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Cemeteries Revisited?

Lately, I've been doing a little side-study on the rather not-terribly-happy topic of death and dying from a scientific, historical and cultural view. In doing studies like this, you end up finding out more about things "to come", so to speak, than sometimes you're prepared to find out... such as something that made me re-think one of my views.

If I had a nickel for every time I have said "Cemeteries and Burial Grounds are statistically NOT very haunted! There are precious few "true" ghost reports from them! People, or rather 'the ghosts that represent the dearly departed', tend to haunt the places where the person the ghost represents (or is) worked, played, lived or passed on, NOT where they are buried!"

Well, here's a thought... that last option... where they passed on. Maybe more than we might think passed on AFTER internment in the ground.

With the modern technologies at our disposal, we feel VERY secure about the time of actual bodily death. Instruments can detect the slightest brain activity or lack of it and the last few beats of a heart but we have all heard tales of people that have even recovered from a modern diagnosis of death in recent years despite the fact that medical professionals had assumed that their number was indeed up.

Now, let's go back a few years... How did they tell when the living person had finally, truly passed into final rest? To be honest, they really didn't have any perfect ways to tell. Sure, a stethoscope (which was used to detect heartbeats and only used/accepted as a true measure of death as of 1846) was occasionally used but the only true measure of a person's body being dead was "putrefaction", or in laymen's terms, when the body began to rot. The first usual sign of putrefaction is a discolouration in the lower right-hand side of the abdomen (where the appendix is) and this discolouration could take several days after which the liquefaction of the organs and the general "nasty smell" would have started. Not a pleasant way of telling that indeed someone had finally left this mortal coil! Needless to say, many 'tests' were used to check for death in the days before refrigeration and not all of them were perfect.

Tests such as the mirror under the nose to look for it misting (showing that the person was still breathing,) temperature (a cold corpse as opposed to a warm person... probably a bad idea for a test in the cold conditions of the Canadas during the winter) and pricking, stabbing and even burning (with a candle) the 'corpse' to ensure that it was indeed insensible and therefore "dead" were used (this was, of course, before anyone had thought that sleep = painlessness... before anesthetic for surgery). All of these were horribly inaccurate and probably sent more than a few folks to the grave who otherwise didn't belong there yet!

Back about 200 years ago, a doctor's 'death certificate' literally could legally say 'X' person died on 'X' date, so I'm told. meaning that the doctor did not even have to view the corpse or do an autopsy (most corpses were not "cut open" because of a general fear and loathing of autopsies and dissection after death) to proclaim someone ready for burial.

During the several cholera outbreaks in Upper Canada, it is not unlikely more than a few people were plunked into a coffin and interred in an extreme state of catalepsy or coma and MIGHT have revived once six feet under.

In 1849 in Gloucester England, there was an outbreak of cholera that claimed 119 lives. A contemporary interview of a church sexton by Tebb and Vollum revealed this...

"Sometimes, they come to afterwards and we hear 'em kicking in their coffins, but we never unscrewed 'em 'cause we knew they got to die."

Basically, the thought was, better to have the sick die interred than infect more of the living if, post putting them into a casket, the corpse came back to life.

It's a well known and historic fact that the bubonic plague caused an extreme catatonia and coma-like condition that lead to thousands in Europe being wrapped in a shroud and thrown into the mass burial pits to be buried alive and to possibly revive in a heap of corpses.

There are literally thousands of stories about graves being exhumed right up until the early 1900's across the world to find the "corpse" had tried to claw it's way out of it's coffin. Torn fingers and wood splinters under their fingernails.

It's not unlikely that the above also lead people to stronger beliefs in vampirism! Just putrefaction and this sort of thing would definitely chill the hearts of a group looking at an exhumed person... The liquefaction of the organs and gasses that build up during this can cause bloating and blood to run out of the mouth and a reddish hue to the cheeks and lips. Top this off with a horrible stench and the possibility of a premature burial victim's attempts to claw themselves out of the trap before passing and no wonder the fear of the "undead" was so prevalent!

Could the same happen in Upper Canada or Ontario? Now-a-days, it's HIGHLY unlikely. I'm sure your chances of winning the Lotto Super Seven are MUCH, MUCH, MUCH better than being prematurely buried BUT back in the 1800's and before... well... it was still unlikely but not impossible to think that indeed people probably were buried while alive.

So, guess what that COULD mean... The person died in the cemetery!

So, do the ghosts of cemeteries represent those people that shouldn't have been there quite so soon? Could be!

There is the story of St. Frithstane who, when saying a mass for the dead in a cemetery outdoors said the Latin phrase "requiescat in pace" which garnered a chorus of voices from the graves responding "Amen".

Just a thought...

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The following e-mail to me came in from our own researcher, Tere, who gave me the following thoughts... (It has been edited slightly)...

From: "Tere"
To: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Subject: editorial re cemeteries and premature burials

Hello Matthew,

Interesting editorial about the cemeteries and premature burials. I don't think we can even imagine the terror of waking up in a buried coffin, six feet under. And, yes, if someone was buried alive in this horrific way it could certainly lead to some ghostly activity.

As for the activity, or lack of it, of ghosts in cemeteries (other than the above)...I always wondered...since there is so much emotional energy at cemeteries from the family and friends of the deceased...I would think that there might just be the possibility of some activity since ghosts can be attracted to this type of energy and the visitations of family members, etc.,some on a very regular basis, might be the catalyst of some activity if only for a rare few. I am wondering this...Is it always the personal energy of the ghost that causes it to return to a certain area, as in a violent death at a certain place etc., or can it be the energy of someone who was very close to them, for whatever reason, when in this dimension?

One quick example...when my mother (who did not believe in ghosts nor NDE's and ended up experiencing both, by the way) was in the hospital she told me on the QT that my father, who passed away 16 years previously, had been at the doorway of her room and they had a very interesting conversation pertaining to her present condition. If we can presume that this was an apparition then it was not in a place it had ever been in life and was not attracted to any place personal but someone else s energy, so to speak.

If that is so, why not activity in cemeteries where some family and friends spend a lot of time in a highly emotional state. (My mother went weekly for 16 years.)

Now, I suppose we have to make the distinction between ghosts and spirits.

Ghosts being earth bound and spirits having passed over into the light and just coming for the occasional "visit" to perhaps finish off some incomplete business or help in some other way. IMHO

Do ghosts only "haunt" the places that they have known in their lifetime or experienced strong emotions in or around and spirits can basically go anywhere they are needed, etc.? And if that is the case, how do you explain "personal" hauntings of certain people, no matter where they move to?

I am not convinced that there is nil activity in cemeteries, Matthew, just because we have not come across any yet. I would think that the percentage is about the same as with any other area that contains strong emotional energy even if it is not the "ghost's". I also think that in a few extremely rare cases the people left behind have such strong ties and such strong emotions regarding the deceased that they can literally "hold on" to the deceased and keep them earthbound. IMHO

In conclusion, I do not discount cemeteries but try to leave my mind open to all possibilities.


...and my own e-mail back to Tere (admittedly edited) was...
Hi Tere and yes, I agree with YOU whole heartedly on many points...

#1: I don't discount cemetery ghosts... I do have concerns though with people who sit in cemeteries for hours hoping and praying that their tape recorders or cameras will pick something up because "as everyone knows, cemeteries are very haunted with the souls of the dead." <- Quote from a large, well known US ghost website.

One of the things I point out to people is that getting a picture of an orb in cemetery is not really that big a coup as dust, rain and pollen are all prevalent in one way or another. As for sounds, being in literally a forest of rocks standing up in the soil is very conducive to sound echoes and therefore EVPs can not be put forward as absolute proof from a cemetery unless a strict level of protocols (that would be impossible in the GTA) were in place.

#2: When I say "statistically" there aren't many "true ghost stories" from cemeteries, I'm not only referring to our own database of submissions but of the countless ghost books I've read (and comparing notes with other researchers too). Cemeteries are not very well represented in ghostly literature or in our submissions.

#3: Honestly, I'm open minded too! I know it doesn't SEEM like it but there's a really good reason I rebuff the cemetery stories...

First of all, they're rarely "stories" at all. Most of the reports we've received from cemeteries are orb photos or "creepy feelings" or the like. Those "stories" with a history that are "stories" more than feelings are on the webpages of the site. Again, not saying that these reports can or should be ignored but it's difficult to trace back the historical references to such reports.

Also, not too long ago another research group (who I won't name but I can safely say they are no longer "working") decided to do the cemetery thing... They went off to a semi-abandoned cemetery and took a lot of photos and a lot of attempted EVPs.

Sadly, they also displayed photos of orbs proclaiming proof of hauntings near memorials that the names were VERY visible on. The families of two of these memorials were HORRIFIED with this but "in the name of research", this group sallied forth.

The next problem was that one picture showed them using a headstone as (more or less) a coffee table a one fellow was sitting on another. Again, both names on the stones visible.

Even though the site was not exactly the most popular or well visited site, these investigators quickly garnered a few extra people on their next weekly trek to see what they could get. Sadly, these "new people" also contained drunken vandals who, doing the old "Oooo! I'm SOOO scared!" stupidity managed to damage more than a few markers.

Now, that all being said, I agree about the theory of emotions (negative and positive) giving places a particular power... Case in point was the ghost investigation in Kitchener that I mention in the course...

The sensitives (there were two of them) that media personality had brought in immediately gravitated to the kid's closet in his bedroom even though there had been no reported activity from there. I asked them both if the closet could be "empowered" by the kid spending night after night staring at it with dread and the answer was "Of course". I found that very telling as there are certain places that do seem to have generally "absorbed" the atmosphere... Any "quiet room" in a hospital for one and I have three excellent reports of my own about places like this... both involving my mother who doesn't know where her kids get this interest (in ghosts) from...

In the late 1970's, we were touring The Tower of London by ourselves and while in the bloody tower, my mother was overtaken with a feeling of profound sadness to the point of absolutely needing to get out of this one room post-haste. On inquiring, we found out that the room was where the two princes had been suffocated. My mother said "No, that's not it... There's something more recent" at which point the guide that we were talking to mentioned that the year before, the IRA had exploded a bomb killing three schoolchildren on tour of the facilities in the same room.

Another story is the house on Chaplain Cres. in Toronto which had the one room NO ONE liked! My parents were looking for a house and this had everything my mother especially wanted in one of Toronto's best neighbourhoods at a price that was VERY reasonable. It was to the point that she was desperately trying to get my father to write the cheque there and then!

...until the one room.

The house was centre hall and at the cross-over of the stairs to the second floor with a window in the front of the house was a yellow room painted brightly with a single chair in it and a radio playing, my mother and myself crossed the threshold of the room and once again, my mother hurried out vowing NOT to buy the house.

She described a feeling of loneliness mixed with "anger and resentment".

On leaving the house, she talked to a neighbour mowing his lawn and asked about the house and that room. Ends up the house was in a family of two daughters and a widower. One of the daughters married and moved on and the other stayed and took care of her father. Her father lingered to a ripe old age and she ended up passing on as a spinster not too long after her father passed away.

The room in question was "her" room for knitting and just sitting in to watch the world go by.

My mother figured the feelings were based on her not having a fulfilled life.

Okay, one last story as this post is getting VERY long...

Lynda was house-hunting in Keswick and found a wonderful home but was warned that it was indeed stigmatized.

While touring the home, she came to the master bedroom and noted with some uneasiness that one of the windows had deep gouges all around the wooden frame. She asked about it and was told that the lady of the home had been bludgeoned to death... in the master bathroom but the gouges that bothered her were from a pet parrot who had been trapped and died of starvation in the room after the murder. The bird had tried to "peck" it's way to freedom to no avail.

Added to this story is that when Lynda went to look into it, she found that not one but historically TWO woman (obviously years apart though) had met their ends by being bludgeoned to death in the same bathroom of the house.

Heck, even my place in Leaside has a story like this too!

Anyway, this has gotten WAY too long and I'll close out.


The Bedside Book of Death by Robert Wilkins

Cemetery Stories : Haunted Graveyards, Embalming Secrets and the Life of a Corpse After Death by Katherine M. Ramsland

The Victorian Celebration of Death by James Stevens Curl

Death and the Afterlife: A Cultural Encyclopedia by Richard P. Taylor

Buried Alive: The Terrifying History of Our Most Primal Fear by Jan Bondeson

Corpses, Coffins and Crypts : A History of Burial by Penny Colman

The Vampires Bedside Companion by Peter Underwood

Ghosts, Ghouls & Other Horrors by Bernhardt J Hurwood

All these books are either available via Amazon.Com or Indigo.Ca or your local library.