We’ve all wandered through graveyards where some of the stones, either because the ground fell out from under them or because they were never set in place properly to begin with, have fallen over. Not all such stones fall over for such mundane reasons, though. Take the one that adorns the grave of Judge John Rowan, which stands—some of the time—in a family cemetery near Bardstown, Kentucky.
Judge Rowan was an interesting character, at various times fabled defense attorney, longtime member of the state legislature, Kentucky secretary of state, chief justice of the Kentucky court of appeals, United States Senator, husband, father, duellist (he once killed a man in a duel that began with a quarrel over who was the better Latinist), and gambler. His home, which he built in the 1790s, is named Federal Hill, but it’s better known as My Old Kentucky Home, thanks to some lyrics written about it by Rowan’s musician cousin, Stephen C. Foster.
Judge Rowan was also a remarkably humble man. He knew that, by virtue of his accomplishments, his admirers would want to mark his eventual grave with some big, gaudy tombstone or other. He was adamantly opposed to having a tombstone at all. He wrote in his last will and testament that he wanted no stone on his grave. He pointed out that his mother and father had no tombstones, like many who had gone before them; nor did two of his children, who died before reaching maturity. He declared magisterially that he DID NOT want a tombstone, finishing with these ringing words: “. . .there is no distinction among the dead. Pride is an unfit associate of death and the grave. I therefore again forbid a monumental stone of any kind.”
Judge Rowan died in 1843. And, despite warnings from his slaves that his survivors and admirers “better do like Marse John say”, and from others who remembered it was a dangerous thing to defy John Rowan in life and doubted things would change in death, a tall tombstone was placed on his grave.
Within months, it toppled over for the first time. Since then, it’s been cemented in place. It’s been braced. Frightened crews of workmen have refused to go near it again. And yet, every time it’s been placed upright, it has toppled over again.
Sounds to me like the judge STILL doesn’t approve, and won’t let the stone stand. Unfortunately, the stubbornness of the living has kept pace with the stubbornness of the dead in this case, and the stone still marks his grave.
Sally Carter, on the other hand, never minded having a tombstone—unless, of course, you discount the natural distaste a girl who died three weeks short of her sixteenth birthday would have for such a final remembrance. She was, however, badly upset because it fell over, more than once, during thunderstorms.
Sally was visiting her sister and brother-in-law, Mary and Stephen Ewing, at Huntsville, Alabama’s Cedarhurst Mansion when she caught some infectious illness and died on November 28, 1837. It was not until 1919, however, that her ghost was first reported. A young boy happened to be staying in what had been her room in the mansion. As I understand it, that room opened onto a balcony, and one night, during a thunderstorm with high winds, rain and lightning, Sally’s spirit entered the room from the balcony and woke the boy. “My name is Sally Carter, and I’m sorry to bother you,” she said, “but this terrible wind has blown over my tombstone. Will you please come set it back up?”
Prudently, the boy waited until morning, after the storm, to walk out to the family graveyard. Sure enough, Sally’s tombstone had fallen over. He placed it back upright, and all was well—for the time being.
Thereafter, Sally’s spirit disturbed several people sleeping in her old room with her plea to have her tombstone put back in place. One gentleman in his fifties, who encountered her sometime in the 1940s or 1950s (accounts vary), was so distressed by her visit that he left the mansion altogether, after placing her stone upright again, and never returned.
By the 1980s, sadly, Sally’s grave had been vandalized several times by teens with nothing better to do. Moreover, Cedarhurst had been bought by developers and turned into condominiums. In 1982, her grave, and those of several other members of the Ewing family, were moved to the nearby Maple Hill cemetery. They are unmarked.
Sally no longer haunts anyone asking for her tombstone to be righted, but she’s still said to walk the grounds of Cedarhurst. Maybe, nowadays, she’s looking for that tombstone. Who knows?
The story of Judge Rowan’s tumbling tombstone can be found in many collections of stories of the supernatural, but my primary source is Kathryn Tucker Windham’s 1971 book JEFFREY INTRODUCES 13 MORE SOUTHERN GHOSTS. The quotation from his will comes from that work.
Sources for Sally Carter’s story include Dennis William Hauck’s 1994 edition of HAUNTED PLACES: GHOSTLY ABODES, SACRED SITES, UFO LANDINGS, AND OTHER SUPERNATURAL LOCATIONS, and this website: REAL HAUNTS.