The story I am working on these days, the third in my Halcyon Beach Chronicles, involves a lot of local legends, something I am passionately fond of. All my Halcyon Beach stories involve ghosts. My ghosts were once in love but they loved the wrong person and, consequently, now, engulfed in longing and regret, they haunt the old beach town in the off-season, seeking the one they desire. It is the passion and the longing that drives them and that makes these stories so delicious to write.
|The infamous Vampire Crypt in the Erie Cemetery|
Recently a Facebook friend posted some photographs on her Wall that brought back memories of a long-ago legend. In the late 1960s I was a student in Erie, Pennsylvania. Late nights in our dorm rooms we often gathered to swap stories and one of the most popular stories that got swapped concerned the Erie Vampire Crypt. Oooo, thrills and chills.
|Entrance to the Cemetery|
According to the legend, an abandoned mausoleum in the Erie Cemetery off Cherry Street, was the resting place of a vampire who arrived from Romania in the 1880s and then died from consumption. I didn't know vampires could die of consumption, but I suppose anything is possible in legends. Now the crypt stands silent and forbidding. I could not wait to see it for myself.
|The Witches Circle|
The day we went to see it was a dark and dreary day in October. There were three of us and we all knew the story of how shortly after the vampire's internment, desiccated bodies began turning up in the area. There were also stories about a boy who broke into the crypt and, in order to prove he did, stole a ring from the corpse he discovered inside. He was found dead later that night in his own bed, his ring finger ripped from his hand.
|The tombstone-eating tree|
Yet another tale told of boys (it's always mischievous boys) who had climbed on top of the crypt and attempted to set it on fire. You can still see the scorch marks. But his project came to an end when he was mysteriously pitched from the roof to his death on the stone stairs below.
|In recent years a coyote has moved into the cemetery|
When we arrived at the cemetery we first visited the Witches' Circle which is a group of old headstones arranged in a circle—one of which appears to be half eaten by a tree. There are plenty of stories about this, too. The oddest one being that the bodies beneath these stones had escaped the hanging times here in New England. If that is the case these were very, very, very old witches. From the desk at which I write this I can see the oldest Universalist Cemetery in the U.S. And, though it is close to 200 years older than the Erie Cemetery, it was established too late for any victims of the witch trials. Actually, Gloucester, unlike our neighbor Salem, never had any witch trials. There were a few women here accused of witchcraft, but, Gloucester being Gloucester, nobody cared and they were left alone.
|The lintel with its strange ornament|
Anyway, we located the Vampire Crypt and it was indeed spooky looking. The name has been chiseled off the lintel and there is a floral emblem in the shape of a V over the door. There are scorch marks to justify the burning story, but I don't recall experiencing anything particularly spooky while there. We walked around it, climbed the hill to look down on the roof, though we didn't climb onto the roof because we'd heard the stories and we knew how that ended.
I'd forgotten all about that day until my friend posted her pictures and reminded me of it. I have my doubts about the supernatural but I love stories like his anyway—I love the quirk within the human psyche that wants to create terrible legends that we can repeat, and pass on, and give ourselves nightmares over. It is deliciously human and there is always the unexpressed desire that one of those lonely, love-sick ghosts will manifest and haunt us for failing to desire them when they were still with us.
Thanks for reading.