Thursday, August 12, 2021

The "Resident Ghost" of the Cemetery

Spring Hill Cemetery, Lynchburg, Virginia

Cornelia Clopton's grave
Spring Hill Cemetery in Lynchburg, Virginia lists Cornelia Clopton (1852-1917) as their "Resident Ghost,” which made me very curious. Cemetery management do not tend to mention ghosts, and they certainly do not list “ghosts” on their website. Yet, here she is listed as one of the Notables.[1] Having taught a course on ghost stories and haunted history, I see ghost stories and ghost lore as another opportunity to connect with our past.

Cornelia L Clopton was born on October 31, 1852, in Virginia, to Rev. James Chappell Clopton and Mary Ann Cottrell Clopton. She lived nearly all of her days in Lynchburg and from the United State Census listings and her death certificate, she remained at home helping to take care of her family.

The grave of William Abner Stuart

Cornelia was one of six children. William Abner Stuart, the oldest child was born on July 25, 1848. Martha Susan was born in 1850, Cornelia was born in 1852, Fannie Fry was born in 1855, John was born in 1860 and Benjamin Ashby was born in 1862 just months before his older brother, William Abner who was part of Shoemaker's Virginia Horse Artillery was mortally wounded near Port Royal by Union gunboats. William Abner died on December 6, 1862. He was 14 years old.

William Abner Stuart and his father Rev. James C. Clopton
Their father, Rev. James Chappell Clopton died on May 18, 1864. I could not find if his death was in any way connected to the war. Her sister Fannie passed away in 1910 at the age of 55 years at the Home and Retreat hospital[2] and her mother died in 1914. Aside from the mother who was 89 years old when she passed away, half of the family died relatively young but still not particularly unusual for that time.

Cornelia passed away from pneumonia on March 26, 1917, in Bozeman, Montana at the age of 64 while visiting her brother and was buried in Spring Hill Cemetery in Lynchburg, Virginia.[3] Her death certificate lists pneumonia while some newspaper articles from the 1970s read that she died from the flu. Her two remaining brothers lived in Montana and her sister, Susie Ford, lived in Canton, Ohio at the time of her death.

The Times Dispatch, (Richmond, VA: March 29,1917)
State of Montana Certificate of Death

Cornelia Clopton became part of a ghost story in 1974 when an unnamed man whom the newspaper gave the fictious name of Philip Williams lived in the family’s former residence. Williams and his wife noticed “odd noises” and some “undefinable presence.” On the morning of April 5, 1974, he saw a light that he first assumed was the neighbor’s garage door until he realized the light source was not coming from that direction. The light took the shape of a 5 ft tall women with “her hair up and a long skirt and full leg o’ mutton sleeves.” Williams explains, “the woman never looked up [and] never spoke, but moved slowly to another room, out of sight.” After doing some research at the courthouse, they determined it was Cornelia. While historical records are not clear, the belief is that Cornelia Clopton’s body arrived from Minnesota on April 5th just 57 years before. Williams also “learned there used to be an early train from the West, arriving in Lynchburg at 5 or 5:20 a.m.,” which was the approximate time the apparition was seen. The couple continued to feel her presence about the house but noted, “It was terribly frightening to see…but it’s totally benevolent.” He concluded, “It’s a happy house—always has been.”[4]

When visiting Spring Hill Cemetery, Cornelia is buried beside her parents, her sister Fannie, and her brother William Abner. Even without a map, visitors can easily spot the Clopton graves if strolling through the cemetery as they are located near the road. But why wasn’t Fannie considered the ghost? She died younger than her sister. My hunch is that when researching the “ghost” the Halloween birth date stuck out along with dying away from home, and that that makes for a better story. 

[1] “Notables,” Spring Hill Cemetery, Lynchburg, Virginia,

[2] “Deaths in Virginia,” The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Maryland: June 24, 1910), 12).

[3] “Miss Cornelia Clopton,” The Times Dispatch, (Richmond, VA: March 29, 1917), 3; and, State of Montana Certificate of Death, March 26, 1917. 

[4] “A special story for Halloween,” The Bee (Danville, VA: October 31, 1977), 11-B.

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