Fyodor Dostoevsky, a 19th century Russian writer, once wrote a short story about a man who sat on a bench in a cemetery and listened to the dead talk. He listened to them as they conversed like normal living beings. The story raised a lot of questions, particularly about the idea of paranormal activity and human sanity.
For the month of October, I will investigate several sites that are rumored to be filled with paranormal activity and ghostly sightings. I decided that I would attempt to do the same thing Dostoevsky’s character did and sit inside Philadelphia’s second oldest cemetery, St. Peters
at 3rd and Pine streets.
St. Peter’s Cemetery is a place of eeriness and isolation. Within its walls lies an unknown world that can be felt the moment you enter the main gates.
I was taken back by the old gravestones. Some dated as far back as the 1700s, and many were so old that the engravings had completely worn off.
Sitting on a bench in complete solitude, I listened and watched. The fall breeze brushed across my body and it almost felt like something was there. I can never say that I have personally seen a ghost or experienced something that would be considered paranormal, but this place definitely had a presence of its own.
Norman Brown, a homeless man who can often be seen sitting on a bench right in the middle of the main path, came over and sat down next to me on the bench.
“You know this place isn’t haunted,” Brown said catching my attention quickly. “It’s filled with spirits, but it’s not haunted.”
He told me he had spent the last 11 years living in St. Peter’s by himself. When I asked if he had ever seen any of these spirits he responded with a very stern “Yes.”
“You can’t always see the spirits during the day. Even though they are here it’s only at night that they really come out,” Brown explained.
This puzzled me because I knew that the cemetery closed at about 6:30 p.m., and it would be rather difficult to see them through the brick walls that surrounded the cemetery.
“Well, I know this because I used to hide in here. And when they would lock the gates, they would lock me inside,” he said.
“I used to hide in the old tombs that were open. I would open the lid and hide until dark and that is when I would see them.”
“I’m only able to see the shapes of their bodies. Some are tall, some short, but I would never see the body itself. They would just float along through the graves,” he said.
Once Brown finished telling me this, he walked away. Moments later I realized that this homeless man was just like Dostoevsky’s character; but instead of listening to the conversations of spirits, he sat and watched them roam through the graves.
Brown can still be found in the cemetery everyday. If you have a burning interest to learn more, feel free to pay him a visit. He enjoys the company.
Unfortunately, we may never know what lurks behind the walls of St. Peter’s Cemetery late at night. For now, we can either choose to believe in what Norman Brown said, or just dismiss him as a crazy man who spends all in his time in a cemetery.
My advice is to give St. Peter’s a chance. It is open daily to the public. Who knows? You may see some of the cemetery’s ghostly residents going for a stroll.
Dan Cappello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.