Smack dab in the middle of Erie, Pennsylvania are 75 acres dedicated to its dead. The 167 year old cemetery is treasured by its community for its beautiful setting and historical markers while others whisper of its darker side. I, myself, knew nothing of it until that cold Saturday morning in early March when the other Terror Dave, Dave Fuentes, drove me through its gates. That in itself wasn’t unusual, we Daves enjoy visiting old graveyards, but there was something rather unique about this one. And so, within minutes of our arrival, we’d begin our search for the crypt of a vampire.
For almost every year that the Daves have been friends we have gotten together for an annual trip that could run for anywhere from a long weekend to two weeks. Initially the trips would cover mostly just the zoos in the areas we were visiting but as time went on, the focus changed to also include weird, roadside attractions. Being that 2017 was the year I was turning 50, and because time was not going to allow for a full two-week excursion, we decided to do an extended birthday weekend. Dave Fuentes, the perfect trip planner (he plans all of our trips and has mastered the ability to cram as much as possible into as little time as possible. He truly should be a trip advisor. He’d make a mint.) thought it would be best if we both drove to a halfway point between him in Chicago and me in Rhode Island, which ended up being Erie, PA. He was also good enough to NOT tell me one thing we were doing, which totally helped enhance the entire surprise birthday weekend!
Being from New England, I am no stranger to creepy cemeteries. Rhode Island boasts one of the most famous “vampire” graves in the world (Mercy Brown, said to be an inspiration for Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”) and nearby Massachusetts features the very interesting Spider Gates Cemetery (covered HERE). Immediately upon arriving at the Erie Cemetery it had the feel of the creepy New England cemeteries I was so accustomed to. One of the first things I noticed, not only from being a horticulturist but also for my appreciation of all things creepy, were the trees in this cemetery. Many were very old and had such personality, not only in their trunks but in their ragged branches. The fact that some of these trees were actually absorbing headstones just added to the atmosphere of the place.
Once we arrived Dave revealed the importance of this cemetery; a vampire legend. In this case the legend revolved around a crypt that didn’t include any kind of name or marker, other than a very prominent “V”. There are a variety of stories behind this crypt, some of which are as follows. The crypt is owned by a woman named Gertrude Brown, though her body is not inside. According to incomplete records, 7 people have been housed inside over the years. The legend states that one of the seven was a vampire, but does not identify which one. Apparently the person who is the vampire actually died of consumption, a malady often associated with vampirism. After the person’s death bodies started showing up in the area and all of the victims had puncture wounds on their necks, with their blood removed. In the end it was the cemetery caretaker who discovered what was happening and sealed up the crypt. As the legend grew so did people’s curiosity. They just had to know if an actual vampire was sealed inside and the stories say that all who attempted to find out the truth met untimely deaths.
A Vampire is not the only supernatural being believed to have haunted the Erie Cemetery. A coven of witches may also have left their mark. After leaving the vampire crypt our goal was to find something called the Witch’s Circle. From everything we read it was in walking distance from the crypt but most descriptions of the actual location were vague. There were pictures to go by but there were no real reference points to use. As is usually the case, we stumbled on the actual location quite by accident. It was definitely an eerie sight as the headstones were arranged in an actual circle, which made little sense. From a cemetery stand point this wastes a lot of valuable real estate for future burials. Also of note were two stones that appeared to be burned, and this is where the legend lies. From what we were able to ascertain, the bodies buried beneath these stones were those of witches. Supposedly the stones were burned and turned black with the Devil came to take their souls. What I found most interesting is that on one of the stones, the faint images of human skulls seem to stare back at you.
This truly was a great way to start our extended birthday weekend and once again Dave proved that he can find some amazing places to visit (and keep it a complete secret from me). The cemetery itself was beautiful and full of character and the legends themselves were interesting and fun. I love the thrill of the chase in these situations as you try to find the actual locations and then when you actually do, you really feel as though you accomplished something! Our weekend was off to an amazing start!
Coming Up…A Volkswagen with legs!