We have found many interesting stories while exploring old cemeteries in our travels around the country. So many, in fact, that I created a seminar that I presented at RV rallies called Cemetery Stories. Some of them have been heart-wrenching, some were actually funny, and some were downright bizarre. This is one such story of a woman many believed was a witch.
The oldest public cemetery in Tallahassee, Florida is known, appropriately enough as the Old City Cemetery, which was established in 1829. Here are interred the remains of politicians, war veterans, farmers and tradesmen, slaves and scoundrels, in a place where death does not discriminate.
But the grave that gets the most visitors is none of those. It’s the grave of a young woman named Elizabeth Budd-Graham, a kindly and much-loved wife and mother of two, who died in 1889 after a brief illness, at just 23 years old. Her newspaper obituary described Elizabeth, affectionately known as Bessie to her family and friends, as being possessed of rare personal beauty and excellent traits of character. Her grieving husband had an elaborate fifteen-ton headstone made of grey French granite erected over her grave.
So how did the story of such a seemingly proper young woman being a witch come about? Entirely by imagination, speculation, and rumor, it seems.
While Elizabeth had many friends and admirers, not everyone in Tallahassee was counted among them. Some women, perhaps jealous of her beauty and popularity, whispered that she must have bewitched her handsome and prosperous husband into marrying her.
However, even among those who might have believed Elizabeth was a witch, many thought of her as a “good witch” and that if she did have the power to cast spells, they were surely only to bring love and happiness to others.
The young woman’s grave itself added to the story of her being a witch. It faces to the west, and some have claimed that this was proof because the graves of all Christians face east. That is not true, of course, and anyone touring any cemetery might find graves facing every point on the compass. Many other graves in the cemetery also face west. One family member tried to refute the nonsense about the grave’s position by saying Elizabeth loved watching the sunset at the end of the day.
But there is no doubt that the strongest argument for the claims of her being a witch is the inscription on Elizabeth’s grave, taken from Edgar Allen Poe’s Lenore, itself paying homage to a woman who also died young: Ah! Broken is the golden bowl. The spirit flown forever! Let the bell toll! A saintly soul Floats on the Stygian River; Come let the burial rite be read The funeral song be sung; An anthem for the queenliest dead That died so young A dirge for her the doubly dead In that she died so young.
Many have claimed the words about a soul that floats on the Stygian River actually refer to the River Styx in Greek mythology that forms the boundary between earth and the underworld, and that as a witch, Elizabeth’s spirit could never cross over. I don’t know about you, but that’s far from a convincing argument about her witchcraft to me.
At any rate, Elizabeth’s grave still draws many visitors every year. They come to pay their respects or out of curiosity, and many leave tributes or mementos at the grave of Tallahassee’s famous witch.
The Old City Cemetery is located at 400 W Park Avenue in Tallahassee. The next time you’re in Florida’s Capital city, stop and pay a visit to Elizabeth’s grave. Who knows? She might put a spell of love and happiness on you, and the world needs all of that it can get.
It’s Thursday, so it’s time for a new Free Drawing. This week’s prize is a USB drive loaded with all of the digital back issues of the Gypsy Journal RV travel newspaper for the years 2003 through 2017. They are in PDF format and will provide you with weeks of great reading about places to visit from coast to coast and our adventures as fulltime RVers. The normal cost of the back issue collection is $75. To enter, all you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.
Thought For The Day – I’m a leader, not a follower. Unless it’s a dark place. Then you go first.