Whether you’re a paranormal enthusiast or looking for a Halloween thrill, the broad landscape of American history presents rich fodder for horror stories. Some of America’s most famous ghosts, like Marie Laveau and Edgar Allan Poe, have gained pop cultural fame. If you’re interested in American history or have a taste for the strange, you should explore the history and legends behind these famous American cemeteries.
Graveyard ghosts haunt cemeteries for any number of reasons, such as unmarked graves, grave robbery, natural disasters, and forgotten burials. From Florida to Maine and from Maryland to Arizona, graveyard ghosts and their intriguing stories provide thousands of visitors annually with both mystery and interesting insights into the history and culture of the areas.
St. Louis Cemetery, New Orleans, LA
No list of haunted places in the U.S. would be complete without a trip to New Orleans, a city famous for its connection with spirits, dark forces, and the occult. Residents of New Orleans suffered from frequent epidemics, inclement weather, and the horrors of slavery, racism and the Civil War, leaving behind some very unhappy graveyard ghosts. It’s no surprise so many horror writers have chosen to set their stories in New Orleans.
When the Spanish first built New Orleans, people did not realize the swampy land was unsuitable for graves. Once heavy rains and flooding began, bodies were unearthed and washed down the streets. This led the Spanish to build elevated tombs in graveyards. As a result, New Orleans’ cemeteries became known as “cities of the dead.”
Located in the French Quarter, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 houses many famous residents including Homer Plessy of the infamous Supreme Court Case, Plessy vs. Ferguson, which upheld racial segregation in the South. However, the most famous resident of St. Louis No. 1 is without a doubt the beloved “Voodoo Queen,” Marie Laveau.
Laveau was born in 1801 to free, mixed-race parents of African, French, and Native American descent. Throughout her life, Laveau mixed the spiritual influences of her ancestry, giving birth to “New Orleans Voodoo” and gaining a vast following that transcended racial lines.
Local lore insists that if you draw an X on Marie Laveau’s grave, yell out your wish, turn around three times, circle your X, and leave her an offering, she will grant your wish. But before you get any ideas, today you cannot enter St. Louis No. 1 without a tour guide because of the vandalism to the Voodoo Queen’s grave.
If you’re a woman visiting St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, you might not want to wear white. The cemetery is supposedly home to the ghost of a woman in white who tries to hail cabs. So many cab drivers have reported picking up a woman in white, only to find the cab empty when they arrive at the destination that local cab drivers completely ignore women dressed in white clothes standing outside of the cemetery.
Resurrection Catholic Cemetery, Chicago, IL
At Chicago’s Resurrection Catholic Cemetery, the ghost of a beautiful young Polish woman in a glamorous ball gown desperately waves down cars, only to disappear once they stop. Locals call this apparition, “Resurrection Mary.”
Resurrection cemetery is one of the largest in North America, encompassing 540 acres and nearly 160,000 graves and crypts. On the front gates of Resurrection Cemetery, you can see a set of handprints burned into the metal. Locals say the handprints belong to Resurrection Mary.
The legend says Resurrection Mary died in a car accident in the 1930s on her way home from a dance at the O’Henry Ballroom. After a fight with her boyfriend, she resolved to walk home along Archer Avenue, where she was killed in a hit-and-run accident.
Huguenot Cemetery, St. Augustine, FL
Like New Orleans, the sweeping Spanish moss, enormous oak trees, and hundreds of years old architecture make St. Augustine picture perfect for a haunting. In fact, the entire city is considered a cemetery. The local government requires special supervision during construction projects to ensure work stops if the workers unearth a grave marker or casket.
Founded in 1565, St. Augustine had hundreds of years to accumulate ghosts from every walk of life including millionaires, pirates, and slaves.
Although home to fewer than 500 souls, the Huguenot Cemetery opened in 1821 just in time to accommodate the deaths caused by a yellow fever epidemic. Because of a lack of medical awareness, legend has it that terrified townspeople buried many of these people, including children, alive. Exhumed coffins from all over St. Augustine show scratch marks from people who tried unsuccessfully to escape premature burials.
Most visitors report rather benign encounters with the cemetery’s undead residents. Women claim to have felt ghosts playing with their hair, while many have allegedly seen a man sitting in the trees laughing. However, a more serious ghost haunts these parts too.
Judge John Stickney was buried in 1882, leaving his children orphans. When they grew up, his children wanted his body relocated closer to where they lived.
The gravediggers claimed that after exhuming the coffin from the grave, grave robbers stole Judge Stickney’s gold teeth. Today, people report seeing the figure of a distinguished man searching for something in the grass. Many locals believe this is the ghost of Judge Stickney looking for his teeth.
Boothill Graveyard, Tombstone, AZ
Western fans love to visit Boothill Graveyard. Opened in 1879, dead outlaws almost exclusively occupy the cemetery. People in the Old West used the term “Boot Hill” to describe cemeteries where the people buried “died with their boots on,” a euphemism for a death by hanging or another kind of violent end.
Boothill Graveyard has some infamous residents including cowboys Billy Clanton and Tom & Franklin McLaury, who died in the famed O.K. Corral shootout. Bank robbers and thieves populate much of the cemetery. You can walk around Boothill today and read the tombstone inscriptions to get a good idea of how violent life was out West in the late 1800s.
Boothill also houses the remains of local minority groups. The town’s citizens buried Tombstone’s Jewish and Chinese community members along with the murderers, prostitutes, and bank robbers.
Visitors today claim to have captured the likeness of long passed cowboys and outlaws on film while wandering through the cemetery. So if you’re visiting Tombstone, don’t forget your camera!
Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, GA
Like St. Augustine and Tombstone, Savannah has a haunted reputation. In fact, many believe it may be the most haunted city in the U.S., thanks in part to the Civil War. The city limits of Savannah contain several allegedly haunted cemeteries, including what many consider the most haunted one in the world: Bonaventure Cemetery.
Surrounded by Victorian architecture and dripping Spanish moss, the atmosphere of Bonaventure is certainly creepy, although beautiful. The cemetery is filled with lifelike statues that give you the impression you’re always being watched. People claim they have seen the statues smile or even cry tears of blood.
One of the most disturbing things about Bonaventure Cemetery is the ghost children. Visitors have reported hearing the voices and laughter of children and crying babies.
One famous child ghost in Bonaventure, Gracie Watson, died of pneumonia in 1889 at a very young age. Her devastated father commissioned a statue of her to mark her grave. If you see a little girl in a white dress playing at the cemetery or in Johnson Square, you might have caught sight of the innocent ghost of Gracie Watson.
Western Burial Ground, Westminster Hall, Baltimore, MD
The Western Burial Ground in Baltimore, Maryland, dating from 1786, houses the remains of Edgar Allan Poe and his wife, Virginia.
Poe died destitute, and the city originally placed him in an unmarked grave when he died in 1849. Over the years, friends and fans of Poe raised money to build a monument by Poe’s gravesite. In 1875, in a ceremony attended by several notable figures of the day, including poet Walt Whitman, the city moved the remains of Edgar Allan Poe from his unmarked grave to the front of the churchyard, beneath the newly carved monument created in tribute to Poe.
While Poe gets most of the attention in Westminster Hall, he is far from the only famous resident. The “Cambridge Skull” has become a celebrity in his own right in the paranormal community.
Legend holds that a group of men murdered a minister and buried his body in the churchyard, but the head never stopped screaming. The murderers had to gag the skull and bury it in concrete to muffle the sound. Folklore says if you hear the scream of the murdered minister, the sound will haunt you and drive you insane.
Westminster Hall contains a system of catacombs that host family vaults, most hundreds of years old. While the main churchyard opens during regular daylight visiting hours, the catacombs require a tour guide, and you can only visit them during special events.
Union Cemetery, Easton, CT
Union Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries on the list. In its 400-year history, it has developed a reputation as one of the most haunted places in America.
Visitors to the Easton cemetery routinely report seeing orbs of light and rolling mists, as well as a pair of floating red eyes, but Union Cemetery is most famous for the Lady in White. People say the Lady in White, a melancholy character with long black hair and a white gown, floats around the graveyard. Many have seen her appear in front of moving cars, only to disappear once the drivers screech to a halt.
The identity of the Lady in White remains unclear. Some say she is the spirit of a woman who was murdered and dumped in a nearby sinkhole decades ago. Others say she is the ghost of a woman named Harriet B. Seeley, who died in 1853 shortly after the passing of her young son, and still searches for her lost child.
Paranormal researchers Ed and Lorraine Warren, of Amityville Horror fame, have taken a keen interest in Union Cemetery. After years of extensive research, the Warrens claim to have photographic evidence of the Lady in White.
Proof or no proof, The Lady in White remains one of the most famous and frequently seen apparitions in any American cemetery.
Keep in Mind…
Although many of these graveyards date back hundreds of years, families still bury their loved ones in these cemeteries today. You may encounter genuine mourners and family members during a trip to these hallowed places. If you visit one of these cemeteries, remain respectful, speak softly, and avoid taking pictures of others unless invited to do so.