A Cemetery’s Devil’s Chair: Tale & Origin Explained

Updated

The devil’s chair. It lurks in the cemetery among the tombstones. Its purpose is sinister – no matter how ornately carved and innocuous it may seem. It waits to be discovered. It waits for another unsuspecting mourner to take a seat.

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In the world of urban legends, there’s no such thing as the unbelievable. Even with the most ridiculous legends, there’s always something that feels credible about them. Often it’s not very credible, but it’s a small twinge up your spine that says “but what if?”

The tales told about devil’s chairs (oh yes, there are many) are just as outlandish as most urban legends. But what is it they say about urban legends? There’s a “kernel of truth” in every one of them.

Read on and see what you think.

What’s a Devil’s Chair in a Cemetery? 

If you’ve seen one of them, you immediately knew what I was talking about. If you haven’t, they’re pretty easy to picture. It’s a carved-stone chair that sits next to a grave.

They can be found next to single graves or within a family plot. You’ll often find them in the oldest cemeteries in town.

What is a devil’s chair? 

If you see a stone chair in a cemetery, look out. If you sit on it, you might end up dead. Would you want to take that chance? Many have.

A devil’s chair has a few different names. Some call these seats next to gravestones witch’s chairs or haunted chairs. No matter what name a chair goes by, each one is a connotation of the supernatural. And each one inspires legend tripping (we’ll come back to this).

Origin

A devil’s chair is an urban legend that dates back many years. Like all urban legends, the “curse” involved varies from location to location and even storyteller to storyteller.

According to “Weird Illinois” (part of the “Weird” book series), devil’s chair tales began “in the Appalachian Mountains in the mid-1800s.” Here it was said that every year there was a special night when “a chair would rise from the ground in a graveyard [and] anyone who sat down in it could make a pact with the devil.” Asking Old Scratch for anything, though, leads to trouble. The devil, of course, would eventually take the person’s soul.

These days, the chairs have been permanent adornments in the cemetery for possibly 100 years. So, rather than bursting periodically from the ground like an unruly corpse, they are available sitting on 365 days a year. Imagine the mischief they could cause!

Legend has it...

Over the years, the legend of the devil’s chair has evolved. But even if you don’t make a deal with the devil, you might still rue the day you took a seat. 

If you sit in one of these chairs, depending on where you live or what story you’ve heard, you will:

  • Die during the coming year
  • Die before a certain birthday
  • Hear the crying of a baby or scream of a woman
  • Make a deal with the devil

Sometimes, death comes a lot quicker. Usually, the person sharing the legend “knows” a person who knows someone this happened to. For example: “My cousin knows this guy who sat on the devil’s chair in Fairlawn Cemetery who died a week later in a car crash!”

Legend tripping

Even if you haven’t heard this term before, you’re probably familiar with what it is. You may have even done it yourself. Legend tripping is the act of seeking out the location of an urban legend in order to try it for yourself. Because each area has its own urban legend(s), legend tripping is a form of an adolescent rite of passage. Kids dare each other to something frightening or dangerous in order to prove themselves to their peers.

Examples of legend tripping include:

  • Sneaking into a cemetery at night to sit on a devil’s chair
  • Sneaking into a cemetery at night to touch a cemetery monument with a creepy reputation (such a black angel statue)
  • Driving to a Crybaby Bridge or railroad crossing to see if the ghosts of the children who allegedly died there will push your car away
  • Driving to a gravity hill to put your car in neutral so it will mysteriously roll uphill
  • Taking a dare to go into a haunted location like an abandoned building
  • Going Bigfoot hunting

What’s the chair really for?

Sitting. This is a case where the truth isn’t scarier than fiction. 

These carved stone chairs were for cemetery visitors of the non-devilish variety. Sometimes they’re called memorial chairs. You may see one next to the grave of a child. In this case, it’s safe to presume that the chair was likely for the bereaved mother when she came to be near her lost child.

Memorial chairs were merely a place of rest for mourners as they visited a grave and contemplated life, death, and beyond. They were not intended to be sinister at all. Among acres of tombstones and carved symbols, a chair was just a chair.

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Where Can You Find Devil’s Chairs in Cemeteries?

If you’re interested in finding a devil’s chair, there is likely one not too far away from wherever you are. Do an online search for “devil’s chair cemetery,” and you should be able to find a grave in a cemetery listed in no time.

Here are five examples of these fiendish chairs located throughout the U.S. along with their alleged curses. 

1. Devil’s chair - Lake Helen-Cassadaga Cemetery, Cassadaga, Florida 

This cemetery serves the local area, including the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp. You can imagine how even more tempting that makes this cemetery. This devil’s chair is actually a bench and made of bricks. Each Halloween, guards are set up to deter daredevils, so to speak, from bothering the chair and grave.

2. Witch’s chair - Brookside Cemetery, Tecumseh, Michigan 

Near the back of the cemetery, you’ll find the Stacy family plot where there’s a chair made of granite. The witch in question is Loanna Stacy, one of the children who grew up to be considered the “town spinster” and blamed for anything unpleasant that happened in the town.

According to John Robinson from 99.1 WFMK, if you sit in this witch’s chair, “you will die shortly afterward.”

3. Witch’s chair - Southside Cemetery, Pontiac, Illinois 

This cemetery doesn’t just have a witch’s chair, it has The Goblin Tree (which has its own legend), and coffins that have washed away in the river next to it!

One legend says the chair marks the grave of a witch who was hanged for murdering her own infant. “If you stand on her grave at midnight you can hear her baby crying,” says J.L. Thurston of Literate Ape. “Another legend states that ‘if you sit on the gravestone and recite the epitaph, you’ll die before your eighteenth birthday.’” 

Some people will share their experiences on forums where ghost hunters and those interested in phenomena such as these. On Ghostsandstories.com, someone wrote the legend which says that you’ll hear the witch scream if you rub the arms of the chair after you sit down. When he and his friends legend tripped on Halloween night in 1975, he didn’t even finish reciting the words when the back of the chair broke off. The next day, they went back… and “the chair was in perfect unbroken condition.”

4. Devil’s haunted chair - Greenwood Cemetery, Decatur, Illinois 

This chair can be good or bad, depending on which legend you believe. Says Joy Neighbors of A Grave Interest, “when someone sits on the chair, they will incur bad luck, or die within a year.

Other legends promise good luck or riches.” Or, “if you sit on the chair at a certain time, you can make a pact with the devil. You will get anything you want for seven years.” Then the devil will take your soul.

5. Devil’s haunted chair - Highland Park Cemetery, Kirksville, Missouri 

Known as the “Baird Chair” since it’s in the Baird family plot, this chair is even more sinister than the others. A commenter on Atlas Obscura says that if someone sits on it at midnight or on Halloween, “an undead hand will emerge from the grave and drag the seated person to Hell.”

Would You Sit in the Devil’s Chair? 

Still curious about devil’s chairs? If you happen upon one in a cemetery, cross your heart, spin in a circle three times, and recite the words “I ain’t afraid of no chair!” It won’t save you from the devil, a witch, or a ghost…but it will be highly entertaining for anyone who happens to walk by!

…yet, there’s always that kernel of truth. Unless that’s an urban legend, too.

But a word to the wise: If you want to go legend tripping, please do not sit on the so-called devil’s or witch’s chairs – and not because you’ll be cursed. These carved stone chairs are often made of marble, which is a soft stone, unlike granite. So, they might look sturdy even if they are really fragile. Many of them are over 100 years old. Use caution and respect when legend tripping devil’s chairs – or anything else.


Sources

  1. Taylor, Troy and Sceurman, Mark. Weird Illinois: Your Travel Guide to Illinois’ Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets, April 7, 2005. www.google.com/books/edition/Weird_Illinois/gE4P1bhDCB4C?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=devil%27s+chair+legend&pg=PA27&printsec=frontcover 
  2. Robinson, John. “Haunted Michigan: The Witch’s Chair of Brookside Cemetery,” Oct. 29, 2107. 99wfmk.com/witchschairtecumseh/ 
  3. Thurston, J.L. “Real Life Ghost Stories: The Witch’s Chair,” Aug. 3, 2018. www.literateape.com/blog/2018/8/3/real-life-ghost-stories-the-witchs-chair 
  4. Mike P. “The Witch’s Chair.” GhostsAndStories.com. ghostsandstories.com/haunted-dolls.html 
  5. Conti, Allie. “Legend Tripping at Cassadaga’s Devil’s Chair,” Oct. 31, 2014. Vice.com. www.vice.com/en_us/article/3b7y43/legend-tripping-at-cassadagas-devils-chair-456
  6. Neighbors, Joy. “One of America’s Most Haunted Cemeteries …,” Oct. 26, 2012. A Grave Interest. agraveinterest.blogspot.com/2012/10/one-of-americas-most-haunted-cemeteries.html
  7. Ly9oawesome. “Kirksville Devil’s Chair.” AtlasObscura.com. www.atlasobscura.com/places/kirksville-devil-s-chair 

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