You could ask why the wall is there at all. In the middle of the woods, in a town long abandoned, it does little good keeping out those that would harm it. It acts more as an invite, a constant challenge to legend trippers and adventure seekers who play with the paranormal, something to anticipate like Jack popping out of his box. Of course, they say it’s not those looking to play with the ghosts who are causing the harm, but they are the ones who keep the cemetery in the news, equal amounts of legends being told and damage being done. Games are for the living, but in the Panhandle of Florida, there is one place where the dead are still having their fun. If it were something more serious, maybe the restless spirits would be able to protect themselves better.
In what is now the town of Chumuckla, Florida, in Santa Rosa County, you can play an interesting game with the ghosts. Surrounding the abandoned cemetery simply known as Coon Hill Cemetery is a four foot stone wall spanning the entirety of the property. The rules are simple. Start at the locked metal gate, a fairly recent addition meant to discourage visitors, and make your way around wall without falling off. You can do it easily if you know how to keep your balance and watch your footwork and claim victory when your reach the other side of the gate.
The trouble is, the spirits who remain are not too keen on outsiders, and for a town that packed up and left over a hundred years ago, everyone is an outsider. As you start, the voices will distract you. There is a woman talking, just barely above a whisper but loud enough to make you stop and tilt your ears towards the headstone. There is also a child hauntingly singing. Make it to the first turn, and you’ll feel the tug at your ankles, as if someone from below is trying to drag you down. Then come the shoves. There’s no one around, you checked and your friends cheering you on are watching your back, but the hands knock you off nonetheless. Make it all the way around and you’ve won, except the for the next week you’ll have the worst dreams of falling.
For the last hundred years the legend trip has become the kind of thing older kids talk to the younger ones about, and as the forest surrounding the cemetery has gotten thicker over that time, many question it is out there until they see it themselves. Because the graves need protecting, it is not legal to go out at night and most hike there and hop the wall in the light of day. That’s good. It’s said trying it at night will cause an eerie thick fog to roll in. Try it under the light of the full moon and the voices might just drive your crazy and the hands tend to get a bit more aggressive, maybe even leave marks when you’re finished.
In another odd twist to the story, it is said entering the cemetery on a full moon is a great way to guarantee that you’ll get pregnant. Wild Cow Prairie Cemetery in Pemberton Ferry might have an active marriage curse, but most cemetery lore looks down on love and children. Traditionally, a pregnant woman is not supposed to enter one lest her child be born possessed or deformed. Others say the souls of children will stay away and children will not be conceived around times a woman has been in a burial area. Not in Coon Hill. The legend of its power to help with getting pregnant is so popular an article in the Pensacola New Journal even featured it in its, “You Know You’re From the Panhandle” segment.
Coon Hill Cemetery is the last standing memorial of the town of Coon Hill. First founded in 1820 around Diamond Creek as a result of the first Seminole War, it was established as a place in the wilderness for like-minded settlers to gather for protection against the Native Americans in the area. Legend has it there were two names proposed for the town. Those who wanted the area to be part of Alabama wanted it to be called Possum Hill while the Florida delegation voiced support for Coon Hill. It is a story that lasted long after no one was around to remember the totals of the final vote. In those early days, everyday life revolved around the church and people began to be buried in the graveyard next to it, sometime around 1836.
By 1838, the fighting of the Second Seminole War and general relocation made the area far less dangerous and people began to spread out from the hill and the church. Travel along the nearby Escambia River allowed for some modest development and the building of a post office, a store, and a hotel. It was a short lived boom though. By 1900 a new post office was established in Chumuckla and the rails and roads replaced the inconvenience of river travel. People moved away from the hill and out towards the new centers being established in Alabama and the Panhandle, literally taking their houses with them. Before they left and left their dead behind, they laid the cement and gravel wall to protect them.
Listen to Tripping on Legends Listen to Episode 69…The Humpty Dumpty Haunted where we get into more details and theories…
The question is, what were they looking to protect? Walking through any ghost town in Florida, an explorer will see any number of unfenced and unmarked cemeteries. There was something different about Coon Hill, something no one in the area and experts on the history of the county can quite figure out. They may have been trying to keep something out, like the animals of the surrounding forest or the Seminoles and other tribes still active in the area. The wall doesn’t seem well designed for that kind of protection. Perhaps it was meant to just show respect. Others have said there was something the people were trying to keep in that they did not want to get out.
Those kinds of stories are the ones that have painted another, darker side to Coon Hill. Instead of hands pushing you from the wall and a little child whose song gets lost on the wind, they talk of forces who attack anyone who crosses the gate. People are violently thrown from the wall. Cults and Satanic groups find their way in and hold bizarre rituals within the walls. A large panther, acting almost human in its protection of the land and the headstones with glowing red eyes says to walk the rows. None of these stories can be backed up, but that doesn’t stop them from being spread alongside the less nefarious ones.
That might be why the graves there have been a target. While old cemeteries have always been the kind of place vandals seek out, there seems to be more reports in Coon Hill than the towns that surround it. It almost become infamous in the area for the number it has endured. Locals will tell you it has to do with how out of the way it is, the perfect place to do a little damage without anyone seeing. It could also be the number of Confederate soldiers buried there, although there are other places in Florida with higher numbers that do not suffer the same occurrences, and the graves of the Confederates are not the ones targeted. One theory holds that it’s the name itself. Coon is an old fashion and unfortunate racial slur that might spark the kind of anger to make one lash out.
Whether by the light of the full moon or in safety of a clear day, people still come though. It might not be the dare it used to be, but people still travel through the woods and up the hill to try their hand at making it around the cemetery. They climb the wall, maybe boosted up by the same buddy who challenged them and put one foot in front of the other. Most of them will never know the history of the area, a lost place swallowed up by the town that people now call it. Games are the job of the living, but at Coon Hill Cemetery at least, the dead and those whose who will one day join them play together.
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