Ghoul's Out? Back to Ghoul?

Fucking whatever you get it.

This was initially going to be a letter about haunted high schools, with like ghost cheerleaders and jocks and whatnot. But what I found instead is an honestly shocking number of high schools that are just built on and among actual graves. So now we're gonna talk about that. 

For this story and this story alone I would like to thank the institution of local journalism and all the local papers whose fastidious reporting of ghoulish ongoings in the educational system made this edition possible. <3 

Maybe It's Ghosts, Maybe Our Football Team Sucks Major Chödes

Built in the 1800s, the Old County Home Cemetery, also called "Potter's Field" or "Pauper's Cemetery," served as the final resting place for Asheville's forgotten folks, from tuberculosis victims to asylum patients and impoverished to, as Mountain Xpress Magazine so charmingly puts it, "the racially despised."

In 1973, Buncombe County School Board decided that it would be a pretty nice location for a school and started trying to shoo the bodies, which according to death records were still arriving up to that year, elsewhere. The board hired a contractor to remove the graves. "It's a pauper's cemetery," I'm choosing to believe one of the board members said, "How many bodies could there be? 200?" Almost immediately this Jessica Walter-esque boardmember I'm imagining would have been shocked to discover there were well over 1000 bodies buried on the land. At the agreed removal fee of $200 a plot, this became far too expensive and the school essentially said "fuck this" to removing the rest of the unanticipated dead. Ruth Dilling of the Bunscombe County Genealogical Society showed a map of the land to the Asheville Citizen-Times where two comically large sections just say "Cemetery Area Not Moved." She didn't clarify whether or not there was a parenthetical "Ghoulishly" in the annotation. 

Even before it was excavated, this graveyard really had a rough go of it. George Laster, County Home's manager from the 40s through the 1973 relocation, recounted a time that he hired some boys to plow the graveyard for brambles. When he came out to discover their progress, he discovered that, "boys being boys," and that's a direct quote, they had obviously taken a bunch of skulls out of the ground and were doing a bit with them. Laster being a good manager made them dig a new hole to put all the skulls in. So, pretty set up for disturbed spirits from the get-go.

The excavation process was obviously no walk in the park--  several different accounts recall one casket popping open to reveal a woman with long red hair and a pale gown clutching a baby, and one person reported seeing a digger pulling a skull out of a casket and throwing it on the ground. One 21 year old employee of the contractor said this project would be his "last," on account of all the bodies he had to dig up. Joshua Warren, a student of the school who went on to write a book about it called Haunted Asheville, says that trouble didn't really start until students got ahold of some of the skulls and started doing some skull pranks with them. These Asheville people really cannot get enough of these skulls, I'm telling ya.
Staff and students of the high school can list a number of spooky phenomena, particularly in the parts of school closest to the small-ish hill that holds the majority of the remaining graves. One teacher said she saw a projector fly off of a table when ghosts came up in conversation. Janitors report elevators going rogue, phantom footsteps and doors unlocking, opening, and closing on their own. One recounted an incident where half a dozen doors he had propped open all slammed shut at once. He made a point to say that at first he thought maybe it was the cannon that sounds whenever the football team makes a touchdown but that that couldn't have been it because of how bad the football team is. This is, apparently, the biggest proof of some kind of working curse against the school: their football team sucks to a preternatural degree. Like, with 33 consecutive losses from 1991 to 1995, they are actually record-breakingly poor. They're so bad the entire marching band once did a mock exorcism on the field before a game, which they still lost. 

Chad Nesbitt, another former student, once set out to make a fun documentary about the school's reputation as a fundraiser for the booster club. Chad's jokey joke video was almost immediately interrupted by what he described as a floating glowing head attacking him in the school's most haunted room. 

At this point the administration has pretty much explicitly said they aren't going to try to dig up the rest of the graves because "it would be hard." That's not actually a direct quote but it's pretty close.  

No It's Cool To Decorate With Headstones I Saw It On Pinterest 

Los Angeles' Cathedral High School might win the award for Giving The Least Fucks About Being Built On A Graveyard. I mean, their mascot is literally The Phantoms. Come on.

In 1844 Calvary Cemetery was established as a Catholic cemetery on what was then the outskirts of town in Chavez Ravine (near where Dodger Stadium stands today). As it quietly interred some of LA's first founding families, it quickly ran out of room and stopped accepting new burials in 1886. Ten years later New Cavalry Cemetery was established, leaving Old Cavalry to fall into disrepair. If you're a student of human nature you can probably guess what happened next: some old fashioned graverobbing! In January of 1903 a boy found a skeleton on his way home from school (classic 19-aughts childhood things). It turned out to have been the remains of Maria Ygnacia Pico, wife of the last mayor of Los Angeles while California was still a Mexican territory. Ygnacia's remains had been dragged 50 feet from from her tomb, presumably in an over-vigorous act of graverobbery.

Because the graveyard was basically the 1900s equivalent of "the pits," family members began relocating their deceased loved ones and the Los Angeles City Council passed down an order for the cemetery to relocate its dead by 1928. Meanwhile Cathedral High School was opened nearby in 1927, sure that the cemetery would be gone within a year. This did not, in fact, happen. Experts can't be sure how many bodies were ever interred in the cemetery because people without the funds for proper funerals had the habit of sneakily burying their dead there in the middle of the night. But a common sense estimate of how many bodies are left is "definitely some."

As a result, every time the high school does renovations or construction they end up finding more creepy shit. Tombstones, coffins, and in 2006, even some bones! In typical Angeleno style, Cathedral High School, I guess, decided that the numerous remaining tombstones scattered around the property were quirky and artsy and used them to decorate their football stadium. 
They also made their mascot the Phantoms, and the Cathedral High Phantom definitely has the expression of a dead guy who found out that his eternal fate is to have shitty teens walking all over his final resting place.
They also made their mascot the Phantoms, and the Cathedral High Phantom mascot definitely has the expression of a dead guy who found out that his eternal fate is to have shitty teens walking all over his final resting place.

A-SCARE-ican Vandal

You can probably already guess why Springfield High School is on this list, but in case you're not really a "patterns" person: Springfield High was built in 1896 to cope with a sudden spike in population growth. It was constructed on top of a plot of land that used to be a park, after it used to be a cemetery. Hutchinson Cemetery, named for the young and ambitious coffin maker who decided to make his own cemetery which I guess you could do just then, was home to several notable tenants, including Civil War casualties and even Abraham Lincoln's youngest son Eddie. 
In 1874 the city released an ordinance declaring all burial grounds be moved further outside of town for sanitation reasons. Hutchinson was closed and more than 600 coffins were relocated to the more remote Oak Ridge Cemetery, but "'Older citizens insisted bodies were still buried' there," the Springfield State Journal-Register attributes to some unnamed old people as quoted by an "unidentified newspaper article." But, you know, it's so ominous I'll take it. 
This brings us to the real crux of this story: in 2009 some blessed, blessed teens decided to make a documentary about their school's history, as well as its notoriously haunted status, as a part of the their Student Film Club, an organization which has been subsequently disbanded but which still very much lives on in my heart. The documentary is called Rachel, titled after the ghost who haunts Springfield High. Although Student Film Club no longer exists, it has been archived and honestly thank God because, how do I put this.

It's a work of art.

It's hard to even talk about, knowing no creative undertaking I pursue will ever hold a candle to what these teens made back when Blockbuster was still doing brisk business.
Student Film Club Presents: Rachel
I'm really going to have to insist you watch this in its entirety with a GUARANTEE that if it doesn't lighten the very core of your being that you're allowed to come to my house and beat me up.

BUT. If you really can't spare the time or the headphones or aren't into blood bargains, here is a summarized list of the incredible content this video contains:
  •  janitors just kind of keeping a tombstone they found in the boiler room, loose-like
  • footage of a teen licking a stain on said tombstone to determine if it is Pepsi (it is)
  • casual reveal of an alarming number of trap doors and small tunnels running under this school
  • a super impressive act of "mediumship" from a member of the Springfield Ghost Society which involves channeling an, um, interesting Southern accent 
  • one teen interviewing students about the ghost, man-on-the-street style, resulting in one girl finding out for the very first time that her school is possibly on top of graves
The documentary does a great job of laying out the history and nature of Springfield High's local haunting. A tombstone, found during the construction of an elevator, reads "Our Daughter, Cut Down But Not Destroyed."

The discovery was followed with almost perpetual trouble with the elevator; it appears to have a mind of its own, and will open for the janitors without any buttons being pressed. Custodians have learned to simply thank "Rachel" (an arbitrary name given the spirit by the head custodian at the time) and not think too hard about it.

A few maintenance men refuse to use the elevator; during one project an electrician would let the elevator bring his tools between floors while he took the stairs. Another maintenance man once got so spooked by an apparent manifestation that he openly fled the school, leaving his tools behind. 

But again, why take my word for it when the apex of modern filmmaking is ^ right ^ up ^ there. 

You'll Worry About Spooky Skeletons When I Tell You To Worry About Skeletons, Ron. 

Good news for anyone worried that there's a finite number of haunted high schools in the world; they're still making them! As of last year, Chicago Public Schools has decided to follow through on 15 years worth of construction planning for a new school, despite the ever-so-slight hitch: there might be 40,000 bodies on the land. The site formerly held the Cook County Poor House, a poorhouse-slash-farm-slash-asylum-slash-tuberculosis hospital which buried an average of a thousand bodies a year on the site. Genealogist and cemetery researcher Barry Fleig is on the record with the Chicago Tribune as saying "There can be and there have been bodies found all over the place... It's a spooky spooky place." He might be referring to an incident in 1989, when an attempt to develop the land for condos resulted in the discovery of a full skeleton with a handlebar mustache and a button-up sweater they named Elvis. The condo attempt and the body discoveries both continued until the developers called it quits at 115 bodies. 

Archeaologists have discovered between two and three separate cemeteries on the Dunning land. Fleig is "nearly certain," excellent pull quote there, Tribune, that the school land won't contain graves as it's outside of the cemetery boundaries. On the other hand, previous construction projects on that land both resulted in the digging up of some bony stragglers. For this reason the city's Public Building Commission is pretty much planning for more bodies to surface during the school's construction and have laid a guide that I'd like to call What To Expect When You're Expecting Tons Of Gross Skeletons:
"Workers are encouraged to use plastic or rubber shovels and scoops during construction. They’re required to keep plastic bags for small bones and artifacts, plastic tubs, gloves and photo equipment on site.

Should they come across intact graves, officials will set up a perimeter with police tape, post warning signs and secure the area. The archaeologists would then go in and remove the coffins and grave artifacts, place them in plastic storage containers and move them to a staging area before resuming work.

The Illinois State Museum has jurisdiction over any human remains that are discovered, per the Human Skeletal Remains Act."

Alderman Nick Sposato just has this killer response when asked about the potential literal pile of bodies that could be on the site:
"Don’t worry about the bodies that are around here, just enjoy school."

Tangential Story About Skeletons And Love

Usually this would be the end of the newsletter, but Valentine's Day is coming up and a young ghost enthusiast's heart turns toward skeleton-based romance stories. 

This fanciful Daily Mail story begins with a single mom doing renovations on her house, middles with 32 skeletons being dug up from her land, and ends with... love?

44-year-old IT consultant Catherine McGuigan just wanted to add a gym and a movie theater to her basement. What she got was.... different.  Soon into construction one of her contractors, Jonathan, pulled a skull out of the ground. After determining the remains were ancient and not a murder investigation that would require police presence, Catherine set about figuring out who was responsible for taking the remains. Turns out: Her!

Her local council directed her to the Ministry of Justice, who told her that under health and safety laws they would have to be buried, while not at all offering to assist in any way. Meanwhile, the contractors were just digging up a comical number of skeletons- 32 in all. Every day after school Catherine's son loved to run up to the builders and ask if they'd found any new bones.

After researching, Catherine discovered that her house had been the site of a Quaker meeting house. She contacted the Quakers who, again without offering to assist, told her the remains should be cremated, which costs about £800 per body. Luckily, the Quakers eventually decided to be helpful and found a burial ground where the bodies could go without the cost to Catherine. All of the builders went to the ceremony with her to say goodbye to their new skeleton friends.

The best part of the story? Catherine fell in love with Jonathan, the builder who found the skull at the beginning of the story! In terms of nonconventional meeting stories, "a big comical pile of spooky bones" has got to be up there.

Maybe the real love was all the dirty skeletons they dug up along the way. 

Further Reading 

Chad Nesbitt's Documentary
The Search for the Erwin Ghost Part 1 
The Search for the Erwin Ghost Part 2

The 1989 Chicago Condo-Skeleton Debacle 
- Grave Mistake: How did the county cemetery get in the way of Ridgemoor Estates?- Chicago Reader 

Fun Teen Ghost Hunt Bloopers
Rachel- Behind The Scenes


Maybe It's Ghosts, Maybe Our Football Team Sucks Major Chödes
Pauper's Cemetery restored- Citizen-Times
- The Ghosts of Erwin High- Mountain Xpress

No It's Cool To Decorate With Headstones I Saw It On Pinterest 
- LA's Dearly Departed Cemetery Ravine- LA Magazine
- The Former Downtown Dead Zone- LA Downtown News
- Is Cathedral America's Only Haunted High School?- Max Preps
- Cathedral High School Website

A-SCARE-ican Vandal
- Student Film Club Presents: Rachel
- Springfield High School part of spirited expansion plan- State Journal-Register
- Here Lies Rachel- SD Paranormal

You'll Worry About Spooky Skeletons When I Tell You To Worry About Skeletons, Ron. 
- Dunning school construction may hit dead bodies, and the city it planning for it- Curbed
- New CPS school grounds being built on site of estimated 38,000 unmarked graves- Chicago Tribune
- A School Might Be Built On A Burial Site- CBS Chicago

Tangential Story About Skeletons And Love
- It happened to me: I found 32 skeletons beneath my house- Daily Mail

Moar Ghost?

If you want to read about sites our ghost team has visited, troll our map for hauntings near you, or listen to our freshly pressed GhostCast, click this alarming image of a ghastly creature to the left! 

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