very informative–and excellent tour–is only $5 and one hour. I was also lucky enough to visit the museum after their Haunted Jail event, which explained the fake blood and skeletons!
This small Midwest museum is definitely worth the stop. Maybe you might see the ghost of John Coffee.
The Execution of John Coffee
In January of 1885, the beaten and burned bodies of James and Elizabeth McMullen were found in their home near Elmdale, Indiana (Montgomery County). John Coffee, 23 years old, was arrested for their murders. He confessed three separate times, went to trial, and was found guilty.* Coffee was sentenced to death by hanging.
This was the first public execution for Crawfordsville, Indiana. A scaffold was constructed and tested several times with a 150-pound sand bag. About 200 people purchased tickets to witness the hanging in the jail’s courtyard. On October 15, 1885, Coffee’s hanging and a horrific scene took placed. It took three attempts to hang Coffee; the rope broke the first two times. An article in the New York Times (October 17, 1885) describes the event (warning: graphic detail).
When the drop fell the rope broke and the body dropped to the ground. The neck was not broken, but blood oozed from the condemned man’s ears. He was carried up on the scaffold, and while the rope was being readjusted he recovered consciousness and begged to have the cap taken off that he might make another speech. This request was refused. When the drop again fell the rope broke a second time, but the body was caught before it fell to the ground. It was lifted up and held in the arms of the Deputy Sheriff while the rope was fixed the third time. When the drop fell again the rope held and Coffee strangled to death for 12 minutes. The spectacle was sickening.
The hanging was an embarrassment for Montgomery County. Prisoners in the jail pleaded to have the scaffold torn down, as they could see the threatening mechanism through the jail windows (Indiana Historical Bureau)†. The people of Crawfordsville would be haunted, both figuratively and literally, by the ghost of John Coffee.
The Ghost of John Coffee
Shortly after the execution, people began to see the ghost of John Coffee. Firstly, his ghost was seen near Elmdale (location of the murder) “prowling around.” One night, the ghost of John Coffee stopped a farmer as he needed a ride (vehicle not mentioned). He rode with the farmer about three miles, until the reached the ruins of the McMullen household. The ghost “hopped out and bounded away with the speed of a jack rabbit (Newport Hoosier State, October 28, 1885).
Apparently the ghost of John Coffee likes taking rides, because he reportedly hopped on a train, too. As the story goes, a train conductor named Dick Tracy saw the ghost of Coffee with a noose around his bloody neck. Tracy and brakeman were in the caboose, just leaving Crawfordsville. Coffee jumped on the front end and Tracy quickly locked the car’s door. Coffee then jumped on top of the roof and came through the cupola, finally taking a seat on the train. He rode the train for about thirty miles, while Tracy and the brakeman watched in fear. He eventually jumped off the train and quickly disappeared. Tracy decided that was his last ride (Jefferson Daily Evening News, November 11, 1885).
People still believe John Coffee haunts the Rotary Jail as every October the museum’s security systems indicate movement inside the jail and house at night (Indiana Historical Bureau). Allegedly, the Sheriff who decided not to pursue other accomplices in the Coffee case haunts the building.
I visited on the 17th of October; I must have missed Coffee and the Sheriff.
*The tour guides mentioned that some believed John Coffee was innocent and/or worked with an accomplice(s). No one else was ever punished for the crime.
†The scaffold was used again. I found one source saying it was used six months later for the hanging of John C. Henning.
A tour guide pointed out some similarities between this John Coffee and the John Coffey from Stephen King’s The Green Mile. The guide said King never heard of Crawfordsville, but The New York Times article (see above) never mentioned the city. So maybe King forgot he was inspired by a real life event? Hmmmmm.
Happy Hollow Park is a 81 acres of forested park in West Lafayette, Indiana. If you are lucky enough, you might spot a fox on your hike through the park. If you are luckier, you might hear the trees tell the story of The Hermit of Happy Hollow.
A walking path plaque in Happy Hollow Park touches briefly on the life of Jennie Jahonica, The Hermit of Happy Hollow. She was known for simply wanting solitude.
With the little slithers of free time I have in my life, I try to learn more about Jennie Jahonica. Unfortunately, my research has only led me to sensationalized newspaper articles. Therefore, please take the following information with a grain of salt. I will share edits and updates when they become available.
Jennie Jahonica was born in Huff, Holland. She started working in the fields around the age of ten and, for the next eleven years, “worked as hard as any man” (Indianapolis Journal) She married a man named Kineff (last name) and they had a child. He died when the baby was only a few months old. Around 1850, she came to America with her brother and settled on a farm near Chicago, IL. She met and married a man with the last name Jahonica. He unfortunately died shortly after they were married. She then moved to Lafayette with her daughter where they found work on a farm.
Then, as the Indianapolis Journal describes, “came the tragedy that blasted her life and caused her to withdraw from her friends and associates to seek peace of mind the lonely ravine.” Jennie’s daughter died in 1875. Heartbroken, she moved into a deserted structure (allegedly made of mud and straw) in Happy Hollow. She lived there for four years until a fire destroyed her home. She made due with what she had until the women of German Reformed Church (some sources say Holland Reformed Church) built her a new home. When her health began failing, she moved into the county asylum. She eventually ended up at the County Farm (also called the Infirmary in some sources). She died December 22, 1903.
Some other interesting tidbits I came across:
“Children spoke of her as a witch and she was believed by the superstitious to have mysterious powers of working good and evil.” (Indianapolis Journal, December 23, 1903).
“She visited nobody and desired no visitors. She regarded all comers as intruders.” (The South Bend Tribune, December 23, 1903)
“No favored Swiss scene could be more enchanting than Miss Janeke’s medieval abode with her cow, chickens, bees, grapevines and fruit trees, isolated from the distraction of a civilized world. Her attire was of the traditional Dutch linsey and wooden shoes.” (The Indianapolis News, August 14, 1952)
During the summer of 1896, a new streetcar line began construction through Happy Hollow (connecting Lafayette and State Soldiers Home). This would disrupt her home, so “the hermitess protested” but “eventually reconciled to it.” (The Indianapolis News, August 14, 1952)
Where does my research go next? I would love to find out more about Jennie Jahonica’s life beyond the headlines. I would also like to find out where she is buried. Unless, as in life, she wanted to be buried away from and unbothered by the public.
When I was young (maybe 12ish), I wrote down everything concerning the occult in a black-paged notebook with Gelly Roll pens. I kept a dictionary in the back with all the new terms I learned. I wrote down every haunted location, glued every ghost photo, and copied down interesting quotes on the occult into my small spiral notebook. While the library provided me a plethora of literature on all things spooky, I spent most hours doing internet research. I read online forums, About.com, and many sites hosted by Angelfire. Angelfire launched 22 years ago and (at least when I was using it) provided users free web-hosting. These websites were a wild 90s ride with crazy backgrounds, colorful fonts, annoying banner ads, guestbooks, visit counters, and much more.
(insert dial up noise)
I was mostly intrigued by websites about haunted places in Indiana (my home state). I would fill my notebook with places I hoped to explore someday. Although I could not drive yet, I could visit these haunted locations from the comfort of my father’s computer chair. Further, I was happy to know there were other people out there just as weird as me.
Many friends tell me that they too loved these sites and would visit these haunted locations with their friends on weekend nights. There is not much else to do in Indiana when you are a teenager, after all. You cannot help but think that teenagers had a hand in creating and circulating some of the legends on these websites.
When the weather is warmer, I plan on visiting some of these haunted locations. 12-year-old me will be very pleased.
Below are some more screenshots of my favorite Indiana-specific websites. These websites are still online today. I recommend proceeding with caution, because some of these websites have pop-ups and you never know about viruses (or whatever).
For the past few weeks, I have been sharing my favorite stories from these Angelfire sites on my Instagram as part of #humpdayhaunts. I have posted them below for your reading pleasure. Please excuse any errors as I am usually typing these with my dumb thumbs.
I have been thoroughly engrossed with the 1980 book Indiana Folklore: A Reader from Indiana University Press (edited by Linda Dégh). In this book, I came across the most suspenseful ghost story and just had to share it.
Three teenage boys stumbled across a haunted house on their way to another friend’s house. The boys began poking fun at each other, saying the other two were not brave enough to go inside. Eventually, after the teasing had died down, they agreed to spend the night in the haunted house together. The next night, the boys packed a lantern, bed-rolls, soft drinks, and a riffle and walked towards the house.
While making themselves (somewhat) comfortable in the haunted house, they heard a noise downstairs. The sound was a loud scratching noise, like something was being dragged across a cement floor.
The teenagers headed downstairs with their rifle and lantern. They heard the noise coming from the furthest corner of the room. The boy with the lantern turned his light towards the sound and saw a coffin, standing and scooting itself unassisted across the floor. The coffin kept getting closer and closer. And closer. The coffin after some time was three feet away from the boys. One of the boys decided to stop this scary coffin.
Can you guess how he stopped the coffin?
Well, he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a Smith Brothers cough drop and took it; and he stopped that COFFINfor the time being, so the boys were saved.
Get it? 🙂
Italics are direct quotes (because I didn’t want to ruin the pun) and the story was shared in the chapter “The Walking Coffin” by William M. Clements. // Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash
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 a man (they didn’t name names, but reference a grave with a chain in Bonds Chapel Cemetery) died by a cursed chain. He had killed his wife with a logger chain (he was a logger) and, before her dying breath, 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 only one of the many fabricated stories, 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 (see update below).
Want to hear more locals (of the past) tell their version of the story? There are so many versions. Read more here.
Update: The gravestone has been vandalized as we often see with legends attached to burial sites. Please respect the fact that (1) these stories are a fabrication and (2) he is a person with a family. Find your thrills elsewhere.
Update: Some versions of the legend even say the chain is on the wife’s tombstone.
Clements, William M.. “The Chain on the Tombstone.” Indiana Folklore: A Reader, edited by Linda Degh, Indiana University Press, 1980, 258-264.