There are many stories about flowers that mysteriously appear on certain graves. I’ve done one or two myself, and have read and wondered over many more. None of the stories I’ve come across, though, have quite the poignancy and sorrow of the flowers that, for many years, adorned the grave of a Devon girl named Kitty Jay–an expression, it seems, of the kindness of strangers.
Kitty Jay had been dead a century or more, and buried twice, before compassionate hands adorned her grave with fresh flowers.
Kitty, so the story goes, was an orphan girl, living in a workhouse on Dartmoor, that vast mire that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s spookiest work, The Hound of the Baskervilles. A workhouse was not a place where a child could expect a loving hand to raise them; they were harsh places, where children and adults alike were inadequately fed, clothed, overworked at menial tasks, and denied education.
It’s no wonder, then, that when Kitty grew to young womanhood, she fell into the deceitful clasp of a man who, at first, said he loved her. That Kitty loved him–the first person ever to show her anything like loving kindness–is certain. She gave him her heart, soul, and virginity. He hadn’t wanted any of those things, save her maidenhead, and eventually, he left her, alone in the world, possibly with his child on the way–good enough to seduce, but not good enough to marry, like many another dowerless girl.
Kitty, in despair, took her own life by hanging. In those days, suicides were not buried, ever, in holy ground. She was buried at a crossroads with a stake through her heart; superstition dictated that this must be done, to stop her ghost from walking.
And so she lay for many, many years, her grave unmarked at the crossroads but nonetheless remembered by the folk around. In 1860, though, her grave was opened and her body exhumed, to be buried anew on a road between Heatree Cross and Hound Tor. This grave was covered in sod, raised above the ground surrounding it, and marked with a stone.
The morning after her burial, fresh flowers appeared on the grave, placed there by some anonymous hand. They say that, every day–even in the snows of winter–for many years, fresh flowers were placed on Kitty’s grave. Most oddly, no footprints were ever found around the spot, in mud, dust or snow; yet there the flowers were.
It has been many years now since the last fresh flowers appeared on Kitty’s grave, but there have been frequent reports of late years that a ghostly female figure, which appears to have no feet, has been seen hovering over the gravesite. Whether this sad spirit is that of Kitty herself, or of the kind soul who placed flowers, sunshine or snow, for so long, no one knows.
The story of the flowers on Kitty Jay’s grave comes from Richard Jones’s 2002 book Haunted Britain and Ireland.
For what it’s worth, my favorite story of flowers placed by no known hand on a grave comes from, of all places, the Tower of London. It’s said that for many many years, on May 19th–the anniversary of her execution in 1536–two dozen red roses have been found on the grave of Anne Boleyn, who was bundled under the floor of the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula after her execution. Allegedly, no one has ever been seen placing the flowers there, and only her grave is so adorned, although one other of Henry VIII’s wives–Anne’s much younger cousin, Catherine Howard, executed in 1542–is entombed nearby.