The woman in the cemetery
Most people I know grew up someplace with some kind of creepy urban legend centered on a local highway or a woods or a bridge or, of course, a cemetery. Crybaby bridges are all over the place, I heard variations on the school bus wreck and headless motorcycle rider tales from northwest Ohio when I went to college in Bowling Green, and my dad used to tell me about the time he and my grandma tried to go see a haunted headstone over in Carey.
Earlier this summer, on a night my daughter and I were hanging out, I asked her if she wanted to drive past a headstone that used to spook kids around Lake Township. We’d only just watched the Doctor Who episode “Blink” – one of my all-time favorites – so I knew this would give her that fun, goosebump kind of thrill.
The sun hadn’t set yet when we took the narrow two-lane road past the old church and its cemetery.
The thing about this particular headstone is a practically life-sized statue carved from one side, depicting a hooded woman leaning against the monolith. Kids used to say that it cried real tears, or that the sculpture was supposedly sacrilegious in some way. All I know is that because of where it is, out on that isolated stretch of road, and sitting on the edge of a hill in such a way that driving past, you can really only catch a quick glimpse of it before the embankment hides it again, and that’s where the little thrill has always come from, for me: That buildup (especially past dark) of driving out there, slowing down juuuuuust enough to see the pale woman slip into view, then that cold-water-down-the-neck feeling for just a second, and then you were past and laughing.
So Kelsey and I did that – turning around and passing three times, in fact, just for not-too-spooky fun, and joking about Doctor Who and Weeping Angels.
I was never one of those kids who actually pulled over and walked up to the thing – though one of my friends has related a story about hiding behind it and absolutely terrifying a bunch of his friends.
When Jim came up to visit this summer, he and Kelsey and I decided to visit the cemetery on the way to Hartville late one Friday morning.
While it was broad daylight and not nearly as spine-tingling as a midnight drive-by, the headstone itself still had a little of that shuddery feeling to it – I think it’s the eyes:
Of course, we got there, and we’re feeling pretty casual – being respectful of our surroundings, of course, but not running or hollering or anything – and Kels is walking up to this headstone, and she accidentally kicks it –
and the church promptly strikes twelve, even though it’s only 11:50.
We spent a long time walking around the cemetery, and in its older section across the street, which was much smaller and included headstones marking gravesites of people born, in some cases, before the birth of our country.
Looking at that picture now, and remembering that hot, sunny morning it’s easy to think that I’ve somehow made the place a little less shiver-inducing, and that I’ve lost something in doing so.
But then I look out the window into the dark, and think, “Okay, then, tough guy: Go drive over there now. It’s not even 10 minutes away.” The hairs on my arm raise a little.
And I find this twinge of fear strangely reassuring.
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