Haunted Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio

Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum in Dayton, Ohio is one of the oldest garden cemeteries in the United States. Founded in 1841, the cemetery grounds are comprised of 200 acres of rolling hills and trees. One hundred and sixty-five species of native plants and Midwestern trees have been cataloged on the property. Woodland Cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and its Victorian section received its own designation as a historic district in 2011.

With its long history, it’s no surprise Woodland also has a reputation for being haunted.

I investigated the cemetery back in the early 2000s and found it to be a fascinating site. Beyond the ghost stories associated with it, the cemetery is an amazing piece of history. The site’s chapel contains one of the finest original Tiffany windows in the country. An ornate Romanesque gateway leads to the grounds, and inside, you’ll find Greek statues, temples and a marble mausoleum with a dozen large stained-glass windows.

Over 100,000 people are buried at Woodland, including many famous figures. Wilbur and Orville Wright, Erma Bombeck and inventor Charles Kettering are just a few of the recognizable names to be found on the grounds.

A lot of people have had strange experiences on the grounds of Woodland, and I’ve heard some interesting accounts over the years.

Here’s a report I received from a woman in Dayton who had a ghostly encounter in the cemetery when she and her sister visited the site for genealogical research. As she recounts:

‘Living in Dayton, we had heard about Woodland Cemetery from a lot of different people. We actually lived in the area for almost two years before we got around to going out there. We got involved researching genealogy, so we started going to cemeteries in the area. Woodland is a pretty interesting place. It has a lot of old stones and unique statues.

Since it’s so old, there are a lot of families buried there. The cemetery has experienced a lot of problems with vandals which I think is very sad. I can’t imagine why people would want to do such things.

Anyway, the incident that happened to me was on our third visit to Woodland. We got over there late in the day on a Tuesday. We didn’t see anyone else around and we kind of wandered in different directions, looking around, taking notes, and checking on different names. I had also started doing rubbings of some old gravestones and I was looking at some stones, thinking about taking a rubbing. Maybe I was a bit too focused, but I suddenly noticed that there was a little girl nearby. She was sitting on a stone, swinging her feet. She had blonde hair and was wearing white tennis shoes. I looked at her and said hello. She said hello back to me, then she jumped up, turned and ran away. The most curious thing was that a blue light seemed to follow her. I’ve never seen anything like it. When she got a short distance away from me, that blue light sort of went into her and she was just gone!

I was really spooked and was standing there with my mouth hanging open. That was enough for me. I was out of that cemetery and it took a while before I was ready to go again. My sister had been too far away to see the girl.

Later, I found out about the ghost of a girl who has been seen in Woodland. I believe that it was her ghost that I saw that day.”

The encounter does indeed fit the pattern of one of the cemetery’s well-known spirits. A pretty blonde girl in white tennis shoes and blue jeans. She’s been seen sitting on one of the stones and it’s claimed that she will speak with those who pass by her.

The stone she sits on is reported to emit a strange, blue light. No one has yet identified the spirit so it’s unknown why she haunts the location, though she has been sighted by several witnesses.

My own investigations of the site yielded some interesting light anomalies and disembodied voices, but I didn’t have a personal experience with the spirit of the young girl.

Woodland is reportedly home to other restless spirits too, including several civil war soldiers and early Dayton businessman Adam Schantz.

The site’s most famous spirit, however, is that of Johnny Morehouse.

Johnny was just a young man when he fell into a canal and drowned in 1860. His faithful dog dove in to pull Johnny out, but it was too late. The dog, stricken with grief, stayed at the boy’s grave until he too passed away.

Perhaps the tale is simply an urban legend, or maybe it’s true history. Whatever the case, it has been told for years and is a firm part of the cemetery’s lore. Giving weight to the tale having a grain of truth, the young man’s tombstone bears a sculpture of a young boy with a dog standing guard over him.

Witnesses have reported seeing a boy and his dog playing in the cemetery after hours. The boy’s laughter has been heard along with the joyous barking of his dog. Phantoms of the past, still together in the afterlife. Since Johnny’s story is so well known, visitors often leave toys, candles and treats at the boy’s grave. Small tokens to offer comfort for the spirits.

Several readers of my original blog post on this location shared their own accounts. Chuck Wick writes the he and his wife were about to leave the site one evening when they had a strange sighting:

“…my wife wanted to get out and look at a few old tombstones before we left, so I parked. About 20 feet away, a little girl was playing beside the fence near the exit fence and asked us if she could help us find a way. My wife told her “thank you sweetie, we are fine.” We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Why would a very small child be out in a graveyard playing unattended? This was last summer, and we still talk about that very creepy day.”

Christine Marks has a similar story. She and her boyfriend wanted to check out the site because of its ghost stories and legends. They went by the site late one fall day:

“It was late in the day when we arrived. You can’t mess around there after dark or the cops will come, there’s been trouble with vandals. So, we really didn’t expect much to happen. We walked around looking at the old headstones for a bit, talking about scary stories and zombies, just having some fun.

As we walked back to the entrance to head for our car, I saw a little girl up around the front of the cemetery. I mean, it was a real kid, I could swear it was. When we got close to her, she said “Oh you better get home now, this is not where you should be.”

Right after she said that, a gust of wind suddenly came up. It blew a lot of leaves up and I got closer to my boyfriend. It was only a few seconds, but when we looked again, the girl had vanished. There was nowhere that she could have run off that quickly. I got really freaked out and we left right away. I’m convinced we saw a ghost!”

Don Bursar writes that he used to sneak into Woodland at night to explore the site. He says the shadows at the location have a “life of their own.”

“I don’t mean that the moonlight shifts through open trees, I mean that the shadows appear, disappear and move of their own accord; as if they are alive. It’s a different place at night and not for the faint of heart.

Often, I would feel the gravestones and their temperatures would fluctuate for no reason. One night, a certain stone would be warm to the touch while the one next to it would be cold. The next time it would be vice versa.

The voices are another story. I would hear a conversation taking place. I would think it’s just some kids screwing around but even though I would walk closer to it, it would just move away. Many times, it would sound [as if] it was coming from the area I just walked through. I could never hear exactly what was being said, just the tones of the words.”

While sites like Woodland Cemetery are meccas for those interested in ghost stories and historic legends, they also, sadly, attract unsavory characters. Vandals have struck the site on several occasions and damaged some of the headstones.

If you’d like to visit the historic site, you’ll have to do so during normal operating hours. Tours are available that cover the cemetery’s history and details about some of the people interred at the location.

Further information can be found at the website below:


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