Note: I need to place a warning on this article. When I first visited Hollenbeck Cemetery it was in 2008, during the daytime, and done with respect for those buried there. I do not encourage trespassing, after-dark visits, or ghost hunting on sacred pieces of land. Hollenbeck Cemetery has been heavily vandalized over the years and if you choose to visit, I take no responsibility if local police stop to visit you if you’re in the cemetery.
This article was originally published in an earlier version of The Pennsylvania Rambler in October, 2008. This has been expanded from that original article to correct errors and add information.
It was in October 2007 when I first heard of the supposed haunted Hollenbeck Cemetery from James, a co-worker. James was originally from Jamestown, New York and – unlike most of those I worked with – he tended to remain silent while the rest of us talked and shared stories. With Halloween approaching at the time, we were sharing ghost stories and legends he had heard over the years. As the conversation went on, James asked, “Have any of you actually seen a ghost?”
The conversation stopped as we turned to look at him quizzically. The usually silent young man had caught our attention.
“Have you?” somebody challenged.
“Well…ummm…yes.” We could only stare as James stood there trying to find the right words. “It didn’t happen around here. It was back home. Back when I was living in New York. It happened a couple years ago when a group of us decided to go ghost hunting. One of the stops that night was at Hollenbeck Cemetery.
“We had already visited a number of other haunted spots, so it was around midnight when we arrived at the cemetery. We had heard the stories about the cemetery – strange lights, shadows, noises. Supposedly, people have spotted a headless horseman riding in the fields surrounding the cemetery or along Moon Road. We knew we shouldn’t be there, but seeing we had driven out there, we decided we were going to explore – we wanted to see a ghost.
“We got out of the car, got our flashlights out and started walking around. We had heard the stories and we kind of got loud. By loud, I mean, we were calling out for the ghosts to show themselves. Nothing happened and we were laughing and mocking the ghosts.
“And then the strangest thing happened.
“We had been there for about thirty minutes, laughing and mocking the ghosts when this light appeared in the neighboring field. It was a small, bright light swaying back and forth, like a person carrying a lantern, and it was coming across the field towards us. We thought it was the farmer who owned the land surrounding the cemetery, so we ran for the car.
“We got to the car and turned the lights on and this man was standing right in front of us. I was never so scared as I was when those lights came on and he was standing there. It wasn’t a ghost, but a guy living down the road. He yelled at us and told us not to come back.” I stood there trying not to laugh at the thought of the group of teenagers turning on the vehicle lights to discover someone standing in front of them – I knew I would have yelled out in surprise.
“Later that night we were talking about it and we couldn’t figure out what the light in the field was. We figured it had to be a ghost.
“But if you think that is strange, that’s not the weirdest thing with that cemetery,” James continued. “All of the tombstones went missing one night. Poof. Gone. Just like that.”
I admit I laughed at the last part of his story – after all, the stones couldn’t just disappear, could they?
While I had no plans at the time to visit Jamestown, a couple months later, I found myself visiting Jamestown for the first time and after visiting the Lady in Glass and Lucille Ball, I headed northward toward Hollenbeck Cemetery. Note: More about other stops in Jamestown can be found at The Lady in Glass and Lucille Ball.
Parking along the narrow road in front of the overgrown and neglected cemetery, I got out of the vehicle and scanned the plot of land. If it had not been for the stone near the front of the cemetery which noted it as Hollenbeck Cemetery, I would never have guessed this was a burial ground. ‘The cemetery had seen better days,’ I thought as I stared in disbelief at the weeds and brush.
Amid the weeds was a large stone memorializing those buried here – sources list between twenty-five and thirty-five burials on this small, sacred piece of land. On the front of the stone was a listing of the families that were known to have been buried on this plot of land. Though not from the area, two of the family names were familiar. The Hollenbeck Family – the cemetery bears the name. The Moon Family – the Hollenbeck Cemetery is located on Moon Road. The other family names listed on the front of the monument are: Aldrich, Brown, Eggenberger, Hough, Oakley, Trude, and Wample.
Walking around the memorial, I read the inscription engraved on the back of the stone: “Memorial placed by the / Township of Ellicott / On Feb. 8, 1996 to Replace the / Original 19th century gravestones / That were stolen July 1995.”
I stood there in shock and disbelief. James had not been joking about the tombstones disappearing. I cannot fathom any sort of reason to steal historic grave markers, yet someone removed them for purposes unknown.
Pushing the shock of the situation from my mind, I turned my attention to the markers which remained. While many of the names were not familiar, one of the names was marked as fighting for the Union during the U.S. Civil War. Listed on the Wellington Family memorial is Warren Wellington. Warren had enlisted into the service on August 26, 1861 at Jamestown, New York and was mustered in to serve three years as a private with Company K, 49th New York Infantry on September 18, 1861. Sadly, he did not make it through his first year, having died of disease on August 17, 1862 near the Chickahominy River in Virginia.
As I studied the remaining stones, my mind kept coming back to the stolen stones. Maybe that was part of the origins of the stories about the cemetery. Looking through everything at hand, I could not find a time frame when these stories began to circulate, nor do most of them appear to have much detail to them. To be honest, most of these stories fall under the “friend of a friend” story and I have to wonder if the ghost stories were a result of the stolen tombstones.
A feeling of sadness lingered in the air as I finished paying my respects to those buried in this small plot of land. I remembered those whose graves remained marked and to those whose resting places were forever lost when the stones were stolen. With a heavy heart, I carefully made my way back to the vehicle, leaving them to slumber in the silence of these sacred grounds.
Note: As I was researching this article and preparing to repost it, I reached out to James with some questions. The following is the conversation we had Between me (PARambler) and James.
PARambler: James – I know it’s been a while since we talked about the Hollenbeck Cemetery. I am in the process of reworking the original article and I was wondering if you could answer a couple questions I have.
PARambler: You mentioned about seeing a ghost light. Could you tell me a little more about it.
James: Have you ever looked at a flashlight shining from a distance? That’s what it reminded me of.
PARambler: So it could have been a flashlight?
James: Since I told you guys [his coworkers] about that night, I’ve spent time thinking about that night. It is very possible that what we saw was a flashlight. We were young and loud and it could have been a person coming to investigate what we were doing. That was why we ran to the vehicle. We thought it was somebody coming to yell at us.
PARambler: Do you know of anyone else who has had an experience at the cemetery?
James: Not personally. I’ve had friends say one of their cousins or somebody they knew had an experience there. Even when we went there it was because one of my friends knew somebody who had an experience.
PARambler: You mentioned when you originally told me about the cemetery and a headless horseman. Do you have more information about it? I have not been able to find any information about a headless horseman.
James: I just know people have talked about a headless horseman in the area. That’s all I know.
PARambler: I found a place that mentions a lady in white who haunts the cemetery. Do you know anything of a lady in white?
James: That’s new to me. I can’t say I’ve heard that one before.
Is the Hollenbeck Cemetery haunted? Is there a headless horseman who sometimes visits the cemetery? Is there a lady white who haunts the cemetery? I personally believe the stories are nothing more than word-of-mouth stories that were created due to a mixture of 1) the poor condition of the sacred piece of land and 2) the tombstones being stolen.
While I did not experience anything during my two visits to the Hollenbeck Cemetery, I cannot say for certain what may, or may not, haunt the fields around the historic plot of land. But to me, the only thing that haunts the cemetery is the sadness which lingers due to it being vandalized over the years – a sadness that still lingers to this day.