Last week, I signed the contract to publish The Caged Graves with Clarion. With the book on its way to publication, it seemed an appropriate time for a pilgrimage back to the place that inspired the story – Hooded Grave Cemetery in Catawissa, PA.
I knew, going back, that it was going to look different to me this time. I fictionalized the setting when I wrote the story, changing the geography around quite a bit. For almost two years, I’ve been picturing those two graves outside a cemetery wall at the bottom of a long steep road, between Ransloe Boone’s house and the Shades of Death swamp.
In actuality, the tiny cemetery is squeezed between a cornfield and somebody’s house, and across the road from an orchard. The church is long gone. Somebody cuts the grass, but nobody’s been tending the weeds inside the graves. It was quite sad to see. Both graves were damaged. One of the flying eagles was missing from Sarah Ann’s cage, and the wire had been bent and mangled on one side of both graves. It looked as if somebody had been pulling on the wire trying to get their hands in. (Or get their hands out!) In fact, the damage to the cage is eerily similar to an incident in my book, which is kind of creepy.
My first visit, 21 months ago, was on a bitter cold day in January. We didn’t stay long – just took a few pictures and left. This time, we spent time looking around and examining the other graves. I couldn’t find the graves of either of the husbands – Ransloe Boone or John Thomas. In fact, as I looked around, I realized most of the graves belonged to women and children. It started to creep me out, and I wondered why no men were buried here. Eventually, I did find two headstones for adult men – but all the rest were women and children.
There were a lot of open spaces between the graves, so maybe headstones are missing – crumbled and cleared away, or sunk into the ground. And of course, the mortality rate for women and children was higher than for adult men. Nevertheless, their near absence added one more unsettling element to this place.
All old cemeteries are fascinating to me. I love wandering through them, looking at the names on the tombstones and trying to figure out their stories. But Hooded Grave Cemetery seems to have more secrets than most. I could probably write half a dozen more stories inspired by the strange things I noticed in just this one visit.
Rest in peace, Sarah Ann Boone and Asenath Thomas. I hope I made up a good story for you, but I’ll always wonder what really happened.