Wednesday, April 18, 2018

White Gate Cemetery

Photo by Beth--Grave Addiction

Travelers driving down Tom's Run Road in Moundsville, WV will notice a quaint, white gate with no fence, just on the other side of a small creek. Above the gate is a sign reading "White Gate Cemetery."  Beyond that gate are rows and rows of small metal signs, each marking the final resting place of a former inmate of the West Virginia State Penitentiary. 

The West Virginia Penitentiary, located in Moundsville, officially opened in 1876. Deceased prisoners whose bodies were not claimed by friends or family were first buried along a narrow strip of land on the south side of the penitentiary wall. However, drainage issues resulted in the need to remove the bodies and place them in a 5 acre area just outside the prison set aside for a cemetery.  This arrangement lasted until 1897. Around that time, Moundsville citizens had started complaining about convicts being buried within cemetery limits.  Therefore, during the 1897 Legislative Session, House of Delegates member John J. Leach proposed House Bill 255. The bill was "to prohibit the burial in the cemetery at Moundsville of the bodies of convicts who may die in the penitentiary." The bill passed, spurring the prison on a search for a proper burial site outside of city limits.

Wheeling Daily Intelligencer February 9, 1897

In November of that year, they would find a suitable location. Prison officials purchased 10 acres of land from David Levi along Tom's Run Road.  The location chosen was about 3-4 miles from the prison, fell outside of city limits, and cost the state $600. 

Wheeling Daily Intelligencer November 24, 1897

For half a century, the cemetery didn't really have a name. On death certificates, it was usually listed as 'prison cemetery' or Tom's Run. It wasn't until the 1950s that it came to be called White Gate Cemetery when the wife of a warden (I haven't confirmed it, but I think its Rilla Skeen, wife of Orel J. Skeen, 1947-1955) took interest in improving the cemetery and had the gate and sign installed. 

There are close to 300 known burials at White Gate, most of which are marked with a simple metal sign made at the prison. The majority of burials are the result of natural causes and many come from the era of the Great Depression when families simply didn't have the money to have their convict kin shipped home and buried.  

Photo by Beth--Grave Addiction

Unfortunately for many of those buried on this little plot of land, their stories are lost to history. In some cases, their names are lost to history---a blank sign being the only tangible proof of their existence. Others buried at White Gate are a little more notorious...

It is said that Edward Trout Shue, the infamous "Man Who Wanted Seven Wives" is buried at the prison cemetery. You might know him better as the man who took the life of Zona Heaster Shue, the Greenbrier Ghost. Also among the burials are Herman Drenth, better known as Harry F. Powers. Powers is responsible for at LEAST 5 murders in the Quiet Dell area of WV. This "Bluebeard of Quiet Dell" is believed to be West Virginia's first serial killer.  He was executed by hanging on March 18, 1932. Then, there's William Holly Griffith, the "Bestial Murderer" who kept escaping! He died July 10, 1971 from prostrate cancer. 

In the paranormal world, there's a debate as to whether or not cemeteries are likely to be haunted. The theory is that a ghost would more likely haunt the place where he/she died, or where he/she had spent the most time while living, as opposed to just the location where the earthly body lies.  I'll save that debate for another blog, but I wanted to touch upon the haunted history of the White Gate Cemetery.  Surprisingly, there really isn't much of one! Those who have investigated the cemetery haven't really collected any data to show that it might be haunted, and there really aren't any stories about its ghosts, either, that I could find.  I did find one thing, though. Visitors to the cemetery don't find the little spit of wooded land peaceful. Rather, the whole area seems to give off a very heavy, even negative feeling. 

Last January, my friend Bree and I set up a vendor's table at the Grave City Haunted Relic Expo, held at the old Sanford School. We arrived in town a little early to explore and the number one spot we wanted to see was White Gate Cemetery. We found it easily enough. It's just a short drive from the prison and my GPS took us right to it.  The problem was, we couldn't get to it! There had been recent snowstorms throughout West Virginia earlier that week, and Tom's Run Road wasn't entirely free from snow and ice just yet. The parking area was covered in snow, and since I wasn't sure what was under it (I was thinking lots and lots of mud), and didn't want to get my car stuck, we chose not to stop.  That wasn't the only issue though; even if we had parked, there was NO bridge over the creek to the cemetery. And, since the snow was starting to melt, the creek was running pretty high. You can watch the video I took of me panicking about where to stop below, but it begs the question: why is this cemetery so isolated?

A really sweet lady named Tammylynn whom we met at the Expo shared some insight.  She said the cemetery was built across the water to keep negative energies at bay! It is a popular belief in folklore that a ghost cannot cross running water (for example, the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow), so it makes sense. And, if that negative energy is all trapped in that small, little space, that could explain why so many people can pick up on it so strongly.  She also let us know that the cemetery grounds aren't regularly mowed, and there's an issue with snakes, so be careful if you plan on visiting! 

If you have any additional information on this cemetery, or have had your own personal paranormal experience there, I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to comment below, join me at Theresa's Haunted History Facebook, or email me at theresarhps@yahoo.com.  Stay spooky, ya'll!

For a list of burials, check out Find-a-Grave
For more photos and info, visit Grave Addiction
You can find a little bit of info on early burials at the WV Pen on its National Register application


Here's the video of me panicking, trying to figure out how to get over to the cemetery without A. Getting my car stuck, and B. Drowning while trying to cross the creek on foot. We will be returning in the Spring! You can also watch it on YouTube


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