Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post—just in time for Halloween—Gena writes about some of the ghost stories she found in old newspapers, stories spooky enough to raise the hair on the back of your neck!
It’s that time of the year when ghost stories abound. Do you have any favorites? Better yet, do you have any familial ghost stories? What ghosts linger on your family tree? Did your family live in a haunted house? Did a dead family member return from the grave to issue a warning? Did your ancestor come in contact with a ghost?
Wonder What Happened to That Old Cemetery?
There’s no doubt that in previous generations, death was an everyday part of life. Children frequently died from diseases and accidents, loved ones’ bodies may have been prepared for burial in their own home, and in some cases the local cemetery was adjacent to a family property. Maybe this close proximity with death made some people lackadaisical or even indifferent, as perhaps happened to this Indiana man.
The following 1902 newspaper article features a story about George Flowers, who purchased land that included a cemetery. After he bought the land he removed the 300 tombstones, throwing some into the river and using the rest to build a foundation for his house. Flowers built his home and farm on top of the cemetery—over the objections of his neighbors. Although still disturbing, you might be less shocked by this behavior from someone who was not familiar with those buried there— but this particular cemetery included the graves of his brother, sister, and two of his own children! Apparently, his thoughtless deeds resulted in his farm being haunted.
Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 24 August 1902, page 5
Some of the details of this haunted farm story are downright spooky. After desecrating the graveyard, Flowers plowed the cemetery and planted it with melons and potatoes, as he did with the rest of his land. Well, the other melons and potatoes “grew in abundance,” but the ones planted in the cemetery were “eaten up by a strange bug.” Then the house started shaking violently, terrifying Flowers’s wife and two children into deserting the home. Finally, lightning struck the barn and burned the stock and building.
One sentence in this old newspaper article is especially striking: “The father seems to be impelled by some irresistible force to visit the haunted farm daily, only to flee again with increased fear.”
The Ghost in the Family
Whether just an old creepy abandoned house, one where an unfortunate death occurred, or a previous owner now deceased who won’t leave, most towns have a tale of a haunted house or a haunting. While many stories involve ghosts who are unknown to the current residents, in this 1913 newspaper article the family is haunted by one of their own.
This historical news article refers to the story of Jane Adams, a teenager who was murdered in her hometown of Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1910. Three years after her death (the newspaper erroneously says five years), her family lived in fear because she seemingly came back from the dead to haunt their home.
Columbus Daily Enquirer (Columbus, Georgia), 11 May 1913, page 1
According to the article: “Mary, a sister of Jane, declares she has frequently seen a hand protrude from closet doors, has heard queer noises at night, and has even observed the ghost’s flight from a closet through the house. The whole neighborhood is having an attack of fidgets.”
Further research into this ghost story reveals that on the night of her death, the murdered girl had gone out with her sister and a young man. After a walk to the pier she and the young man’s brother, who had joined them, were left alone. The prosecution at the time introduced evidence that Jane Adams was fighting for her honor when she was allegedly killed by William Seyler. William, after police questioning, admitted he was there when she died but denied any culpability. He claimed that they were arguing when she fell off the pier.
Ghosts Trying to Make Contact
While the previous newspaper article makes it sound as though the family was less than thrilled to be reunited with their dead loved one, in many cases Victorians wanted to have that chance to speak to and receive messages from beyond the grave. Spiritualism, a belief popular from about 1840 to 1920, provided hope to those who wanted to believe that the dead were not truly gone but could be summoned. Those desperate to hear from their deceased loved ones attended séances in hopes of making that contact. In this 1913 newspaper article about a mother who lost a child, not only does her deceased daughter provide information from the great beyond but she also makes a promise.
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 25 August 1913, page 3
This is truly an eerie family ghost story. Their dead five-year-old daughter promised during a séance that in 14 months, on Christmas Day, she would be reborn along with a twin sister. According to the old newspaper article, 14 months later—exactly on Christmas Day—the mother did indeed give birth to twin girls, “one of whom bore on the face three marks identical with marks on the face of the dead child, and after a year began to manifest exactly the same moral and physical tendencies.”
There’s One in Every Family
And while there will always be true believers in ghosts as evidenced from numerous present-day television shows and ghost tours, there’s always that one person in the family who wants to take advantage of that belief and pull a joke—sometimes with unintended consequences. Consider this tale of two brothers from a 1908 newspaper article.
Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 8 January 1908, page 6
I bet that’s one prank Henry Tomlinson regrets pulling on his brother!
Is there a story involving the great beyond in your family history? Record those ghost stories now to add interest to your family history—and please tell them to us in the comments section.