On a Pitch-Black Night, Something Stalked Us in the Graveyard…

A bit older than five, I find that the Graveyard next to where I was raised no longer holds the terror it did for me as a child. Plus they have cut down all of the heavenly trees and ripped out the myrtle. It is no longer a jungle playground for local kids. What’s the fun in that?

My first ‘wilderness’ was the Graveyard. It was out the backdoor and across the alley. We lived with its ghostly white reminders of our mortality day and night. Ancient tombstones with fading epitaphs whispered of those who had come to seek their fortune in California’s Gold Rush and stayed for eternity. Time had given their resting place a sense of permanence and even peace. But not all of the graves were old. Occasionally a fresh body was planted on the opposite side of the cemetery. I stayed far away; the newly dead are restless.

At some time in the past, heavenly trees, an import from China, had been planted to shade aging bones. They behaved like weeds. Chop them down and they sprang back up, twice as thick. Since clearing the trees provided Diamond Springs Boy Scout Troop 95 with a community project every few years, the trees retaliated by forming a visually impenetrable mass of green in summer and an army of sticks in winter. Trailing Myrtle, a cover plant with Jurassic aspirations, hid the ground in deep, leafy foliage. 

The thick growing heavenly trees and trailing myrtle gave the Graveyard the appearance of a jungle when I was growing up. Compare this with the photo above!

During the day, it took little imagination to change this lush growth into a jungle playground populated with ferocious tigers, bone crushing boas, and half-starved cannibals. My brother Marshall and I considered the Graveyard an extension of our backyard. Since it was within easy calling distance of the house, our parents had a similar perspective. Either that or they were glad to get rid of us. The skinny heavenly trees made great spears for fending off the beasts, or throwing at each other. At least they did until we put one through a playmate’s hand. Neither he nor his parents were happy. Spear throwing was crossed off our play schedule. We turned to hurling black walnuts at each other instead. They grew in abundance on the trees in our front yard. Plus, we could toss them at passing cars on Highway 49. Screeching brakes and one really pissed-off guy brought that activity to a halt.

Night was different in the Graveyard— it became a place of mystery and danger. Dead people abandoned their underground chambers and slithered up through the ground. A local test of boyhood bravery was to go into the Graveyard after dark and walk over myrtle-hidden graves, taunting the inhabitants. Slight depressions announced where they lived. Marshall persuaded me to accompany him there on a moonless night. I entered with foreboding: fearing the dark, fearing the tombstones and fearing the ghosts. Halfway through I heard a muzzled sound. Someone, or thing, was stalking us.

“Hey Marsh, what was that?” I whispered urgently.

“Your imagination, Curt,” was the disdainful reply.

Crunch!  Something was behind a tombstone and it was not my imagination. Marshall heard it too. We went crashing out of the Graveyard with the creature of the night in swift pursuit, wagging her tail.

“I knew it was the dog all of the time,” Marsh claimed. Yeah, sure you did.

By the time I was five, I had made my first tentative trips into the Graveyard. One of my early memories was spying on Mr. Fitzgerald, a neighbor who lived across the alley. He’s dead now— and has been for decades— but at the time he was a bent old man who liked to putter around outside. A black locust tree perched on the edge of the Graveyard provided an excellent lookout to watch him while he worked. One particular incident stands out in my mind. I had climbed into the tree and was staring down into his yard. It was a fall day. Dark clouds heavy with rain were marching in from the Pacific while distant thunder announced their approach. A stiff, cool breeze had sent yellow leaves dancing across the ground.  

Mr. Fitzgerald wore a heavy coat to fight off the chill. I watched him shuffle around in his backyard as he sharpened his axe on a foot operated grinding wheel and then chopped kindling on an oak stump.  When he had painfully bent down to pick up the pieces and carry them into his woodshed, I had scrambled down from the tree so I could continue to spy on him though a knothole. I must have made some noise, or maybe I blocked the sunlight from streaming into the shed. He stopped stacking wood and stared intently at where I was, as though he could see through the weathered boards. It frightened me.

I took off like a spooked rabbit and disappeared into the safety of our house. Mr. Fitzgerald was intriguing, but his age and frailty spoke of death— and the dead people who lived in the Graveyard. 

I will continue my tales of the Graveyard next Monday and relate how I moved outside to sleep under the stars in the summer. Unfortunately, the ghost continued to hassle me and I was forced to hire the family pets for protection.


Blog-a-Book Wednesday…”The Bush Devil Ate Sam”: I complete my story on the laundry takeover at South Lake Tahoe where I was held at gunpoint. I drive my 54 Chevy toward the man holding a rifle who is standing in front of the car. Will he shoot me or get out of the way? That’s the question.

Travel Blog Friday... I return to my series on Oregon’s Harris Beach State Park where Peggy and I continue our exploration of tide pools.

36 thoughts on “On a Pitch-Black Night, Something Stalked Us in the Graveyard…

  1. Playing in a graveyard at the age of 5 would have definitely taken more courage than I would have had. We played in the churchyard next door, and near the crumbling brick outhouses on the property. When I think back now, I can’t help but wonder if my mother knew what we were doing. It was definitely not safe.

    • I wonder if our mothers preferred not knowing what we were up to. Crumbling brick outhouses sound plenty scary given the possibility of falling in! 🙂 I think ‘safe’ takes on different meanings depending on age. I’m always glad the we had the freedom we had as kids, Juliann. –Curt

  2. These stories of your childhood are my favorite in your book Curt. Your descriptions are so vivid and engaging. Cemeteries have always been places I’ve roamed, but the thought of camping out at night in one gives me some pause.

    • I didn’t quite camp out there, Sylvia. Visiting at night was plenty scary. 🙂 But I did sleep outside right next door. You might say I was ‘living on the edge.’ Grin.
      Thanks, Sylvia. I have fun reliving the experiences. –Curt

  3. You are braver than me! I will walk through our local graveyard in the daytime, but even then I find it a bit creepy. Walking through at night when there are shadows everywhere, not sure I could do it without going into a cold sweat.

    • I jumped over to your blog Tony and visited the South Hampton Cemetery. That’s a lot of history wrapped up in one place. My wife, Peggy and I spent a year researching genealogy which carried us all over the US and into lots of graveyards. I confess, that looking for dead relatives was kind of like going on a treasure hunt. We did it in the daytime, however. 🙂 We also traveled to Scotland on genealogical research. Those graveyards were fascinating. There was the one ghost, though…. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. –Curt

  4. I have awesome memories of graveyards, Curt. How wonderful to live next to one and have that area to play. I think the spirits would love children’s voices and laughter and hijinks. They can be quite spooky after dark though, and I haven’t visited one at night. The trusty dog would be a necessity. 🙂

    • That he was, Kelly. He had been superintend of schools for El Dorado County starting in the early 1900s. He knew kids and I have no doubt he was aware of my presence the whole time. Later, after he had passed away, I helped his wife and we became good friends. She had dozens of tales about early life in the county. –Curt

    • I forgot to mention that she and I shared a common passion. I would trim the heavenly trees when they encroached on her property but she always wanted to leave enough standing to hide the tombstones. 🙂

  5. Oh what scary fun you had. I think I’d have been pretty much terrified in that graveyard, especially when you heard the dog. Creepy. What a wild childhood you had. I’m enjoying reading your stories again.

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