A chill went up and down my spine when I first saw the picture on the internet: a lonely graveyard with worn and tilted tombstones – and one grave with an iron cage built around it. A lovely, decorative cage – but a cage nonetheless!
A little digging, with the help of my search-savvy husband, was sufficient to identify the graveyard as the Old Mt. Zion Cemetery outside Catawissa, Pennsylvania, known more locally as The Hooded Grave Cemetery. And since the place is less than an hour away from my family’s favorite ski vacation spot in Blakeslee, PA, I decided to make a pilgrimage to see it for myself – dragging the family along for the ride.
It wasn’t that difficult to locate – again, thanks to my husband – but we received a shock when we pulled the car up beside the abandoned graveyard and realized there were actually two caged graves! Somehow, that was even creepier than one!
One daughter refused to get out of the car. The other got out, but wouldn’t approach the cages. That left me and my husband to investigate further. He took a few pictures for me and then high-tailed it back to the car. “Too cold outside,” he said. Well, it was darn cold, but the wind was not the only thing that chilled us. (You can see more pictures of the caged graves on my Facebook profile.)
The graves belong to two women named Asenath Thomas and Sarah Ann Boone, nee Thomas. They were clearly related in some way, since Sarah was a Thomas by birth and Asenath a Thomas by marriage. Both young women died in 1852, within days of one another.
Why erect iron cages around their graves? According to the internet, local legend suggests that the girls’ family believed they had been bitten by vampires – or werewolves – and were afraid they would rise from their graves. Further research suggests that the cages may have been erected to keep out grave robbers. But why were only these two graves protected?
There’s a good story here, and I hope to do some further research on it. What caused these two young women to die within days of one another? What made their families take such drastic action to protect their graves? And from what?
Were the cages erected to keep people out – or to keep Asenath and Sarah Ann in?