My Old Kentucky Ghosts


Tales of the Dead

It may be asserted, without hesitation, that no event is so terribly well adapted to inspire the supremeness of bodily and of mental distress, as is burial before death. The unendurable oppression of the lungs - the stifling fumes of the damp earth - the clinging to the death garments - the rigid embrace of the narrow house - the blackness of the absolute Night - the silence like a sea that overwhelms - the unseen but palpable presence of the Conqueror Worm - these things, with thoughts of the air and grass above, with memory of dear friends who would fly to save us if but informed of our fate, and with consciousness that of this fate they can never be informed - that our hopeless portion is that of the really dead.

- Edgar Allan Poe, "The Premature Burial"

Buried Alive

Rude Awakening - A long time ago, before embalming was common in southcentral Kentucky, my great grandmother had the misfortune of attending the funeral of very good friend. For days after the funeral, the friend's dog would not leave the gravesite. The dog would stand over the grave digging the ground and barking. Finally, concerned about the dog's strange behavior, the neighbors got together and dug up the grave. When they opened the casket, they found the woman dead but with a frozen look of horror on her face and her hands extended in front of her. She had apparently been trying to dig her way out.

Screams From the Grave - Many years ago, in Elizabethtown, A young girl had suffered through a long illness and was assumed dead; she was about seventeen. She was buried quickly because back then there was no embalming process. Everyday after the funeral, the girl’s mother would go to the cemetery. People thought the mother had gone mad because she was extremely distraught and kept telling people she could hear screams coming from the burial site. No one else could hears the screams except the mother. Finally, on the third day, the mother convinced her husband that the girl should be exhumed. When the coffin was opened, the mother passed out. The girl’s fingers were extended in front of her, and her fingernails were bloody. The inner lid of the coffin was scratched up. The girl’s mouth was stretched into a lifeless scream.

Imagine waking up inside a cramped and dark coffin.

The Full Head of Hair -When they started moving dirt to build the Nolen Dam in Edmonson County, they had to move a cemetery up around Wax Kentucky. After the graves were dug up, they used a crane to lift the coffins out of the ground. When they were lifting out one of the coffins, the hook slipped and tore the end of it apart. When this happened, a body slipped out. The workers were horrified by what they saw. The body that came out was just a skeleton, but it had a full head of hair. What disturbed the workers most was the fact that the skeletal hands were clasping the hair tightly, and the open jaw of the skull looked like a scream.

Not Asleep - Way back during the 1920s, there was a boy in Edmonson County who had a sleeping disease. He would be talking one minute then suddenly go to sleep and look dead. He did this on one occasion and didn’t wake up. The family called the doctor, who declared the boy dead. The family buried the boy, but after the funeral, the mother wouldn’t accept the fact that her boy was dead. She said she could hear him calling to her from the grave, but no one else could hear this. Finally, just to appease her, the family dug the boy back up. When they opened the coffin lid, the boy was alive. He got out of the coffin and lived to be an old man.

Other Tales of the Dead

A long time ago, my nephew's grandfather was helping to relocate a cemetery to allow room to build a new house. One of the coffins exhumed had a glass window that revealed the contents: a skeleton wearing a bright-blue suit of silk. While moving the casket, the glass broke, allowing air to seep in. Inside the disturbed casket, the beautiful blue suit turned to dust.

There used to be an old house in Franklin, now destroyed, that was frozen in one dramatic moment. A woman once committed suicide there. She was up in the attic preparing a rope to hang herself with but slipped before she had finished. The rope was around her neck but was not yet tied the proper length. The woman had busted through the ceiling of the first floor before the rope caught. The woman dangled in front of her horrified family and dinner guests. The person who told me this story said that he had visited this house before it was destroyed and that everything had been abandoned for years just as it had been on that terrible day. There was a hole in the ceiling and food left uneaten on the table. The family never returned. It is said that the woman's daughter went insane.

My Grandparents told me this story: There was a man in Barren County many years ago who used to spend a lot of time either digging a hole under a certain oak tree or building an oblong cedar box. When asked why he was digging the hole, he would reply "This is where I want to be buried." When asked why he was building the cedar box, he would reply "Because I want to go to hell a poppin' and a crackin'." One day after the hole was really deep and the cedar box was finished, he was found hanging on a noose from the oak tree above the hole. He was buried in the cedar box in the hole below the oak tree. There must be some truth to this story The fact that my grandparents claimed to have actually known this person is amazing to me. I had heard a similar tell before and had believed it to be just a campfire story.

Guarding the Dead - It used to be common for close friends of the deceased's family to sit up with the body the night before the funeral. I have been told they did this to keep the cats away, though I'm not certain what attraction cats have to dead bodies. Anyway, many years ago, as a young man, my great grandfather and a friend were sitting up with a body. Some time during the night they thought they saw movement but passed it off as their spooked imagination. However, a few minutes later, the sheet-covered body slowly rose up to a sitting position. My great grandfather was brave enough to continue guarding the body, but his friend ran out of the house and didn't come back.

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