Every good paranormal road trip should begin with an old-fashioned ghost story. Historic Oak Grove Cemetery was first plotted in 1788, and over the past 250 years, the field has become home to a number of unusual sights and hauntings.
In the mid-1700s, more than 11,000 Acadians — some of the early settlers of Canada — were forcibly driven out of Nova Scotia during the Grand Dérangement (The Great Upheaval). While some were returned to Europe, the majority were dispersed among the 13 American colonies. Oak Grove Cemetery holds the remains of many of these exiles, now safely entombed beneath the dirt.
Half a century later, tragedy again returned to St. Marys during the yellow fever epidemic of the early 1800s. In less than 15 years, the nearby city of Savannah lost nearly 2,000 residents to the series of outbreaks. In southern coastal Georgia, many of the stricken were buried in special sections of Oak Grove.
The mysterious disease — which often ensured a quick and painful death — led to many urban myths and superstitions. One of the most popular was that victims were being buried so quickly that many were feared to have only been in a coma. Records indicate that mournful families would have their kin buried with a length of cord tied to an above-ground bell. This was thought to prevent loved ones from waking in their coffins with no means of escape. These bells, which were of dubious use after burial, are often heard ringing on moonless nights.
Near the center of the field near the Bartlett Road entrance rests one of the area’s best known grave markers, the Angel of Oak Grove Cemetery. A magnificent and detailed work of art, she stands on a pedestal inscribed “Awaiting the Resurrection.”
Today she keeps watch over the graves of two lifelong friends, Frank M. Paige (1859-1893) and Camden Mason Sheffield (1869-1897). According to local histories, Sheffield was originally buried at Sheffield Cemetery outside of Kingsland per his father’s wishes. His wife was unhappy with the arrangement, so she paid local workers to discreetly dig up her husband’s remains and rebury them in Oak Grove. It was several weeks before Sheffield’s parents were able to locate his re-buried body.
The best-known haunting tale of Oak Grove Cemetery concerns the silent ghost of A. J. O’Berry. The last man hanged in Camden County, he was convicted of the 1911 robbery and murder of an African-American woman and her young daughter. According to local reports, the woman — a servant for a prominent St. Marys family — was proud that she knew how to read and write, signing each dollar she earned.
When police discovered the two bodies, they searched the area for potential suspects. A deputy attempted to question O’Berry on a train leaving the area. The young man refused to speak. After some convincing, O’Berry revealed that he had seen the deputy coming and hidden the woman’s dollars in the one place he thought they wouldn’t search, his mouth. The bills, each signed in the victim’s own handwriting, ensured his conviction by an all-white jury.
Despite the verdict, the local sheriff refused to hang a white man for the murder of two black women. The deputy sheriff stepped up, demanded justice and hung the guilt party himself. O’Bery was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave in a distant part of the cemetery. In the 100+ years since his execution, O’Berry has been seen several times by locals. Each witness reports that the ghost never makes a sound as he wanders through the stones of old Oak Grove.
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