Mysterious America

Lost Souls of Decatur’s Greenwood Cemetery

The undulating hills in this direful urban oasis conceal a number of strange tales.

Greenwood Cemetery is rumored to be one of the most haunted locations in central Illinois. According to Troy Taylor, a popular author on haunted locations in the Midwest, the land that would become Greenwood was originally an American Indian burial ground, and was later used by the first white settlers to bury their dead until the late 1830s.

These graves have since disappeared. The oldest visible marker on the grounds dates to 1840, and Greenwood Cemetery was officially established in 1857. Between 1900 and 1926, the cemetery was the premier location to be buried in Decatur, but by the end of the ‘30s the cemetery association ran out of money and the grounds were barely maintained.

In 1957, the city of Decatur took over ownership of the cemetery to save it, but they estimated that repairs would cost around $100,000. Volunteers gathered, and after much effort, the cemetery was restored. Vandals plagued the grounds, however, and rumors circulated regarding ghost lights and eerie sounds that emanated from the old public mausoleum.

To control who went in and out of the cemetery, the city sealed two of the three entrances and closed a road that ran through the woods west of the cemetery.

The public mausoleum was a failed project from the start. Built in 1908, poor construction led to leaks and subsidence in the walls. Rumors soon spread that visitors occasionally heard strange sounds coming from inside, including screams.

In 1957, the building was declared unsafe, closed, and completely removed a decade later. The foundation of the building can still be seen just beneath the grass.

According to Troy Taylor, there are many stories regarding the lost souls of Greenwood Cemetery. One of the most interesting concerns the ghosts of dead and dying Confederate prisoners who were dumped at the cemetery on their way to a prison camp and buried in the hillside under what is now a memorial to Union soldiers.

Years later, heavy rain collapsed part of the hill, mixing the bodies together. The hill was repaired and the bodies reburied, but many believe their spirits were permanently disturbed.

Another popular legend concerns the so-called “Greenwood Bride,” who wanders the grounds in her wedding dress searching for her fiancé, who was murdered by bootleggers.

Greenwood Cemetery is also haunted by phantom funerals, ghost lights that flicker in the southeastern hills, and other, more sinister apparitions. Old mine shafts are also said to exist beneath the cemetery. Rumors of collapsed graves and strange protrusions in the lawn add fuel to that legend.

Despite the manicured condition of the cemetery today, vandalism does still occur. More than a decade ago, miscreants opened the crypt of George Wessels and pulled his casket out. Unfortunately for them, his casket featured a glass covering, and they were treated with a sight they will never forget.

Further Reading

  • Taylor, Troy. Beyond the Grave: The History of America’s Most Haunted Graveyards. Alton: Whitechapel Productions Press, 2001.
  • Taylor, Troy. Where the Dead Walk: History & Hauntings of Greenwood Cemetery. Alton: Whitechapel Productions Press, 2002.

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