True Ghost Stories from America’s Most Haunted Old Cemeteries?

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article – just in time for Halloween – Gena searches old newspapers to uncover eerie stories of ghostly sightings and hauntings at some of America’s oldest cemeteries.

In my work as a genealogist, I’ve been to cemeteries all over America. I’ve even written a book (Cemeteries of the Eastern Sierra) about cemeteries in the Eastern Sierra mountain range of California. And because I’ve been to so many cemeteries I’ve also had diverse experiences on these visits – from a tender scene of a deer family grazing on the morning grass, to an opened grave and its skeleton inhabitant. But I have, luckily, never seen a ghost during my various cemetery trips.

illustration of a ghost in a cemetery

Source: Ghost Horror Collections

However, there have been plenty of ghost sightings by others who visit America’s cemeteries, and some of these cemeteries are rather notorious for their paranormal activity. Have you had a supernatural experience of your own at any of these famous haunted cemeteries?

New Orleans Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau

One of the more infamous New Orleans citizens was Marie Laveau. While today her name is synonymous with voodoo, it’s obvious from her obituary that she was a well-regarded citizen of her community – although there were those at the time who feared her strange priestess powers.

Her obituary reports:

On Wednesday the invalid sank into the sleep which knows no waking. Those whom she had befriended crowded into the little room where she was exposed, in order to obtain a last look at the features, smiling even in death, of her who had been so kind to them.

Known as the “Voodoo Queen of New Orleans,” Laveau willingly administered to the sick.

According to her obituary:

Besides being very beautiful Marie was also very wise. She was skillful in the practice of medicine and was acquainted with the valuable healing qualities of indigenous herbs. She was very successful as a nurse, wonderful stories being told of her exploits at the sick bed. In yellow fever and cholera epidemics she was always called upon to nurse the sick, and always responded promptly.

obituary for Marie Laveau, Times-Picayune newspaper article 17 June 1881

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 17 June 1881, page 8

Marie’s obituary concludes:

All in all Marie Laveau was a most wonderful woman. Doing good for the sake of doing good alone, she obtained no reward, oft times meeting with prejudice and loathing, she was nevertheless contented and did not flag in her work…Marie Laveau’s name will not be forgotten in New Orleans.

Not only has her name not been forgotten, some people insist her healing powers remain active. Generations of visitors to her tomb in Saint Louis Cemetery have marked an “X” on its walls and made a wish for her to grant, returning with an offering after the wish was supposedly granted. Yes, some have reported feeling a presence at her tomb or a hand on their shoulder – this “ghost story” is about what Marie does for others from the beyond.

article about Marie Laveau's tomb in New Orleans, Advocate newspaper article10 August 1976

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 10 August 1976, page 28

However, unlike most ghost tales involving America’s old cemeteries, this one has had an unfortunate consequence. Years of those “X” marks have led to damage to her family tomb and the resulting closure of the cemetery to the public (to visit the cemetery now you must have family buried there or be part of a guided tour).

It’s now134 years later, and the last sentence of Marie’s obituary continues to ring true: “Marie Laveau’s name will not be forgotten in New Orleans.”

Celebrity Ghost Sightings

Even celebrities have been known to haunt America’s old cemeteries. Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Southern California is known for its celebrity burials. Some of the famous who reside there include Douglas Fairbanks, Jayne Mansfield, and Rudolph Valentino. As with any old cemetery it also has its share of ghost stories, including one non-resident ghost that comes to visit.

Marion Davies, film actress and longtime mistress of newspaperman William Randolph Hearst, died in September 1961 after succumbing to cancer. She was buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery in a family mausoleum that would later include her “niece” Patricia Lake.

obituary for Marion Davies, Springfield Union newspaper article 23 September 1961

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 23 September 1961, page 1

Hearst died almost 10 year prior to Davies and was buried in Northern California at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma. Still married when he died, Hearst had openly lived with Davies and is rumored to have fathered a child with her – Patricia Lake – who was raised by Davies’ sister. Davies played hostess and helped Hearst with financial matters, even providing him a million dollar check when his business was in trouble. All this happened while he was married to his wife Millicent, who escaped the day-to-day reality of the scandal by moving to New York to conduct her philanthropic work – out of sight of her husband’s affair.

obituary for William Randolph Hearst, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 15 August 1951

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 15 August 1951, page 1

With Hearst and Davies long gone, you’d think their story had come to an end — but not so. Some startled visitors to Hollywood Forever Cemetery have reported seeing the ghost of William Randolph Hearst haunting the gravesites of the mistress he loved and the daughter he could never publicly acknowledge.

Nevermore, Nevermore

It probably comes as no surprise that the final resting place for writer Edgar Allen Poe is haunted.

obituary for Edgar Allen Poe, Enquirer newspaper article 16 October 1849

Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia), 16 October 1849, page 4

Most people are familiar with the story of the mysterious visitor, the “Poe Toaster,” who for 75 years – starting in 1934 – visited Poe’s grave in the middle of the night on January 19 (the author’s birthday), drank a toast to him, and left three roses and the rest of the bottle of cognac.

article about the mysterious "Poe Toaster" who secretly visited Edgar Allan Poe's tomb for 75 years, Register Star newspaper article 23 January 2004

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 23 January 2004, page 25

Poe’s mysterious visitor made his last appearance in 2009, the 200th anniversary of the author’s birth. He – or it – was never identified, and perhaps never will be.

And while some have claimed that Poe’s ghost walks the cemetery catacombs, there are other ghostly residents that make Westminster Hall and Burying Ground (established in 1787) repeatedly named as one of the most haunted cemeteries.

The “Screaming Skull of Cambridge,” a head belonging to a murdered minister, is just one of the ghostly residents of this old Baltimore, Maryland, cemetery reported by visitors. The ghost story goes that his corpse would scream day and night, so his mouth was gagged in an effort to muffle the ongoing screams. When that didn’t work his body was decapitated and his skull was buried in a block of cement. Other reported ghosts roaming the old cemetery grounds include a teenage girl that can be seen praying by her grave, and a woman who spent time in an asylum who follows visitors around the cemetery. She is quite recognizable since she was buried in a strait jacket.

Ghosts in the Cemetery

Do you live by a haunted cemetery? Have you ever seen a ghost? If you want to research the cemetery you’ve visited, or learn more about the rumors you heard about a ghost sighting there, search GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

There’s no doubt that genealogists spend a lot of time walking through old cemeteries and are the most likely folks to see the supernatural. Whether you enjoy seeking out haunted experiences or would rather stay safely away from such places, have a Happy Halloween!

Related Cemetery Articles:

Jeff Corey & Me: Filling In the Blanks in My Own Life Story

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott researches the history of an old acting professor of his—Jeff Corey—and discovers that filling in the blanks of Jeff’s life story in turn fills in some blanks in his own life history.

If you follow my posts here on the blog for, you read toward the end of my latest article “Finding the Historical Articles That Tell My Ancestor’s Story” that I had discovered a one-line death notice for Jeff Corey. He was one of my favorite professors when I was a student in the “World Campus Afloat” program. While I remember him as my instructor, you might best recall him as Sherriff Ray Bledsoe in the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Finding Jeff’s death notice led me to think back on many of the stories that this friendly, approachable, and talented professor shared with me when I was a student, and reminded me how important he once had been in my life. Sadly, I realized that although he once mentored me, he actually was a blank in my life history—I really didn’t know very much about Jeff Corey.

These memories prompted me to undertake another search in and see what else I might discover about Jeff. As usual, I wasn’t disappointed and I was able to more fully document and add this person from my own life to my family’s extensive family history and genealogy—filling in the blanks about Jeff’s story in turn filled in a blank in my own life history.

The first thing I did, as any good genealogist does, is look for multiple copies of an individual’s obituary. I was very happy to discover that, while my earlier find had been only that one-sentence death notice, more than a dozen other newspapers provided more extensive obituaries for Jeff Corey. As you might expect for an American actor, one of the best I found was in a Los Angeles newspaper.

Obituaries: Jeff Corey, 88, Los Angeles Times newspaper article 19 August 2002

Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California), 19 August 2002

Not only did this extensive obituary list some of Jeff’s best known roles in movies such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, In Cold Blood, and Little Big Man, it also listed some of his television credits in successful sitcoms such as One Day at a Time and Night Court. Then his life story got really interesting.

I found more information on a time in Jeff’s life that he had only briefly touched on when we talked those many years ago as student and instructor. This was the period when Jeff Corey was blacklisted in Hollywood for more than ten years! His mistreatment was a result of Jeff’s appearance before the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the 1950s. Once again, and its database of historical documents proved invaluable.

In GenealogyBank’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set collection, I found the Annual Report for the Committee on Un-American Activities for the year 1952. It included Jeff Corey with the notation: “(Appeared Sept. 21, 1951, and refused to affirm or deny Communist Party membership.)” On the same page you can see many others who also refused to comply with the committee’s demands.

U.S. Congressional Serial Set: Annual report of the Committee on Un-American Activities for the year 1952

U.S. Congressional Serial Set: Annual report of the Committee on Un-American Activities for the year 1952. December 28, 1952. (Original release date.) January 3, 1953.

This action was enough to get Jeff Corey blacklisted and banned from any work in Hollywood for more than ten years. I found Jeff’s comment, related in his obituary, to be most interesting. He said “The only issue was, did you want to just give them their token names so you could continue your career, or not?” He chose not to name any others in Hollywood.

I think you could say that Jeff got the last laugh, though. While I am sure he missed out on a multitude of roles in those ten years—and he did tell me they were some very lean years—he became one of the most sought-after acting coaches in all of Hollywood!

This 1975 California newspaper article reported that some of Jeff’s more notable students were such Hollywood superstars as Jack Nicholson, Anthony Quinn, Jane Fonda, and Kirk Douglas. Needless to say, I was truly impressed by this talented group.

Jeff Corey Sees Simplicity as 'The Logic to Acting,' San Diego Union newspaper article 2 January 1975

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 2 January 1975, page 47

Jeff’s return to the “big screen” was noted in this 1961 Louisiana newspaper article.

Jeff Corey Back before Cameras after 10 Years, State Times Advocate newspaper article 17 January 1961

State Times Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 17 January 1961, page 9

Jeff continued to coach actors even after he returned to his career in acting. I found a wonderful quote praising Jeff by one of my favorite actors, James Coburn, published in this 1979 Ohio newspaper article.

notice about actor Jeff Corey, Plain Dealer newspaper article 31 August 1979

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 31 August 1979, page 142

After I finished my genealogy research on Jeff, I was pleased with how much information I had found and how much more I knew of this cherished professor. I was also happy because I had filled in a delightful segment in my own family history story—one I hope my children and grandchildren will someday enjoy reading as much as I did researching and writing it.

My closing advice is this: Don’t overlook your own life stories while you are working on your genealogy. They can be great fun and lead to many surprising discoveries!

More Obituary Archives Online at GenealogyBank!

Last month we added 31 million more records to our historical newspaper archives—and already this month we are working on putting more newspaper obituaries online to keep adding resources for your family history research.

In the next few weeks we’ll be adding current publications of these titles to GenealogyBank’s online U.S. newspaper obituary archives, adding thousands more obituaries for your genealogy research. Search for these recent obituaries from several U.S. locations including Chicago, Illinois, the surrounding Chicago metro area, and many more. Look for these obits to go live online soon on the New Content page.

State City Publication



Florida Pompano Beach Pelican, The



Illinois Aurora Beacon News, The: Web Edition Articles



Illinois Chicago Chicago Sun-Times: Web Edition Articles



Illinois Elgin Courier News: Web Edition Articles



Illinois Naperville Naperville Sun, The: Web Edition Articles



Illinois Tinley Park SouthtownStar: Web Edition Articles



Illinois Waukegan Lake County News-Sun: Web Edition Articles



Iowa Waterloo Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier



Maryland Hollywood Calvert Gazette



Michigan Reed City Herald Review



Missouri St. Joseph Saint Joseph Telegraph, The