Along the Way: Augusta Bitner

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Grave of Augusta Bitner, Lancaster Cemetery

The story sounds like something out of a horror movie.

The large cemetery, which sits in the midst of a city, is home to countless memorials – small, simple stones rest among the grand memorials, yet one statue seems to be watching over all the stones within the sacred grounds. As the sun sets, the buildings surrounding the cemetery cast strange shadows upon the field of stone. People hurrying home avoid the sidewalk that is only separated from the cemetery by a tall iron fence, opting for the opposite side, the safer side, of the street. An occasional passerby glances through the iron fencing, curious to see if the guardian of the cemetery is walking this night and breathes a sigh of relief to see the statue has not moved.

While this sounds like the scene out of a bad horror movie, this was the story that brought me to Lancaster because the Lancaster Cemetery is supposedly haunted by a living statue. According to local lore, the life-like statue is rumored to step from its foundation and takes a stroll around the cemetery from time to time. More than one person has claimed to have seen the statue walking among the stones of the cemetery at night.

Entering the cemetery through the massive stone gatehouse that stands along East Lemon Street, I was taken in by the massive monuments that cover this sacred ground. I could see the monument I was looking for on the left and turning down the grassy lane, I pulled up next to it. The monument is of a young lady in a flowing gown, walking down a set of stairs, while carrying a bouquet of flowers. The broken column next to the statue gives the following information about the girl buried here: Augusta Harriet / Daughter of / Charles W. and Amelia P / Bitner / 1884 – 1906 / Could Love Have Kept Her?”

Studying the statue, I found myself asking the question “What happened to poor Augusta that claimed her life at the tender age of twenty-two?” Walking carefully around the statue I searched for any hints that might reveal a truth about the young lady resting there, but found nothing at the moment to answer my question.

Since the statue was erected, it was been the source of many stories and legends. According to one version of the legend, and the most popular one, Augusta died on her wedding day. As she descended the stars at her parent’s house, she tripped on her dress and fell to her death. Another version claims she tripped on her dress and fell out a window to her death.

Another version states she had married someone her parents did not approve of and had died the night she married her lover or possibly she died the night before she married. A darker version of the legend is her husband killed her on the night of her wedding by either pushing her down the stairs or throwing her out a window.

The version that a friend sent me states a different version of the legend. The story he had heard claims Augusta was pregnant and died during childbirth. She haunts the cemetery searching for her baby and cannot rest until she discovers what happened to her baby.

Although her cause of death seems to vary from story to story, most of them agree on what happened after her death. With their daughter buried in Lancaster Cemetery, Augusta’s parents spent a fortune to have the exact likeness of their daughter sculpted in the finest marble from Europe. The statue was placed atop her resting place in Lancaster Cemetery.

And here the stories divert once more. Some claim on the anniversary of her death the statue comes to life and supposedly has been spotted roaming around the cemetery. Others state that on full moon nights, the spirit of the young has been spotted wandering among the stones. Still others have claimed to see tears form in the statue’s eyes and run down her cheeks.

Standing in front of her statue, I was immediately taken in by the young lady in Victorian dress. The statue is extremely life-like and it appears that at any moment it could step off its foundation. I stared into the eyes of the statue, searching for any signs of tears, but found none. I made another trip around the statue, searching for anything that would reveal why people thought the statue came to life. The only answer I could come up with is the realness of the statue.

After a lot of research, I discovered that Augusta died of typhoid. She had been married, but she did not die on her wedding night. She did have a child, but she did not die during childbirth. The real mystery here is: why did her parents bury her with her maiden name instead of her married one? Did they not approve of the marriage? Only the statue that stands guard over Augusta’s grave knows that answer and it’s not talking.

If you choose to visit Augusta’s grave, please do so with the respect that the area deserves.

Note: The legends involving Augusta Bitner easily fall into the urban legend category: the source of the stories appear seem to be “a friend of a friend.” When I sent out emails trying to track down the facts of her story, everybody knows somebody who knows something about the walking statue, but nobody seems to have actually seem the statue move.

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