Friday, October 8, 2010

Witch of Highland

Highland Cemetery image from Buscatube

Located in Marion County, the small community of Mannington is rich in history. But its best known bit of lore doesn't involve Indian battles, the Civil War, or the oil and gas boom: Mannington is the home of one of the state's most enduring urban legends, The Witch's Grave at Highland Cemetery.

Highland Cemetery and its chapel sit off a rural dirt road, high on a hilltop. Abandoned for years (although it's now being used again for services), the chapel was supposedly once the meeting place for satanists.

The chapel reportedly doesn't have a cross in it; in fact, its decor is said to feature ancient Greek woman in a kind of Bacchanal theme. On Halloween, its attendance board is rumored to equal the number of people in the chapel, and is updated with each new or departing visitor by an unseen census taker.

(Don't just bust in to find out, please; the once abandoned church is now used for services again, and the remote graveyard has been vandalized too many times.)

But the main claim to paranormal fame for Highland Cemetery is that the graveyard is reputed to be the final resting spot of West Virginia's most famous witch.

She goes by many first names in lore: Zelda, Sarah Jane, or Serlinda Jane Whetzel. Her tombstone reads "Serilda Jane Whetzel, date of death: May 29th, 1909"; we assume that answers that question.

Whetzel shares the graveyard with an alleged warlock, Tusca Roy Morris ("Born November 11, 1874 Died December 30, 1900.") Both graves face west, toward the setting sun; the cemetery's other markers face east. Both tombstones are in a corner of the graveyard, under a dogwood tree.

As ominously spooky as the headstones' placement may seem, the reason probably lies in Highland Cemetery vandals, who have knocked down the markers several times and replaced them backwards. It's said that whenever the workers set the stones straight, the midnight partiers quickly return and reverse them again.

But the desecration of the stones can't explain away the carvings etched on them so easily. Whetzel's obelisk shows a staircase descending down into the fiery mouth of a demonic dragon.

A staircase ascending into heaven is a common enough depiction on a monument. The question is whether Whetzel's artwork shows a fall into Lucifer's underworld or is a century-old etching that time has eroded just enough to blur and contort the original image.

Tusca's stone shows a face with horns. Again, whether that's just a result of the ravages of time or something more sinister isn't known.

Of course, there's always the inconvenient fact that they were buried in Christian plots; apparently the good reverend back in the day didn't think the pair were Satan's spawns at the time of their deaths if he allowed them to be interred on church grounds.

At any rate, the local tale is that if you visit Highland Cemetery late at night, you'll see glowing in the woods and hear strange noises. The witch and her warlock companion have been reportedly spotted in the vicinity of their graves, quickly disappearing when approached. And on Halloween, a trip to the chapel will include your gang in a netherworld census headcount.

Urban legend or something more...?


Regina Barker said...

Not much of this story is true. Highland Church is still used, many people have family buried in the cemetery and have attended church here. They have a home coming every year. Mrs. Whetzels grave faces east as do all the other graves in the cemetery, her grave stone does not have a stairway to hell. It has been scratched to appear to have a stairway going down but actually ha a stairway to heaven.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Regina Barker, for defending the memory of Serilda Whetzel. As a member of Highland Church, I can tell you there is no evidence that she was a witch. Lifelong members of the church who are still living recall stories that that she used to walk the ridge to church every Sunday morning, alongside many others in the community. Her parents are listed among the founding members of the church in 1866. Her gravestone faces in the same direction as the others in the cemetery. There is a Bible carved on the top with the words "Eternal Life" engraved below. The Stairway to Heaven image has deteriorated somewhat after over 100 years of exposure to the elements. As for the tall tales of eerie happenings in the area, who hasn't heard echoes of peculiar sights and sounds in a remote wooded area?

Anonymous said...

Tusca Roy Morris was Serilda's nephew, who died tragically in a logging accident when he was 16 years old. His grave is near Serilda's. He was not a warlock.

Anonymous said...

In addition, the photo posted above is not of Highland Cemetery near Mannington, WV.

April said...

Yes, I am pretty confused about this also. This states if is Pennsylvania Haunts and History, but this grave is in West Virginia. Is it in Marion County? Or Monongalia County. Find-A-Grave has information of it being in Monongalia, just north of the Marion County border line.

jarapp said...

The church is in Mon County. The members of Highland Church ask that you show respect for this place, that you honor the memory of those buried there, and that you help us spread the truth about Serilda Jane Whetzel. If you wish to find out what she believed and how she patterned her life, we would encourage you to come to Highland Church on Sunday mornings at 9:30 am. Serilda attended Highland Church from its founding in 1866 until her death in 1905. The same principles that were taught then are still taught today.