The Man Without A Cemetery
Old Time Tales of Warren County


The Man Without A Cemetery

The custom of excluding suicides from burial in cemeteries, was rigidly adhered to in Warren County till the middle of the eighteenth century was near at hand. The good old English custom of burying a suicide at the crossroads at midnight, with a stake driven through his breast to hold him down for ever and ever, was never imported from Merry England to the wild woods of Western Pennsylvania, but the man who died by his own hand might not hope, in days gone by, to be buried in "God's acre." By taking up arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, ending them, he lost his right to enjoy the privileges of Christian burial.

So it happened that when one Allen Ketlaw, who lived in the north of the county, killed himself with his own musket, a strange situation arose. Ketlaw could, of course, not be buried in any cemetery, it was out of the question. Commonly, suicides, which were very few, because pioneers work too hard for much introspection, were buried on someone's farm or in a bit of woods, outside a cemetery. But Ketlaw had been an unpopular, uncanny man and the manner of his death peculiarly gruesome. Nobody wanted Ketlaw buried on his land. The case attracted wide attention. Where to bury the remains of Allen Ketlaw became a problem. The body lay in its rough coffin five days, with thousands of waste and woodland acres on all sides, there was not even a few feet of earth to welcome it.

Then one farmer, feeling perhaps that even a suicide had a right to rest peacefully somewhere, gave permission for the body to be buried in a certain stretch of woods. The rude funeral was attended by scores of men and a few women. The grave was dug beneath tall trees while the curious throng stood round or sat on the ground.

When the grave was finished, none too deep, a silence fell on the strange burying party in the forest. A mournful breeze was sighing in the pines near by. And in the midst of the eerie silence attending the lowering of the pine box, a strange sound fell upon the ears of the woodland burying party, a weird, moaning voice that came from somewhere and said, as several of the men declared, "Dig it deeper, dig it deeper!"

Panic fell on the party. Some men left hurriedly. The box was lifted up again, men started to dig the grave deeper. Then one man, who had been lying against some nearby tree roots during the grave digging, noticed the cause of the strange voice which had said, "Dig it deeper." The tall branches of an elm were rubbing, producing a sound easy to interpret into almost anything.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 315-316: Old Time Tales of Warren County; Meadville, Pa.: Press of Tribune Pub. Co., 1932


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