Monday, December 12, 2011
Mt. Vernon Baptist Church and Graveyard
Several months ago, I got serious about geocaching again, and whenever I had some spare time and found a cool cache that I could easily find, I'd set out to find it. Such a cache was located in the Mt. Vernon graveyard. The night I decided to find this geocache, I set out in the early evening. It was already dark by the time I arrived, but it still wasn't what I would consider late...it was between 8 and 8:30pm. I felt confident that I could easily find the hidden "treasure," despite the fact that I could NOT find my GPS...but the pictures posted and the description and clue gave me a pretty good idea of exactly where to look.
As I pulled my car onto the road through the graveyard, I noticed that it seemed very, very dark that evening, despite the usual glow of the neon fast food signs in the distance, and the nearby housing development that literally butted up against the side of the graveyard property. Still, I didn't feel like anything was wrong. I had been in this graveyard many times, and all hours of the day, doing research for the Find-a-Grave site, and just to explore.
However, as I got to about the middle of the cemetery, right before where the road slopes down, I felt like I literally became paralyzed with fear. I stopped the car, because this is about where I thought I needed to be to find the cache anyway, but REALLY didn't want to get out. That's the first time I can ever really remember being that scared, and especially in that cemetery. I had previous feelings of uneasiness in the area down past that knoll, but never in this section. Trying to be brave, and not wanting to give up on my geocache so easily, I grabbed the flashlight and headed out.
Seconds after leaving the road and walking among the tombs, my flashlight flickered and died. It was a trigger light, and no matter how much I pumped and squeezed, the thing refused to come back on. Being that it was REALLY dark, I figured I was screwed, but decided to give a look around and see if I could pinpoint where the name on the stone that the geocache was allegedly hidden near. I looked high and low, but figured it was just too dark, so I started walking back toward the car. That's when I heard a figure crunching through the leaves and fallen twigs. I could barely make out the shape of a man, or what I thought was a man. Thinking that it was either another geocacher or someone coming to check on why I was poking around the graveyard at night, I stopped and called out "hello!" The crunching of the leaves stopped...and what I thought was a shape of the man faded into the inky blackness of night. I ran the rest of the way to the car, jumped in, and zoomed off.
I actually did go back later that evening...around 11pm. The weird feelings I had on my initial visit were gone, and I actually parked at the church's back lot, and walked directly to the geocache. I haven't been back there since, but I've remained fascinated with the location, and wanted to learn more. Many, many years ago...like when I was in middle school...I had a dream about the church. I was standing where the graveyard is now...on the knoll...but there were no tombstones. There was also no Mt. Vernon Rd. I was standing in a line with many other people and we were waiting for transportation to go somewhere.
A friend of mine who grew up nearby also had strange dreams about the place, dreams that seemed to have been set in the time of the Civil War. This same friend also had some creepy experiences in the graveyard. Doing some online research, I've noticed that although there's nothing really that says the graveyard is haunted, several paranormal teams HAVE investigated. In fact, several years ago, a young man posted some photos from the graveyard on a message board that I belonged to. To me, the photos, which were said to show anomalous lights of paranormal nature, actually just showed some neon marquees from the many nearby restaurants and gas stations...but something must have drawn him and others to look into the possibility of paranormal phenomena at this location.
I'm still following some leads and have contacted several people, but from what I've been able to verify so far, the location does have quite the historical roots. The Mt. Vernon Baptist Church is believed to have the oldest organized congregation in present-day Putnam County. The church was organized on July 1, 1843 and made up of 30 members of the Mt. Salem Church (no longer standing) and 23 members from Union Baptist Church, which still stands in Milton. The first pastor was Rev. James Mitchell, and the original congregation contained a man of color, simply named as "George," and a woman of color, known only as Milly. George and Milly were actually not allowed to attend services with the rest of the congregation, and thus, sat in the overhead hayloft during services.
The original church was a converted sheep barn located on property given to the church by a J.W. West, who in turn, became the first deacon of the church. By 1859, the church had outgrown its former barn, and a wooden frame structure was built at the site of the present church. During the Civil War, records went silent, but it is believed that the church did act as a Civil War hospital, serving troops from both the Union and the Confederacy.
By 1909, the brick structure that stands today was started, with an official dedication in 1910, with Pastor Rev. J.F. Cook. Over the years, many additions and renovations have taken place to accomodate the growing congregation. The newest sanctuary has two reserved seats in honor of George and Milly, who in their lifetime, were not permitted to be seated with the rest of the congregation, and when the church celebrated its 167th anniversary last year, a processional was led from the site of the former sheep barn to the new church.
As for the graveyard, the earliest stones seem to only date back to the 1908-1909 period, indicating that the burial ground was only implemented when the brick church was erected. Whether or not an earlier burial ground existed nearby or on the same land is a question I'm hoping to soon uncover! If you have any information on the history of this location, or have your own weird, creepy, or paranormal experience, please let me know!
UPDATE July 2013: I actually had another creepy experience here of my own! While sitting in the parking lot one night, I experienced a shadowy figure approach my car and disappear. I'm beginning to think there is a ghostly protector of this property, shooing away those who are loitering around where they don't belong. You can read about my latest experience HERE.
Links of interest:
Church's website, with lots of great history
Photo above from the church's homepage-history section.