Charyl Says

Then and Now

I’ve always found side-by-side comparisons of the past and the present intriguing. It sets the mind to contemplating time, history, and how we energetically imprint ourselves on our surroundings.  I could spend hours exploring sites like What Was There and have even attempted a few of my own “then and now” photographic representations.  Perhaps I’m biased, but this is one of my favorites: a house on the west side of Pana (Illinois) that has been in my family for over 100 years.  I spent my teenage years in this house and my parents still live there.  My grandfather is one of the boys sitting in the front; he was 94 when he passed away in 2010.  The picture on the left was taken in 1918 and the right in 2015 (click to enlarge):


Surnames associated: Denbow, Johnson, Jones, Castle, Mack, Tarvin, Beebe, Wolf, and Todd.


The Joy of Cemeteries: visiting the Graves of Annie Oakley, Edgar Lee Masters, and Ann Rutledge

There’s something profound about visiting the grave of a legend–no matter what kind of legend he or she may be.  It’s incredible to consider that the remains of what used to be his or her body–the flesh and blood body that breathed life into and lived through what inspired historic events–lies just below your feet.  Those closest to that individual (and the many others who came after) stood where you stand; touching the stone that you touch.  Recently I made two such trips–one to the gravesite of Annie Oakley (“Little Sureshot”) and the other to the final resting place of Ann Rutledge (said to be Abraham Lincoln’s first sweetheart).

Phoebe Moses–or Annie Oakley, as she was known to the public– is buried in a small, country graveyard called Brock Cemetery just north of Greenville Ohio–the area where she lived much of her life.  Born in 1860, she died in 1926 of complications from anemia.  (Note: If you are unfamiliar with Annie’s notoriety, visit this link: )


It was a beautiful May afternoon when I pulled into the cemetery and parked alongside her gravestone, flanked by a State of Ohio historical marker.  Surrounded by fields dotted by the occasional farmhouse and patch of woods, the brilliant blue of the sky gave way to the greens and browns of the earth below.  I stood alone in the graveyard taking in the scenery, watching the leaves and grass sway gently in the breeze.  Closing my eyes for  a moment, I listened to the birds and breathed in the heady air.  In its simplicity it was as beautiful of a resting place (if not more) as any dark and extravagant mausoleum.

Approaching her gravestone, I slowly placed my hand on its rocky, mottled surface.  For a moment, I talked to her out loud–speaking in general pleasantries, introducing myself.  Concentrating a little more deeply I reached back in time, ferreting out Annie’s personality–her soul–feeling it quicken with life inside me.  Suddenly, it was as if that energy–that essence of her spirit–existed outside of myself, standing behind my left shoulder, observing.  The only communication between us was that of emotion; imparting her wisdom and expressing to me more than words could ever say.

After a few minutes, I wished Annie well and calmly (almost begrudgingly)  walked away from her resting place.  Yet she didn’t seem quite ready to let me go, as I felt her following me closely as I browsed her neighbor’s gravestones.  Thankfully,  as I headed back to my car I sensed whatever piece of her that had joined me dissolve back into the web of time and space.  I felt a pang of regret as I pulled away, wishing I had the time to whip out my lawn chair and sit a spell with “Little Sureshot.”  Alas, the day was drawing to a close and loved ones waited for my arrival home–so I tipped my metaphorical hat to Annie and went on my way.


Not long after my visit with Annie, I decided to look into the gravesite of another historic woman who intrigues me–that of Ann Rutledge, the alleged first real sweetheart of Abraham Lincoln.  (More info about her here:  Some scholars disagree about the seriousness of their relationship and how much truth there is to the story.  A few things are certain: She lived in New Salem Illinois the same time Lincoln did, she was the daughter of a prominent inn-keeper in the town, the locals claim to have frequently seen them together, and Lincoln fell into a deep depression when she died (possibly of typhoid) in 1835 at the age of 22.  A reaction like that doesn’t happen with just any fellow townsperson.  I like to imagine that the grief caused by her death, helped propel him to change his life–spurring him on to Springfield and Vandalia as a lawyer/politician and eventually onto the presidency.  Who knows if this is the truth, but it’s certainly an intriguing thought.

After an afternoon of visiting the historic New Salem village, I set out to hunt down Ann’s grave in nearby Petersburg Illinois in the Oakland Cemetery.  Oddly enough, I first ran across the grave of poet/author, Edgar Lee Masters (–who I soon realized had written the epitaph on Ann’s stone.


After paying my respects to Edgar, I discovered Ann’s grave only a few feet away, right on the corner. A large, chiseled  stone surrounded by an old metal enclosure bore Edgar’s words:


A much smaller and older stone–barely more than a smooth river rock–had been placed inside the enclosure.  Assuming it to be her original grave marker, I ran my fingertips over the engraved name and dates–picturing generations of others (perhaps even Lincoln) doing the same.  A stranger had placed a bouquet of flowers on her grave.



I decided to walk for a bit and explore some nearby markers.  The cemetery was of a moderate size, with new and older stones.  Rolling hills were dotted with towering oaks (the largest of which had been named in Ann’s honor) that nicely shaded the grassy burial grounds. For whatever reason I kept being pulled back to the peacefulness of Ann’s resting place.  I took in the beauty for a moment more then returned to my car to briefly sit and rest.  I closed my eyes and listened to the insects chirping in the trees and the leaves rustling all around me.  The sound of tractor hummed in a distant field.  A gentle breeze moved the warm summer air.

I lost myself as (eyes still closed) I daydreamed back in time–picturing Ann’s family dressed in black mourning attire and gathered around her stone.  I pictured a young and tousled Abraham Lincoln weeping over her buried remains–his energy becoming one with the very grass, trees, and air around him.  I saw him bent over, kneeling.  I heard his voice lilting, alone–speaking to her in an urgent and mournful tone.

Opening my eyes I was back in present day, sitting in my car.  I reached down to pick up my camera phone to take a picture of the site before heading home.  To my shock, in that few moments of meditation, my phone had gone from 80% charged to 0, and had completely turned itself off–something that this particular phone has never done before.  Battery drainage is typical of paranormal phenomena and investigation.  It made me wonder if I had unwittingly drained my own battery, using its energy to mentally (or perhaps astrally) transcend time; or if I had been joined by another soul using that energy in an attempt to manifest.  Maybe it was just a coincidence.  In any case, it struck me as odd.

It occurred to me that somewhere in my research I had read that Ann’s body had been exhumed from her original resting place and re-interred in this cemetery decades ago.  A quick search revealed her original grave to be in a small, old cemetery called Old Concord burial grounds outside of town in the middle of farmland.  I felt drawn to the area–feeling strongly I needed to explore it and wanting so badly to soak up the residual energy that may still exist on a spot where Lincoln wept over the grave of his beloved (that is, before Mary came along).

I located it on my GPS and headed out, only to find myself parked in the drive of a farmhouse where no one seemed to be home and two large dogs barked at me from the yard.  I looked out over the fields marked off with fences, where in the distance I could see a patch of land that clearly indicated an old cemetery.  One could almost see a young Lincoln standing tall on that hillside–but unless I was willing to trespass on this farmer’s land–navigating the rough field, climbing the fences, while being mauled by a couple of dogs–it didn’t look as if I’d be having my sought-after experience anytime soon.  Like so many other things in my life… it was within sight, but just out of reach.


Some scouting along an old road called the Lincoln Trail revealed that a long, overgrown grassy swath between the fields might have provided a back way into the cemetery.  Unfortunately being alone, without the proper attire, and knowing the day was coming to an end soon (especially since I was over an hour’s drive away from where I was staying in Illinois at the time)–I thought it best to not attempt the trek until conditions were more favorable, I had more time, and a possible partner could be rounded up to accompany me.  You can be sure that once I experience it, I will post an update.

Regardless of my ability to see everything that I set out to on my daytrip, I left the Petersburg area that day with a sense that I had indeed touched the past–and that another adventure awaited me in the near future.  A good day, by any means.

And now you know one of the (many) reasons why I enjoy visiting cemeteries, burial grounds, and historic sites.  Far from being morbid places of death, sadness, and monotony (that is, if you can get over the fact that there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of skeletons and decaying corpses mere feet below you)–cemeteries are alive with energy, history, beauty, and adventure, free for anyone to experience…  if only you’re willing to look just a little deeper!

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Inspiration from the “Grand, Gloomy, and Peculiar”: the Story of Stephen Bishop
In keeping with the spirit of adventure, I recently decided to drive a few hours south to spend the day at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky–the largest cave system in the world.   I have a great fondness for caves; it’s hard to say why. There’s something magical about the quiet, dark underground.  The cool air mixed with the scent of the musty deep earth brings a sense of grounding and peace.   I know I’m not the only one.  As mankind has been drawn to them for ages, each cave invariably holds its own history (both geologic and human)–preserved deep below the surface.  This gives caves a fascination unique to anything else in our world.
Mammoth Cave does not disappoint in any of these aspects.  It offers inexpensive exploration and adventure for all levels of cave and geology buffs, history lovers, and nature enthusiasts.  The caves are breath-taking and the guides rustically charming.  But it was the unexpected inspiration I gained from the depths of that “grand, gloomy, and peculiar” place that truly surprised me. 
Gathering us in a large chamber deep below the surface, our tour guide recalled the story of a man named Stephen Bishop.  In 1838, Stephen was a 17-year-old slave bought by the cave’s owners to serve as a guide, giving tours of the passages to the adventurous elite.  Imagine for a moment, being a young man (born into slavery) and being taken from your family and everything familiar to a place in the woods where your masters have told you that you must go far into the dark earth with nothing but the light of a tiny oil lantern; spending all day, everyday leading strangers through the winding passages of a cave without the benefit of pay.   For the most part, the passages in Mammoth Cave are not easy walk-throughs (even with today’s modern pathways and staircases).  Boulders litter the paths, odd critters hide in nooks, pools of water and deep pits are strewn here and there, large passages turn into tight squeezes in which one must crawl, duck, climb, and maneuver. In Stephen’s day, going through this largely-unexplored cave must have been even more dangerous and intimidating.  It would be very easy for one to get lost or injured in the complete darkness and isolation–never to return to the surface (and in fact, some have–dating all the way back to the prehistoric Native Americans in the area).
Not only did Stephen lead the tours through the risky environment of the known pathways, he is credited with discovering and mapping several miles of unexplored areas in the cave (including a dizzying landmark called “The Bottomless Pit”–which the modern day caving enthusiast can see on today’s tours).  He came to love the cave–considering it his personal domain; and preferred exploration in the underworld, than the unfair treatment he received in society above-ground as a slave. 
In and of itself, his story to that point is amazing; but what he continued to do is what stirs the deep wellspring of inspiration.  As a slave, Stephen was not paid for his services; however he was allowed to keep tips from the sympathetic tourists he guided.  He also noticed that people enjoyed leaving their mark on the cave by writing their names, dates, and hometowns on the rocky, limestone walls.  Stephen decided to sell implements to his guests so that they could write, carve, or burn their information and leave their mark on history.  Those writings are preserved inside the cave and can still be seen today.  Over the years, Stephen taught himself to read and write from the markings the tourists left behind; astonishingly he learned to become literate not only in English, but a few other languages as well, as many of his charges were scientists and explorers from other lands.  Eventually Stephen saved up enough money from his tours that he was able to buy his freedom (and that of his family’s), and buy several acres of farmland.
While Stephen never became a wealthy man, I find his story to be greatly inspiring.  Here was a man in the lowliest of status and circumstance.  He was forced into what, at first, seemed to be a frightening, difficult, and dangerous position.  Yet over the years he not only found passion in it–but it became his best (and maybe only) way possible to gain some education, contribute to history (via his discoveries underground), and be put in a position where he and his family could eventually be free to live their own lives. 
It is a story that reminds me that while at times it may seem life and God have closed all doors, leaving one in what seems like an impossibly bad situation–an opening can still be found in the most unlikeliest of circumstances; and what sometimes at first appears to be a horrible turn of events pulling a person off their path, may actually be what leads them to a greater destiny.
More information: 
–While Wikipedia is not normally considered to be a definitive source, I found this entry to be very straightforward and educational:
–There were  other slaves and African Americans that worked in the cave as well (including those that ran the saltpeter mining to supply ammunition for the War of 1812):
–Stephen Bishop’s Grave:
–General information on Mammoth Cave National Park:

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Ever Have an Experience Involving a Cemetery? Please Share…

For several months I’ve been considering starting a certain new writing project.  One of the things I need to do to accomplish this is compile stories related to experiences in cemeteries.

That being said, I’m looking for people who are willing to pass along any significant experiences they’ve had in a cemetery (this includes traditional cemeteries, Native American burial grounds, mass battlefield graves, churchyards, private graves, cemeteries in North America and overseas, ancient and modern, etc.).

While I am accepting straight-up paranormal stories–I am also looking for cemetery experiences involving synchronicity, history, connections with loved ones, dreams, celebrity grave-sites, restoration, photography, personal revelations, unique gravestones, particular cemeteries people are drawn to, genealogy stories–anything significant you’ve experienced in connection to a cemetery.

By submitting something to me I am going to assume that it is a truthful and accurate account, and that you don’t mind if it eventually is included in a publication (please let me know if you’d like names changed).  Please try to include as much detail as possible, such as the year it happened, who was with you, the name of the cemetery (or the general location), etc.

Submit any stories to my e-mail: (be sure to double-check the spelling of my e-mail address)  — As well, if you know of someone who may be able to furnish a story, please forward them the link to this post.

There are no promises here… but if you’re willing to help me out by sharing your story, I’d greatly appreciate it!

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