Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"Every town has one..."

With Halloween just around the corner, I have decided to write about a subject that is as much a part of October 31st as costumes and candy corn: Ghost stories that feature an old haunted house in them. But rather than focus on the typical examples of haunted houses, I would like to introduce the reader to a certain type of house which also has its fair share of chilling stories surrounding it, and that is the nearby funeral home which is no longer in business and yet remains standing, dilapidated and abandoned.
In the U.S., such funeral homes can be found mostly in rural areas where urban development is generally frowned upon by locals and practiced only when it is absolutely necessary. Such funeral homes are also considered as important cultural landmarks in rural communities because of the amount of business that they once had when their doors were opened to the public. Most families in these areas of the country can tell stories of what it was like for them to attend the viewing of a departed loved one for the first time and how important the funeral home was in taking proper care of that viewing for friends and family members of the deceased.

However, there are also those who live in these rural communities who are willing to give "swear to God and hope to die" accounts of paranormal activity within such funeral homes. Some of the accounts are provided by former employees, and some are provided by those who were in attendance during a funeral service, a viewing or both. For instance, there is a story involving an abandoned funeral home just outside of a rural South Carolina town which featured a large, nineteenth-century mirror in the reception parlor between the front entrance and the viewing chapel, along with a large grandfather clock. Both the mirror and the clock were heirlooms that belonged to the owner and proprietor of the funeral home which he had inherited from his father. The owner was last seen alive by the funeral director at approximately 11:30 pm on the evening of May 16, 1968 after a viewing reception for a ten year-old local boy who died after being struck by a car. The next morning, the funeral director found the owner lying dead on the floor in front of the mirror in the reception parlor with his right hand clutching his chest and his left hand pointing towards the viewing chapel. The official time of his death was recorded at approximately 12:00 am. Police records state that cemetery clay was found smeared onto the antique mirror.  
According to the legend, the owner was getting ready to leave the funeral home when he suddenly heard a loud, scraping sound in the reception area. He turned the lights back on after he walked into the reception parlor and noticed that someone had smeared fresh cemetery clay across the mirror. As the grandfather clock began to chime at midnight, the owner saw the image of the ten year-old boy staring back at him in the mirror from the entrance of the viewing chapel, which caused the 65 year-old owner to die of a massive heart attack on the spot.

Although there was no evidence to suggest that there were any intruders, it remains a mystery as to how the reddish-orange cemetery clay ended up on the mirror. What's even stranger is that the medical records for the funeral home owner showed that he had no signs of coronary problems before his sudden and fatal heart attack. The funeral home eventually went out of business three years later as a result of the owner's son having to sell it for collateral to pay off a gambling debt. Since then, it has been rumored that the mirror and the grandfather clock remain inside the reception parlor. 
Some people have claimed to see the lights in the reception parlor turn on and off at 11:55 pm inside of the now-abandoned funeral home despite the fact that the power has been turned off for over forty years, and some have even claimed that anyone who goes inside and stays until midnight will hear the faint sound of scraping on the mirror as the clock chimes twelve, even though the clock hasn't worked within the last forty-five years. 


There is another story about a funeral home in a small town in Kentucky which was forced out of business by local health code officials because of a foul odor which filled the main office area during the last week of May in 1973. Employees and health code inspectors described the odor as being like that of decomposing flesh, and the smell had reached the point where it was attracting large swarms of flies into the funeral home.
What makes this story unusual is that upon further inspection by police and health code officials, there was no indication that the employees of the funeral home were violating any regulations, and there was no sign of foul play or any dead animals in or around the funeral home itself. To this day, anyone who worked at the funeral home or the local health department that is still living cannot explain what caused the nauseating odor. However, there is a rumor that a photograph was taken by one of the health code inspectors which shows the image of a light-blue mist that is in the shape of a human figure and standing by a window inside of the main office. Unfortunately no one knows what became of the photograph because the health code inspector who allegedly captured the image died of an aneurysm one year to the day after he photographed the apparition. 

There is one more haunted funeral home-related story that I would like to share, and this one is perhaps more disturbing than the first two. It involves a funeral home/mortuary which was located in a small Georgia town near the Okefenokee Swamp. As the story goes, the director of this particular funeral home hanged himself in his office on the second floor facing a two-lane street which runs through the town on September 30, 1934. He had left a suicide note which stated that he could no longer continue living as a result of his wife's mysterious death in the swamp during a July 4th picnic that year. However, there was some speculation within the community that the real reason for his suicide was due to the fact that the local district attorney was preparing to charge the funeral director with premeditated murder because of evidence linking him to his wife's death. A month after the death of the funeral home director, the owner decided to move his business to another section of town in order to avoid losing customers as a result of controversy. The abandoned funeral home/mortuary was finally demolished in order to make room for a restaurant in February of 1953. 
There are two different ghost stories that are related to the funeral home director's suicide. The first is based on eyewitnesses who claimed that they saw the glowing image of a man hanging from a noose within the second-story office of the abandoned funeral home every September 30th from 1935 until 1952, and the second is based on claims by members of a local family who said that they heard the sound of a woman moaning and crying out for help during the evening hours of July 4, 1961 in the section of the Okefenokee Swamp where the body of the funeral director's wife was discovered in 1934.

 These are just three examples of paranormal activity which involve funeral homes and have been told through the years by people who either claim to be witnesses of such activity, or by those who claim to know these witnesses and have been told of such activity. Perhaps these stories are told to keep kids from going into old, dilapidated buildings in general, particularly abandoned funeral homes which hold a special place in the hearts and minds of people who live near them. On the other hand, current and former employees of funeral homes and mortuaries have a certain credibility when it comes to accounts of paranormal activity at their workplace, especially when these employees have nothing to gain by giving such accounts.
Regardless of the reasons, accounts like these have validity if they continue to remind us of how disturbing a good ghost story can be.


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