I had spent the morning exploring Dauphin and Lancaster Counties. Glancing at the clock, I knew I would have to soon start towards Lancaster if I didn’t want to be late, but I had enough time to make one more stop.
“Where are we stopping now?” my mother asked as I turned off of Route 441.
“A haunted cemetery,” I replied as I passed through the collection of houses known as Rowena and turned onto Old River Road. Immediately to my left was one of the oldest cemeteries in Lancaster County. Pulling to the side of the old roadway, I put on the hazard lights and stepped out of the vehicle to study the ancient and supposedly haunted cemetery.
“You coming along?”
“You’re on your own,” mom replied as I stepped out of the vehicle.
The small plot is surrounded by a four-foot-high stone wall that guards the thirty-some stones within. The cemetery appears in better condition than the last time I had passed by it – at that time, it was overgrown and needed some maintenance.
The cemetery’s official name is Shock Burial Ground, but most people know it by another name – Hans Graf Cemetery. This alternate name comes from a stone engraved into the wall of the cemetery – “Within this God’s Acre / rest the descendants of / Hans Graf.”
The cemetery and its legends have appeared in many books and articles involving haunted locations within the borders of Lancaster County.
The most popular story is that the cemetery is haunted by Hans Graf, whose spirit protects the family cemetery. According to word of mouth – and I encourage people not to do this for safety’s sake and to protect the fragile stones – if visitors walk on the wall surrounding the cemetery seven times during the full moon, a spirit appears and chases the intruder away. Of course, if seven trips around the cemetery doesn’t work, another claim states three trips around the cemetery while walking backwards can also possibly call forth the protector of the cemetery. But – according to some versions of the story – if you make seven complete trips around the cemetery, you’ll drop dead of fright.
What I find most interesting is how the story about the haunted cemetery has morphed over the years.
The oldest story I uncovered states the cemetery was haunted by the ghost of Hans Graf. According to the legend, the spirit of Hans Graf rises from his grave to chase out those who disturb the cemetery. Unfortunately for this legend – and variants of it – Hans Graf does not rest within the walls of this sacred plot. Although his descendants are buried here, Graf does not rest here – he is buried in the Groffdale Mennonite Brick Church Cemetery in Leola.
The next story – and the most common one – is a phantom dog haunts the cemetery. The ghost dog has appeared either as a large, black dog or a small, white one. If it does not make an appearance, those who dare to enter the walled cemetery have heard the sound of dogs barking. The sound is heard coming from both within the cemetery and the woods surrounding it.
However, the sound of barking can easily be attributed to the dogs living in nearby houses – driving in, we passed two dogs, so there is a natural explanation to the sound of barking dogs. But this may not account for all of the sounds heard by others at the cemetery. In my two visits to the cemetery, I personally did not hear anything out of the ordinary.
The most modern version of who or what haunts the Hans Graf Cemetery is one of the more interesting stories. Again, according to word of mouth, for those who walk the wall seven times on a full moon, the ghost of a werewolf will appear to chase them out of the cemetery. The werewolf is – according to local rumor – either Hans Graf or one of his descendants who was killed after being accused of being a supernatural killer. I’ve never been able to uncover anything that might suggest any of his descendants were accused of being a werewolf.
Although it was mid-morning when I visited for my pictures, there was a full moon that night, so I stayed on the road passing the cemetery and did not venture closer. The last thing I needed was to be cursed by the urban legends connected to the sacred plot of land. I quickly took a couple pictures and returned to the vehicle and prepared to leave the area.
“Did I tell you about the last time I stopped here?” I asked as I pulled onto the road.
“I don’t think so,” my mother responded.
“Adam and I had left the cemetery and had only driven a short distance when a large, brown dog bounded out of the cornfield, crossed the road and up the hillside. Scared the daylights out of us. I think we both thought the phantom dog was after us.”
About that time, a dog – which looked similar to the dog I remembered seeing a couple years before – came out of the cornfield ahead of us, bounded across the road and ran to a nearby house. It’s appearance silenced me.
“As you were saying?” my mother asked, sensing my unease.
“I don’t think I’m ever coming back here.”
“I think that may be a good idea.” With that, I headed toward Lancaster, leaving the cemetery and its legends in the rearview mirror.