Cemeteries are ever so haunted! They must be! Everyone knows this, right?


Sue and I are fairly decent paranormal investigators and researchers (so we're told,) and as such, I can tell you this is absolutely, positively...


Here's the challenge to those who disagree... Go to your local bookstore or library and pick up any three different "true ghost story" books... Now, count the stories and do a ratio... Cemeteries to "Other Places".

See something interesting?

Now, I hope you weren't cute and picked up "Haunted Cemeteries" for this challenge... even though it's author said some VERY flattering things about your's truly... it will skew the data incorrectly... it's like asking for the same "challenge" and picking up "Haunted Ships"... it would seem, based on a basic test like this, that every vessel in the water is haunted!

ANYWAY, as you can see, "ghosts" are reported where the person they represent lived, played, worked, visited, or died... not where they are interred.

Statistically, this is borne out without question.

So, why are cemeteries THOUGHT to be so haunted?

Well, I have four answers for you... and three are based in history and folklore... and one in human instinct... and none have to do with visitations from the beyond, I'm afraid...

The first one, and the easiest to spot, is the "Ancient Curse" deal... We've all heard about them... The Pharaohs Curse! The curse of the mummy!

Do you know what most historians feel is the reason for these curses?


Um, no...

It was to keep grave robbers out.

The thought (and it's a good one,) is that if the grave robbers, usually being "low born" and "ill educated" broke into a tomb, saw the "curse", they would flee and the occupants spared having their valuables so needed to get through the afterlife left unmolested.

Oh, and about the "curse" of King Tut? Click here...

That other mummy? Click here...

Anyway, it's a relative accepted fact that, indeed, the curses were put in place to "scare away" the superstitious.

The second one has to deal with a major taboo... which was witchcraft... and I don't mean the Frank Sinatra song...

Actually, it was the "art" of Necromancy to be exact.

There was a general "idea" that talking to the dead would illuminate the future... that using magic to "raise the dead from their sleep" would be a good idea to get a hot tip for the stock market...

The ancient Greeks were big on it, but it had a "resurgence" in Europe during the middle-ages when everyone was dabbling in weird things because it was the ultimate taboo... I mean, go off to the graveyard, draw a pentacle, try to get your dearly departed buddy Oscar to chat and you could genuinely be accused of all sorts of nasty things and off to a stake to be cleansed by fire!

Yup, it was witchcraft!

Oh, and before I get a slurry of comments telling me how awful it is to equate "witch" and this type of weird "hocus-pocus"... I know... I'm a student (not a practitioner) of Wicca... but we aren't talking about an enlightened age here! This is back when having a mole between one's breasts was considered a "third nipple with which to suckle Satan" and a guaranteed trip to the gallows at least!

Anyway, with this warning... it tended to set up TWO thoughts with people...

#1: Being in a graveyard at night could cause you to bump into these whacky and evil practitioners of the devil's arts and possibly a dead guy to boot! Best to stay away!

#2: Being in a graveyard at night we could be MISTAKEN for one of these whacky and evil practitioners and I don't look good in shackles while being tortured! Best to stay away!

Either way, it fed a fear.

The third one, and the last historical one... and the one that has probably led to most of the "modern" thoughts on ghosts in cemeteries comes from England and North America... and a little problem they had from the 1600's through the 1800's...

Before getting into it, you should know that the British people use their ghosts and have used them for convenience sake for centuries, according to Peter Underwood... and I'd agree.

Let's say you made a brisk living smuggling... but you needed people to stay away from the cellar of your home or maybe even a cave...

Well, the "gentry" won't be heading there, so it's the "peasants" and townsfolk you need to concern yourself with... what to do, what to do...

I know! Take a page from the ancient Egyptians... sorta...

Don't go down THERE... that's where the GHOST is and I seen 'im!"

Also, in England, there was a time where practising Catholic rites could get a person killed... or worse, make them a social pariah and take away all their wealth! This led to many "fine homes" having what is called a "Pope-Hole".

This was a "secret place" for a priest who was delivering sacraments to hide in lest they be discovered...

Again, who was your concern in turning you in? The servants...

How to keep them away?

"Did you hear that? It was THE GHOST! Not a priest in a hiding-space under the floor, but a GHOST!"

"What? You saw a mysterious cloaked man running into the kitchen??? I didn't see anything! He vanished??? YOU SAW A GHOST!"

Clever, eh? It would scare 'em into not wanting to investigate further... and it worked more often than you know...

Interestingly enough, Underwood surmises that many English ghost stories seemed to "start" during this time in history... and REMAIN TODAY including modern sightings of what was reported "way back when".

Are the priests haunting? Maybe the smuggler? Perhaps... or is the power of suggestion over long centuries playing a part...?

WELCOME TO MY POINT! (Read: Meanwhile, back on topic...)

Traditional Christian dogma has a resurrection planned... a day that all the dead rise for final judgement before *POOF!* we're all gone.

Now, back-in-the-day, this meant you wanted to look and be your best to meet your maker... and in one piece.

Sure, some "grave robbers" went after your jewelery perhaps... but the real fear was something far more insidious... STUDENTS!

You see, with this fear, one has to wonder where an anatomy student studying medical arts would get a cadaver for dissection? Almost no one wanted to be caught in jars or with limbs scattered when God came a callin'... so no one donated themselves to science!


Sounds bad, doesn't it... in some ways, it was.

Basically, the student (school or professor) would "hire" some ne'er do wells to run over to the cemetery, dig up fresh corpse et voila! One specimen!

Of course, this REALLY didn't go over to well with the relatives, so they had to "mask" themselves... They go in the dark, do the best job without leaving evidence... and collect the fee from the school.

This was so bad that in 1752, British Parliament had a plan... they would hand over all executed criminals to the anatomists! This had TWO bonuses... it put a stop to grave robbing and it was a double-whammy for the condemned! You're going to be killed for your crime... and then God's gonna have to get model glue for you come judgment day!

A decent deterrent and a decent idea... save two problems...

First of all, who wanted to be dissected NOW!?! I mean, if you WERE toying with the idea and you were of decent stature, who'd want to be treated like a common criminal when post-mortem!?!

Second of all, supply was not meeting demand... and the trade continued.

The ne'er do wells ended up becoming a profession... they referred to themselves as "Resurrectionists"... other's called them "Sack 'Em Up Men"... grave robbery was done by the lowest, but their trade ended up dealing with the educated elite!

Sure, there was "booty"... if a corpse had nice jewelery or even gold teeth, BONUS!

...but these guys, like most men, only wanted you for your body.

That's where the REAL coin was! Doctors paid top-dollar for a fresh one!

They became adept at their jobs... digging a small hole deep at the head of the grave near the stone, breaking open the casket, dragging the corpse out, and filling in the hole... no one was the "wiser"... several accounts of anatomy students "recognising" their cadaver.

...oh, and some "anatomy lessons" were open to the public... this led to much issues with the doctors.

(Here's the ghost part...)

To keep "witnesses" away, MANY resurrectionists pretended to be GHOSTS playing on the old fears of the cemetery at night... it was also done vice-versa... there are documented cases of "cemetery ghosts" being "created" to dissuade would-be sack 'em up men from entering the "haunted domain"... yup, it's the Pope-Hole and Smuggler's Cave ghosts in a cemetery!

...anyway, I should tell you what happened to stop this... sorta...

Thanks to the supply and demand... the "Sack 'Em Up Men" made their money... and the doctors sometimes were in big trouble... but studies HAD to carry on.

Parliament had another brilliant plan... what about the poor! They could use the "John Doe" cases and those who died in the poor house for the students!

This idea floated like a concrete Zeppelin.

This was a more "enlightened" age... and people were aghast that the "poor" were now going to be treated, in death, like CRIMINALS!?! POVERTY IS A CRIME!?!

Considering the amount of "well to do" folks that, through bad moves and whatnot, ended up in the margins of society, many feared that a stroke of a lawyers pen and they'd be spending the first part of their dirt nap on the dissection table!

Leave it to the church to come to the rescue!

(I need to go off in a direction here, but bear with me...)

Way back when, it occurred to some folks that to REALLY protect yourself from postmortem "evils", one should be buried IN a church!

Now THERE'S the ticket! Safe and sound in the church basement... bonus if you were near the altar then you'd have people praying over you constantly! Perfect to the piously paranoid!

This thought caught on like wildfire and soon churches needed new chapels simply to house the new additions to the crypt!

This got SO bad that there ended up being legitimate health concerns... too many bodies crammed into a small space... soon, some churches were terrible with putrifying gas smells (rotting corpses) and even insect infestations! It was NOT good!

The initial answer... BE BURIED IN GOD'S HALF ACRE! Not "in" the church, but in the church yard!

This worked great, but everyone wanted to be on the East side (to be front row at the BIG resurrection) and close to the church (for safety)... The North, West, and South areas... they were for "sorta-kinda-maybe" folks... suspected suicides, unbaptized babies... that type...

Didn't take too long for the church yards to fill up... and soon, even the dreaded North and West sides were being used for the good folks with the "others" being placed outside the church grounds proper...

...then they filled up...

Solution: The church decided that it was your immortal soul, NOT your body that must stay "intact"... and therefore, all was right with the world...

It also didn't hurt that doctors and medical students, finally breaking taboo, also started donating their bodies to anatomists...

So, now the church says it's okay... and the elite are doing it...

It still took a few years, but finally, the grave robbers were put out of business...

...but their stories still remain... BOO!

LAST ONE... (long post, eh?)

Here's a thought I tossed out at a few colleagues from the University of Toronto... and they said, "Perhaps..."

We all know that putrefying flesh is bad... it smells and indeed, the gasses are toxic. Worse yet, CERTAIN types of illnesses (disease) can survive in rotting flesh and can be re-released on the living...

COULD it be that ancient man KNEW this... and therefore knew... "DEAD BODY = BAD JUJU!"

So, for centuries, they get rid of the dead as best and as sanitarily as possible... and avoid 'em after that., in our heads... within our very instinct... we still know that "dead people = bad" and are hard-wired to avoid them... even if they're six-feet under and represent no threat?

Could that "fear" be supplanted by the fear of "ghosts" which justifies what we cannot explain?

Like my colleagues said... Perhaps...

Granted, they may have been humouring me.

Anyway, that's the WHOLE LONG STORY...

I suppose I could add a bit about Eastern Europe's fear of vampires (corpses rising from the dead... and the REAL Eastern European vampire is HARDLY a thing you'd want to be anywhere near... bloated, rotting, smelling foul, blood from it's mouth... it's far nastier than Bela Lugosi in a cape!) but I think you get the point.

Cemeteries are great places... quiet, introspective, beautiful... and great sources of history and even art...

...but ghosts...? In our opinion... not-so-much.


The Bedside Book of Death by Robert Wilkins
Vampires, Burial, and Death by Paul Barber
This Haunted Isle by Peter Underwood
Grave Disturbances: A History of the Body Snatchers by Geoffrey Abbott
Body Snatching: The Robbing of Graves for the Education of Physicians in Early Nineteenth America by Suzanne M. Schultz