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By Tavia Jean
(Christian County)-While the stories of Durbin and Donner cemeteries may send a chill down your spine this autumn season. Cemeteries should be treated with respect. If you decide to visit, abide by all posted rules and regulations, and remember that obtaining permission before any paranormal investigations is essential. Additionally, due to the remote locations and lack of proper lighting, it is advisable to visit during daylight hours. Exploring the grounds after dark is not recommended, as it can pose safety risks and potentially disturb the peace, and distrupt the work of those reserving history. The cemeteries serve as a site of ghostly legends and a historical record of Christian Countyís past. Many buried in these small local graves played significant roles in shaping the local community. It is crucial to approach any cemetery with reverence, paying homage to those who came before us. Cemeteries are not just a spooky attraction but a place of remembrance, reflection, and respect. Treat the gravesites with respect and leave the area as you find it.
Gifted with the opportunity to explore the Donner and Durbin cemeteries with Clarance Hunt, who is restoring the long-forgotten grave sites. Hunt, along with the help of local friends at the Christian County Historical Society, has been working to keep records of those buried in the graveyards. Hunt works to restore the grave sites while the Christian County Historical Society works with him to map out the Cemetery. Over the years, the grounds have shifted, making it hard to determine where graves would have rested initially. There is also the instance where some graves have seemed to move entirely independently, only to show up out of nowhere.
Father Isaac N. Hunt is on the left and his son Stephen Hunt is on the right.
Despite the difficulties in reconstructing the cemeteries, Clarance Hunt has done an excellent job at giving the historical areas new life. Hunt began this journey to learn more about his family history, as he has family buried in the cemeteries. Isaac N. Hunt was born on Oct. 14, 1856, and died on May 27, 1901, at 44-45 years old. His resting place is next to his son Stephen Hunt, who was born and passed away Sep. 8, 1893, at just nine months and twenty-eight days old. Isaac N. Hunt was an honorable and upright man and was held in high esteem by those who knew him. He worked as a mail carrier between Taylorville and Vanderville.
Notable people buried in Durbin Cemetery
Pvt Christopher Painter was born in Illinois in 1839. His death date is unknown, but he was buried in Durbin cemetery at the age of twenty-one. The grave reads Christopher Painter; Christian, Illinois age: 21 years; estimated birth year: 1839; birthplace: Ill gender: Male, PVT, Co H, 57th IL Inf. The ì57th IL Infî indicates that he was in the infantry regiment and served in the Union Army during the American Civil War.(Grave Pictured below)
Thomas Jefferson ìTommy Jeroldî Hogarth Jr. was Born in Missouri on May 6, 1913, and died at eighteen Aug. 31, 1931. According to an article posted to the memorial page at Findagrave.com, Thomas died due to a fatal blow to the back of the head while exiting a train ride. He was laid to rest at Durbin Cemetery.
(newpaper clip pictured below, source not listed on findagrave.com)
Notable people buried in Donner
Allen Jones Sr., born May 11, 1841, in Ireland, died Feb. 8, 1881, at 39, from an awful train accident just ten miles northwest of Ocaneco. According to findagrave.com, Jones was buried at Donner Cemetery. Allen and his wife Susan Durbin Hargis had three children together: Michael T. Jones 1877-1922; Allen Jones 1879-1967; Delia Jones Page 1881-1960. Allen had one son, Joseph E. Jones, who has no confirmed mother and is the only one of Allenís children buried at Donner Cemetery with him. His wife remarried after his passing and had three more children with her second husband, James Fountain Hargis, with whom she was buried at Owaneco Cemetery.
(Allen Jones Sr. Photo pictured above and headstone is below)
PVT Jonathan Hicklin, a Revolutionary Soldier who was born in Virginia in 1756. He moved to Kentucky, where his military service occurred during the war, he acted as a spy in the Indian wars of that state. In 1813, he moved to Indiana, but later came to Washington township, Clark county, Illinois, and from there to Christian county, where he died February 14, 1858, aged 102 years. He had four children: James Hicklin, 1795-1849; Jane Hicklin Taylor, 1806-1898; William James Hicklin, 1813-1894; and Samantha Jane Hicklin Mcguire. There are no spouses listed for Jonathan Hicklin or mother for his children. As far as records go, no family members are buried with Hicklin.
(Front and back of Jonathan Hicklin’s grave.)
Elizabeth Hopper Ramseyer was found in a mass grave located at Donner Cemetery. Her first husband was John D. Kerr, who died in 1862, with his burial site listed as unknown. Elizabeth and John had three children together; Sarah C. Kerr was born in 1854, and her death time and burial place are strange. She is believed to have died shortly after her father passed away and before her mother applied for a widowís pension in 1865, making her around ten years old when she passed away. Her younger siblings are Cassius Marcellus Kerr, 1855-1915, Luvisa Catherine Kerr Grieser, 1859-1944, (Grave for Elizabeth pictured above) and a half-brother from her motherís second husband, Julian Ramseyer, 1869-1881. Elizabethís second husband and father of Juilain is Christian Ramseyer 1833-1905. A mass grave can make the lure of the area far more interesting. However, the resting places of Sarah Kerr and John Kerr are unknown. Coupled with the fact that Elizabeth isn’t buried at the site with any documented family members, one can assume that she chose that location to be close to her first husband and oldest child.
Resting place for Elizabeth Hopper Ramseyer
Local legends of Donner and Durbin cemeteries
Over the years, numerous stories have emerged about paranormal experienced by those who dare to visit the Durbin and Donner cemeteries. Locals and thrill-seekers have heard disembodied voices, seen shadowy figures lurking among the tombstones, and felt an overwhelming sense of unease. Some witnessed full-bodied apparitions wandering the grounds, only to vanish into thin air.
One tale surrounding Donner Cemetery involves a restless spirit called “The Lady.” According to local lore, a woman dressed in a flowing white gown can be seen wandering amidst the gravestones. It is said that she met a tragic fate and now seeks solace in the afterlife, forever on the grounds. Some claim the spirit is Elizabeth Hopper Ramseyer, looking for her long-lost husband and oldest child.
Another spine-chilling tale revolves around a child named Jasper. Legend has it that young Jasper was buried in Donner Cemetery after passing. Visitors have reported hearing a child crying or laughter echoing through the graveyard, sparking curiosity and fear in equal measure. One grave matches the description. Jasper N. Standley, who was born in 1866 and passed away in 1867 shortly before or after his first birthday.
According to the accounts, a ghost dressed in a flowing white gown wandered through Durbin Cemetery late at night. Some claim she is a lost soul searching for closure, while others believe she is a guardian spirit protecting the grounds. Regardless of the truth behind this figure, the story of Lady White adds an air of mystery to Durbin Cemetery.
Another story associated with Durbin Cemetery is about the Old Witches Bridge, located just southeast of the cemetery. Diane Lewis claimed in a Facebook post, “I think it is adjoined land belonging to my Shake and Anderson ancestors, and that in the summertime, some of them would sleep there. I know Iíve seen at least one ghost story. There are other names for that bridge, though I need help thinking about what they are. My 2x great grandfather committed suicide out that way. Maybe he’s still out there.”
Intriguing fables associated with Donner and Durbin cemeteries revolve around tombstones that, according to local accounts, have been reported disappearing from their original location only to reappear on a different day, sometimes in a new place. The reasons behind the phenomenon are unknown, leading to fascination among those who dare to explore the grounds. Some believe that the shifting stones are due to changes in the climate and shifting landscapes. However, this does not explain why only some seem to move while others are left unbothered.