Friday, January 9, 2009

Chief Joc-O-Sot and the Erie Street Cemetery

Joc-O-Sot's grave from

Born in 1810, Joc-O-Sot was a Sauk chief and warrior during the Black Hawk wars of 1832. After a series of massacres, battles with the US militia, and cholera, the Indians were defeated for once and all and sent west.

Joc-O-Sot worked as a fishing and hunting guide in the Cleveland area after the hostilities. He later joined a theatrical troupe run by Dan Marble, and Joc-O-Sot toured Europe in Marble's Wild West show to earn some money for his now impoverished tribe.

He became a celebrity in England, even having a pow-wow with Queen Victoria. But an old wound he received during the war flared up, and he sensed he was on the way to the spirit world.

He hurried back to America, wanting to be buried with his Sauk tribesmen in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Travel wasn't exactly zippy back in his day, and he never quite made it home, getting as far as Cleveland before succumbing in 1844. He was buried in the city's oldest boneyard, the Erie Street Cemetery on Ninth Street.

This didn't sit very well with Joc-O-Sot's spirit, and the first bit of lore claims that his outrage at being buried in Cleveland instead of home manifested itself when he shattered his tombstone. Some blame lightning, but hey, someone had to loosen that bolt from the skies, right?

Other say vandals did the dirty deed, and their story has a spooky twist. They claim that the evil-doers were driven insane by a curse laid on them by Chief Thunderwater, a Seneca that was a local Indian rights activist. He died in 1950, and was buried beside Joc-O-Sot, where we suppose he keeps a watchful eye on the spook of his roaming brother.

And local legend has it that Joc-O-Sot's ghost will wander the grounds until he makes it back to his people. It may be that his spook is all that's left at the cemetery. Some think his body was spirited away, perhaps to another burial site or maybe by medical students or doctors in need of a skeleton.

Erie Cemetery is in a prime real estate spot in Cleveland, and developers have often tried to buy it and dislodge its dead. It's alleged that the protective spook of Joc-O-Sot has dispatched a couple of the land-grabbers to the spirit in the sky in dramatic fashion. One guy even tried to frighten the Chief away by littering his grave with decapitated sheep. But hey, it's pretty tough to scare the dead.

Through the years, Joc-O-Sot has had his own protector. Three stalks of maize grow every year next to the chief's grave. Some say a Sauk woman visits to placate his restless spirit, while others say the gods send the corn to nourish him until he makes his final journey to his tribal lands.

His spirit sometimes crosses the street to haunt Jacobs' Field, home of the Cleveland Indians. Some say it's to show his displeasure at the team mascot, Chief Wahoo, an insult to native Americans throughout the land. Others think it's because the field is built on an old Indian burial grounds.

Either way, a sighting of Joc-O-sot never fares well for the hometown nine, and superstitious fans leave trinkets like feathers and shotglasses on his gravestone, maybe hoping he'll haunt the White Sox instead.

Erie Cemetery has other spooks, too. There's also the Woman in White who is known to flag down drivers near the front gate for a ride home. But hey, the paranormal world is loaded with Resurrection Mary tales. How many Indian chiefs get to spook a ballyard?

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