Saturday, March 28, 2009
Round Mound Cemetery
Colors streaked the sky above Round Mound Cemetery like it had been wiped with a raw steak.
The cemetery sits in the shade of a small copse of trees atop a hill surrounded by a sea of dead fields. Gravel roads tendril from county-paved highways in this rural area, some that lead from Atchison, Kan., to the nearby small town of Cummings.
That’s where Brady had first heard of Round Mound. Local legend has it that a witch is buried in the cemetery, although genealogical records are somewhat sketchy on the subject of witches. The legend says the cemetery is haunted, that wind doesn’t blow on top of the hill and the dead scream from their graves.
Back in the fall, Brady, Will and I made plans to travel to the cemetery armed with cameras and recorders to see what happened. Of course, it was now January.
Brady had been to the cemetery as a kid, but that was long enough we needed GPS to actually get there. A gravel road dropped from a county highway just after a bridge and snaked between fields, branching off toward the hill. Brady’s friend Kurt once had a bad experience at that bridge.
“The Round Mound story. Easily the weirdest, most confounding thing that’s ever happened to me,” Kurt said.
Kurt had gone to the cemetery one night with five other people, including his friend Brian. They got out of two cars and Kurt, Brian and another walked ahead, the three girls behind.
“As we go up the path, we all see a light moving between the trees,” Kurt said. “All of a sudden, when we’re about three-fourths of the way up, the light stops and starts running towards us. Another light pops … on the side of the path. We turn around and haul it to the cars. As we run, more lights appear on either side of the path.”
They hop in the cars and drive to the highway.
“I get out of my car,” Kurt said. “And go to the one behind me to see what we’re doing.”
The people in the second car yell at Kurt, telling him to get back in his car. He turns and lights are coming from under the bridge.
“There are lights just off the side of the road,” Kurt said. “We drive down to the intersection east of there, everyone decides to go home. Since I live by Cummings I drive back down past Round Mound. There are still lights moving along the path.”
Although Kurt said the most logical explanation is flashlights, he’s not convinced the lights weren’t supernatural.
“When the lights moved they moved more smoothly than someone running with it could,” he said. “And there didn’t appear to be anyone behind the lights.”
Brian’s not sure there’s a more realistic explanation. He saw a light in a tree too small to hold a man’s weight.
“The lights looked like flashlights the way they were moving around,” he said. “But some were in places that would be impossible for a person to be.”
Yep. That’s what we were looking for: strange lights, witches, a windless hill and the screaming dead.
Will pulled his car through a wide-open, home-welded gate that sat down the hill from the cemetery and parked on the brown grass just outside the cemetery grounds.
Stone walls blockade Round Mound Cemetery; its entrance a series of pipe gates built like the queue at an amusement park. We wound our way in and prepared for the night.
Will and I brought cameras, Will brought the type of hand-warming packets hunters use, and Brady brought stomach flu.
Soft, rounded gravestones from the 1800s were scattered amongst sharper granite ones. A few colorful plastic flowers sat at the occasional grave, showing someone still remembered.
January in Kansas is cold, especially when the wind blows across the plains. Especially when you’re standing on a hill surrounded by those plains. Especially when you’re standing in a haunted cemetery on that hill where the wind wasn’t supposed to blow.
I thanked Will for the hand warmers.
We took pictures and, as the sun left and night slung black across our world, we waited for the dead to howl.
Then we saw the lights. Two of them, crawling along the base of the hill. We jogged to the front of the cemetery and looked over the stone wall for a better look. The lights were coming closer, winding up the gravel road toward the cemetery.
“Isn’t that by the gate?” Will asked.
“Yep,” I said.
Will used his keychain remote to flash the headlights of his car as we ran from the cemetery. The lights were from the caretaker’s pickup. He’d almost locked us up for the night.
Later, as the three of us sat in a restaurant in Atchison, laughing at the fact that: 1) we experienced nothing paranormal, 2) we froze our tails off, 3) we were almost locked in a cemetery, and 4) we’d stopped at the one restaurant in town that didn’t serve beer, we realized one thing.
The night was still fun.
Oh, except for Brady. He got sick in the restaurant bathroom. That’s horrifying enough.
Got a scary story? Ever played with a Ouija board, heard voices, seen a ghost, UFO or a creature you couldn’t identify? Let Jason know about it: Jason Offutt c/o The Examiner, 410 S. Liberty, Independence, Mo. 64050, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Your story might make an upcoming installment of “From the Shadows.”
Jason’s book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to Missouri’s Most Spirited Spots,” is here. Order online at: tsup.truman.edu, www.amazon.com, or visit Jason’s Web site at www.jasonoffutt.com.