What does the beginning of WWI, anti-immigrant sentiment, and a vampire have in common? Oddly enough, a small dilapidated cemetery located in Park Hills, Missouri. Due to decades of neglect and vandalism, most of the headstones in the Gibson cemetery have been broken and tossed around. The trees and brush have taken over, and if it weren’t for a few headstones poking through the dead leaves you might not even realize that you were standing in a cemetery at all.
What helps to make the story of this cemetery even more strange is that there’s an urban legend of a vampire being buried here. A vampire that would lure children to his home and then eat them. I received a research request asking me to see what I could find out about the Gibson cemetery and its legend. What I found was pretty intriguing, and harkens back to a time with some interesting history.
Gibson Cemetery saw its first internment sometime after 1824 when the Gibson family made their homestead in this area. This cemetery was initially just for the Gibson family but eventually began to be used by people from the surrounding towns of Flat River, Rivermines, and Elvins. The exact number of interred is unknown, but from what records exist, most of the burials are from the early 1900’s.
The small towns in this area were mining towns, and the area became known as the Lead Belt.((Missouri Department of Natural Resources)) A lot of the miners were immigrants, many of whom were from Hungary. They were often referred to as “hunkies” by the local people and were given the worst job in the mines, that of shovelers. It was difficult, back-breaking work, and they were paid about thirty cents an hour.
The Lead Belt Mining Riot
On April 6th, 1917, the United States joined the fight in WWI. It was during this time that the demand for lead was at an all-time high. An estimated 70% of lead produced in the United States came from the Missouri Lead Belt.((The Flat River Riot of 1917)) Because many of the miners were immigrants from countries that the United States was now at war with, relations between the immigrant miners and U.S. citizen miners became tense.
When the draft was enacted on May 18th, 1917, tensions between the miners began to rise. The immigrant miners were not subject to the draft and military service. Soon this tension would erupt into a riot that would lead to the state militia being called in to maintain order.
At approximately 6:30 pm on Friday, July 13th, 1917 fighting broke out in the changing room of the Federal Mine Shaft No. 1. According to reports at the time, an immigrant miner reportedly made a comment about not having to go to war and taking the jobs (and the women) of the Americans who were drafted.((Miners part 2: We will have your ‘frou‘)) A full-on brawl immediately ensued with some of the immigrant miners being thrown from the windows. The fighting quickly spread with the Americans heading from shaft to shaft looking for immigrants to beat and throw out of the mine.
By the time darkness fell, more than 1,000 miners roamed through Flat River (now Park Hills) terrorizing anyone who appeared to be a foreign miner, and calling for Americans to assemble at the mine at 9 am the following morning. The next day the mob gathered and marched to the mine office demanding they fire all foreign miners. When the mining company refused, the mob proceeded through town carrying guns and American flags rounding up every foreigner they came across and forcing them to the train station. Remarkably, no one was killed during this riot.
By the end of July 14th over 700 foreign miners, including some of their wives and children had been forced onto trains headed towards St. Louis.((Hateful Hunkies or Hardworking Hungarians: The Lead Belt Mining Riot of 1917)) Shortly after most of the foreigners had been put onto trains, a train carrying 150 troops from the state militia arrived to keep the peace.
The troops remained until the end of the war to ensure that lead production remained steady and keep the peace. The men who were responsible for starting the mob were eventually placed on trial but ended up with only a $100 fine and no jail time. The aftermath of this event, however, I believe either sparked or helped feed a local legend.
Rumors Of A Vampire
From 1910 until approximately 1920 an unusual number of children died. Rumors began that one of the Hungarian miners was a vampire. He was said to live in the town of Elvins and the locals believed he was somehow responsible for the deaths of the children. Depending on your source of information, this vampire was also an albino. It was said his skin was deathly pale, his hair shockingly white, and his eyes were red.((Tales of vampires, Civil War soldiers and more reside in Gibson Cemetery))
When this man died the people didn’t want him buried near the others, especially the children. His grave was placed at the outskirts of the Gibson Cemetery and surrounded by a wrought iron fence. Crosses were hung on the fence surrounding his grave in order to keep him from roaming the cemetery, even after death. And from there the legend of the Vampire of Gibson Cemetery began to spread.
Years of neglect and the elements have deteriorated Gibson Cemetery to the point where it’s impossible to say where this man (and numerous others) are buried.
Obviously, this man was no vampire, and probably not surprisingly the children all died of natural causes. Life was a lot tougher during that time, and many children died from diseases that are now preventable. In fact, in 1917 this area saw a diphtheria epidemic which claimed the lives of many people, mostly young children.
Another interesting fact is that the Washington Times printed the complete serialization of the 1899 Doubleday & McClure edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in September 1917. I think that this combined with the riots, the anti-immigrant sentiment in the area, started the legend of the Gibson Cemetery Vampire.
Huge thanks to Kayla Asher for sending me the pics below of the Gibson Cemetery.