Appalachia Folklore

Graveyards: Spooky or Peaceful?

old graveyard

Some folks think graveyards are peaceful and serene and others think they’re creepy.

Many graveyards in Appalachia have spectacular views. The ones scattered throughout the Smoky Mountain National Park come to mind. Old Martins Creek Cemetery and New Martins Creek Cemetery both have nice views.

When I was very young I went to a cemetery with Pap’s mother. I don’t remember where it was, but it seems like we went to clean off graves and replace old flowers.

A couple of cousins were along for the trip and in the midst of our playing a tombstone fell over on me. I still have a tiny triangular shaped scar on my knee from the event.

I took the injury very seriously 🙂 I refused to walk on that leg for a quite a while.

I went around hopping on one foot. Everyone kept telling me it wouldn’t hurt to walk on it, and that in fact walking would help me get better.

I discounted the advise from all the adults, but when an older cousin promised me one of Big Grandma’s RC Cola’s I decided I ought to at least test out my leg. By the time I walked to the other side of the room he’d already reneged on the deal.

In Appalachia we have a tendency to place extra emphasis on things we say. We often note someone or something is graveyard dead. As if graveyard dead is worse than just dead.

I never had to work graveyard shift, but I don’t think I would like it. The Deer Hunter worked graveyard back in the day when we were dating.

If you kill a rabbit in a graveyard its foot isn’t just lucky its extra lucky 🙂 I guess not for the rabbit.

We were always taught it was disrespectful to step on a grave. To this day I’ll almost fall to keep from stepping on a grave.

Worms dug in the graveyard are supposed to catch more fish.

Walking through a graveyard at night is reported to be bad luck, so I wonder if walking through one during the day brings good luck?


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  • Reply
    Terry Huffaker
    November 4, 2021 at 10:04 am

    I remember Decoration Day and our mountaintop family cemetery, well. It was always an event; many of our kin rest in small grave houses and that lends to it’s uniqueness and peacefulness. And the view off the mountain was an added bonus. I always wondered if the grave houses were influenced by an early Germanic or Native American culture of the region.

  • Reply
    October 12, 2020 at 9:47 pm

    When I was a kid, an older kid told me that I should hold my breath when passing a graveyard. I can’t remember the reason he gave for doing that.

  • Reply
    Luann Sewell Waters
    October 23, 2019 at 9:30 pm

    Tipper I’ve shared with you before how much I enjoy looking at the symbols on grave markers. Cemeteries are great places to visit for genealogy research, as others have mentioned. Many are also beautiful arboretums and full of flowers.
    I consider them a peaceful place, full of stories. I make a point to say the name of the person out loud when I visit their grave. It’s a way to remember them, even if I don’t know them. I learned about doing this from Wreaths Across America.
    If folks want to learn more about gravestones/cemeteries, I highly recommend they look at the Association for Gravestone Studies website:

  • Reply
    October 23, 2019 at 12:10 pm

    I find cemeteries to be peaceful places. I like the old cemeteries with their fancy gravestones.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    October 23, 2019 at 9:53 am

    When I took my wife on her first Decoration Day, she couldn’t believe we had a picnic in the cemetery. Where I live, in Oberlin, Ohio, we have a nice, historic cemetery. We walk the dog there and I run through it in the morning for exercise. It’s quiet and no traffic. It is just a nice way to clear my head of a morning.

    I won’t go in one at night, though.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    October 23, 2019 at 9:28 am

    I still use reneged.
    My Mother called Memorial Day Decoration Day. We always visited the cemeteries on Decoration Day and cleaned graves and put out lots of flowers. I wonder if since I moved South any of our relatives are taking the same care we did. I wonder also if my Mother just refused to change the name or if she was being stubborn. She did not like change.

  • Reply
    October 23, 2019 at 9:26 am

    There is a graveyard with a headstone and two upright rock markers about six or seven feet across from my lane. I have heard it’s a mother and her two babies. The older neighbors told me the names and dates used to be legible until they were vandalized by some kids. That land used to be known as The Epstein Institute, the first black college in KY. The three headstones I can see are likely not the only ones there, as I heard the folks lived and worked on the farm and we buried there as well. I have to admit the pretty flowers I put on the graves only draw my attention to the wooded and dark area when I come home late at night. Spooky if you ask me. The Ghost Hunters from Louisville will agree with me after claiming to hear a man guiding them to other graves during their hunt.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 23, 2019 at 9:21 am

    I put a bench at the foot of my wife’s and my graves. On it I had carved “Sit down and rest a while”. If you happen to wander up the Little Tennessee River and happen to see Grave Gap Cemetery, stop in and visit with us.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    October 23, 2019 at 9:16 am

    When I was young, my best friend & I loved to walk up to a cemetery not far from Mama’s house. It was mostly no longer in use as the church it was attached to had moved. Very peaceful. A large millstone decorated one grave. Ive always remembered one inscription that said, “How many hopes lie buried here.”. The graveyard edge sloped off & then went downhill pretty steeply and deeply. There was a spring down there & my daddy had a whiskey still there. Sort of a terrible thought where that water may have perked through.

    My best friend & I got together at a park near where we grew up a few years ago and rented a little cabin built in WPA days. We spent a lot of time walking through graveyards. We both have ancestors in several of them. There is only one that spooks me. It’s way out in a heavily forested area and it’s church has been blown away, burned up, etc. but has been rebuilt each time. Anyway, it is so quiet there & so secluded & really just creepy. We both have family buried there and I have been to the church with my aunt & uncle who attended there throughout their lives. They’re buried in the graveyard there as well as five more of my aunts, two uncles, and two (I think–graves not marked) of my grandmother’s young children. If spirits walk, I ought to feel protected there with all those relatives but I don’t. I have heard several others say the place gives them the shivers, too.

  • Reply
    October 23, 2019 at 8:55 am

    Yes I’ve heard the word “reneged” but not in the last 20 years or so. From the time I was a little girl til grown, married with children of my own, I visited the families pioneer graveyards in MS, East TN and NW AL. We were always taught not to step on the grave. It was interesting to me because my ancestors were laid to rest there and I always felt a reverence when walking through.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    October 23, 2019 at 8:23 am

    I to was taught not to step on graves. It wasn’t about supersition. It was about being respectful. The very idea that someone would be walked on was disturbing because of what it revealed about the walker. There is a lesson there for this contentious and often disrespectful time.

    As for walking in cemeteries, we are enjoined to consider our end because it helps us keep our priorities straight. We all need the reminder from time to time. I know of a stone in a cemetery that reads;

    Remember friend as you pass by
    as you are now, so once was I.
    As I am now you soon will be
    so prepare for death and follow me.

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    October 23, 2019 at 7:57 am

    I find old graveyards peaceful….and maybe those souls know when someone visits….someone remembers…

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    October 23, 2019 at 7:45 am

    Ray, I use reneged quite often in describing when someone crayfishes on a promise. As for cemeteries I find them peaceful and a great source of information when working on genealogy. In fact before I became ill I was a “Cemetery Walker” when I spotted a cemetery in an area where some ancestors may have lived. I located many ancestors and relatives final resting places here on earth this way.

  • Reply
    John T.
    October 23, 2019 at 7:39 am

    I just returned home yesterday from the Smokey Mountains and eastern Tennessee. I found those old churches and graveyards beautiful and serene.

  • Reply
    October 23, 2019 at 7:22 am

    My family in southern Iowa uses renig especially while playing csrds but other times too.

  • Reply
    sheryl paul
    October 23, 2019 at 7:16 am

    I hear the word now and then, but perhaps it is because people want everything signed, notorized. And in triplicate first.
    Tipper if you could see my family walk through a graveyard you would laugh. My two younger sisters will argue about where they can walk and I like you almost fall over trying to avoid stepping in the wrong place. My favorite walk is through a graveyard I love reading the stones some funny some sad. But most of all thinking someone loved them enough to carve the stone

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 23, 2019 at 7:00 am

    Ray, I’ve used reneged and heard it. It seems it was more of a kids word and I haven’t heard it in long time.
    I never found cemeteries particularly spooky, just quiet, not a lot of talking going on.

  • Reply
    Ray Potts
    October 23, 2019 at 6:14 am

    Tipper you used a word today that I don’t hear used much anymore (reneged) when I grew up it was a ver common word to use. I was just wondering if any of your blog readers still use it.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      October 23, 2019 at 8:56 am

      Renege is still used in some card games such as bridge and spades.

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