Restless spirits speak at Old Baptist Cemetery ~ Hannibal, MO

Years ago, I watched an old cemetery caretaker locate occupied, unmarked graves using dowsing rods. George was a devout Christian, yet seemed to have no issues utilizing this bit of witchery to accomplish his tasks.
Last Wednesday, using the same technology, I conversed with some restless souls at old Baptist Cemetery in Hannibal.
It was ostensibly your standard haunted tour, with stops at various decaying structures and stories of “what happened one time” but I did NOT expect the tour to end this way.

It was hotter than Hades, with barely a breath of breeze stirring except when our tour trolley was in motion. There was the expected aforementioned stops and tour guide banter, but as the trolley struggled up the last hill to reach Old Baptist Cemetery, the energy changed. The evening cicadas sang and ancient headstones leaned drunkenly, if they stood at all. Years of obvious neglect had left it in a shambles, and the professional side of me cast a slight frown on the use of a cemetery for tourism, but all that vanished when the dead began to speak.
I got my pair of dowsing rods, grasping them as George had shown me years before, and cleared my mind of any expectation or anticipation.

Then they moved.

They aimed to my left so I turned and they straightened as I faced their desired direction. My footfalls were soft, deliberate as I followed each gentle swing of the rods. Finally, I found myself at a clump of shrubbery, with a jumble of headstones underneath.
The conversation was silent, all mental, with the rods speaking for the other side. If the tips touched, the answer was yes. If they didn’t move, it was no.

Is this where I’m supposed to be?

Are you buried here?

I wanted to take a picture of the stones, but it didn’t seem right to do so with asking.
May I take a picture of the headstones?
I moved some branches aside and snapped a few camera shots, including the one above.

I didn’t know what to ask next so I turned and started to see where to check out next.
The rods quickly swung around, pointing back to the headstones I just turned away from.
OK, I thought. Unfinished business.

We aren’t done visiting yet?

Is there something I can do for you?
A pause…

I had a strange feeling coming about me… not necessarily sadness but more of gentle anger, if that makes sense.

Are you upset?

I wasn’t sure what to ask next. Then thought occurred:

Would you like me to say a prayer for you? (Now this goes against my heathen nature, but in days of old it was tradition to pray when visiting the graves of family.)

Are you a Christian?
I mustered out a prayer that this restless soul would find peace and rest in the next world.
I paused for a moment, thanked and bid farewell to this soul and turned to see if the rods would swing back that way.

They didn’t.

I had a shorter experience at some toppled markers along the tree line. In short, I think they just wanted their presence known.

Now, as this experience unfolded, I had memory of visiting a palm reader and spiritualist a few years back. As she touched my hands, she yanked them back almost immediately, almost as if she had gotten an electric jolt from me.

She seemed very unsettled and surprised as she stammered out a question.

Have you had a lot of relatives die recently?

Ummm nope.

She continued “I see death all around you” and it obviously didn’t sit well with her.

I smiled. I told her that it was probably my job.

And with that, she relaxed. That makes sense, she said.

She went on to say that I had a unusually large number of spirits attached to me.

Now that surprised me.

She explained that they were attracted to me because of the kindness I had shown them.


She smiled. Yes. Don’t you realize that very often you are the last person to touch their physical form on Earth?

I guess that I had never thought about it, but it sort of made sense.

She closed her eyes. There’s one in particular right out front. A little boy, 8 or 9, maybe. Dark hair. He’s very close to you.

At that moment, I realized exactly who she was talking about. One of the worst funerals I ever had to do. A true heart breaker. A nine year old who died in a house fire. His service was so stressful that I had started smoking again because of it.

I asked her if there were any spirits attached that I needed to be concerned about. She said no. No evil or ill intent found among them.

As I stood in that cemetery, I decided that I would ask if she was right.

Are there spirits attached to me?

Is one a little boy named Brian?

Are there any spirits attached that I need to worry about?

At that point, the tour guide summoned us all to return to the bus. Others with me had some experiences just as interesting. If you find yourself in Hannibal, take the tour. Place your skepticism aside and take a walk through Old Baptist with an open mind. Ask questions that only you know the answer too.

My guess is that you’ll find the answers among the tombstones.

The Demon Why

Yesterday, I read an amazing blog post by my friend, Don. You can find his blog at Don is a good cop, maybe the best of them. He understands how compassion, kindness and humor can defuse and remedy a lot of the awful situations he faces every day. I admire him and his writing is superb, but I especially admire his ability to do a job that I once thought I wanted but realize that I don’t have what it takes.
His latest post is called “A senseless death” and by reading it, an all-too-familiar demon was summoned.
The demon “Why?”
Through my years as a funeral director, I have had many encounters with clergy of all faiths who have been unable to dispel this particular demon satisfactorily.
He’s a demon that I just can’t seem to shake.
I have one of those jobs that brings things into my life that makes me wrestle with “why” on a regular basis.

*Why does a 6 year old have to take a bullet from some sub-human and die?
*Why did two sons from the same family die a couple of years apart? Both of them under 40. In unrelated circumstances. Why did I have to try and bring comfort to their wonderful, loving parents who hugged me and handled the loss seemingly more at peace than I did?”
*Why did the mother of an 8 year old boy (whose death from cancer stirred emotion from even us weather-beaten old salts) get murdered only a year or so after his death?
*Why did the friends of my parents have to suffer the loss of 2 children? One from suicide and one from a car wreck?
*Why did all the prayers of so many people that were being said from my father’s dying wife have no apparent effect?

For all my conversations with clergy, the common theme seems to be faith.

And forgive the brevity of this post, but I am having a hell of a hard time keeping faith alive when confronted with the demon “why” every day. I don’t know how my friend Don holds it together when he sees even more than I do.

Black Friday

This is a little late, seeing as Black Friday was yesterday.  But the day after Thanksgiving means very little to me in the way of shopping.

But it is forever one of the days in my life that I will never forget.

The funeral home that I worked at didn’t allow us to take the day after Thanksgiving off.  Typically, is was just a very busy day.

But Black Friday 2004 bypassed busy and went right off into the surreal.

It started quiet.  Eerily so.  The morning passed without so much as a phone call.  We all had that sick, uneasy feeling in our guts, knowing that some psychic groin kick was in the works.

I ate my lunch.  We spoke of the quietude, and took bets on what was coming next.

And I never would have guessed it.  Not in a million years.

I went back to the main desk after lunch, the phone rang as I approached.  My colleague grabbed a first call sheet and started scribbling down information.

And so it begins.

He finished with the first sheet and grabbed a second one and started filling it out.  He motioned to me to look at the finished one.  I vaguely recognized the name, but couldn’t place it.  I looked over his shoulder to see him writing the second individual’s name.  The same last name.  A husband and wife.

And then the words “Murder-suicide.”

I racked my brains trying to figure out the name and how I knew them.

I was still pondering that bit when the phone rang again.  The funeral home’s owner answered it.  He came out of his office with an awful look on his face.

“There’s a Chesterfield detective on the phone, and he wants to talk to YOU.”  He gave me a look like “what did you do?”

Hopefully the look I gave him in reply said “I haven’t a fucking clue” because I didn’t.

“This is Lt. So and so from Chesterfield Police.  I am investigating a murder-suicide in our jurisdiction and I have some questions for you.”

He then prattled off questions about how did I know these people; was I aware of what was planned, when did I last speak to them, et cetera.

I answered honestly.  I knew the names but couldn’t place them, and no and I don’t know.

Finally, when he was done questioning me, I asked him why I was being contacted.

His answer:

“Because your name was mentioned in the suicide note.”

Bam.  I couldn’t speak.  I could barely think.  A pure WTF moment if there ever was one.

And apparently, they left several of my business cards laying about.  My cards and the suicide note were the only pieces of paper in the house that hadn’t been shredded or destroyed.

He asked me to let him know if I thought of anything else.  I don’t remember what my response was but I numbly hung up the phone.  My employer looked at me kindly, and asked what was going on, so i told him what I knew.

“Well, that’s a first,” was all he could say.

The rest of the day, I kept trying to remember this couple.  I even went through the stack of thank you cards that I had received from clients to cheer me up when I got low.  I was about three cards into the stack when I saw their names and all came back to me.

They had come in that past summer to buy a wooden display case for the woman’s son from her first marriage who had committed suicide himself earlier.  He was a military veteran, and they wanted to keep as many positive things about him as they could.  I helped them select a flag case and gently placed his flag into it when it arrived.  They thanked me and we all went about our lives.

Until that Black Friday.

The details started to filter through to me during the arrangements with both families.  They had mailed out letters (postmarked Tuesday) to various relatives telling them what they were going to do.  The letters were timed to be delivered after the holiday when it would be too late to stop them.

Concerned relatives called the police after the letters were received, and their decomposing bodies were discovered.

Each family was a challenge.  The husband’s family seemed to believe that I had some prior knowledge and/or was profiting from this situation somehow.  Like I would get a commission based on people mentioning my name to the funeral home or something asinine like that.

The wife’s remaining son and her ex made the arrangements for her.  My main memory of that was my having to run to the bathroom literally every five minutes because I was doing the wonderful pre-colonoscopy “cleanse” and it hit me smack in the middle of the arrangement.

The husband’s brother was insistent on seeing them.  He wouldn’t believe that it was them until he saw them first-hand.  I tried delicately to explain how he really did NOT want to see them in their bloody, decomposed state.  He insisted.  Finally I agreed, but with the warning that he was going to sign a disclaimer and that the viewing was going to take place in our lower garage away from the main building.

“Why?” he asked.

Because of the smell, sir.

That was apparently enough to change his mind.

He insisted on going to the crematory and watching the cremation take place.

I took them together in a companion urn to the cemetery for burial with both families present.  As I left, I felt a tremendous relief.  I was done with that mess.

Or so I thought.

About a year later, I was manning the main desk and took a call from a woman, asking me if her brother’s car was in our parking lot.

I checked the lot and saw none, so I called her back and she informed me that her brother was down the street from us and had called her to tell her that he was coming to our parking lot.

To kill himself.

I quickly advised her to call the police and give them that information and that I would keep my eyes out for his car.

She called back about a half-hour later to see if he had shown up.  He hadn’t (thank you Jesus) and she then informed me that she was the sister of the woman who died with her husband the previous year.  This was their brother she was looking for.

Oh.  My.

I asked her how her nephew (the wife’s remaining son) was coping.  I wasn’t prepared for what she said next.

“Oh, didn’t you hear…”

No I hadn’t.  Apparently he got into an argument with his wife, and in a rage went upstairs, grabbed his shotgun, came back downstairs, stuck the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger.  In front of his wife and her teenage daughter.

An entire family.  Wiped out by separate murders/suicides.

I don’t know how to end this, except to say that I think about them every Black Friday.

And for those of you wondering whether this is fact or fiction, there is a reason I didn’t put names in this.  Out of respect to the remaining relatives.