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Caroline Barnes, the witch of St. Omer Cemetery

4 min read

Driving along one of many county roads in the miles of Illinois cornfields, a gravel road will lead you to what’s left of the town of St. Omer: its cemetery.
The entire village, located in Coles County, is dead. Established in 1852, by the mid-1880s, the tiny town was abandoned for nearby Ashmore due to the new train line, and its residents either relocated in pursuit of better economic opportunities or interred for eternity at St. Omer Cemetery.
The village was located just south of this plot of land, which is surrounded by creeks, forestry, and miles of cornfields.
In its prominence, only about 50 or so families inhabited the town. However, bt the end of the 1880s, it only had about six houses left as well as a store, a post office, and a blacksmith.
Now the ghost town might even have been forgotten if not for a strange monument…and its local witch legend.

The Barnes gravestone is a ball atop a pyre.
Although many of the other graves in this cemetery are oriented east to west, this one curiously faces north and south.
Here, beneath the monument and the ground it sits on, eroded by decades of curious visitors, lay four members of the Barnes family: Granville Barnes, his wife Sarah Ann (Welch) Barnes, their son Marcus Barnes, and Marcus’s wife, Caroline (Prather) Barnes.
Sarah Ann died July 20, 1877, and Marcus died December 6, 1881, at age 24.
Caroline died at the end of February 1882, while patriarch Granville died days later, on March 2, 1882. Caroline, aged 23, suffered complications from pneumonia, but her stated date of death could never have happened: February 31, 1882.

The prevailing tale is that Caroline Barnes was a witch, or at least was accused of being one.
As story goes, she was hanged (or, depending on who you ask, burned or even buried alive) for her magical crimes. Basically, rumor has it that she was accused of being a witch in the 1880s and when she wouldn’t die by hanging, they buried her alive.
The sphere atop her tombstone is actually a crystal ball, which is said to glow on moonless nights.
And the date is actually a preventative measure: The witch would rise again on her death date, but if her death date never came she wouldn’t reappear.
Well, people also claim that film photographs of the Barnes’ grave won’t develop (even if digital seems to do just fine), and that secret rituals are carried out there in the dead of night.
That last claim may have some credence to it, given that the ball has repeatedly been found with melted white candle wax dried atop it.

Actually, there are few facts to back up accusations of witchery, and local stories seems to have sprung out of the weird anomalies surrounding the tombstone.
There is, however, some tragic history surrounding the Barnes family.
Marcus Barnes died in a sawmill accident in 1881 and was buried with his parents and, just two months later Caroline would die of pneumonia at the age of 23.
Her actual death date was either the 26th or the 28th of February.
“February 31st” was likely just a typo too expensive to fix, not to mention that there was no one left in the Barnes family to mend the error.
Well…actually there wasn’t even anyone in town, as by the time the Barnes family had died off, the town had done the same.
And, interestingly, It’s not the only inscription error on the monument — Granville’s name is incorrectly spelled “Granvil”.
But what about it facing north and south?
Typical Christian burials dictate the feet should be facing east. It’s likely, though, that vandalism caused this. The grave has been found knocked over several times, and it is possible that it was not always set back in the proper direction.
And now all that remains of St. Omer is its cemetery.

In any case, mysterious monument apart, the remote and serene cemetery has many other old grave markers worth exploring, a brief walk through history that Caroline Barnes is somewhat responsible for keeping alive.

Images from web – Google Research