Why do I do a men's gift guide every year? Because I am, so they tell me, a man, so I should know, right?
If you've been hanging around the Creepy Corner, you know that I love cemeteries.
Yes, when I first started frequenting cemeteries as a teenager and college student, there was a sort of morbid fascination that went along with my "Emo Louise" persona. But over the years I've come to view cemeteries, monuments, and burial sites as connections to the past; peaceful reminders of mortality.
But that's not to say there aren't some pretty strange, even eerie stories out there surrounding individual graves.
So for my fellow "Tomb Tourists" or "Graveyard Groupies," here are a few of the more noteworthy graves out there, and the stories that surround them.
Here Lies John Renie
Take a look at the gravestone above. How many times can you find the phrase, "Here lies John Renie"?
Buried in St. Mary's Priory Church in Wales at the age of 33, John Renie was a house painter who may have carved this stone himself. When the gravestone was first erected, it was a mystery to the general public.
Most could make out the words, or nearly the words, "here," "lies," "John," and "Renie" but the why the mess?
Apparently, 170 years after Renie's death, a local television station had some experts analyze the gravestone, and came to the conclusion that it is an acrostic in which "Here lies John Renie" can be read 46,000 different ways.
Some say that Renie was trying to confuse the Devil, thus ensuring his passage to Heaven. Lionel and Patricia Fanthorpe, authors of "Mysteries and Secrets: the 16-Book Complete Codex" wonder if Renie, a founding member of the Oddfellows Friendly Society, had created proto-Masonic code?
Whether John Renie encoded the secrets to life, the universe, and everything on his headstone, or if he was just having some fun, 192 years later, he still has us wondering.
What Happened to Lilly E. Gray?
Not much is known about Lilly E. Gray.
She has this curious, simple gravestone in the Salt Lake City Cemetery, paid for by her husband Elmer Gray. Elmer is buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery as well, but nowhere near Lilly. Records say she died of "natural causes," and her obituary makes no mention of a "beast" of any kind.
Flowers, candles, dolls, and various offerings are found on Lilly's grave, leading some to believe that the grave has a connection to occult activities. "Victim of the Beast 666" would certainly point toward something otherworldly or sinister.
However, the answer might be something much simpler, if still extreme. According to Richelle Hawks, the inscription on Lilly's grave might be in reference to the government.
Having previously been incarcerated, Elmer was paranoid and fairly anti-government. He claimed that "kidnappers" i.e., his arresting officers, had murdered his first wife. Elmer may well have been using Lilly's gravestone as one more jab at the authorities.
Some wonder if Lilly had been involved with occultist Aleister Crowley of Salt Lake City (who might deserve his own Creepy Corner in the future). Crowley called himself "The Great Beast 666." There has been speculation that Lilly's death could somehow have been connected to Crowley, or Crowley's people, one of which could have been Elmer.
While signs seem to point to Elmer's delusions, it difficult to confirm. The mystery of Lilly E. Gray's gravestone may never be solved.
The Grave of Kitty Jay
In the late 18th century, a baby girl was abandoned at a poor house in South Devon, England. An abandoned child was customarily given the name of a letter of the alphabet, and at that point the poor house had reached the letter "J".
The baby girl was given the name Mary Jay — "Mary," to offset the name "Jay," a slang term for prostitutes.
Mary Jay grew up in the poor house and eventually went to work on a farm in Dartmoor where she took up the name Kitty. While working on the farm, she caught the eye of the family's son, and soon found herself pregnant.
Whether he forced himself on her, or their affair was consensual, Kitty was blamed for throwing herself at the son, branded a whore, and forced to leave the farm.
Having nowhere to turn, and knowing that nobody would hire a woman with her "reputation," Kitty hung herself in a barn.
Kitty Jay is now buried at a crossroad where Widacombe and Manaton parishes meet, in Dartmoor. Because poor Kitty was a suicide victim, no church graveyard would have her. There are also some legends that say that mortal sinners were buried at a crossroads so their ghosts would be confused and not come back to tempt the God-Fearing living. (This also goes for Vampires, obviously.)
While the story of Kitty Jay has grown to the stuff of legends in the Dartmoor area — shadowy figures hovering over the grave, mysterious visitors in the night — the grave was opened sometime in the mid to late 19th century to reveal the bones of a human woman. The bones were promptly interred again at the crossroads and a proper grave constructed.
Most curious, and perhaps most touching about Kitty Jay's grave is that there are always fresh flowers laid on the grave. Nobody knows who puts the flowers on her grave (some say it might be pixies), but for nearly 200 years, Kitty has always had someone tending to her.
Though I find Kitty's story to be incredibly sad and upsetting, I am cheered to know that in death, Kitty is getting some of the care and respect she so needed in life.
The Chase Vault
In 1724, James Elliot built what has come to be known as the Chase Vault in the Christ Church Parish cemetery of Barbados.
An impressive subterranean tomb, one would gain entrance to the vault by moving aside a heavy slab of blue marble "that reportedly required 6 or 7 men to move," and descending a set of stairs.
The first person sealed in the vault was Elizabeth Elliot in 1792. No further Elliots were laid to rest in the vault, and it was shortly sold to the Walrond family. A few years later, the tomb was reopened to lay Thomasina Goddard of the Walronds to rest.
When the tomb was opened, the party expected to see Elizabeth Elliot's coffin, but it had disappeared. Elizabeth's coffin and body were never recovered.
In 1808 the Chase family purchased the vault, allowing Goddard's body to remain.
Between the years of 1808 and 1812 three of the Chase family would be interred in the tomb. Two year-old Mary-Anne Maria in 1808, and only four years later in 1812, her older sister Dorcas was received into the vault. Dorcas' death was suspected of being suicide by way of starvation. It was rumored that Dorcas ended her life to escape her cruel and violent father, Colonel Thomas Chase.
Only a month after Dorcas' death, Thomas Chase committed suicide. It was upon Thomas' body being brought to the vault that things took a turn for the weird.
When the marble slab sealing the vault was moved aside, the burial party found the heavy lead coffins of the Chase family in disarray. Dorcas's coffin was upright and upside down against a wall. Mary-Anne Maria's coffin also appeared to have been tossed against a wall. Nothing was stolen and the bodies were undisturbed.
Assuming it was vandals, the burial party placed all coffins in their rightful place and sealed the vault again.
When the vault was opened in 1816 to inter Charles Brewster Ames, a similar scene was witnessed. All the Chase coffins (Goddard's coffin was only battered...supposedly her skeleton sticking out) were again tossed about haphazardly.
Once more, the coffins were placed properly, and the tomb sealed up.
The Chase Vault gained attention of Barbados governor, Lord Combermere, when upon opening the vault two subsequent times, the Chase coffins were again found tossed about.
To prove that the moving coffins were the work of vandals or flood waters, Combermere had the floor of the vault sprinkled with sand to reveal any footprints or movement, and the door to the vault sealed with mortar and impressed with his signet ring.
Eight months later, when Combermere and his crew returned to the vault they found the seal unbroken. However, upon opening the tomb, Combermere's men found Thomas Chase's 240 pound lead casket halfway up the stairs and leaning against the marble door.
Upon further investigation Combermere found that again all the Chase coffins had again been thrown about, but the sand was entirely untouched and dry.
Eventually the vault was empty and the coffins all interred separately in the Christ Church Parish cemetery. The mystery of the Chase Vault moving coffins was never solved, and the vault remains empty to this day.
Jesus is Buried in Japan
The village of Shingo in the Aomori Prefecture of Japan claims "to be the true burial site of Jesus Christ."
Apparently it was Jesus' little brother who was crucified, while Jesus, or Daitenku Taro Jurai, escaped to Japan with another brother, fell in love with a woman named Miyuko, had three kids, farmed garlic, and died at 106.
You can even visit his grave or attend the annual "Christ Festival" every June.
As bizarre as this may sound to "us westerners," you have to admit a different telling of the Christ story is FASCINATING.