Is Anna Mary Stockum a witch searching for her head?

Post courtesy of Haunted Hocking.

Accused as a witch, was her head severed from her body and buried in a separate grave?

It’s a long, pothole-ridden, muddy drive, then a long, mucky walk. There are cliffs and drop-offs, ruts, twists, and two turns to the road that appears to stop in the middle of nowhere. The mud churned up by ATV-running hunters on the archaic County Road 123 is ankle deep in some parts, knee-deep in others. Amidst it all, to think teens have made this trek for more than fifty years in the dark is almost more terrifying than the legend. But they have. They’ve come to look for the ghost of the woman wandering around the Saint Johns Lutheran Church Cemetery searching for her head. Local folklore says it was hacked off by those within her community when they found out she was a witch.

Her body was left to rot in one grave, her head taken out and buried outside the cemetery fence. You see, Anna Mary Stockum had nine children. One of them was mentally handicapped and one day, her husband decided to kill the child and, so he did. He was caught, convicted, and hanged for his crime. 

In retaliation for the hanging, Mary began killing off her children one by one. After the fifth one died, she too was brought to justice. Mary was burned at the stake and buried in the cemetery. Still, the remaining children she had not killed did not get better. One by one, they began to die.

When the sixth child passed away and fearing the worst, the townspeople dug up Mary, as was common practice to block a witch’s curse after death. They severed her head from her body and left it in a shallow grave outside the boundaries of the cemetery. Then they plopped a gravestone on each. Now, she returns to find her head, wandering the cemetery in ghostly form. 

Without too much difficulty, the obsessive researcher can discover Anna Mary Stockum was the wife of Christopher Stockum. The two owned a 315-acre farm around Bacon and the area the cemetery sits upon now. They had emigrated from Hessen, Germany by ship in 1836, a grueling eighteen-week trip on the Brig Aurora and came without a penny in their pocket. They spent much of their lives pushing back the wilderness on their plot in Linton Township and building the land, which later was a valuable farm. 

The 1860 census shows the Stockums had seven children living in the home—Mary-18, Adam-17, Elizabeth-15, John-13, Martin-12, Caroline-11, Jacob-9. By 1870, all the children still appeared to be living. An eighth child, Solomon-9 (1861-1918?), was also listed in the household in the census. Adam, the eldest, had returned from the Civil War to help farm the land. Caroline was the eldest daughter and she maintained the home. Many of their headstones can be seen in the cemetery still-including Jacob and his wife, Nancy, and John . . . . Only one person is missing – Anna Mary, the mother. She had passed August 29, 1863. In late August of that year, there were several other known deaths from people in the tiny community who are buried at the church cemetery. Was it simply some sort of flu epidemic? Or is there more to the story lost in time?

There are two sides to the story

On one hand, there is one that shows on paper the family of Mary Stockum was a typical family. They lived. They died. They were buried in a family plot on their land in Linton Township. They had neighbors by the name of Apple and Gosser, some of which are buried in the cemetery too.

On the other hand, there is a tale told by word of mouth, by story passed down from one to another. It is more exciting, more gruesome and a tale of a crazy witch buried after killing her young. And there are scores of eye-witnesses from hunters to adventure-seekers who have seen the filmy apparition of Mary, heard her screams, been utterly terrified by the ghostly apparition walking around the cemetery. 

An article in the November 11, 1967, Coshocton Tribune by Joanna Ross points out the story was begun by the sight of two graves for Mary, hence one for the body and one for the head. A local caretaker verified it was true. However, his reason was a lot less horrifying and had a more prudent explanation. The initial gravestone was replaced by another. The old gravestone was plopped up next to the fence for lack of a better place to put it.

Now the question is: which of the two stories do you believe? Will you pass the story off as local folklore, roll your eyes and chuckle a little beneath your breath at those who, over the past century, believed the hearsay? Or will you take the more adventurous position and trek into the woods like many before you, see if you can verify the ghost of Mary Stockum and listen for the screams? Because there really was a Mary Stockum and she really did die and was buried there.

Hundreds of people swear they have seen her ghost, heard her yowls. They will tell you that something is there deep in the woods at the old cemetery. If you do, the area is hazardous. It is along an old strip mine and there are cliffs and drop-offs. The road is rutted and muddy. You may hear screams, many have. You may see a milky white form along the road as some have sworn to have seen. And there could, quite possibly, be something more dangerous lurking there. Because now, we only have what is written on paper on census reports and etched in gravestones. It’s just a hint of the past and little more. There are always secrets buried beneath the dirt along with the dead in ghost towns long gone with no one still living to tell us the truth of what went on that hot August summer deep in the farmland and forests of Coshocton County. 

AEP/DNR public areas have rules and regulations. Many include day use activities only. However, unless you’re looking for vampires, you should have no problem searching for the unknown during daylight hours. And please, many of the graves have been knocked over by trees, vandals, and weather. Respect the dead and those who are still living who might have known them.

You may need to park near the intersection of County Road 123 (on right) and 123A (left)— (40.209008, -81.785404). Take 123A to the left, walking the .4 mile back to the cemetery along the old roadway. The road curves, but it is a straight walk to the cemetery, which is on the right (40.210353,-81.779499) and within sight of the roadway. Not a suggested walk at night. There is probably day use only restrictions.

Posted on February 4, 2018 .