Ghosts of the Prairie
HIGHLAND LAWN CEMETERY
Terre Haute, Indiana
The Story of Stiffy Green
They say that there is nothing unusual about hearing a dog barking in a cemetery at night, unless you happened to be in Terre Haute, Indiana. If you are anywhere in the area around Highland Lawn Cemetery at night, and hear a dog bark, you may just be hearing the legendary voice of Stiffy Green, Indianaís favorite graveyard ghost.
In the early 1900ís, Stiffy Green was a familiar character around Terre Haute. He was the constant companion of a man named John Heinl, an elderly gentleman who was well-liked in town. He too was familiar figure as he strolled about the city each day in the company of his little bulldog. Stiffy Green was so named thanks to his unusual, stiff-legged walk and the fact that he had startling, green-colored eyes. The little dog was friendly, yet fiercely protective of his master, never allowing strangers to get too close.
In 1920, John Heinl passed away. While his death was a cause for sadness in the community, no one was hit harder by it than Stiffy Green. The poor creature was heartbroken and he refused to leave his masterís side, even during the funeral services and after Heinl was entombed at Highland Lawn. Eventually though, two of Heinlís friends decided to take in the dog and care for him. They took him to their house in Terre Haute and introduced him to his new home.
Within a few days, Stiffy Green had gone missing. He was found a few hours later lying in front of the door to the Heinl mausoleum, silently watching over his masterís burial place. Johnís friend placed a leash on the dog and took him back home again but less than a week later, the dog was missing once more. He was always discovered again, several miles away, in the cemetery. Over the next month or so, this became a standard routine. If the dog could not be found around the house anywhere, his new owners always knew where he was. Eventually, they just gave up and let Stiffy Green take up residence in the graveyard. They brought him food and water and allowed him to stay there.
Not long after this, they began to realize that the dog was not eating. He paid little attention to the bowl of water either, preferring to sit nearly motionless at the entrance to the tomb, barring anyone from entering it. He stayed there in the rain and cold and never shirked what he seemed to feel was his duty. And it was there, on the cold stone step, that the body of Stiffy Green was eventually found.
As word of the loyal dogís death spread, Heinlís friend pondered what to do with the animalís body. They certainly didnít want to simply dispose of their friendís constant companion but they werenít certain he should be entombed as a human would be either. Finally, they reached a compromise. A fund was established and the dogís body was taken to a local taxidermist. The dog was then stuffed and mounted into the sitting position that he had maintained outside of the tomb for so many months. His eyes were left open and his bright green eyes were replaced with glass ones that managed to capture the gleam of the originals. When the task was completed, Stiffy Green was placed inside of the Heinl tomb, right next to the crypt that held the remains of his beloved companion.
And seemingly, this would be where our story ends... but itís not.
Several months after Stiffy Greenís death, a caretaker was leaving the cemetery on a warm evening. Just as he was opening the door to his car, he heard the bark of a dog from the direction of the Heinl mausoleum. Thinking that something about this seemed odd, he decided to go and have a look. As he neared the tomb, the sound got louder and then he suddenly realized why the bark seemed so strange, and so eerily familiar. He had heard this dog barking before. It was the bark of Stiffy Green!
But that was impossible, he realized, the poor animal had died many months ago. The bark must have been his imagination, he decided and walked back to his car. He would think no more about this until other people started to report the same barking from the area around the tomb.... and they would report something else too.
According to the legends, many people have heard the barking of a small dog in Highland Lawn Cemetery in the evening hours. It always seems to come from the direction of the Heinl mausoleum. A few of them have also reported that Stiffy Green does not wander the cemetery alone. They also claim to have seen the figure of an elderly man strolling along between the tombstones, sometimes smoking a pipe and sometimes just smiling as he looks away into the distance. While the old manís description sometimes varies, the witnesses never disagree about the fact that he is always accompanied by a small stiff-legged bulldog... with piercing green eyes.
THE RESURRECTION OF MARTIN SHEETS??
Martin Sheets was a wealthy businessman who lived in Terra Haute, Indiana in the early 1900ís. One of his greatest fears was that of a premature burial. He often dreamt of being awake, but unable to move, at the moment the doctor pronounced him dead and then regaining consciousness while trapped in a coffin below the ground. Sheets decided to fight his fears by investing some of his resources in the prevention of his being buried alive.
First of all, he had a casket custom-designed with latches fitted on the inside. In this way, should he be placed inside prematurely, he would be able to open the coffin and escape. He also began construction on a mausoleum so that when he died, or was thought to have died, he would not be imprisoned under six feet of dirt. The mausoleum was well built and attractive but Sheets realized that even if he did manage to escape from his casket, he would still be trapped inside of a stone prison.
He came up with another clever idea. He installed a telephone inside of the tomb with a direct line to the main office of the cemetery. In this way, he could summon help by simply lifting the receiver. The line was fitted with an automatic indicator light so that even if no words were spoken, the light would come on in the office and help would soon be on the way.
Death came for Martin Sheets in 1910 and he was entombed in the mausoleum. I would imagine that for several days afterward, cemetery staff workers kept a close eye on the telephone indicator light in the office. After more time passed though, it was probably forgotten. Years went by and the telephone system in the area changed. Eventually, the direct line to the cemetery office was removed but thanks to very specific instructions in Sheetsí will, and the money to pay for it, the telephone in the mausoleum remained connected and active.
A number of years later, Sheetsí widow also passed away. She was discovered one day lying on her bed with the telephone clutched in her hand. In fact, she held the receiver so tightly that it had to be pried from her fingers. It was soon learned that she had experienced a severe stroke and family members assumed that she had been trying to call an ambulance when she finally died. A service was held and after a quiet memorial service, she was taken to the family mausoleum, where she would be interred next to her husband.
When cemetery workers entered the mausoleum, they received the shock of their lives. Nothing there was disturbed, they saw, except for one, very chilling item. Martin Sheetsí telephone, locked away for all of these years, was hanging from the wall.... its receiver inexplicably off the hook!
Terre Haute, Indiana is along the far western edge of the state, just across the Illinois border. The cemetery is located east of town at 4520 Wabash Avenue.© Copyright 2001 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved
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