Within the neatly trimmed grounds of Chesterville Cemetery, an old oak tree hides a mystery. Is a witch buried in this unmarked grave?
Chesterville is a small Amish and Mennonite community in east-central Illinois consisting of no more than a few dozen houses. If you are traveling from the direction of Arcola (the nearest town), you will have to cross the Kaskaskia River twice to get to Chesterville Cemetery, once on Route 133 and once over an old one-lane bridge just north of town.
Within the neatly trimmed grounds of Chesterville Cemetery, an old oak tree stands at the edge of the woods that separates the graveyard from the river. The peculiar thing about this tree is the iron fence that surrounds it, and the old stone marker that no longer bears a name.
According to author Troy Taylor, this is the grave of a woman who turned up dead after being accused of witchcraft in the early 1900s after she challenged the conservative views of the local Amish church elders. The town planted a tree over her grave to trap her spirit inside and prevent her from taking revenge (picture something like the opening scene of Ernest Scared Stupid… “and here ye shall be buried…”).
Her ghost can still be seen from time to time hanging around the area. However, an alternative theory exists that the grave’s occupant was a young woman who lived during the mid-1800s and was reputed to possess healing powers, as well as the ability to control humans and animals. When she died of natural causes, her father planted a tree near her grave to preserve her spirit.
This is not an unlikely story, as there are a few other examples of the graves of girls around Illinois who allegedly possessed healing powers, such as the grave of Mary Alice Quinn in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Worth, Illinois. Planting an oak tree over the grave of a loved one has Biblical roots, and would have been reserved for someone who was especially cherished by the community.
In Genesis 35:8, Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried under an oak tree. The deeply religious Amish would certainly have been familiar with this practice. As Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk pointed out in their book The Illinois Road Guide to Haunted Locations (2007), however, Chesterville Cemetery is not an Amish cemetery.
They also have their own take on the version of the story involving the girl with healing powers. In that version, the girl was shunned for her abilities. Like the “witch’s grave” in St. Omer Cemetery outside Ashmore, and the “warlock’s grave” near Effingham in Ramsey Cemetery, the grave in Chesterville Cemetery is probably the victim of active imaginations.
It seems every unique gravesite has a story, and accusations of witchcraft have just enough ambiguity to keep the tale alive. After all, it would be difficult to prove the person buried there was not accused of witchcraft.
On the other hand, Troy Taylor alleged to possess convincing testimony from people in the community who not only corroborated his version of events, but who also claimed to have seen the ghost of the woman! Until more people come forward, we may never know for sure.
- Lewis, Chad and Terry Fisk. The Illinois Road Guide to Haunted Locations. Eau Claire: Unexplained Research Publishing, 2007.
- Taylor, Troy. Haunted Illinois: Travel Guide to the History and Hauntings of the Prairie State. Alton: Whitechapel Productions Press, 2004.