Once a graverobber's paradise, this cemetery is crawling with poltergeists.
Orbs appear eerily bright. Uneasy sensations snake down your back. Travelers claim they're being watched by unseen specters. What lurks beneath Oakwood Cemetery?
Rumor has it that medical professors stole freshly buried bodies from unmarked graves. The cadavers were then supplied for students to perform experiments, explaining why their disturbed spirits roam restlessly about.
Paranormal investigators claim the northwestern fence line has the most supernatural activity. EMF and EVP readings are commonly caught between Navasota Street and the pauper's unmarked graves.
Are these the souls of Oakwood's stolen bodies?
Originally named "City Cemetery," records for Oakwood date back to the mid-nineteenth century. Yet scholars believe it has earlier origins: some believe the first interments were the victims of the Comanche attack.
If this is the case, the dead would be laid to rest on the same hill the fight had occurred. Perhaps their spirits linger about the burial ground, restless and untethered.
Oakwood’s segregated layout is its strangest aspect.
In Austin, your race and social status greatly affected where you'd rest in death. Like most graveyards, Oakwood was sliced into sections. The north section was designated as the "colored grounds" and included the souls of African-Americans, Latinos, and other non-white ethnicities.
Even more troubling was the number of unmarked pauper's graves that lined the twelve-foot fence.
Those who died penniless or without family were carted to the cemetery through the north gate. Bodies were sometimes left unburied, most commonly by the northwestern fence line.
Alternatively, if you were a person of non-black or Latino descent, you found yourself on the opposite side of Oakwood. Plain wooden crosses or even fancy, elaborate ceremonial ornaments decorate the south side of the cemetery.
Heartbreaking stories of death and dying litter the graveyard's landscape. The most famous belongs to Robert and Mable Tumey, the brother-sister duo who died seven days apart.
According to an Austin Daily Statesman report from 1888,
Robert Homer Tumey, aged 2 years, infant son of Mr. and Mrs. William Tumey, after a brief illness with diphtheria, passed over the river into the realms of infinite peace and goodness, where, among the blessed of all worlds, he will be at rest and know no sorrow, no pain, no grief, forever and forever.
The same paper announced Mable's death seven days later:
The Grim Reaper Death has again invaded the household of Mr. and Mrs. William Tumey.
While Mable and Robert have identifiable graves in the south section of Oakwood, those buried in the north were less lucky.
In 1907, this sprawling 40-acre graveyard officially became “Oakwood Cemetery.”
The city built a mausoleum within the cemetery's wooden mortuary chapel by 1914, yet it wasn't long before the chapel became overcrowded. Soon, cemetery attendants were forced to hand-dig graves.
Due to the amount of time it took to properly dig each plot, many of the burials were haphazardly shoveled. Some attendants would dig only semi-shallow graves before burying the bodies.
When the Spanish Flu ravaged Austin in 1918, death flooded the city. Hearses trundled down the streets, functioning as ambulances as much as taxi cabs.
From home to embalmer to cemetery, these hearses were heard rumbling down the city's dirt roads. Local genealogist Danny Camacho reported
so many people dying that hearses were
a common sight on the streets.
With over 23,000 burials in Oakwood Cemetery, there’s bound to be a few famous funerals.
Henry Green Madison is one notable internment, the first African-American City Councilman of Austin. Dr. Annie Webb Blanton, the first woman ever elected to statewide office in Texas, is another.
Oakwood's most notorious tombstone belongs to John Barclay Armstrong. Known as
McNelly's Bulldog, Armstrong was a skilled and dangerous Texas Ranger. He joined the efforts to eliminate outlaws between Eagle Pass and Laredo, later killing outlaw Sam Bass.
For those brave enough to visit Oakwood Cemetery, visit while the gates are unlocked. If you want to try at night, it's best to contact one of the guards. Don't trespass!!