Category Archives: Cemetery of the Week

The featured cemetery each Wednesday.

Cemetery of the Week #175: Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula

St. Peter ad Vincula photo by the author

Cemetery of the Week #175: Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula
Address: The Tower of London EC3N, England
Phone:  0870 756 6060
Founded: 12th century?
Number interred: approximately 1500
Open: Currently 9 AM – 5:30 daily. Last admission: 5 PM
Admission: Adult: £29.90 Child: £14.90
Website: https://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/

When the Tower of London was built by William the Conqueror after the Battle of Hastings, some kind of chapel was probably also built on this site, according to London Cemeteries. It may even be the oldest church in London, if Who Lies Where can be believed. Either way, the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula — St. Peter in Chains — was officially founded during the 12th-century reign of Henry I. The crypt is all that remains of that original church. The building that survives today was built by Henry VIII between 1519 and 1529.

Of the 1500 people buried at the Chapel Royal, some were executed on Tower Hill or on the Tower Green just outside the chapel’s door. Among them lies Bishop John Fisher (1467-1535), who was accused of treason after opposing Henry VIII’s decision to secede from the Catholic Church. As a reward for Fisher’s faith, the Pope created him a cardinal and sealed his fate in May 1535. Fisher declared, “The King was not, nor could be, by the law of God, Supreme Head of the Church of England.” He was executed on June 22.

While his body was buried beneath the floor at St. Peter ad Vincula, Fisher’s head was parboiled and placed on a spike on London Bridge. A folktale says that his head looked healthier and healthier as the summer heat wore on. Eventually, the crowds who came to see the miracle were so disruptive that the head was thrown into the Thames.

Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), the author of Utopia and a friend of Henry VIII’s, served as Speaker of the House of Commons and Lord Chancellor. More, who believed that “no temporal man may be head of the spirituality,” was summoned alongside Fisher to swear allegiance to the Parliamentary Act of Succession on April 13, 1534. Neither man would do so.

A devout Roman Catholic, More refused to speak at all during his trial. Others (some in service of Thomas Cromwell) testified that More refused to acknowledge Henry as head of the Church of England and denied Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn was legitimate. The court, which included Anne’s father, uncle, and brother, took only 15 minutes to find More guilty. He was sentenced to be drawn and quartered, but the king amended that to beheading.

After his execution in July 1535, More’s body was buried in an unmarked grave inside St. Peter ad Vincula. His head was set on a spike on London Bridge, where his daughter rescued it, possibly by bribery. His skull is believed to rest alongside her in the Roper  vault at St. Dunstan’s Church in Canterbury, but More’s cenotaph stands in Chelsea Old Church, where he’d had the chapel rebuilt. A shrine was eventually constructed for him in the vault below St. Peter ad Vincula.

Both Fisher and More were beatified in 1886, before being canonized in 1935.

Their antagonist Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s assistant in the dissolution of the monasteries and Protestantization of England, fell from grace when he arranged the marriage of Henry VIII to Anne of Cleves. Cromwell was accused of heresy and treason and was executed on Tower Hill before being buried here in 1540.

Anne Boleyn’s birth year is uncertain (variously 1500, 1501, or 1507), but her death date is clear: May 19, 1536. After less than three years of marriage to Henry VIII, she’d given birth to a daughter (who would become Elizabeth I) and miscarried three more children, including a son in 1535. By March of 1536, Henry was courting Anne’s replacement, Jane Seymour.

The following month, one of Anne’s musicians was arrested. Under torture, he confessed to being Anne’s lover, then went on to implicate four other men. Anne’s brother George was arrested and charged with incest. Anne was accused of witchcraft and adultery, which amounted to treason since she was queen.

She was arrested on May 2. A barge took her from the palace at Greenwich to the Traitor’s Gate at the Tower. As she was escorted to a 14×8-foot cell in the Lieutenant’s lodgings, Anne became hysterical, laughing and crying so much that she frightened those in attendance.

Her show trial on May 15 was attended by 200 people. Anne was acquitted of incest, for which she could have been burned at the stake, but was found guilty of treason. From her room in the Tower, she watched the scaffold being built on Tower Green. An expert executioner was imported from Calais.

Four days later, Anne wore a dark gray gown with a crimson petticoat to her beheading. She knelt upright, after the French fashion of execution, and was blindfolded. The executioner removed her head with a single stroke of his double-edged sword.

No arrangements had been made for her burial, so her corpse lay on the platform until someone retrieved an arrow chest to serve as her coffin. Her ladies waited beside it until someone was found who could open the chapel’s floor so she could be laid to rest. As was the custom for those who were executed, her grave wasn’t marked but its location was recorded.

During Queen Victoria’s renovations to the chapel in 1876, Anne’s body was identified (or not—experts differ) and reburied on the left side of the altar under a marble plaque that bears her name.

The five men accused of adultery with Anne were executed publicly on Tower Hill on May 17, 1536. Without ceremony or memorial, their headless bodies were buried under the nave inside St. Peter ad Vincula. They were buried with quicklime, which dehydrates the flesh and prevented the smell of decay from disrupting services in the chapel.

Catherine Howard became Henry’s fifth wife at age 19, when he was in his fifties and running out of time to father a healthy male heir. They married on July 28, 1540, the day of Cromwell’s execution. The following year, desperate to bear the king a son and save her own life, Catherine began a relationship with Thomas Culpepper, one of Henry’s favorite courtiers. She also hired Francis Derehem, to whom she’d been betrothed before marrying Henry, as her secretary. The two men confessed, under heavy torture, to adultery with the queen.

After only 18 months of marriage, Catherine was executed on February 13, 1542. Afraid that the executioner would botch it, Catherine called for a rehearsal the night before her death. In the morning, she needed assistance to climb the steps to the scaffold. Her last words, according to legend, were, “I die as a Queen, but I would rather have died the wife of Culpepper.” She was beheaded with a single stroke of an axe and buried in an unmarked grave inside St. Peter ad Vincula. Her body was not identified during the Victorian renovation.

The third queen at rest (or not) inside the Chapel Royal was a teenager when she died. Lady Jane Grey was born sometime around 1537, the granddaughter of Mary Tudor. When she was 10, she was sent to live in the household of Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s widow, who had remarried after Henry’s death.

At the age of 16, Jane married Lord Guilford Dudley. As Edward VI lay dying in Summer 1553, he drafted a document to forbid the crown from passing to a Catholic. Encouraged by Jane’s father-in-law, Edward specifically named Jane as his successor. The first British monarch raised a Protestant, Edward was the only surviving male heir of Henry VIII, the son of Jane Seymour.

Three days after Edward’s death, Jane was informed she was now queen. Reluctantly, she accepted the crown on July 10, 1553 and took residence in the Tower of London. Nine days later, the Privy Council switched their allegiance to Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Jane became a prisoner in the Tower and was convicted of usurping the throne.

Guilford Dudley was executed on Tower Hill on February 12, 1554. Queen Mary allowed her cousin Jane to be executed privately on Tower Green. Jane ritually washed her hands of the throne and blindfolded herself, but when she couldn’t find the executioner’s block, she began to panic. Someone helped her to the block, where she commended her spirit to God. A single axe stroke ended her life.

Lady Jane Grey was buried on the lower step of the altar with her husband, Guilford Dudley. A marble plaque, placed during the Victorian renovation, marks their grave.

When the chapel was restored in 1876, most of the remains and some intact coffins buried under the chapel’s floor were re-interred in the medieval crypt. In all, some 1500 people are buried in the crypt: prisoners (some with their heads), soldiers who had been stationed at the Tower, the Tower’s administrators, and other Tower denizens.

No photos are allowed in the chapel, which is still a working church. It’s possible to attend a communion service or a choral Matins. Otherwise, tourists are allowed inside only by joining a Yeoman Warder’s tour, which is free with an admission ticket to the Tower. Tours begin every 30 minutes at the entrance to the Tower.

Postcard from my collection showing the altar and tombs in St. Peter ad Vincula

Books I Consulted – the highlighted ones I’ve reviewed on Cemetery Travel:

London Cemeteries by Darren Beach (have I reviewed this one?)

Historic Royal Palaces: Tower of London

Who Lies Where: A Guide to Famous Graves by Michael Kerrigan

Necropolis: London and Its Dead by Catherine Arnold

Permanent Londoners: An Illustrated Biographical Guide to the Cemeteries of London by Judi Culbertson and Tom Randall

Great Britain’s Royal Tombs: A Guide to the Lives and Burial Places of British Monarchs by Michael Thomas Barry

Another postcard from my collection. The dark plaques at the foot of the altar mark the queens’ graves.

Useful Links:

Services at St. Peter ad Vincula: https://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/whats-on/chapel-royal-of-st-peter-ad-vincula/

Information about Anne Boleyn’s burial: https://onthetudortrail.com/Blog/2011/04/21/where-is-anne-boleyn-buried/

More information about the exhumation of Anne Boleyn’s remains: https://thetudortravelguide.com/2021/05/18/the-burial-of-anne-boleyn/

Map of the royal burial positions: https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/resources/anne-boleyn-places/anne-boleyns-final-resting-place/the-burial-positions-in-st-peter-ad-vincula/

Information about the restorations of the Chapel: https://www.thechapelsroyalhmtoweroflondon.org.uk/welcome/the-chapel-of-st-peter-ad-vincula/

Information about the Memorial on Tower Green and the excavations in the chapel: https://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/tower_london_8.html

The ghosts of the Tower of London: https://www.authenticvacations.com/13-ghosts-of-the-tower-of-london/

Photos of the Thomas More shrine: https://ordinaryphilosophy.com/2018/05/

All the graveyards at the Tower: http://yeomanwarders.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Chapel-Crypt.pdf

The paved area is where the scaffold stood. Postcard from my collection.

Cemetery of the Week #174: Union Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #174: Union Cemetery
Address: 227 East 28th Terrace, Kansas City, Missouri 64108
Phone: (816) 472-4990
Founded: 1857
Size: 27 acres
Number interred: 55,000
Open: 7 am to 5 pm daily.

Atop a hill overlooking the city lie the founders of Kansas City, Missouri. Union Cemetery is Kansas city’s oldest public cemetery, the final resting place of politicians, artists, war heroes, business leaders, and everyday people. Today it is advertised as Kansas City’s “most serene and historic public park.”

John Calvin McCoy came to this area as a surveyor working for the US government in 1830. In February 1835, he filed the plat for the town of Kansas. He owned a store which outfitted settlers moving west on the Santa Fe Trail.

The cholera epidemic of 1849 filled the existing family plots and the first city cemetery in Kansas City. City leaders spent years searching for a suitable replacement until James W. Hunter  deeded 49 acres of his hilltop farmland to the Union Cemetery Association. The land lay halfway between the town of Kansas on the Missouri River and the town of Westport, which was a supply stop for wagon trains as they moved west. The cemetery, which opened in 1857, was envisioned as a “union” between the two towns.

James Hunter’s monument, like many in the cemetery, is marked with a post corresponding to the walking tour map.

A fire in August 1889 damaged the sexton’s cottage and destroyed the burial records. The loss was total, as many of the graves had only been marked by wooden or limestone markers, which have eroded over time. The cottage was burned again in 1985, but by then, the cemetery records were kept off-site. The Women in Construction in Kansas City rebult the cottage for the third time. It was rededicated in October 1990. Now it serves as a visitor center and gift shop. It’s only open Thursday and Friday from 10:30 am to 1:30 pm.

Missouri’s most famous 19th century artist, George Caleb Bingham, was a landscape painter concerned with the effects of light. His best-remembered work was the 1845 “Fur Traders Descending the Missouri,” now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. Bingham chose to be buried facing south in the cemetery, although the tradition was to bury everyone facing east, toward Jerusalem and the resurrection. Bingham apparently claimed that the Lord would find him, no matter which way he faced.

A bronze medallion adorns Majors’s grave.

Alexander Majors was a partner in a freighting firm that led settlers across the prairie. His company founded the Pony Express during the Civil War. Although it only lasted 18 months, it cost Majors his fortune. He died penniless in 1900.

A small monument in the Kearney family plot remembers Hattie Drisdom Kearney. On Christmas Day 1855, she was sold as a slave. She was 11 years old. She begged a “kindly looking” man to buy her. After Charles Esmonde Kearney placed the winning bid, he freed her. When she told him she had nowhere to go, he hired her as a housekeeper and nurse. She worked for the Kearney family for 80 years, raising several generations. Now she lies amongst them.

By 1910, the cemetery was sadly deteriorated. The Cemetery Association sold 18 acres to fund upkeep. In 1937, the remaining 27 acres were deeded to Kansas City. The Native Sons of Greater Kansas City began a major restoration as its first community service project. The present gated entry was funded by the Native Sons in the 1950s. The iron fence enclosing the cemetery was added by the city in the 1990s.

The Union Cemetery is now maintained by the Kansas City Board of Parks and Recreation. It’s a beautiful place, full of history and beautiful monuments, well worth a visit.

Useful links:
The Union Cemetery Historical Society: https://www.uchskc.org/

Walking tour map: https://kcparks.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Walking-Tour-Map-of-Union-Cemetery.pdf

African American Heritage Trail of Kansas City: https://aahtkc.org/union-cemetery

Findagrave listing: https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/32037/union-cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #173: the Crypt of Our Lady of the Angels

 

The Cathedral Mausoleum at Our Lady of the Angels
Also known as the Crypt of the LA Cathedral or the Saint Vibiana Chapel Mausoleum
Address: 555 West Temple Street, Los Angeles, California 90012
Phone: 213-680-5200
Dedicated: September 2002
Number interred: 395, according to Findagrave

Note: the Cathedral Mausoleum remains closed at the moment, due to Covid-19 restrictions. Please check the Cathedral’s website or call before you visit to make sure it’s reopened.

In 1996, the Diocese of Los Angeles chose a downtown parking lot overlooking the Hollywood Freeway as the site of its new cathedral. Named for the city’s namesake, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels was dedicated on September 2, 2002. It serves as the mother church to approximately five million professed Catholics in the archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Sealed into the floor around the altar are 26 relics, including Saints Benedict, Catherine of Sienna, Charles Lwanga, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Francis of Assisi, Gregory the Great, John Neumann, Martin de Porres, Patrick of Ireland, Rose of Lima, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (the first Native American saint), and Junipero Serra, who founded the Spanish missions in California in the 18th century.

In the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe hangs a reliquary with a fragment of the cloak worn by Saint Juan Diego that was miraculously stamped with Mary’s image when she visited him. The postage stamp-sized relic may be the only one of its kind in the United States. It was given by the archbishop of Mexico City to the archbishop of Los Angeles in 1941.

In the Chapel of Saint Vibiana, in the crypt below the church, rest the bones of a third-century Christian martyr whose grave was discovered in the Pretestato Catacombs near Rome’s Appian Way in December 1853. The original grave was sealed with a marble tablet which was marked with a laurel wreath, which indicated she was a martyr for her faith. Also in the alcove was a rose-colored vial, believed to contain dried blood. Despite a lack of history or miracles, Pope Pius IX canonized her as a Roman-era Virgin in 1854.

Vibiana’s bones were encased in a wax effigy. Bishop Thaddeus Amat, charged with overseeing all of California south of Monterey, took her relics on an eight-month tour before they arrived in Santa Barbara. Sometime in the 1860s, her reliquary was installed in Los Angeles. The Italian Baroque cathedral of Saint Vibiana was dedicated in her name in 1871.

In the 1950s, the Vatican dropped Vibiana’s feast day from the liturgical calendar for lack of historical information. In 1976, her relics were removed from public view and entombed in a marble sarcophagus. In 1994, the Northridge Earthquake caused damage to her cathedral and the diocese of LA took the opportunity to build Our Lady of the Angels. Vibiana’s, which had been named a City Landmark in 1963, was deconsecrated and is now available for rent as a wedding venue.

The construction of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels was overseen by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, LA’s first native Angeleno archbishop, who was made a cardinal in 1991. A burial place is reserved for him in the crypt.

The Crypt Mausoleum of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels lies one floor beneath the cathedral itself. It can be reached via the stairway or elevators at the rear of the Cathedral Church. The mausoleum is surprisingly large, containing some 1300 interment “crypts” and 5000 cremation niches, most of them empty at this time. Its walls are faced with polished Spanish limestone, lit by alabaster sconces.

It features 16 large baroque revival stained glass windows and 9 lunettes, brought from the original St. Vibiana Cathedral. The windows were created by the Franz Mayer Company in Munich in the early 1920s and restored by Judson Studios before being placed in the crypt. Since they are underground, they are lit from behind.

In the crypt stands a chapel dedicated to St. Vibiana. The altar was refashioned from the marble altar of her cathedral. The brightly painted stations of the cross came from St. Basil Church in LA. A marble sarcophagus contains Vibiana’s bones, still in their wax effigy. A replica of the plaque that marked her original grave hangs nearby, inscribed “To the soul of the innocent and pure Vibiana.” She remains the patron saint of Los Angeles.

Buried in the Bishops’ Crypt are Thaddeus Amat y Brusi (the first Bishop of Los Angeles, who brought Vibiana’s relics to LA), John Cantwell (the first Archbishop of Los Angeles), Bishop Thomas James Conaty (who oversaw the restoration of the California missions in the early 20th century), Bishop Carl Anthony Fisher (the first Black bishop on the West Coast), James Francis McIntyre (the controversial second Archbishop of Los Angeles, who became a cardinal), Bishop Juan Alfredo Arzube (born in Ecuador), and John J. Ward (who served in the Vatican II discussions). Several of them had been buried at St. Vibiana’s Cathedral before being reinterred here.

Other bishops have cenotaphs to their memories, including Bishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany, who was sent to Northern California during the Gold Rush. He is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery Mausoleum in Colma, California, south of San Francisco.

The most famous person buried in the Crypt Mausoleum is actor Gregory Peck, best remembered for playing Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, for which he won an Academy Award. Peck was nominated five times for the Oscar and received the Academy’s humanitarian award in 1968. He served as president of the Motion Picture Academy and was active in the American Cancer Society, National Endowment for the Arts, and many other causes. He died in his sleep in 2003. He’s buried in the crypt beside his wife, philanthropist Veronique Peck, who followed him in 2012. Their epitaph crosses the front of both grave plaques. His says, “Together” and hers “Forever.”

Actress Joan Marlowe (born Gisela Goetten) was billed by Warner Bros. as “the most beautiful girl on the screen.” She appeared in the Rin Tin Tin movies, acted opposite John Barrymore in “Don Juan,” and played a recurring role in the “Our Gang” shorts as the teacher Miss Crabtree. She also appeared in the first Laurel and Hardy movie, “Pardon Us.” After she married in 1933, she stopped acting in films. Initially buried in San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills, she was moved to the LA Cathedral crypt and interred behind the epitaph, “Help thy brother’s boat across and Lo! Thine own has reached the shore.”

Actress Helen Wagner was best known for playing Nancy Hughes in the soap opera “As the World Turns.” She spoke the first line on the show in 1956 and continued playing the part until a month before her death in 2010. She’s credited in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest-playing of a single role. Her husband, producer Robert Wiley, is also buried in the Cathedral Mausoleum.

Buried near the papal cross beneath the cathedral’s altar is Bernardine Murphy Donohue, who was rewarded for her Catholic philanthropy by being made a papal countess by Pope John XXIII. After her death, her family’s mansion was donated to the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary as a retreat house.

Useful Links:
Map to the cathedral: https://catholiccm.org/cathedral-of-our-lady-of-the-angels-mausoleum
The Cathedral Mausoleum: http://www.olacathedral.org/cathedral/mausoleum/about1.html
The Cathedral homepage: http://www.olacathedral.org/
LA Time article “The Crypts that Keep on Giving”: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2002-feb-08-mn-26916-story.html
Findagrave: https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/1543836/cathedral-of-our-lady-of-the-angels

My reviews of books related to this cemetery:

Laid to Rest in California: https://cemeterytravel.com/2011/05/05/cemeteries-paparazzi-style/

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels guidebook: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3908630237

Other graveyards of the Hollywood stars on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #5: Hollywood Forever

Cemetery of the Week #14: the Original Forest Lawn

Cemetery of the Week #40: Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #45: Hillside Memorial Park

Cemetery of the Week #51: Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #110: Holy Cross Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #172: Greyfriars Kirkyard

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Greyfriars Kirkyard
Also known as Greyfriars Churchyard
Address: 26A Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh, Scotland
Founded: 1562
Size: 5 acres
Number interred: 250,000

In 1447, Franciscan monks (called the Gray Friars for the color of their robes) built their friary at the north end of the Grassmarket on a slope with a lovely view of Edinburgh Castle. The Franciscans, a medical order, served the poor there until they were chased out of Scotland by the Reformation in 1558.

Their friary yard was claimed by Queen Mary in 1562 for a public burial ground. Just in time, too. The graveyard was used “extensively” during the Black Plague of 1568.

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Photo by my friend Jeff. Used by permission.

The first peer buried there was James Douglas, Earl of Morton, executed in 1581 after being accused of the murder of Queen Mary’s husband. The next year, he was followed to the graveyard by historian George Buchanan. Both graves went unmarked, common practice at the time. Painters George Jameson (died 1644) and Sir John Medina (died 1710), and poet Allan Ramsay (died 1758) also lie in unmarked graves.

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Photo of the Covenanters Monument by Kim Traynor, wikimedia commons.

At the foot of the cemetery’s east walk stands the Covenanters’ Monument — also called the Martyrs’ Monument — which remembers Scottish Presbyterians who died for their faith rather than convert to the Anglican Church founded by Henry VIII in England in 1534.

The scourge of the Covenanters was Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh.  He was a highly educated member of the Scottish Parliament, a lawyer, and a member of the Privy Council of Scotland.  In 1677, he became Lord Advocate in the service of King Charles II of England, in charge of punishing anyone who refused to swear loyalty to King Charles or rejected the Church of England.

By Mackenzie’s command, 400 Covenanters were imprisoned in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard in 1679.  The guards abused them. They suffered from the weather, lack of shelter, and starvation. Many ended up buried anonymously in a mass grave in the Kirkyard. In all, Mackenzie is blamed for the deaths of nearly 18,000 people during the eight years dubbed “the Killing Time.”

Mackenzie himself died and was buried in the Kirkyard in 1691.  His tomb stood quietly until 1998, when a homeless man broke into it.  When the thief ransacked the coffins, the floor collapsed beneath him, spilling him into a plague pit full of bones beneath the mausoleum.  The man managed to haul himself out, then ran screaming into the night.

Something had been unleashed.

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By Jonathan Oldenbuck [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons

For the past twenty years, Greyfriars Kirkyard has been considered one of the most haunted graveyards in the world. Visitors have been scratched, bruised, and bitten near Mackenzie’s mausoleum.  Blasts of cold air chase some visitors away.  Others become nauseous and disoriented or are struck with splitting headaches. One woman was found unconscious near the mausoleum with bruises like finger-marks around her neck.

In 2000, spiritualist minister Colin Grant attempted to exorcise the mausoleum.  He felt the presence of hundreds of souls in torment and a presence of overwhelming evil.  He fled the Kirkyard, but it was too late. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack several weeks later.

YouTube is full of videos of people showing off bite marks and bruises received while touring Greyfriars Kirkyard. Enter at your own risk.

IMG_3073As a matter of fact, there is a history of grave robbing at Greyfriars Kirkyard, to supply dissection specimens for the medical students at the University of Edinburgh. The cemetery is overlooked by watchtowers built to protect the sanctity of the dead here. Wealthy families also had cages of iron bars built over their loved ones’ graves, to prevent their bodies from being disturbed. That’s grim enough, even without the poltergeist.

Useful links:

The cemetery’s homepage:  https://greyfriarskirk.com/visit-us/kirkyard/

Welcome to The Most Haunted Graveyard: https://www.thedailybeast.com/welcome-to-the-most-haunted-graveyard-in-the-world-safety-not-guaranteed?ref=scroll

Grave robbers at Greyfriars: https://www.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/television/programs/evening/2015/10/30/grave-robbers-greryfriars-kirkyard/74880434/

Greyfriars Kirkyard’s connection to the Harry Potter books: https://www.pottertour.co.uk/blog/greyfriars-kirkyard-harry-potter-peter-pettigrew.html

Night tours of Greyfriars Kirkyard: https://www.cityofthedeadtours.com/tours/city-of-the-dead-haunted-graveyard-tour/

Greyfriars Kirkyard is one of the 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die. You can get a copy from your favorite bookstore or via Amazon: https://amzn.to/2CojtVR

More of Jeff’s Greyfriars photos are here: https://cemeterytravel.com/2016/08/19/vacation-in-edinburgh/

 

 

Cemetery of the Week #171: Chestnut Hill Cemetery

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Mercy’s grave, as photographed by the Rhode Island Historical Society. https://wp.me/p7ud3-184

Chestnut Hill Cemetery
Also known as Chestnut Hill Baptist Church Cemetery, Rhode Island Historical Cemetery #22
467 Ten Rod Road (Route 102)
Exeter, Rhode Island 02822
Opened: 1838
Size: 10 acres
Number of interments: approximately 1000

Rather than Bram Stoker’s Dracula, rising from his grave to roam the night, New England vampires could prey upon the living while confined inside their coffins. There are almost 20 documented instances of vampires being exhumed in New England, beginning even before to the American Revolution.

One of the last recorded vampire tales in New England took place in the 1880s. George and Mary Brown farmed outside the town of Exeter, Rhode Island.  Mary Brown was struck by an illness, probably tuberculosis, that drained her vitality.  She withered and died in 1883.

The following year, Mary’s eldest daughter, Mary Olive, died at the age of 20.

Several years passed before George and Mary’s son Edwin began to fade.  The local physician suggested that Edwin and his wife move to Colorado Springs to recover.

The cold, dry air did seem to help Edwin, but while he was recuperating, his sister Mercy began to fail.  Edwin rushed home to say goodbye to her. She died in January 1892 at the age of 19.

Since winter had frozen the ground solid, Mercy’s body was placed in the receiving crypt at Chestnut Hill Cemetery. Receiving crypts were common, back before cemeteries developed heating blankets that could thaw the winter ground.  Old cemeteries often still have these crypts, although nowadays the sheds are used to store mowers and other equipment.

Back in the 1890s, Edwin’s health deteriorated.  George Brown’s neighbors decided Edwin was suffering from Vampire’s Grasp. The only way to save him would be to “perform the folk ritual.”

On March 17, 1892, the doctor and George Brown’s neighbors dug up the graves of Mary and Mary Olive. George stayed home. Both women’s corpses were badly decomposed, as one would expect after almost a decade in the ground.

Then the receiving crypt was opened.  Mercy’s coffin was still inside it. When the mob opened her coffin, Mercy had turned sideways inside it. Rather than considering if she had been buried alive — or merely jostled as she was carried to the crypt — onlookers took that as assurance she was the vampire.

Other than her strange position, Mercy’s body looked as expected. But when the doctor removed her heart and liver, they leaked blood.

The neighbors placed the organs on a rock in the cemetery and set them afire. The ashes were collected up and mixed with liquor to be fed to Edwin.  Unfortunately, the remedy didn’t save him.  He died six weeks later, in May.

When Bram Stoker died in 1897, newspaper clippings about Mercy’s exhumation were found in his possession. H. P. Lovecraft, who lived in nearby Providence, mentioned Mercy in his story, “The Shunned House.”

Whether she roamed from her tomb or not beforehand, Mercy now turns up as a ghost in this “nondescript little cemetery.” Apparently, blue lights hover close to her grave.

Mercy’s gravestone is anchored to the ground to prevent it from being stolen. There is reported to be a guest book in a tupperware box for you to sign. Remember that this cemetery is still in use, so if you visit, behave yourself.

Useful links:

Findagrave listing: https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/1451811/chestnut-hill-cemetery

Odd Things I’ve Seen visitation report and photos: http://www.oddthingsiveseen.com/2007/12/grave-of-mercy-brown-vampire.html

Mercy’s story with the family obituaries: https://rihs.wordpress.com/2016/10/31/have-mercy/

The Atlas Obscura listing, with directions to another Rhode Island vampire’s grave as well: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/grave-mercy-brown

The reference about Stoker & Lovecraft: https://www.hauntedplaces.org/item/chestnut-hill-cemetery/