Saturday, October 27, 2012

"I Have Felt a Presence in the Cemetery"

Julie Esty
This week on The Cemetery Traveler I present a guest writer, my good friend Julie Esty. Julie heads up the annual theatrical production The Dunmore [Pennsylvania] Cemetery Tour and is herself one of the Dearly Departed Players who brings the tour to life. With Halloween just around the corner, I think you’ll enjoy this!

 (I’ve added my photos to her text, which were taken in the Dunmore Cemetery.)


In the spirit of the approaching holiday, your host and fellow taphophile Ed Snyder has asked me to share with his readers my “otherworldly” experiences.  As a historian I have spent the better part of my life in cemeteries, as well as handling funerary ephemera and memorabilia.  For this reason I am constantly questioned about the existence of ghosts.  Unfortunately, I have no tales to relay that will strike fear in your hearts or send chills down your spine. My story is one of comfort, solace and hope.

For me the word “ghost” summons images of Dan Ackroyd in full ghostbusting regalia chasing ectoplasmic blobs.  In cemeteries I have seen no such thing, no ectoplasm, no ghosts and certainly no Dan Ackroyd.

From funerary objects there has been nothing.  No flashes, haunts, spirits of the dead or glimpses of an afterlife.  Perhaps this is because many of the objects were held by the skillful hands of an undertaker, a man or woman who took pride in their task of aiding the mortal remains of the deceased to their eternal rest.

Have I gotten a glimpse of what lies beyond the veil that separates this life from the next?  I would like to think that I have not only seen it but felt, heard and smelled it.  The experiences have come without the aid of microphones, meters or modern technology.  All encounters have taken place not under the cover of darkness but in the bright light of day.

Yes, on more than one occasion I have been in a cemetery in the “dead” of winter and gotten the scent of perfume from a spirit unseen.  Yes, I have heard the frantic cries of a woman perhaps seeking her lost child as I rested on a tombstone in the “Potter’s Field” section of a cemetery.  Yes, I have seen the flashes of a Union blue uniform peek from behind a tree as I tended to my research.  And yes I have felt a presence in a cemetery and received its wonderful message.

My encounter with a presence began one day as I looked up a hill in a cemetery.  There was something fixed squarely at the hill’s apex.  Initially I thought it was the sun reflecting off a tombstone but realized whatever it was it was definitely not a reflection.  Whatever “IT” was, was strong, powerful and male.  “IT” wanted something.  For more than a year I avoided that section of the cemetery and refrained from looking in its direction.  Curiosity always got the better of me.  Eventually I would look and the presence was there, silently occupying its position on the hill.  When it became obvious that the presence was not going to go away I resolved to find out exactly what it was and wanted. 

I spent the next year and a half on that hill.  There was something “IT” wanted me to know, I just had to figure out what that was.  In the autumn I watched the leaves cover the hill.  In the winter I sat in the car and gazed at snow.  In the spring I watched the trees bud and flowers bloom.  No closer to an answer with the coming of summer, finally I trudged up the hill and stood silently staring off into the cemetery damning myself for not be able to figure it out.  And then – someone tapped me on the shoulder.  I turned around expecting to see a cemetery visitor seeking the grave of an ancestor but there was no one there.  It was then that all became very clear.  I had been looking in the wrong direction and needed to turn around.  Within days of the shoulder tap, the story and message “IT” wanted me to know unfolded.

While the tale is much to lengthy to relay here, I will tell you it involved a group of men, strong, strong powerful men who formed a bond of loyalty, friendship and love well over one hundred years ago.  The placement of their eartly remains created a symbol and coincided with the rising and setting of the sun and cycles of the moon.  In life the men had met regularly by the light of a full moon, not for any supernatural reason, but for strengthening their bonds of friendship.  In death, they still meet by that lunar light.  The position of their final resting places leaves a tangible message that in life these men were united and in death their bond would remain unbroken.

What I learned from this group of men from years gone by is that as surely as the autumn leaves flit to the cold ground in their dance of death, life will again flourish as it does every Spring - and go on in this life and the hereafter.  No ectoplasmic masses, orbs or strange mists have crossed my path in a cemetery.  I have seen only goodness, love and light shining brightly through the veil that separates this life from the next.  

Further reading and reference: 

The Dunmore Cemetery Tour on Facebook
The Dearly Departed Players on Facebook
Julie Esty's first book, "Stories in Stone," is shown below. Her latest,Murder in Scranton: A Trilogy,” details four murders in three stories. It is available by contacting Julie at

Order Julie Esty's book, Stories in Stone