A Witch Hunt in Chesterville

An inevitable lull occurred in the conversation at the Thanksgiving Day dinner table.

“Have ya’ll see the witch’s grave in Chesterville?” asked Aunt Janet, completely out of the blue.

The blank stare of each member of my conservative family turned even blanker.

Page thirty-one of the annual regional magazine, Discover Central Illinois, had featured an article about a microscopic town called Chesterville, Population 148. Aunt Janet had recently read this article and had a copy of the magazine. According to local folklore, a mysterious witch is buried in Chesterville’s cemetery.

The story goes that a rebellious young woman, who was thought to be a witch, disappeared and was later found dead in a farmer’s field. Even though authorities ruled her death to be of natural causes, many locals feared that she would come back to life and seek revenge. People from all over the countryside, came to see the witch’s body in the funeral home. When she was buried, a tree was planted on her grave to keep her spirit trapped in the tree.

The Capital Area Paranormal Society published this article in 2011 after a couple of their investigators visited the Chesterville cemetery. CAPS elaborates on the folklore to add that the witch was actually an Amish woman who challenged the elders of the church in the 1800’s. She was ultimately banished from the church and accused of being a witch. No definitive ghost sightings were reported from this particular CAPS visit.

For a town of 148, this is a big deal.

On the day after Thanksgiving, Mom and Dad shuffled my boyfriend into their car to go on a witch hunt. It was a windy day and there was no one around for as far as one could see down a country road. There were no signs marking the witch’s grave, but it was distinguish able by an iron fence surrounding a crooked oak tree, atop a faded tombstone.

I walked around the fence to find that part of it was missing and open. Does this mean that the witch ghost has escaped? I also noticed that there were knife markings on the tree mark? Will these incisions eventually kill the tree, resulting in the witch’s spirit being released?

To this day, many locals believe that if the tree is destroyed, the ghost of the witch will emerge from her grave in search of those who caused her death. Cemetery visitors have reported ghost sightings around the tree.  I like to think of myself as open-minded to the paranormal, but I didn’t see anything at all. And even though our witch hunt was unsuccessful, it sure beat sitting around and discussing my retirement plan and tax deductions.

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