Post by Graveyardbride on Nov 1, 2013 13:51:47 GMT -5
The Lady in Black
November 1, 1899: It was twilight as the men made their way up the hill toward the Masonic Cemetery overlooking Central City. When they arrived at the entrance to the graveyard, someone among them noted they were 14 in number, but for the most part, they all looked at the ground, avoiding eye contact, because now that they had arrived at their destination, they all felt incredibly silly.
The sun was quickly disappearing and the odd coterie was about to disperse when she appeared on the far side of the cemetery. Transfixed, the onlookers watched as the figure of a woman in black almost glided among the glistening white monuments to the dead. As she came closer, they could see she was a comely young woman in a mourning costume of black brocade, carrying a small bouquet of what appeared to be blue columbine. (Later, some of the witnesses claimed there were blue columbine and other wild flowers in the lady’s dark hair.) When the ethereal woman came to the tall obelisk marking the final resting place of John E. Cameron, she knelt, brushed a stream of tears from her cheek, whispered a few words and placed the flowers on the grave. As she turned, one among the silent witnesses to this eerie ritual regained his composure and quickly made his way toward the lady as she glided in the opposite direction. Another man joined him and within seconds, several of the gentlemen were running through the graveyard with the intention of accosting the lady in black. They were within a few yards of her as she crested the hill to the north, but when they reached the summit, she was nowhere to be seen. The woman in black had simply vanished into thin air.
The headstone at the grave of John Cameron indicates he died November 1, 1887, at the age of 28 and that he was the son of “R & C Cameron.” Records indicate the young man was born in 1859 in Perth, Ontario, the only child of Robert and Catherine Cameron, who had emigrated from Scotland. The family lived in Wisconsin, Illinois, Nebraska and Black Hawk, Colorado, before settling in Central City in 1867 when John was 7-years-old. Robert Cameron died April 25, 1880, at the age of 47, and Catherine and her son continued to live in Central City.
From all accounts, John Cameron was a good-natured, charming gentleman, known for his generosity and well-liked by all who knew him – particularly the young ladies. He joined the Central City Rescue, Fire & Hose Company No. 1, where he was such a favorite that he was quickly designated first assistant foreman. In 1886, he rescued several miners trapped underground following a cave-in for which he received an award for valor.
Many a lass set her sights on the handsome, brave and eligible bachelor, but despite the efforts of their mothers, who constantly invited him to dinners, picnics and other events, John Cameron remained oblivious to the attentions of the local beauties. According to gossip, he often walked to nearby Bald Mountain, where, it was speculated, he was courting a lady who lived there.
From all accounts – and the strenuous work he performed confirmed it – John Cameron was a young man in the prime of life and in perfect health. So, when he became slightly ill Monday, October 31, 1887, and took to his bed, no one was concerned. The following evening, when he suddenly called out to his mother and fell back onto his pillow, dead, people were shocked. The doctor listed the cause of death as “paralysis of the heart.” At the funeral, former Fire Chief Thomas Lucas eulogized: “John was a man loved by all, who cared for everyone he met.” There were whispers among those present as to which of the young, black-veiled ladies was his “sweetheart,” but there were so many of them, no one could tell. Later, some recalled a particular woman in black satin brocade, who never spoke and continued to stand silently a few feet away as the grave was filled in, but her veil was thick and no one was able to identify her.
During the winter of 1887-88, people reported seeing a young woman in black walking about the cemetery and lingering near the grave of John Cameron. In the spring of 1888, the sexton informed townsfolk the lady had planted a rosebush at the grave – for many years, this bush produced a proliferation of yellow roses. On November 1, 1890, the sexton observed the same woman enter the cemetery and lay a bouquet of blue columbine on the grave. The same thing happened year after year. At some point after her son’s death, Catherine Cameron left Central City and returned to Canada. If she knew the identify of the lady in black, she never told anyone.
Of course, there is nothing strange about someone leaving flowers on the grave of a loved one on the anniversary of his or her death; what was strange about this particular grieving lady was that she never changed. When she appeared November 1, 1898, she was wearing the same black satin brocade dress she had worn to the funeral and her face was as comely and smooth as it had been the day the sexton watched her plant the rose bush back in 1888. It was this agelessness that so piqued the interest of the 14 gentlemen who decided to trek up the hill to the cemetery on the late afternoon of Wednesday, November 1, 1899.
Another odd thing about the visits of this eternally youthful visitor is the bouquet of fresh columbine. The name “columbine” is from columba, the Latin word for “dove,” because the petals are thought to resemble doves – the flower is a symbol of fidelity. While there is nothing strange about this either, in Colorado, columbines bloom in late spring and early summer, so where did the lady in black obtain the columbines for the bouquet she left on John Cameron’s grave in November? Today, this would be an easy enough endeavor because flowers or all types are grown in greenhouses and sold to flower shops, but not a hundred years ago when she first made her sad journey to the grave of her dead sweetheart. Some say the lady in black also visits the Masonic Cemetery each April 5, but this is unsubstantiated. Perhaps April 5 was John Cameron’s birthday (which isn’t recorded on his grave stone) or it could be the date the lady planted the rose bush.
Today, Central City’s Masonic Cemetery is a favorite destination for curiosity seekers and ghost-hunters and the latter claim to have captured all sorts of EVP (electronic voice phenomena) in the graveyard.
There is a story that back in the 1990s, four young thrill seekers from Denver entered the cemetery one November 1st, hoping for an encounter with the lady in black. They did not see her, but when they located John Cameron’s grave, there lay a bouquet of blue columbine. One of the girls took the flowers and as they drove through Central City, her companions admonished her for the theft, according to an old superstition, removing something from a cemetery is supposed to bring bad luck. She laughed, saying someone had probably placed the flowers on the grave as a joke. But when she reached down to pick them up from the seat beside her, what had been a nice, fresh bouquet of blue columbine just minutes before crumbled into dust.
Sources: Front Range Living, Helge’s Report, Linda Jones (ColoradoGambler).