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Old Salem Cemetery

Old Salem Cemetery - Lacon, Illinois
This location was investigated and documented by Heidi.

The Location

Old Salem Cemetery began its existance as a resting place for the dead in 1834 when eighteen-year-old Mary Conley, daughter of Preston Conley, was buried in a plot of land given as burying ground by Nathan Owen, one of the first settlers in Marshall County. Until 1917, families who had loved ones buried in Old Salem were responsible for caring for the graves of their deceased themselves; in 1890 a fence was put around the cemetery's perimeter and as the number of dead increased, so did the upkeep of the graveyard. In 1917, however, this all changed with the founding of the Cemetery Association, which established a fund to maintain Old Salem Cemetery.

The "Hanging Tree".

The third oldest cemetery in Marshall County, Old Salem is rich in pre-1900 graves. It's also quite the local legend around the town, as it's rather remote and hard to find. Not only is it out in the middle of nowhere deep in the countryside, its access road is nearly overgrown and many of the graves there have been destroyed by time and vandalism. Most of them have been swallowed up by the woods around the cemetery (with some gravestones even sticking out of the sides of the trees!), or have fallen over and been covered by the soil that so many lost loved ones lie beneath. Several are also very hard to make out, as over 100 years of exposure to the weather have completely removed any words that were once written upon the stones.

Many words, however, are spoken about this place in whispers around nighttime campfires. One of the stories many people pass around is that if you visit the graveyard and park your car in the clearing before the gate, upon your return to it after your visit, you may just find your vehicle turned around to face the other way, complete with drag marks in the dust. Yet another tale states that if you park too close to the cemetery your car will not be able to start right away when you go to leave.

The road to Old Salem Cemetery.

Another interesting, albeit morbid, tale is that of the hanging tree. If you are facing the cemetery gates, to your left will be a large, grizzled old tree. Rumor has it this tree was used by the Ku Klux Klan to hang many a victim due to the cemetery's secluded nature. However, the greatest number of sightings here involves shadowy robed figures. And while there are documented reports of cultists practicing in the area, there are also tales of a hooded figure that appears briefly, passes through a tree or a headstone, and then vanishes into thin air. Could it be the spirit of a troubled soul whose body was laid to rest in Old Salem, only to have their grave neglected or worse, desecrated by cultists or vandals? Or did the cultists themselves conjure up something not quite human, some dark presence which is bound to the remote cemetery because of their actions? There's no way to know for sure, but the eerie hooded figure has reportedly made its presence known to many visitors on several occasions.

There are also reports of hearing a soft crying sound coming from the threshold of the woods, and of spook lights in the oldest section of the cemetery. Many people also report that there is a grave within Old Salem belonging to a young girl who died in a terrible fire, and that it is impossible to light a match near her resting place.


The Investigation

The time-worn headstone of a child.

My first reaction upon arriving (having missed the access road several times due to the tall brush and thick trees) was one of vindication: the fabled and nigh impossible to find cemetery actually exists! My friend Julia and I used to hunt for Old Salem relentlessly in our youth, but it was always to no avail. Now, at last, I stood before it in all its timeworn glory. A twisted and rusty white metal gate loomed before me, the words “Old Salem” hanging upside down from a gnarled piece of metal, looking eerily similar to the word "welcome", but backwards. Bits of dark wire fencing stood about here and there, still bravely trying to ward off the living, and the large clearing in front of the cemetery gate was strangely barren of any signs of recent visitors.

As I entered the cemetery itself, I was a bit surprised by its size. It sprawls out to both the left and the right, and goes all the way back to the edge of the woods which border it. The majority of the right hand side is where you'll find newer graves and empty plots (it is still an active cemetery), while the left hand side and the area straight back are where you'll find the oldest graves and large family plots. It is here in these ancient corners of Old Salem that many of the gravestones themselves are piles of rubble against the trees and worn, shapeless stones left indecipherable by time. It is also here that the majority of the reported paranormal activity takes place, and not surprisingly so; given the age and lack of upkeep of the areas, who knows what might lurk within these darkest depths nearly forgotten by the living?

Graves reclaimed by the forest.

It was here in the oldest section of the graveyard that I set up an audio recorder, and in a farther area down from there my videocamera. I then left the still, eerily quiet area to do an EVP session with a second audio recorder, take K-II meter readings, and to snap photographs throughout the cemetery. I had to watch my step carefully, for many of the graves have sunken in and collapsed, leaving large depressions in the ground, and more than once I would nearly stumble over part of a broken-off headstone that barely protruded from the grass and overgrowth.

True to the rough life of the early pioneers who settled this area, the cemetery is a testament to the many people who died young in the struggle to domesticate the Midwest. I observed many children's graves, some only identifiable by tiny weathered stone lambs and cherubs; there were also numerous graves of teenagers and young adults. It must have been a very hard life back in the days when the cemetery was new; my imagination conjured up images of what the many funeral processions this place has seen must have been like and what the struggles of those laid to rest here must have entailed. I was left with a very melancholy feeling by the time I went to retrieve my equipment.


Conclusions

I must admit I was a bit disappointed upon my departure when I arrived at my vehicle and it was just as I had left it! There were no drag marks, and my car hadn't budged an inch from where I had parked it. Maybe ghosts just don't like shiny red Dodge Neons...perhaps next time I visit Old Salem, I'll drive something more somber. I wonder if I can find a hearse at one of the nearby car rental offices?

There was nothing to indicate any kind of paranormal activity on my film, in my pictures, or on either of my audio recorders. There were no temperature changes, and my K-II meter remained unlit. I did notice, however, an almost unsettling silence; despite the several hours I was there until sunset, and the cemetery's remote location, I saw no wildlife whatsoever and not once did even the faintest notes of birdsong reach my audio.

Perhaps it was just my nerves from my harrowing trip down what could barely be called roads, or perhaps it was the extremely secluded feeling of Old Salem Cemetery, but while I was investigating I frequently had the feeling I was being watched. There was, of course, no other soul there except myself (well, living, anyways!), but the dark, shadowy woods seemed to follow my every movement with unseen eyes. I couldn't help but wonder if this place had always been so remote and secluded. And if so, why? It must have taken great effort to reach this location back in the days of horse-drawn carriages, especially in the bitterly cold winter months.

While I was unable to prove any paranormal activity that is reported to occur, there was also no solid explanation to disprove some of the claims. Regardless of whether it is haunted or not, Old Salem Cemetery itself left quite a haunting impression upon me.



         

         

Old Salem Cemetery is located southeast of Lacon in Richland Township. It can be reached by taking the 26 South to Richland Lane. From Richland Lane, turn right onto Blue Heron Road, and then take a left onto Sun Fountain Road, which will take you past the cemetery and its access road, which looks like an overgrown dirt path. The cemetery is open to the public daily from sunrise to sunset.



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