Walking among the dead: Skeletons in the Closet, Part I

As part of the Music of the Night organ concerts, concertgoers are encouraged to stick around after the concert for a nighttime tour of the cemetery led by Tom Davis.

The full moon (or seemingly full moon) lit our way; we didn’t really need our flashlights. The moonlight cast an eerie light on the monuments, mausoleums, and tombstones blanketed in silence. Tom kept us on the road rather than meandering through the tombstones.

We stopped to visit several sites, and Tom peppered us with information about others nearby.

Test family plot
Skiles Test, son of a multimillion, was the subject of an urban legend. His house, referred to as The House of Blue Lights, was reputed to be haunted. Why? Well, after his wife died in the 1950s, he kept her in a glass casket in the house.

Actually, there was no glass casket on the property. And his three wives all outlived him. But the house sounds really cool, lit with blue lights that reflected off of the first solar-powered swimming pool. Unfortunately, the house has been torn down and the property turned into a public park.

Achey family plot
The Achey family plot contains unmarked graves, an attempt to keep the exact location of John Achey’s gravesite secret. Upon the death of his mother, John came into $5,000 (a lot of money in the 1870s). He used the money to pay for the funeral and burial of his mother and for a bride for himself. The rest he used to finance a gambler for a particular game. The gambler was doing poorly, and John pulled his remaining money from the game. The gambler’s luck turned around and he left the game with $5,000. Later feeling cheated out of money, John shot and killed his gambler acquaintance, and ended up with the dubious distinction of being the first of two men hung in Indianapolis.

English family plot
Why does one tombstone on the English plot read “Mother of Rosalind” rather than the woman’s name? In short because Helen Orr Hufnall Phaff English Wegmann English English Prince Prince would have been too long to carve onto a tombstone. Tom walked us through Helen’s numerous marriages and divorces, often to the same man (same Mr. English, same Mr. Prince). She is buried with her daughter in the English family plot but died as the wife of Frank J. Prince, the Indianapolis journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for his work linking Republican city and state officials to the KKK in the 1920s.

May Wright Sewall
We stopped near Sewall’s tomb to discuss her connections to spiritualism, séances, and communication with the dead (rather than focusing on her role in the suffrage and women’s rights movements). She apparently learned to play the piano after her dead husband hooked her up with a deceased piano teacher.

James Whitcomb Riley
Our final stop was the Crown. Under a full moon and clear skies, Riley’s tomb offered a wonderful view of the downtown lit up.

As we walked down the hill, Tom regaled us with stories of other famous people buried on the hill, such as the Fortune family, who was related to the Eli Lilly family through marriage, or Louis Schwitzer, who won the first race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (a five-mile two lap race—what I like to think of as the Indy 2) in 1909.

I’ve wandered through the cemetery many times, sometimes searching for graves of famous people, other times enjoying a stroll through the 25 miles of road that meander through sections littered with trees. Seeing the cemetery under a full moon was definitely a treat and not something that is often possible. For those who enjoy poking around cemeteries, I encourage you, if given the chance, to take in a tour of the cemetery, especially a moonlit one.


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