Ghosts and Gravestones

Ghosts and gravestones often go hand-in-hand.  If you’re looking for ghosts, cemeteries are great places to start.

In my research, I’ve noticed that grave sites are often haunted, particularly unmarked and neglected graves.

However, gravestones can be haunted, even when the person in the grave seems not to haunt it.

I first noticed this at Gilson Road Cemetery in Nashua, New Hampshire (USA).  There, two gravestones seemed to hold residual energy though the grave itself has no apparent phenomena.

Check the gravestone and the grave

The first time I noticed this was when, walking past the Fisk stones near the gate to the cemetery, my EMF meter started beeping and flashing.  This continued for about 90 seconds with no explanation.

Then, the EMF activity stopped, also for no clear reason.

This was before the subdivision was built across the street from the cemetery.  There were a couple of phone lines at the street and a streetlight, but that’s all.

The stone was active.  When another team member checked the grave area, there were no EMF spikes.

Compass activity at the Robbins & Adams gravestones

When I’m at Gilson Road cemetery, the fastest way to see compass anomalies is to rest the compass on one of the flat top edges of the gravestones around the Robbins and Adams graves.

I place my compass on one stone and wait for about 30 seconds, watching the compass needle.  If it starts moving by itself, that usually signals the beginning of ghostly activity at the cemetery.

If nothing happens, I’ll move the compass to the next gravestone, and wait again.

I do this until I’ve cycled through all of the headstones in the front row at the Robbins/Adams plots.

If nothing happens, it may not be an active time at Gilson Road Cemetery.

Chicken or the egg?

People have asked whether the compass triggers the activity, or invites the spirits to manifest.

I have no idea.  It seems that way, but it’s difficult to be sure.

Like the Fisk graves, we’ve seen few anomalies at the actual Robbins and Adams graves… only at the gravestones.

And, in both cases, the EMF activity began after we’d been in the cemetery for awhile.  It wasn’t constant, and it seemed to need attention and encouragement from us.

Note: At Gilson Road Cemetery, this phenomena occurs most often in the late afternoon, near dusk.

Residual energy, ghosts and gravestones

There are a few reasons why gravestones might seem haunted when their respective graves have no activity.

It’s possible that the gravestones absorb the energy of the mourners who visited the graves for many years.  (I’ve seen flowers left at graves over 100 years old.  Some families remember their ancestors for many generations.)

I can think of a few other reasons why gravestones might retain residual energy, but this is all speculation.

The point is: I believe that some gravestones are haunted… but only by residual energy.  No one is haunting the associated grave.

This may explain some of the odd activity at Gilson Road Cemetery’s gravestones.

I’m not certain that the eerie green light above the Joseph Gilson headstone is simply residual energy.

If you’ve had similar encounters — or have alternate theories about ghosts and gravestones — I hope you’ll leave comments at the foot of this article.

Choosing the best cemeteries

Most ghost researchers will never visit Gilson Road Cemetery.  They don’t need to.  Most people can find a haunted cemetery near where they live.

Not all cemeteries are haunted.  Most graves do not seem to be haunted, either.

You need to know what to look for, when you’re ghost hunting in haunted cemeteries.

What makes a grave a good place to investigate?  These are the three biggest tips that a grave might be haunted:

  • Where the graves are located.
  • Whether or not they’re marked.
  • What’s on each gravestone (art and text).

Though I talk about this in extreme detail in my book, Ghost Hunting in Haunted Cemeteries, here are some specific tips for your upcoming ghost hunts:

  • Look for graves, gravestones, or pieces of gravestones just outside the walls of the cemetery. They’re often the best “hot spots” that connect ghosts and gravestones.
  • Unmarked graves and neglected graves are worth investigating.  There’s often a connection between ghost and gravestones that are missing or broken.  (To find unmarked graves, look for coffin-shaped depressions in the grass.)
  • In American cemeteries, 18th and 19th century graves are often the most actively haunted.  So, look for death dates in the 1700s and 1800s.  (In British cemeteries, older is sometimes better.)
  • Artwork and inscriptions can help identify the most haunted graves.  In the 19th century (1800s), different symbols — flowers, hands, Bibles, etc. — can tell a story.  A downward-pointing finger (indicating a life cut short by the hand of God) is a good place to start.  (My book includes a chapter listing the most significant gravestone artwork to look for.)

In addition to the connections between ghosts and gravestones, you’ll often discover eerie energy around the holding crypt in (or near) many cemeteries.  This is usually a small building — or a large crypt built into a hillside — where bodies (usually in coffins)  were stored during the winter, when the ground was too frozen to dig graves.

Though these crypts are rarely in use today, the buildings remain… and often have consistently high EMF spikes (and some EVP) around them.

(Note: Do not open the door or go inside a holding crypt.  In addition to trespassing, these buildings can have very unhealthy air, bacteria, etc., in them.)

Ghosts and gravestones seem to go together.  If you’re looking for a reliable place to encounter ghosts, a haunted cemetery is an ideal place to start.

Photo credits

Skull & crossbones on cemetery gate – barbara delfino, Argentina

Caskets in storage – Samantha Villagran, Mexico

Which Cemeteries Are Haunted?

The vast majority of graves aren’t haunted.  I would guess that at least 95% of graves are simply tributes to a person’s life.  No spirit is there.

Nevertheless, cemeteries are among the best places to learn ghost hunting.   Most cemeteries include at least one or two very haunted graves.

That’s all you need, to develop your research techniques.

Ghost Hunting in Haunted CemeteriesIn my book, Ghost Hunting in Haunted Cemeteries – A How-To Guide, I explain how to find the graves most likely to have ghostly energy.

In that book, you’ll learn about the kinds of cemeteries that are more likely to be haunted.  You’ll discover which parts of the cemetery — and nearby — seem to harbor more ghosts.  You’ll see the artwork and inscriptions to look for, to identify the most haunted graves.   You’ll see photos to help you find unmarked and neglected graves, which may be haunted.

And, you’ll uncover one simple rule to find ghosts if you’re in a hurry, or don’t know where to start looking in a haunted cemetery.

Choose 19th century graves

Though I can’t summarize the entire book here, the age of a cemetery (and the graves in it) seems to make a difference.

I prefer to research at cemeteries with many graves from the 19th century or earlier.

Graves from the mid-20th century to the present seem to be less haunted, but when police officers tell me about haunted graves, they’re almost always from that more recent time period… I have no idea why.  It may be a simple perception difference.

After-death expectations

Today, I think most people die with an understanding that something different and better will happen next.  And, for them, “crossing over” isn’t a big issue.

When people die with very specific expectations, some of them won’t leave the gravesite until that happens.

They might be waiting for St. Peter to escort them to pearly gates.  They may expect a particular kind of angel to arrive to guide them to Heaven.  They could expect a river to appear, and a silent boatman to guide them to “the other side.”

It all depends on the person’s spiritual context, and how sincerely (or stubbornly) they hold onto specific expectations.  In the 19th century and earlier, many people held rigid religious beliefs.  That may be one reason why those older graves are richer for ghost investigations.

The “Go to the light!” approach has become a cliche in some circles.  However, though it may sound silly to some people, if you say “go toward the light” to an unhappy spirit, they often respond with, “Oh! The light…? I do see a light.  Okay, thank you!”

That’s all we needed to do, to be helpful with that spirit.  After that, there were no further reports of hauntings at that location.

Note: In most cases, you’ll need to speak out loud, just a little louder than you would to someone standing next to you.  In other cases, a whisper or even telepathic communication may be enough.

Where else you’ll find ghosts

It’s true that some spirits never reach the grave.   They may be waiting for something at the location where they died.  Some get as far as the cemetery gates and won’t go in.

Others wait at places they enjoyed during their lives, or at the location they would have gone to next, if they were still alive.

In Scotland, I once encountered a ghost who had died, and his spirit had continued to the location of his next appointment.  Of course, the associate heard of the death and never showed up, but the spirit was determined to wait until he did.

Frankly, we don’t know enough about ghosts to understand why they haunt some places and not others.

We also don’t know enough about how we perceive ghosts, to understand why some people sense more ghosts at cemeteries (or battlefields, or houses where tragedy occurred), and others don’t.

This can be a fascinating study, and if you have ideas or suggestions, I hope you’ll leave comments, below.

Note: If you’re searching online for specific haunted cemeteries, don’t just spell the word cemetery. Use alternate spellings like cematary or cematery.  Some webmasters focus on information rather than spelling, and — in their haste — hit the wrong letter on the keyboard.  (The correct spelling, “cemetery,”  can be difficult to remember when you’re not used to writing it.)

Also I’ve written many helpful articles at this website, if you’re ghost hunting in haunted cemeteries.  Read them all (and perhaps my book, as well) before expanding your search.

Cemetery Etiquette for Ghost Hunters

Enthusiastic ghost hunters sometimes forget that — for many people — cemeteries are solemn places with clear rules of etiquette.

Here are a few suggestions for your visits to cemeteries:

  • Not everyone believes in ghosts. In any cemetery, you may find genealogists, historians, and descendants of the deceased. You may also find people who love to photograph (or transcribe) headstone engravings, or families making gravestone rubbings. Babbling happily about ghosts may distract or offend these people. Many people expect respectful silence in a cemetery. If someone is visiting the grave of a recently deceased family member, your comments may upset them. They may prefer to think that every departed person has crossed over, and is in a happier place… not lingering around a cemetery. It’s best to speak in subdued tones, and not approach strangers unless they initiate conversation.
  • Joking is generally inappropriate.I’m not saying you have to be dour, but some jokes are in very poor taste. Sure, people get nervous and manage to say the worst possible things, sometimes. Try to avoid offensive patter. As a guideline, here are a few “jokes” that could irritate the dead, and probably annoy the living as well:
    • “Oops, didn’t mean to shout loud enough to wake the dead. Ha-ha-ha.”
    • “Gee, he must have been a cheapskate, not giving his wife her own headstone.”
    • “So, when do the ghouls show up, huh? Ha-ha-ha.”
    • “Let’s leave soon, I’m feeling dead tired.”
    • “Can’t you take a joke? I mean, hey, you’re looking pretty grave. Ha-ha-ha.”

    You get the idea. If someone starts joking, stop them immediately or leave the cemetery.  I’ve seen jokers suddenly twist an ankle where the ground had seemed perfectly level before, or encounter other odd problems. I’m still not sure if the ghosts were “getting even.”

  • Obey the laws. If the cemetery says, “Closed dusk to dawn,” get permission to visit it after hours. If you inadvertently stay past dusk, remember that you are breaking the law; leave cheerfully and quickly when you realize your mistake. Likewise, if the gate is locked, the cemetery is closed. Stay out!
  • Protect what’s in the cemetery. Do not lean on fragile headstones, much less sit on them. Don’t use shaving cream to reveal inscriptions. Many cosmetic products contain perfumes or other ingredients which contribute to decay. (Acid rain has already done enough damage.) A halogen flashlight at a sharp angle will reveal nearly as much — and sometimes more — than shaving cream would.
  • Respect the deceased. They may consider their cemetery “home,” and you are visiting — or perhaps trespassing — on their property. It’s okay to ignore belligerent, territorial ghosts, but be as understanding as you can. Step carefully on graves. Leave no litter. Speak in soft tones. Joking or loud voices can annoy or frighten some spirits. That may reduce your chances of getting a great photo. Some people recommend waiting at least a half an hour before taking photos. Then, respectfully ask permission of the deceased. I don’t do this, but many ghost hunters do. Use your best judgement.
  • Don’t bring “gifts” to the dead.  The only exceptions are flowers and liquor.
    • If you’re leaving flowers — even artificial flowers — make sure you return regularly to make sure they still look nice. (If they don’t, remove them.)
    • Some spiritual and cultural traditions include pouring liquor onto the grave of a loved one. If you do that, aim for an area where the alcohol won’t splash on anything above ground, and won’t seep into the ground to damage the coffin.  Then, be sure to fill in any depression made by the liquid.
    • (Toys, money, and other gifts not only look tacky after they’ve been at the mercy of the elements, they’re more likely to pin the spirit to the grave. He or she won’t want to leave his gifts behind.  Worse, if the gifts become muddy, sun bleached, or simply “worn down,” can you imagine how sad the ghost would feel… and how frustrated, unable to do anything about it?)
  • It may be inappropriate to take your pet into the cemetery. This varies from cemetery to cemetery.  Check any notices at the cemetery entrance. If you must bring Fido or some other pet, be certain your pet is on a sturdy leash (particularly if he is frightened by spectral appearances). Clean up after your pet. (That’s not just about waste matter, but any holes he digs.) If your pet disturbs others, including the spirits, take the animal back to the car (or return him to your home or a kennel, if it’s a hot day). Use common sense.
  • Move or remove nothing. Leave plants, markers, badges, ribbons, and so on, exactly where you found them. Do not pick anything, even autumn leaves from the trees. However, if you find obvious trash, empty beer cans, or fast-food wrappers, you can help the cemetery caretaker by putting them in a nearby trash container. (If there’s no trash container nearby, make a point of finding one, quickly.  Never take anything home — even rubbish — from a cemetery, even to throw it out.)
  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke in the cemetery. Step outside the cemetery if any of these pastimes are necessary.