Ghost in the graveyard
Coal City cemetery yields signs of spirits

Sarah Johnson takes a temperature reading in Short Cemetary in Coal City on Tuesday night. Johnson, along with four other members of the Will County Ghost Hunters Society, visited the cemetary to collect data of ghostly phenomena. The Society takes photos, video, and audio hoping to find evidence of paranormal activity. (Herald Photo/Adam Nekola)

COAL CITY - It is 7:17 p.m. on Halloween Eve, and Dan Jungles is walking into a tiny cemetery in Coal City. All the fields, as Jungles says, are normal. The pollen reading is at 1.2. The moon is at 30 percent waning, and the temperature is about 40 degrees.

This night, Jungles and four other members of the Will County Ghost Hunters Society are about to spend a few hours searching for spirits, as the society has for the past three-plus years. Activity for them is booming, Jungles said with the group booked into the new year.

The group did, however, agree to take the Morris Daily Herald out to the cemetery for a somewhat impromptu investigation.

Called Short Cemetery, the location is one of Jungles' personal favorites, one the group visits as much as a dozen times a year.

Even equipped with an owl that occasionally patrols the area, and sometimes spooks the investigators, the graveyard fits perfectly in the mold of a stereotypical haunted cemetery.

"We go a lot of places, and even in the winter we'll come out here just because it's nice and quiet out here and, for a lot of people, it's got that classic what they think of when they think of creepy cemeteries because it's overgrown and not maintained," Jungles, who is the group's director, said.

"There's old headstones in here, it's in the middle of nowhere, it's surrounded by trees."

The life of a cemetery

If you did not know it was there, you would pass by Short Cemetery and never bat an eye. A small, grassy entrance way leads to it off a lonely road.

The cemetery itself lives up to its name as being a small, enclosed space. Wind, a few coyotes, and the occasional car passing by are the only things that disturb the air here - at least to the naked eye.

The name of the cemetery, however, actually comes from the bodies buried there. Jungles said he does not know much about the Short family, the first family whose deceased relatives occupied the burial grounds. The cemetery was first occupied around the late 1850s.

At one time, the group did have a partial list of those buried in the cemetery, which they found in a local newspaper article.

However, finding information about the people buried at the cemetery has proven to be difficult, especially because the group is so busy lately.

"Because it's such an older cemetery, too, it's harder to find stuff. Records weren't kept as well as they are now," Jungles said.

"And everything's not computerized. A lot of these smaller cemeteries, nothing's computerized."

Though they don't know a lot about the Shorts, they can gather a few things about the history of the cemetery.

For one, most of the people buried there are related. In fact, the only way any new bodies can find a home there is to prove some relation, Jungle said.

"It's all friends, it's all family," Sarah Johnson, a fellow investigator from Coal City who has helped research the area, said. "I don't think there's too many separate families in here. I think they're almost all one."

Many of the people buried there were immigrants who came from places such as Scotland or Ireland. Some of the gravestones reflect that fact, as their home countries are engraved as readily as their names or life spans.

And, as is the case with many immigrants, many of those buried in the cemetery lived the hard life of staking a claim in the American way of life. A lot of them worked in the coal mines of Coal City, trying to carve out a way of living, though often many died in the very same mines.

"So, you have a lot of working-class people in here," Jungles said. "There's really not too many businessmen or anything like that in here."

The cemetery is minimally maintained. Aside from a small patch leading in to the cemetery, which is mowed only a few times a year, the cemetery is overrun by all types of plant life.

The reason for the overgrowth is many of the plants are rare to Illinois and need to be protected. There are even a bevy of cactuses all over the cemetery, whose yellow spring flowers add to the cemetery's oddness.

The cactuses - along with other plant life and the cemetery's location - tax the soil quite a bit, making it soft and spongy. While walking on it, visitors may find they sink a few inches, bringing them that much closer to the graveyard's inhabitants.

The overgrowth - along with factors such as a coal-mining accident or death from a disease - may actually be a reason why the cemetery may be haunted.

"It's not maintained at all, and that sometimes leads to spiritual activity, where they're not happy because it's either vandalized or it's not taken care of very well, and nobody comes here to visit them," Jungles said.

Signs of (after)life

As far as any ghostly activity goes, Jungles said the group has noticed a few tell-tale signs. There's ectoplasmic mist that forms on nights too warm to see your breath. Some members have heard loud footsteps in the brush.

Jungles also has heard some people say they have seen an apparition in the center of the cemetery, which is its main burial area. People have said they have seen the image of a young girl, who was possibly the victim of some sort of disease. The hunters cannot, for certain, pinpoint who the girl is until they can tie her to a certain time in history.

The group also experiments with digital voice recorders, with which they try to record the voices of the dead. The process involves gathering in an area of the cemetery and asking questions, hoping some response will register on the recorders.

During these recording sessions, the group also measures the temperature in the area, along with its magnetic field. Ghosts are said to occupy the electromagnetic plain and can affect it with their presence.

One of the member's cameras ran out of power during a session in the main burial area of the cemetery, only to come back to life later on.

As far as more-concrete evidence goes, it will take the group hours of combing through data before they can find that lone voice in the night. Luckily, the group did manage to find a photo in its initial analysis of Tuesday night's visit showing a ghostly image that apparently appeared during the recording session.

"It was taken during one of the (electromagnetic field) spikes," Jungles said in an e-mail sent later Tuesday night.

A bond beyond the grave

With little visitation from others, the ghost hunters end up becoming the dead's mourners. It leads to a relationship being developed, fueled by the hunter's scientific curiosity and the ghosts' natural curiosity and loneliness.

"They're people, that's what people forget. They think ghosts are spooky. They're not like Hollywood movies and stuff like that," Jungles said. "They're only people, that's all they were. So I think you do develop a relationship with them. Even if they initially don't want that, they kind of recognize that you're there."

That recognition is one of the reasons why Jungles enjoys the Short Cemetery so much. It's quiet brings the feeling that someone is actually there with you, watching your every move. Though the quiet may be deafening to some people, Jungles takes a solace in it.

"It doesn't bother me. It's very relaxing. Sometimes if I need to clear my head, I'll go to the cemetery, which sounds weird to a normal person," Jungles said. "But it's very relaxing and soothing for me. I can clear my head and do what I love to do."