Since tomorrow is Halloween I thought a post about witches would be appropriate. Surprisingly there are quite a few witch legends in Illinois to check out. I decided to check out the two nearest ones to share with you.
THE WITCH OF ST. OMER CEMETERY
About an hour southeast of Champaign is the tiny cemetery of the now-defunct village St. Omer. The quiet cemetery is set a fair ways back from the road down a dirt road. Nestled amongst the encroaching forest is a grave that stands out from all the other graves. Not only is an oddly shaped grave but the people buried beneath it are buried in an opposite direction than the other cemetery residents. The other graves face either east or west while this grave face north and south. The headstone resembles a crystal ball balanced on a pyre.
Did you happen to catch the odd engraving in that last picture? If you didn’t take a closer look.
According to legend, Caroline Barnes was a witch that was killed shortly after the death of her husband. Depending on who you ask, Caroline was either hung or burned to death after the villagers thought she would bring something evil to their town. Before she died, Caroline claimed to come back on the 100th anniversary of her death to terrorize the town. To protect their town, the villagers carved the wrong date into the headstone so Caroline won’t know the day she died.
Unfortunately, there is no information to back up these legends. There is, however, information about the Barnes family. Caroline’s husband, Marcus Barnes, passed away after an accident at the local sawmill. Caroline passed away the next year from pneumonia. The date was carved by accident with her real death date being either February 26th or February 28th, 1882. By the time the error was found, it would have cost too much to fix the headstone so the unlikely death date stayed.
Just because the legend probably isn’t true doesn’t mean that there aren’t whispers of hauntings at the cemetery. Ghost hunters and curious folks have reported orbs showing up in pictures, phantom lights wondering around the cemetery at night, and the crystal ball on top of the pyre glowing mysteriously. Modern day witches feel drawn to this grave and have been reported to have been seen performing rituals on the grave.
I visited this cemetery during the day but I plan to go back at night sometime to see if I can see any of the phantom lights or the crystal ball glowing. Perhaps I will bring my own crystal ball to see if that helps trigger something to appear.
THE WITCH OF CHESTERVILLE
A little. closer to Champaign, just outside of Arcola, is a tiny town by the name of Chesterville. The area around Chesterville is known for its Amish and Mennonite residents. In the Chesterville Cemetery, there is a very large tree towards the back near the Kaskaskia River. It looks out of place due to its size.
Walking towards the tree, you’ll notice that there is an iron fence growing out of the tree. There is what looks like it could be a headstone at one end of the fenced area but it has been worn smooth by time.
There are two legends about this grave. The most common legend is that this is the grave of an Amish woman. She was quite outspoken and often questioned the elders of the village about how women were treated. She was shunned by the elders who sited her outspokenness to be a sign of witchcraft. One day the woman disappeared. Her body was found a few days later in a cornfield. The elders had her buried in a non-Amish cemetery with a tree planted above her grave to keep her body from rising from the grave. Later an iron fence was installed around the tree and grave to protect the tree. According to Amish legend, if the tree dies or is cut down, the witch’s soul is able to rise from the grave and wreak havoc on the village again. If you look closely at the tree it looks as though someone has tried to cut the tree down recently.
The other legend regarding this grave is of another young woman whose name has been lost in the retellings of the legend. In this legend, the young girl is someone who is known for her healing abilities and was thought to be able to control humans and animals. When the woman passed away, her father planted the tree on her grave to preserve her spirit.
Despite who might be buried under the tree, there are claims of paranormal activity in the cemetery. A woman has been reported by the grave that will disappear when approached. Some people who have visited the grave have reported that they have felt anger and loneliness when they approached the tree but after they left the cemetery they felt normal again.
According to The Illinois Road Guide To Haunted Locations there is a dare that says if you go to the cemetery and touch the tree at midnight, the witch will show herself. Perhaps I will go tomorrow night on All Hallow’s Eve to see if the witch will show herself. I’ll let you know if I meet her.