In Search of the Haunted Tombstone

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery


50 years ago this October several of my friends and I went in search of a haunted tombstone.

It was October 1964 and we were juniors at Hobart College in Geneva, N.Y. The idea to look for the stone came to us after a couple of hours at the Twin Oaks, a local college watering hole (where we had been consuming some “adult” beverages for a while). At this point it is not clear how we knew about the stone. But one of our group knew it and this is the legend of the stone as he told it:

“A woman was dying, it was not clear from what, but as she lay on her death bed, she told her husband that if he remarried she would return to haunt him. Her face then appeared on her grave stone. The stone was replaced but each time the outline of the face returned.”

Googling this story now shows that it is a well-known legend in upstate New York. According to some accounts the face is warm to the touch. Others say that people will die if they throw a stone at the monument or have a year’s bad luck if they spit on it. All versions of the story make the point that the maker was large and black or dark stone with the white outline of a woman’s head on one side.

Then one of our small group of friends  suggested that we drive down to Penn Yan, the town of the cemetery about an hour away, to see the stone.  Five of us piled into a small WV bug and set off to find the “haunted” stone. The fact that we had no idea of the name of the buried individual or the location of stone didn’t seem to sink in. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Well as I said, we been “socializing” for a couple of hours and all things seemed like a good idea at that point.

We got to the cemetery about 10:30 p.m., parked the car along the road, and set off on our quest to find the stone. The cemetery was very dark, I am not sure if we had a flashlight – the details of these events, for obvious reasons, are a bit fuzzy. Now if you have ever visited a strange cemetery in search of a grave, you know that it is difficult to find a stone even under the best conditions as the inscription is often obscured or worn with age, covered with moss or lichen, or broken and sometimes simply not visible.  Old cemeteries are a maze of stones, large and small, upright and broken off, and often on their sides and leaning.  Not an easy place to find a haunted stone even in the daytime.

Why we thought we would just waltz into the cemetery and find it remains one of the great mysteries of my time at Hobart 50 years ago. So after about trudging up and down the cemetery for about one hour with no “haunted” stone in sight, someone decided to go to the caretaker’s house and ask where the stone was located.

We were college students who routinely stayed up to about 1 a.m. every night, and it never dawned on us that someone would be in bed at midnight. The caretaker surprisingly was very helpful and gave us exact directions as to where to find the stone. Perhaps he was used to people coming to look for it, at the least it was a very different time than now and much more innocent in many ways.

Lo and behold the stone was exactly where the man said it was.

It was a large dark granite block with no visible markings except the supposed outline of the woman’s face on it. We all crowded around to look at it and touch the outline, which was supposed to be warmer than the rest of the stone. It was warmer, or so it seemed. Well, yes it was warmer after five people put their hands on it, but it didn’t look much like the head of a woman, only a white blob –so much for the haunted stone. Chalk one up to socializing….

Still I am told even today there are folks who venture into the cemetery in search of the stone with the outline of dead woman’s head on its surface.

Some things never change.

A more detailed version of the legend of the stone can be found in “The Lady in Granite,” by Herbert A. Wisbey, Jr.

The stone is also on Findagrave. Com

About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
This entry was posted in American History, American holidays, Halloween, Hauntings, Hobart College, New York, New York State History, Norvell Family History, NY and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to In Search of the Haunted Tombstone

  1. jenorv says:

    Reblogged this on An American Family and commented:

    In honor of Halloween a tale best told twice…..

  2. Pingback: A story from the 1960s – Tales of Hobart and William Smith Colleges

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