Sunday, January 4, 2015

At Play in the Field of the Dead—Huntsville, Alabama

Maple Hill Park
1351 McClung Avenue, Southeast
Huntsville, Alabama

What could be creepier than the spirits of children perhaps wistfully singing “Ring Around the Rosie” in a minor key and asking, “will you come play with me?” in a sing-song voice? Why, a playground next to a cemetery that’s crawling with these youthful spirits. It’s from these terrifying images that the legend of the “Dead Children’s Playground” was born.

Within view of the resting dead of adjacent Maple Hill Cemetery (202 Maple Hill Street), children happily play on the playground equipment at Maple Hill Park. Lore says that only some of those children are alive. According to Jessica Penot in her 2010 Haunted North Alabama, the playground has gained notoriety among teens out for a scare. They will sometimes sneak into the park at night to witness the paranormal phenomena that supposedly plagues the park.
 
A view of Maple Hill Cemetery, 2006. Photo by LonelyPilgrim,
courtesy of Wikipedia.
The internet is rife with stories involving a murderer killing children here in the 1960s and the playground being constructed as a place of solace for parents whose own children rest just yards away in the cemetery. Even Wikipedia has an article though it is riddled with inaccuracies. These stories are mostly just common internet lore, the actual history of the park is a bit more pedestrian.

Other than its close proximity, Maple Hill Park is not a part of Maple Hill Cemetery. Local ghost authority, Jacquelyn Proctor Reeves, is quoted in a 2012 article as saying there is no evidence that anyone has ever been buried in the area of the park. The property, according to Penot, was originally a stone quarry from 1945 to 1955. After the quarry’s closure, the land was donated to the City of Huntsville and the property became a park in 1985.

Some sources provide the park’s founding as 1822, which is the date for the founding of the cemetery. The cemetery was founded by planter Leroy Pope, the founder of Huntsville, only a decade after the city’s incorporation in 1811. Pope would find his final rest here in 1844. Now spanning some 100 acres, the cemetery has some 80,000 interments and within its fences lie five state governors and a number of congressmen with a host of the local citizenry.

The history of the park, however, does not provide any indication that it might be haunted. Penot questioned a number of park visitors for her book and discovered that many of them had stories to tell about odd occurrences in the park. The most common activity recorded seems to be that the swings will often move by themselves. During her investigation, Penot witnessed this activity herself. In fact, there are a number of YouTube videos showing this phenomenon. Others report to Penot that voices of children have been heard. Of course, one must consider that the park is in a residential area and these voices may be from living neighbors.

A local paranormal organization, the Alabama Paranormal Society (APS), has investigated the location in the past few years and did experience some activity. A psychic with the group was able to determine that there were a number of spirits in the park. They believe that the spirits are wanderers who travel to the park from the cemetery. So far, I have not been able to find any documentation that there is activity in the cemetery.

Sources
Crider, Beverly. “Dead Children’s Playground.” Huntsville Times. 1
     March 2012.
Dead Children’s Playground. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     4 January 2015.
Maple Hill Cemetery (Huntsville, Alabama). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 4 January 2015.
Penot, Jessica. Haunted North Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2010.
Shuttleworth, Bobby. “Paranormal Mysteries: Haunted Places in Bobby’s
     Bama.” WAFF. 31 October 2012.

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