Mysterious America

Cumberland Cemetery’s Headless Lady

The ghost of a decapitated woman who fell victim to a husband’s jealous rage is rumored to haunt this hallowed ground.

Cumberland Cemetery, located near the town of Wenona in Marshall County, is rumored to be the home of a headless lady, spook lights, and the ghost of a little girl. The cemetery itself is rich in history. It was the site of the first farm in Evans Township, and its rolling hills were once occupied by a fort built during the Black Hawk War to protect the nearby settlers from marauding Sauk, Fox, and Kickapoo Indians.

Marshall County was settled comparatively late. Illinois became a state in 1818, but the first white settler in Evans Township, Benjamin Darnell, arrived there in 1828. The book Past and Present of Marshall and Putnam Counties tells us that his nearest neighbor lived six miles away in what became Roberts Township.

Benjamin Darnell had ten children, including a 14 year old daughter named Lucy (the date of settlement given here, including Lucy’s age, is different than that given by Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk in the Illinois Road Guide to Haunted Locations. I believe my source to be more accurate).

Lucy took ill and died in 1829. Her family buried her on their farm, and her grave formed the cornerstone of Cumberland Cemetery. It is thought that the spirit of the first person (or animal) to be interred in a cemetery becomes its guardian. Perhaps that superstition explains the origin of the young girl’s ghost reportedly encountered in Cumberland?

Immigration to Marshall County picked up between 1830 and 1832, but in 1832 settlers received word of an uprising of tribes under the command of Chief Black Hawk, who contested a treaty with the United States government which removed American Indians to the west of the Mississippi.

The few hundred settlers, who had no legal claim to the land in Marshall County until 1835, erected a stockade on the Darnell property and called it Fort Darnell. It was never used.

The main legend associated with Cumberland Cemetery involves a headless woman. There is no evidence to substantiate the story, but that has not stopped its proliferation. It goes like this: a long time ago, a farm occupied the land that would become Cumberland Cemetery. The farmer and his wife lived there happily tilling the fields and taking care of their animals. They were quite content on their own. After a time, however, more families moved into the area, along with quite a few bachelors.

The farmer never had any reason to suspect infidelity on the part of his wife before, but he began to suspect she was having an affair with one of the young men who now hung around his farm looking for work. Crazed with jealousy, the farmer cornered his wife in their barn and confronted her. Despite her pleas and denials, the farmer took his ax and chopped off her head. From then on, her ghost stalked the cemetery, searching for her missing head.

Or was she looking for revenge? Regardless, she is said to haunt the cemetery and, according to the Shadowlands Index of Haunted Places, a nearby barn. The ghost has been reported as far back as the 1950s. As usual, many locals have taken nightly trips out to the cemetery in hopes of seeing this and Cumberland’s other spirits.

Further Reading:

  • Lewis, Chad and Terry Fisk. The Illinois Road Guide to Haunted Locations. Eau Claire: Unexplained Research Publishing, 2007.

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