As Halloween nears, stories of all things eerie are on the minds of those of us who enjoy a good fright. An old burial ground near Burlington provided the perfect, spooky setting for a terrifying experience, witnessed by a county resident in the mid-nineteenth century. This Halloween, we revisit this tale, which was published in the Boone County Recorder in 1910. 

“It was a tobacco-growing community, and one of the markets was the little town of Burlington. Brothers, John and Job Popham, had farms not far apart down on the creek by Limaburg; both grew tobacco. A pike led to Burlington. 

One summer afternoon in the 50s (1850s), Job’s son, John Popham, a boy of 18 years, was sent to Burlington with a wagon load of tobacco- a very heavy load. In the evening, his uncle John Popham walked across the hill to Job’s to await the return of his namesake and learn the market news. Eight o’clock came, but not the boy; nine o’clock was rolled off by the old clock over the fireplace, and yet John did not return. At ten o’clock, Uncle John decided to wait no longer for the coming of his nephew, and started homeward across the hill. 

His way led him through the burying ground and he was striding almost through the plot when suddenly he was startled by the appearance at his right, and but a few inches above the ground, of a phantom coffin which moved (as he did) in the direction of the pike and Burlington. A thrill of horror smote him and he trembled as an aspen. But he recalled a saying that to turn quickly about would rid the victim of such a horror, and he wheeled in a flash to retrace his steps. But, there again, at his right, floated the coffin, keeping pace with his now rapid movements. Once more, Popham faced about, and with his heart chilled by unspeakable dread, ran toward his home on the pike at the foot of the hill. The shadow coffin kept with him beyond the confines of the graveyard and down the hill, finally dissolving into thin air! 

When Popham reached his home, he said not a thing of what he had seen, but while yet awake in bed, there came a summons to arise and join young Popham’s father and other neighbors in a search for the youth. They found him on the Burlington Pike, cold and dead. His team had run away and killed him while coming home about the time when his Uncle John was walking through the graveyard with his uncanny vision.” 

Read more blogs by Hillary Delaney.

Hillary Delaney is the Local History Associate at Boone County Public Library and a Boone County native who enjoys discovering and sharing untold stories in our area’s history. In addition to her monthly newsletter pieces, Hillary’s work has been featured in books, magazines, history journals and on KET programming.