There are some truly spooky places around the South, including notorious cemeteries and haunted houses. But what about the stories behind them? These infamous graves are worth a visit in their own right to learn more about the grisly history.
The Grave of Mary Phagan, Marietta, Georgia
If you grew up in Atlanta’s northern suburbs, and even if you didn’t, you probably know the story of Mary Phagan, memorialized in ballad songs. She was a child worker at a pencil factory that was found murdered.
Her boss, Leo Frank, was suspected of her murder despite a lack of evidence. He was later tried, convicted, and later pardoned. But antisemitism was a big part of the media portrayal and a group of men kidnapped him from jail and later lynched him.
Phagan is buried in the Marietta City Cemetery, not far from where another young girl, JonBenet Ramsey, is buried at Saint James Episcopal Cemetery.
The Tomb of Marie Laveau, New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans has its fair share of cemeteries, not to mention famous plots. But “Voodoo Priestess” Marie Laveau is one of the most notable. Her tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is a must-see for visitors, often decorated with three x marks in lipstick in hopes of having their desires granted, although it’s discouraged by preservationists.
Laveau sold her bags of “gris gris,” or materials for voodoo, and told fortunes to curious locals. She died in 1881 and is buried in the plot with her husband’s family, the Glapions. The above-ground cemetery dates back to 1789 and is the oldest that remains in the city.
The Grave of the Gypsy Queen, Meridian, Mississippi
Believed to have been born in Brazil, Kelly Mitchell’s married a Romani man, giving her the title of “Gypsy Queen.” They came to Meridian in their colorfully painted wagon, gaining attention in the community. People would come out of their homes to see them.
In 1915, she died during childbirth while traveling in Alabama. Her body was returned to Mississippi for burial at Rose Hill Cemetery. Visitors leave mementoes at her grave including coins and jewelry.
The Witch of Yazoo, Yazoo City, Mississippi
Legend has it that she would kill fishermen with her powers. In 1904, this unnamed Yazoo City woman reportedly fell into quicksand and died, but not before vowing to burn the city on May 25 of that year. She was buried in Glenwood Cemetery with a marker only describing her as “The Witch.” But on the day she predicted, the city did indeed catch fire.
The story gained national recognition in a book by local author Willie Morris, who also wrote “My Dog Skip.” I was one of the many people who made the pilgrimage out to the cemetery to hear the tale from a costumed interpreter and leave a memento on her headstone. She’s buried only thirteen steps away from Morris.
The Grave of Rum Barrel Girl, Beaufort, North Carolina
One of the more bizarre graves is found in the 300-year-old Old Burying Ground in the coastal town of Beaufort, North Carolina. Here you’ll find the Little Girl Buried in a Rum Keg, indicated by a carved wooden headstone.
As the story goes, the unnamed girl was the daughter of a captain who desperately wanted to travel with him to Europe. He finally agreed, but she died of illness on the trip home. Instead of burying her at sea, he brought her home in a rum barrel for burial. The keg was buried whole. Toys and other artifacts have been left in her memory.
The Grave of the Witch of Pungo, Virginia Beach, Virginia
We’ve all heard of the Salem Witch Trials but allegations of witchcraft were also found in early Virginia. A young woman named Grace Sherwood lived in Pungo, later part of Virginia Beach, and developed a reputation for allegedly killing animals and dancing with the Devil.
Her neighbors decided to do a “dunking” trial in the Lynnhaven River to determine if she was really a witch. She was able to untie herself and escape, confirming their fears, and was imprisoned for many years before being released.
Today she is believed to have been buried under a tree at the Ferry Plantation House in what’s now called the Witchduck neighborhood. She was pardoned in 2006 and a marker was placed in her honor. There is also a statue of her likeness in town.