Walking on Dead People… and other Scary Halloween Tales: Part I

Incense Cedar tree in Diamond Springs California graveyard

Looking spooky, this tree dominates the graveyard that is located next to the house where I grew up. My brother and I had a tree fort on the lower limbs. We would hold races with the neighborhood kids to see who could climb the fastest from the fort to the 70-foot top and back. Being the youngest, I tended to slip more often.

 

A brief break from biking…

Halloween is here, and with elections just around the corner, things are very scary in the US. But I am not going to go there, not today. It’s too scary. I’d rather talk about ghosts.

It’s that time of the year when I break out family ghost stories. And since I only have a few, I am forced to return to previous posts. I have to dig up a few graves, sort through old bones, and hope that the ghosts I stir up haven’t haunted you in the recent past.

Anyway, I found three blogs that came from 2012 or earlier. I will post one today, one tomorrow, and one on Halloween.

I. Walking on Dead People

Let me start by noting that I was raised next door to a graveyard. It was out the backdoor and across a narrow dirt alley. We lived with its ghostly white reminders of our mortality day and night. Ancient tombstones with fading epitaphs whispered of those who had come to seek their fortune in California’s Gold Rush and stayed for eternity.

We lived on Highway 49 in Diamond Springs, California. Our house is to the right. The town's last remaining gold rush era building can be seen beyond the house.

We lived on Highway 49 in Diamond Springs, California. Our house is to the right, behind the walnut trees. The town’s last remaining gold rush era building can be seen beyond the house.

The fancier graves were surrounded by wrought iron fences like this one. We would swing on their gates, which would give off a satisfying Graveyard squeak. You can see our house beyond the fence.

The fancier graves were surrounded by wrought iron fences like this one. We would swing on their gates, which would give off an eerie Graveyard squeak. You can see the top of our house beyond the fence.

The top of this tombstone was covered with lichens that spoke of its gold rush era age.

The top of this tombstone is covered with lichens that speak of its gold rush era age.

Time had given the graveyard residents a sense of permanence and even peace. But not all of the graves were old. Occasionally a fresh body was buried on the opposite side of the cemetery. I stayed far away; the newly dead were dangerous.

At some time in the past, Heavenly Trees from China had been planted to shade the aging bones. They behaved like weeds. Chop them down and they sprang back up, twice as thick. Since clearing the trees provided Diamond Springs Boy Scout Troop 95 with a community project every few years, they retaliated by forming a visually impenetrable mass of green in summer and an army of sticks in winter. Trailing Myrtle, a cover plant with Jurassic aspirations, hid the ground in deep, leafy foliage.

Looking far too civilized, the graveyard is now well-kept. Heavenly Trees grow on the left here, however, waiting for the day when the graveyard is once again forgotten.

Looking far too civilized, the graveyard is now well-kept. Heavenly Trees growing on the left here, however, wait for the day when the graveyard is forgotten and they can once again play jungle.

Trailing Myrtle like this covered the ground and hid many of the graves.

Trailing Myrtle, like this now growing on the alley, covered the ground and hid many of the graves.

Once again found, a number of tombstones were on the ground, covered my the myrtle.

Once again found, a number of tombstones were on the ground, covered by the myrtle. This young man was born 100 years before I was born.

During the day, it took little imagination to change this lush growth into a jungle playground populated with ferocious tigers, bone crushing boas and half-starved cannibals. Night was different; the Graveyard became a place of mystery and danger. Dead people abandoned their underground chambers and slithered up through the ground.

Since I slept outside in our backyard during the summer, I was constantly hassled by these ghostly specters— especially when I was younger. I’d carefully place my bed where I couldn’t see any tombstones and I recruited the family pets for protection by allowing them to sleep on the bed. Between two dogs and three cats on a narrow cot, there was barely room for me. Once I even had a litter of kittens born on the bed while I was sleeping. I woke up with wet, wiggly feet. But the ghosts stayed away. If we chose to go into the graveyard at night, however, it was a different story…

There is nothing scary about this tomb, right. Now, picture it after dark peaking out from jungle like growth when you are six years old and sleeping outside.

This tombstone was visible from our back yard. There is nothing scary about it, right? Now, picture it as a six-year-old would see it on a moon-lit night, peeking out from the jungle-like growth. It moved about, I swear!

A local test of boyhood bravery was to visit the graveyard after dark and walk over myrtle-hidden graves, taunting the inhabitants. Slight depressions announced where they lived. It was best to avoid tripping. My older brother Marshall persuaded me to accompany him there on a moonless night when I was five. I entered with foreboding: fearing the dark, fearing the tombstones and fearing the ghosts. Half way through I heard a muzzled sound. Someone, or thing, was stalking us.

“Hey Marsh, what was that?” I whispered urgently.

“Your imagination, Curt,” was the disdainful reply.

Crunch! Something was behind a tombstone, digging and biting down on what sounded like a bone. It was not my imagination. Marshall heard it too. We went crashing out of the Graveyard with the creature of the night in swift pursuit, wagging his tail.

“I knew it was the dog all of the time,” Marsh claimed. Yeah, sure you did.

It was behind this tombstone with its secret hiding place where Tickle, the family Cocker Spaniel, had found something to dig up.

It was behind this tombstone with its secret hiding place that Tickle, the family Cocker Spaniel, had found something to dig up. Was it lost treasure or an old bone he had buried?

Tomorrow’s Halloween Tale: Peggy and I visit a Revolutionary War site on Halloween night where my ancestor cousin was cut in half by a British cannon ball. Did he really try to contact us?

 

 

39 comments on “Walking on Dead People… and other Scary Halloween Tales: Part I

  1. Halloween in Australia is now very organized. The kids don’t knock on doors by themselves but are firmly led by chaperoning adults. There has been a push to give healthy treats instead of sugary sweets. Crispy celery sticks with Greek yoghurt was one suggestion. It has become a huge commercial business now, shops selling Halloween items.
    Cemeteries are fascinating places to visit and perhaps kids could meet there and really have a ghoulish Halloween party.

    • Healthy treats? Yuck, Gerard. My brother and I would head out with a gunny sack. When were done with Diamond, we would hitchhike to Placerville! We dressed up as greedy little monsters. 🙂 BTW… Greek yoghurt would be okay. I suspect even as a kid I would have liked that! And yes, Halloween is big business here as well. –Curt

  2. Our attempts to scare ourselves silly took place in a graveyard that was in the cult movie “Night of the Living Dead.” To this day, the smell of rotting leaves brings back that cemetery and is the smell of fear itself to me! I gave a little shiver just reading about your boneyard adventures! Oooohh.

    • That brings an extra layer of scariness. Watch the movie and then head out to the graveyard where it was filmed! My ghost story for today also took place in Pennsylvania. At Fort Mifflin near Philadelphia. –Curt

  3. When I was a boy I was aware of Halloween but it meant nothing except it was my sister’s birthday. At the end of October were all getting ready for Bonfire Night on 5th November when across the country we lit fires and burnt an effigy of Guy Fawkes to celebrate his failure to blow up the Westminster Parliament in 1605.
    Sadly Halloween has now replaced Bonfire Night in the annual calendar of celebrations and I read last week that is now the most celebrated night of the year after New Year’s Eve. Creeping Americanisation I fear!

    • Halloween has changed over here as well, Andrew. It used to be a kid’s holiday. It still is, to a degree, but now adults celebrate it as much as kids. If this is any consolation, Halloween was an old Celt tradition. You had it first… thousands of years before the Colonies. 🙂 –Curt

      • If I put on any tie, Andrew, people would assume I was wearing a costume. I was once late to a large luncheon honoring a California legislator. I tried to sneak in while the legislator was talking. He saw me and stopped in the middle of a sentence. “Now I know this is important,” he said. “Mekemson has a tie on.” 🙂 –Curt

      • I am pretty sure that all of the ties have disappeared from my closet, Andrew. And I never did master the art of tie-tying. For a while, I even had the clip-ons. I got a load of crap for that. 🙂 –Curt

    • Me too Lumar. In addition to the graveyard in Diamond, I’ve been in a lot of old ones doing genealogical research. Always interesting, and with genealogy, it is like you are on a treasure hunt. –Curt

  4. Wow, I am fascinated by cemeteries so that is awesome that you have those memories of growing up by a graveyard. I find them very peaceful. Great stories, Curt!

  5. So, here I am, with my bowl of M&Ms at my elbow and your three Halloween posts to enjoy. I don’t mind at all that they’re for a holiday past, since I still feel like it must be something like mid-September, and I can’t figure out why there already are Christmas trinkets in the stores. Ah, me.

    My very favorite-ist line of the whole piece? “It was best to avoid tripping.” I didn’t avoid tripping while skulking around a very small Kansas cemetery (one known grave) and believe me, it was — ahem — a significant face plant. The good news is, the bruises weren’t all that bad, and they faded before I got home. 🙂

    • My treat. 🙂
      We worried about tripping a lot, Linda. Even during the day. When we ran in the graveyard, the myrtle had a way of reaching out and grabbing us. It wasn’t hard to turn this into ghostly hands. And a faceplate on a grave, even if the dead person was six feet under, was scary indeed! Glad you didn’t suffer any bruises. Apparently you missed the tombstone. –Curt

  6. Love the old ironwork, lichens, and great aging on these stones and fences. I’m so fond of old cemeteries, but only if I visit them in broad daylight! But that spooky tree . . . not so sure I could climb something that eerie!

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