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Tuesday, October 8, 2019

It has been a LONG TIME!

It has been a really long time since I blogged it is October, I thought I would share with you a little story I wrote for Graffiti Magazine.
 A wee bit spooky and tragic as well.

Lewisburg’s Angel of Death

Appalachia has a long and rich folklore tradition and as anyone who has ever sat around a campfire at night or held a flashlight under their chin knows, ghost stories are one of the most thrilling parts of oral tradition. The month of October finds our nights getting chillier, wind rustling through the tree branches and as All Hallow's Eve draws near, I thought I would share with you a story and ghostly legend of one of my favorite cemeteries in the Mountain State.

In the town of Lewisburg, there is a very old cemetery with beautiful markers, statues and headstones. In the Old Stone Church Cemetery on Church Street, there are hundreds buried, including carpenters, soldiers, squires, homemakers, farmers and doctors. The rich, poor, famous and forgotten lie interred here, death being the Great Equalizer, rules us all in the very end.

Among the hundreds of graves there is a striking statue known to some as the Angel of Death. The beautiful yet dramatic statue is the marker for a little girl by the name of Maud Montague Matthews. She was born in 1876 on Monday, Oct. 2 to parents Alexander and Laura. As the old poem states "Monday's child is fair of face" and I am sure she was a lovely girl. As a child, she became ill during a pneumonia epidemic and succumbed to that condition on May 30, 1888, just a few months shy of her 12th birthday. Maud was buried in the Old Stone Cemetery next to the grand old Presbyterian Church. Her parents must have been in shock as just one year prior, their precious baby Anne had died at just 15 days old. Now, tragedy had struck again taking another child of theirs, darling Maud. On the base of her white angelic statue, these words are inscribed:

"Love hath a lien nor time nor death can sever. 
Our own are ours forever and ever"

One year later in the year of 1889, Maud's sister died at the age of 10 and I am certain the Matthews family felt as if the Grim Reaper was living at their doorstep. Florence Vane Matthews lies buried directly next to her sister Maud and shares her statue.

The story, as if not gloomy enough, takes a bizarre twist. Shortly after the statue was erected a few years after Maud's death, her young twin cousins came to visit her grave. Before leaving her grave, they each kissed the angel's cheek. They considered Maud not only a cousin but also a best friend. Soon afterwards, they both perished by the end of the year. One of the girls contracted the influenza virus and the other was a victim of a carriage ride gone wrong. The local legend has it that anyone who kisses the angel will suffer the same tragic fate and be dead within a year.

Stories such as this one can be found worldwide. Tales of grievous statues of death, headstones that eerily glow, hound dogs of hell barking at night on a graveyard hill and apparitions who walk among the stones just seem to go hand in hand with the Halloween season. I can tell you thison my visits to the Old Stone Church Cemetery I pay my respects to Maud, often taking a flower to her grave.

What is that you ask? Did I ever kiss the cheek of the Death Angel?
 I'm still here, aren't I??

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

It's almost Halloween.....

“Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness—for then
The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still.”
—From “Spirits of the Dead” by Edgar Allan Poe

I simply love Autumn. The cool nights, the crunching of leaves underfoot, the smell of a bonfire and the approaching night of Halloween! Did you know that many of our Halloween traditions had their beginning thousands of years ago?

Halloween had its beginnings in an ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of the dead. The Celtic peoples, who were once found all over Europe, divided the year by four major holidays. According to their calendar, the year began on a day corresponding to November 1st on our present calendar. The date marked the beginning of winter. Since they were pastoral people, it was a time when cattle and sheep had to be moved to closer pastures and all livestock had to be secured for the winter months. Crops were harvested and stored. The date marked both an ending and a beginning in an eternal cycle.

The festival observed at this time was called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween). It was the biggest and most significant holiday of the Celtic year. The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain, more so than any other time of the year, the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living, because at Samhain the souls of those who had died during the year traveled into the otherworld. People gathered to sacrifice animals, fruits, and vegetables.

 They also lit bonfires in honor of the dead, to aid them on their journey, and to keep them away from the living. On that day all manner of beings were abroad: ghosts, fairies, and demons--all part of the dark and dread. Many feared this nights activities and hope to survive unscathed.

So here's to the best holiday of them all. HALLOWEEN!!!!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Into the Mystic?


Lower Mystic Cemetery in Mystic, Connecticut

I first visited this cemetery back in April 2014. As a taphophile, a lover of cemeteries and all that is related, I had spied this one from the passenger seat as we sped past headed to the historic seaport town of Mystic. I told my husband that we were going to stop on the drive back to Groton...or else.

 I have a 'thing' for old cemeteries and I just KNEW this one had some interesting stones and maybe a mystery or two. After all, I had high hopes for a cemetery with "mystic" in its name!

I first saw the old stone well when I was strolling toward the center of the cemetery. It stood in a large area unmarked by trees, shrubs or headstones for that matter. It looked odd and a bit out of place. I mean, how often do you really see a big well like this in a cemetery?

 As I walked closer, I noticed that it had an old metal handle that looked as if it was still operable. Should I? I have seen PLENTY of horror movies when the innocent chick gets axed because she's more nosy then needed. The curious cat gets does that go? Oh yeah. Curiosity killed the cat.


I had to try the handle though. I couldn't help but look over my shoulder. It felt like I was on the movie set of "The Ring" or that old zombie film of all zombie films, "Night of the Living Dead"..

After my big adventure at the cemetery well, I continued my walk around. I saw many cracked headstones and markers with anchors carved on them. Since this area was on the coast, I knew I would find some burials of old fishermen, sailors and salty sea captains. The cemetery was well kept and I wish I could have spent more time. This cemetery had stories to be told. It's on my list of places to re visit the next time I am in Connecticut.

Hopefully when I crank the old stone well on my next adventure to Mystic, I will remain unscathed from any horror flick creature crawling up from the watery depths. The human imagination is a powerful tool, isn't it? My real hope is to catch the caretaker while he is tending to the grounds. I would LOVE to know the rest of the story!

 Would YOU crank the handle??

Friday, January 17, 2014

Cemeteries in the Snow

Here the dead sleep – the quiet dead. 
 No sound
Disturbs them ever, 
and no storm dismays.
Winter mid snow caresses the tired ground,
And the wind roars about the woodland ways.
Springtime and summer and red autumn pass,
With leaf and bloom and pipe of wind and bird,
And the old earth puts forth her tender grass,
By them unfelt, unheeded and unheard.
Our centuries to them are but as strokes
In the dim gaunt of some far-off chime.

                                    ~ Archibald Lampman

Cemeteries in the snow. Utter silence but for the crunching of the white snow underfoot.  I enjoy walking  through these silent cities of the dead. The snow lies upon various tombs and monuments adding a new dimension to the stauary's stance.

Walking in the stillness of an old cemetery gives you time to reflect on life as you gaze upon the many who passed before us.

Old stones lie tumbled and crooked with pieces missing 

In winter’s months when all is bare
No flowers to distract looking eyes
We see the gravestones wearing away
And the remainder of unfinished good-byes

New tree growth next to old stones can cause them to be buckled upward

President McKinley's Monument standing silently in guard over the cemetery

The mists swirl, the moon shines bright.
No one dares stray here.
They would never desire to,
Unless the earth covers what they hold dear.

I watch as nature masks herself In flakes of snow that leap and twirl
They fall in endless chaos
Hiding her unveiled cruelty. The stones bear the weight of snow and ice

Graves covered in pure white snow as if a cloud from heaven had descended and shrouded the stones in a ethereal blanket.

Take time out to visit a cemetery in the early months of the new year. 
Walk gently, dress warmly and take a camera. (and something hot to drink!)

Until next time, Sherri 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Carnegie Hall Ghosts?

As I sit here and look out the window at sleet falling and snow and ice on the ground, it is hard to think ahead to warm ghost hunting season. Of course, here at the haunted office, GHOSTS are always in season but to the average investigator, warmer weather is required. The older I get though, the more I can agree to that statement! Warmer weather, please!

There is ONE location here in West Virginia that I am anxuous to sink my teeth into. Pardon the vampire reference- but it gets my blood flowing when I have a new location plump for the

Carnegie Hall is located in Lewisburg West Virginia and was built in 1902 by steel baron and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie as a classroom building for the Lewisburg Female Institute, later the Greenbrier College for Women.                              
Carnegie Hall, Lewisburg, WV

Carnegie Hall was incorporated in 1983 as a regional not-for-profit arts and education center. According to their website, the cultural center annually serves more than 75,000 patrons with live performances by outstanding companies and artists from around the world. One thing it neclgets to mention at the website is that they have visits from other dimensions. That's right! There are many a person who whisper of the odd events that happen on occasion. Poltergeist activity, shadow people and a few apparitions have been reported in the halls (and some of the rooms) of Carnegie Hall. It's no wonder as the entire town has a haunted history dating back to the Civil War era. remember those tried and true theories of imprinted energy and residual?

Lewsiburg was home to the Battle of Lewisburg which took place here. Going waaay back in history, Lewisburg was formally established in 1782 by an act of the Virginia General Assembly. uring the Civil War a number of engagements were fought in and around Lewisburg. Several of the present buildings in town were used as hospitals and barracks by both sides in the War Between the States. Bullet marks can still be seen in some today!  The Virginia Supreme Court library, which was located in Lewisburg and served as the Greenbrier County Library until 2008, was used as a hospital and has preserved a section of wall with soldiers' graffiti. Can you imagine? 

Up the road from Carnegie Hall is the Confederate Cemetery. A gray garbed soldier has been seen walking from the old Stone Church cemetery in town and up the hill past Carnegie Hall while he makes his way towards the Confederate cemetery.
The old Stone Church Cemetery

The Confederate Cemetery

The entire town has stories to share of darker history and paranormal events- you just have to know who to ask. As usual, there are some folks who don't believe or think its a bunch of "hogwash". But then again, there are those who I have spoken to who believe and in hushed tones, have shared with me their experiences.

All in all, I am very excited at the prospects of having another Ghost Hunting class in Lewisburg thru the New River College. I am hopping it all works out schedule wise and that one evening this Spring, we will be packing our equipment into the hushed hallways of Carnegie Hall and ready for a night of investigating.
Exit stage left.......

Saturday, November 9, 2013

November Musings

Here it is November and I am very glad to have survived the crazy season. Ask anyone who works in haunted houses, plans ghost hunts, has a job at a costume store or works at anything spooky and they will tell you this; we are glad its over!

October came to a close and with it some semblance of "quiet" arrived here at the haunted office. The last ghos thunt of the season is this Saturday November 16th and it will find me hosting a Death by Dessert Ghosthunt at the historic Ohio State Reformatory. I am very excited to be back on site there as it has been a couple of months since I have visited there. What an amazing place and what great staff and volunteers!

The Ohio State Reformatory
photo by Sherri Brake

Many love the buildings architecture and find themselves drawn to the old reformatory in Mansfield for one reason or another. Me? I was hooked the first time I saw it! In my book "The Haunted History of the Ohio State Reformatory" I said it best in the foreword when I wrote "It was a rainy afternoon back in 1999 when I first laid eyes on it. I peered through the chain-link fence like a sugar-deprived kid in a candy store. There it stood, massive and monstrous, as if plucked from the very hills of Transylvania. I felt as if I had stepped onto the movie set of Bram Stoker’s Dracula as I glanced at the building. Giant stone walls, foreboding doors and massive turrets returned my stare. I had heard stories of this fortress, and now I was finally seeing it, albeit from a distance. I did not go inside the building, as it was closed that day, but I knew that one day I would be back and would venture inside its winding hallways. The building I fell in love with that day was the historic Ohio State Reformatory."

 I continued on  "One year later I returned, and did so with camera in hand, partaking of a normal daytime tour of the building. The tour guide on that day gave tidbits of history, gruesome stories of past prisoners and Hollywood movie trivia of films shot on site. It was an informative tour, and being the history lover that I am, I ate up every detail and factoid that I could. Little did I know that in a couple of years, I would be back and would be leading hundreds of ghost hunters on investigations throughout this castle-like building?
   What draws people to visit the Ohio State Reformatory? It’s a compilation of various things, but it basically boils down to three: the grand architecture, the history and the ghost stories. I asked various tour guides what originally drew them to the reformatory to volunteer. One volunteer guide told me that the building picked her…she did not pick the building. That pretty much sums it up!"

Even though the busy season has passed and many of us ghost hunters have packed up the EMF meters and put away our cameras, we at Haunted Heartland Tours continue to study, research and plan for events and investigations in 2014. I have to say that we have some new offerings in 2014 and I am excited to announce them at our website at the end of December.

Stay tuned........