EASTON — The validity of its legends may never be adequately verified, but the international notoriety of Easton’s 250-year-old Union Cemetery – particularly reputed sightings of the so-called White Lady ghost in its vicinity – continue to draw both welcome and unwelcome visitors, especially around Halloween.
“The notoriety of Union has definitely had a negative impact on the cemetery over the years,” said Bruce Nelson, local historian and researcher with the Historical Society of Easton. “Especially after the Warrens began hyping their White Lady stories, Union became a mecca for would-be ghost hunters. While some were probably respectful of the surroundings, many were not.”
He and others have seen various instances of overt and covert vandalism, including graffiti, litter and headstones toppled over.
“There have been some acts of vandalism over the years that the police department has investigated,” Police Chief Richard Doyle said, noting that the number of visitors increases around Halloween.
“The area is closed at dusk, which includes the access road,” he said. “Our patrols keep a close eye on the cemetery, including the surrounding roads where people park and try to sneak in.”
Some of the trouble is thought to be the result of younger people acting out, but the cemetery is also reputed to invite amateur occultists that invest more serious intent behind their nighttime trespassing.
“It has a real macabre reputation,” said Elizabeth Boyce, curator of the historical society, noting that dirt from Union is even sold on the internet.
Union’s fame is largely attributable to Ed and Lorraine Warren, a couple that lived in nearby Monroe and achieved considerable fame as pioneer ghost hunters. A self-described demonologist and clairvoyant, respectively, they frequently lectured and co-authored several books about hauntings they investigated around the country, ultimately gaining their greatest fame through their association with several films, including “The Conjuring” and “A Haunting in Connecticut.”
Their 1992 book “Graveyard” features a supposedly true selection of supernatural tales centering around Union Cemetery, though photographic evidence they claimed to have supporting their stories is noticeably absent. The couple also said that Union was an evil epicenter that “has long exerted a dark influence on the lives of many people living within a six-mile radius of it,” Lorraine Warren wrote in the book’s Introduction.
In September 1990, while staked out at the Union Cemetery one night with his camcorder, Ed Warren claimed to have videotaped the legendary White Lady walking through the grounds. Viewable on the internet, the short, poor-quality recording is inconclusive, but for many interested in the supernatural, it helped spawn the legend.
Possibly the most notorious story of the White Lady, which is outlined in the book in a first-person account, describes the claim that one night a disheveled man suddenly materialized in the passenger seat of the narrator’s car as he drove past Union Cemetery heading north on Route 59. The man then disappeared. Moments later, the White Lady appeared in the road before him and, before he could brake to a stop, the figure passed through his car and disappeared down the road behind him.
Since moving to town five years ago, Boyce said people have sent her images and stories claiming to have evidence or authentic anecdotes.
“Everybody and their grandmother who has a story about the White Lady feels compelled to tell me about that,” she said, acknowledging some playful fun in the beliefs and tales. “Everybody in town has their White Lady story.”
As a historian, Boyce spent considerable time investigating some of the spookier legends related to the Union Cemetery.
“The first thing I looked at was the Warren book because everybody referenced it,” she said, though there are no footnotes or bibliography for verification. “But much of that book has influenced how people treat the Union Cemetery. … Young people do go there. The police have to be very vigilant.”
The Warrens’ book offers a melange of other creepy tales, including recounts of area murders that were followed by spectral encounters, meetings with apparent ghosts from ages past, and one story involving a cursed plot of land that the couple said still drew secret demon worshippers.
“Some of the stories are actually grounded in actual historical events,” Boyce said. “It’s hard to prove or disprove them because they changed all the names.”
One example involves the murder of George Nott in 1920, whose body was crammed inside a trunk and sunk in the swamp on the north side of Union Cemetery. The murder was committed by Elwood Wade, who was having an affair with Knott’s wife, Ethel, who helped kill him and was also tried and convicted.
The Warrens’ book, however, recounts a more dramatic and mystical series of events, including a dark spirit appearing in Wade’s rooming house, as well as the body itself – with no mention of a trunk – rising up from the mire to be spotted by a passerby.
“Where that’s coming from, I don’t know,” Boyce said. “I just go by what I find in the historical record.”
Nelson remains skeptical.
“It’s difficult to tell whether the Warrens actually believed much of what they wrote about, or if they were con artists and opportunists, or maybe a mixture of both,” Nelson said. “I’ve read accounts where it was claimed that at least some of what they wrote was fabricated to make it more interesting or to better fit the narrative.”
Skeptics have noted that supporting evidence for the couple’s various investigations was scant. Others, however, remain believers in the Warrens’ work and consider them the premiere royalty of paranormal investigation. Citing a time before ghost hunting was mainstream, the Warrens were considered by many to be sincere pioneers.
Beyond the supernatural myths, the fascination with Union Cemetery is now reflected in people like Romaine Moore and Phillip Markou, of Neptune Beach, Florida. The couple made a trip to Connecticut this month to visit famous graves around the state, including those of Katharine Hepburn, Arthur Miller and Richard Widmark. They also located the resting place of blues guitarist Johnny Winter at Union Cemetery.
“Grave sites are very cool to us,” Markou said.
Winter’s grave also recently drew Robert Ollendorff, of Easton, and his friend Greg Elkins to the cemetery.
Elkins, who grew up in Norwalk, has long heard the stories of the White Lady and Union Cemetery.
“It’s the first thing my wife asked about,” Elkins said, when he told her he was visiting Easton. “Personally I would love to believe in an afterlife, but deep down inside, not so much.”
Ollendorff, who moved to town two years ago and serves as a volunteer firefighter, said he hasn’t encountered many believers in Easton.
“I feel like the local people kind of laugh about it,” he said, though he admits when he drives past the cemetery on a foggy night, the legends of the place come to mind.
Easton’s First Selectman David Bindelglass is sanguine about the legends, having had no direct experience or heard tales he felt worth repeating.
“We’re proud of our history,” he said. “I see history personally as a very unifying force. We all share it. … History is something that we can all get behind together.”