Note: This is not to be confused with “A Haunting in Hickory Run”. The haunting of the Hickory Run State Park can be found here: A Haunting in Hickory Run.
It was almost like a scene from a horror movie. As I entered the cemetery the wind began to blow and it seemed to whisper and murmur.
I was in Woodbury doing research. I had spent the morning in Everett and was making my way along Route 36 toward Roaring Springs. Along the way, I was visiting cemeteries, searching for some memorials for those killed during wartime. That was what brought me to Hickory Bottom Cemetery – there were three different soldiers who had died during the American Civil War that I wanted to honor.
I pushed aside the rustling caused by the wind in the cornfields and entered the sacred cemetery grounds. I paused just inside the gate and studied the cemetery. Only a handful of graves were marked with flags, so I was hoping the graves I sought were marked, which would make my visit easier.
Before I set out to search for the graves, I turned my attention to the monument which stood inside the gate. I walked over to study it. The top plaque on the marker stated this was the location where the Zion’s Reformed Church once stood from 1855 to 1928. Beneath it was another plaque that stated the cemetery was restored during the summer of 1950 by William and David Detwiler. While the cemetery is known as Hickory Bottom Cemetery, it is often referred to its older name – the Reformed or Zion Reformed Cemetery.
I found my the first grave I wanted to photograph near the fence that surrounds the cemetery. I had just set up the camera when a voice startled me. “What are you doing?”
I turned to see two youngsters – I would guess around twelve years old – leaning against the fence only a couple feet from where I stood. I’m not sure where they had come from as they had not been there while I was setting up the camera. But they were there now, with their bicycles leaning against the fence here the entrance to the sacred grounds.
“Photographing a couple of graves.”
“Oh,” the taller of the two boys spoke.
I returned to setting up the camera, but I could feel the two of them still watching me. I stood up and turned to face them again. It was very uncomfortable with the two of them staring at me and I was hoping they would ask me whatever it was they wanted to know so they could continue on their way.
“So what are you two up to?” I asked as I gave them my attention.
“Nothing,” the taller of the two spoke. “Why you photographing the graves?” I explained who I was and the reason I was photographing the tombstones.
“You think this is haunted?” he asked. I paused as he had my full attention.
“Our pap said it was haunted,” the shorter of the two spoke softly. “Told us something bad will happen to us if we entered the cemetery.”
“What will happen?”
“Something bad,” the shorter one spoke in almost a whisper.
“Will something bad happen to me because I’m in here?” I asked.
“Maybe. Maybe not,” the taller one shrugged.
“Well, I’m going to photograph a couple of stones and hopefully nothing bad will happen to me.” I resumed taking a handful of pictures of the graves I sought. Though neither of the boys spoke as I photographed the tombstones, their presence was becoming an irritation as they moved along the outside of the cemetery to watch my every move. I was beginning to believe they wanted something bad to happen to me as I walked among the stone.
They were still standing next to the fence as I finished photographing the stones. I packed the camera away and started towards the cemetery gate. My two visitors got on their bicycles and continued on their way. I believe they were disappointed nothing bad had happened while I was in the cemetery.
The next couple of days, thoughts of the cemetery kept bouncing around in my mind. The two boys were convinced of it being cursed and their conviction had me digging for more information. I found the information in the October 31, 1987 edition of The Altoona Mirror, in an article entitled “And now, just a few spots to avoid as dark descends.”
In the article, the first place mentioned was the Reformed Cemetery at Hickory Bottom. The story related in the article was not a curse, but states the cemetery was haunted by one of the strangest ghosts I’ve ever come across.
The ghost that haunted the cemetery was a flaming child’s coffin.
According to local legend, at midnight a fiery coffin would rise out of its unmarked grave in the corner of the cemetery. The flaming coffin would fly around the old church three times before slowly sinking back into the ground again.
I could not find any other mention of this story despite hours of research. The article hints that this was not a one-time event, but I couldn’t discover any other mention of the flaming coffin.
What was the cause of the flaming child’s coffin? Was it a case of swamp gas that was spotted? If it was, it would have been a huge ball of light for people to mistake it for a child’s coffin.
Looking at folklore in general, those buried in hallowed ground without be baptized have been rumored to haunt the area of the burial. Was this the case for the haunting? Was the ghost an unbaptized child that was trying to get into the church, having been denied access to the afterlife? Or was it something else, something that cannot be explained, that haunted the cemetery.
My visit did not reveal a flying, flaming coffin – but I did not visit the area at midnight – nor did I have any bad luck in the immediate aftermath of my visit. Other than two curious youngsters, my visit was uneventful.