Some of the things I have come to enjoy through my years of paranormal explorations are the new experiences that always come along and the people we meet and become friends with.
One of the highlights of my year is always the tours that the paranormal research group I belong to put on around the Halloween season. This year I got to combine my most enjoyable things with those tours.
Scheduling allowed us to have a total of four tours this year, Friday October 21 and Saturday October 22 and then again on Friday October 28 and Saturday October 29. For those of you who feel that moon phases and weather conditions may have an effect on paranormal activity, the weather was very cold and damp for the first set of tours and the moon phase was the last quarter. For the last two tours, weather was much warmer and dryer with the new moon arriving on October 30.
There were a fairly large number of participants for tours on both weekends so there was a great deal of energy created by those present. The groups were generally well behaved with good questions but of course, the reactions to some phenomena were rather loud. Everyone reacts differently to the unknown and most especially if you are anticipating something “scary” happening, so there were even some screams and nervous laughter.
I was lucky enough to be chauffeured on the tours by my good friends, Kelly and Tammie Smith. Kelly is one of those gentle giants who knows no strangers and is full of stories about the people and history of our neck of the woods. His wife, Tammie is a friend whom I have worked with for years who very gently keeps an eye on my klutzy meanderings. Together, they made all the tour nights very enjoyable.
When conducting the tours, Jason Snider, the founder and lead investigator for The Crawford County Illinois Ghost Hunting Society, planned stops at several different supposedly haunted locations in our area. There were representations from several different areas of several counties that included cemeteries, a general store and church that were no longer in use (but seemed to still be occupied), a tiny country store used by farmers (living and dead), and a former country schoolhouse that is now used as a community center. By using different stops on each night of the tour we were able to allow the participants to experience the activity in a varied fashion, all the while learning how to use the equipment and the proper way to conduct an investigation.
On the first two tours we had some activity. Several people felt as if they had been touched by unseen hands and there were some clear EVP from sessions in several of the stops. In particular, a woman admonished us that “you are standing on my grave.” Remember this last bit of information please, it will be important later in my story. It was, however, the last two tours that will remain the most memorable to me for many years to come. Not only did I have some new experiences, at least one of them was a shared experience with one of my friends.
In past columns I have mentioned several times that we investigate a cemetery called Baker Cemetery quite often. This is the final resting place (although I am not completely sure she does “rest”) of the only woman tried and hung in Illinois for murder. Betsey Reed is buried beside the husband she was convicted of murdering by placing arsenic in his sassafras tea. We generally get quite a few EVP when recording at her gravesite and the EVP are almost always Class A, very clear and easily understandable and always spoken in the same women’s voice. In fact, it was by her stone that the recording was made of the woman stating someone was standing on her grave. Goosebump time, right?!
On the Friday night tour of our last weekend, our final stop was Baker Cemetery. There were several people who were rather loud and boisterous. Most of our time there had been spent by Betsey’s grave and I was worried that she had been disturbed by the noise. When most of the group went to another area of the cemetery, I apologized quietly to Betsey and walked to the entrance of the cemetery to wait. Tammie wandered back there also and we were both commenting that we had made our apologies to Betsey and then chose to stand in silence. After a few minutes of waiting, I got that familiar itch between my shoulder blades accompanied by the hair standing on the back of my neck that indicated someone was behind me. Since all other members of the tour were still in the cemetery, I mentioned the feeling to Tammie as she almost simultaneously mentioned that she felt someone behind us also.
Turning to speak to Tammie, I had one of the most bewildering and startling experiences of my life. At the time, I thought a woman had stepped between Tammie and I. After consideration, I decided that it was more as if another woman’s face had been superimposed over Tammie’s. Tammie was still there, standing in front of me but seemingly, like a transparent mask, another woman was looking at me. Being extremely startled, I jump a bit and Tammie then jumped also and spoke to me (although for the life of me I can’t remember what she said). After a moment of fright, I was able to kick into investigator mode and analyze what had just transpired. Tammie has long dark hair that she had pulled back into a ponytail for the tour. Many times she wears glasses but had not worn them that night. Since she was not wearing glasses I was not seeing a reflection in them. The face that I saw had brown hair, wavy and coarse, that hung a little below her shoulders. I do not believe I have ever seen Tammie frown more than a second and only in thought, this woman had a rigid and stern face that was very unfriendly. The detail in which I saw her was so great that I was able to see her nose; which looked like that of a boxer who had their nose broken so often that it couldn’t be re-set.
Of course, my first thought was that it was Betsey who had chosen to visit us both because she was unhappy at the disruption of her final home. This is still my thought, but not for that reason. Betsey had lived a very hard life on the prairie in the time before the Civil War, when Illinois was still considered wilderness. Her early years were spent in what is called “the dark bend” area of the next county over where thieves and river pirates liked to hang out. She had no friends and even those she helped as the local “granny woman” (herbal healer) and midwife mistrusted her. It was pointed out to me that more than likely the forbidding face that she had shown to me was her normal expression. In EVP sessions we have held at her grave, we often got a woman’s voice imploring us to believe that “I’m innocent.” This was the countenance of a very unhappy person and understandably so.
We informed Jason of what had happened and after some further exploration, the tour ended that night. In conversation the next night, Tammie questioned me in detail as to what I felt had happened from my side of the fence, so to speak. She explained that she had been in a sort of fugue where she had lost an unknown amount of time. When I became startled and jumped, it brought her out of that state. At no time did either of us feel in danger, only a bit confused and startled and maybe a bit sorry for the apparent disturbances caused of our group.
On the Saturday night tour, we chose to go to another county in the area to a cemetery that is supposed to be haunted by the caretaker who went mad and killed his family with a hatchet. This is not urban legend as there is written history of what happened. The cabin where the murders took place is right around the bend from the graveyard. Macke(y) Cemetery is very old and in exploration I did not find any recent graves. Setting on a slight rise, you must climb some crumbling cement steps to reach it. It is set back from the road in a grove of tall trees that overhang the graves. I imagine that even in full daylight they would be in deep shade.
As we entered the cemetery I was drawn to a grave site that had a military issue stone on it. Those markers are still in use and are easily recognizable for their plain design on white stone which notes the name, dates of birth and death for the person lying beneath them, as well as the branch of service and information of unit, regiment, etc. A symbol of their religion is usually etched above the other information and I believe I have seen a few that state the place where they died, if it was in a specific battle. This grave was unique in that it also had a more modern flat stone resting beside the older one. Because of age and conditions, the information on the military issue stone was almost illegible. Only the private’s name, date of birth and death, as well as a bit of the information that the soldier was in an Illinois regiment could still be read. The flat stone, being more recent and made of a harder stone, had more legible information.
As I stood reading the information and wondering about the young man that lay in that grave, who once fought for the Union in the Civil War, I felt someone standing at my left shoulder. There was muted talking from those in the cemetery and I was absorbed in my task so my thought was that it was Tammie or Kelly walking up beside me and I had not heard them. Shock number two on the tours… a young man in the uniform of a Union soldier…. was standing beside me in very close proximity. This time I could see the figure in full from head to boots and some details that indicated his branch of service.
This gentleman appeared to be a real, live person… no fuzziness or transparency….in a manner of speaking he was standing there in living color. He was gazing at the gravestones so he did not look at me and there was no interaction. However, there was not a feeling that he was an echo from the past that we call a residual haunting, more of extreme stillness and a little bit of sorrow. Obviously, this was a young man looking at his own grave. I know none of us can say that we have done that and I am sure that there would be sadness if we could, that we had not gotten to live our lives fully.
The young soldier was in Union blue with the usual round, flat topped hat with the short brim. In my research, since then I have found it is named a kepi. It had what I believe to be crossed sabers on the front but might have been crossed rifles. Being a bit of a history buff and most especially of the Civil War, I knew that there were soldiers from Illinois who fought, but not much more. However, I do have friends who have been in the armed services in recent years and I turned to one of them to help with further information. One of my closest friends was in the Army in the Cavalry. His mode of transportation was tanks rather than the horses which were used by early Cavalry soldiers. However he is a goldmine of history of the Cavalry. When I mentioned the crossed sabers he reminded me that they are the symbol of the Cavalry branch of the Army. Not only that but the fact that during the Civil War, Illinois had sent 17 Cavalry regiments to fight. Those units were known for their fierce fighting abilities. In my further research, I found that many regiments of foot soldiers were sent and the insignia they wore on their hats were crossed rifles.
Research is always a big part of investigations and helps to corroborate any possible activities. When Spring comes and the weather improves I plan on revisiting Macke(y) Cemetery and recording more information so that I can continue my research. I always love solving a good mystery and perhaps I can do that by visiting this young soldier again.
In closing, I wanted to share these experiences with you for several reasons. First of all, if it happens to you please do not be afraid. In the past, I have had experiences with full or partial body apparitions but never up close and personal. Generally, I “feel” someone without a body and information is shared by them with me almost like a computer download. Occasionally, I hear someone speaking when there is no one present. Having two such vivid events in a small amount of time has rocked me a bit, but in a good way.
If something like this happens to you, perhaps you should feel honored rather than frightened. I am sure that may sound very strange. Look at it in this way, in past columns I have spoken of honoring those who have passed by continuing their memory. Often, supposed negative activities are only those who are lingering who want some acknowledgement. If you treat spirits with respect, most generally, they will return the favor. It is my hope that, because I was honoring their memory by visiting them, the two spirits who visited me in return felt my respect and honor for the people they were when they lived. As more people become aware of the mysteries that surround us and realize that perhaps it is only our bodies that die, the living will be able to interact with those who have passed on. Thank you for allowing me to share these experiences with you and my hope is that you will read them with an open and hungry mind.