The Legend of the “Haunted Small Pox Cemetery” at the Maumee State Forest

Photo Credit: Christopher Tillman

Back in 2016, while browsing an old forum full of personal experiences with the paranormal, I came across a brief story of an encounter which was said to have happened in a vaguely-titled cemetery somewhere out in the wooded expanse around Whitehouse, Ohio.

As the story went, this person remembered a forgotten cemetery from childhood that was tucked back in the middle of the woods. They knew it only as the “Whitehouse Smallpox Cemetery.” It was hidden from view but, if you knew where to look, you could just make out the old, black, wrought iron fence from the road. There was no direct access to it, no road on which you could drive up to it. You had to park alongside the road and trudge through the woods to get to it.

In the middle of the cemetery, there was a small hill which held only a handful of graves. During a sunset visit to this cemetery with three others, the original poster claims to have seen the ghost of a young girl, estimated to be about 13 years of age. She was standing atop the hill and, with an arm outstretched, pointing to the south. The sight of the apparition prompted them to leave the area and, as they made their way back down the trail towards home, two members of the group claim to have heard their names being spoken by someone, or something.

It’s a brief tale, just vague and mysterious enough to make it interesting, and the posting wasn’t all that old, 2003. Luckily, the original poster left their email address. Unfortunately, it was no longer active.

I wanted to know more about this cemetery and the legends associated with it. I could almost feel my imagination getting the best of me envisioning an old, forgotten cemetery sitting somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, accessible only through a brief trek through a dark, oppressing forest. The welds of the old iron fence worn and broken. Tall grasses and vines surrounding the weathered and cracked tombstones while the earth beneath them shifted and turned in the slow process of drawing them down into the soil.

I turned to the trusty ol’ Google in an attempt to find out more about this mysterious cemetery and met with zero search results. I perused the websites of other area paranormal researchers to see if anyone else had heard of this place and, again, my search came up empty.

Western Lucas County is a big place, wide-open and heavily-wooded. If this cemetery did exist, where would you even start looking? Someone has to have heard of it before. A legend like that, if true, would surely have gained some kind of traction through word of mouth. So I reached out to my readership.

I added a brief entry about the cemetery to this website and also posted a request for more information on the Haunted Toledo Facebook page. And, like an angel from on high, Ben Meeker of BOSS Paranormal sent me a message confirming the existence of this cemetery and even offered to take me out to it!

Having grown up in the area, Ben knew right where this cemetery was at and even spoke of an old legend he remembered hearing about the place as a kid. Ben wasn’t familiar with the story of it being a smallpox cemetery and had never heard of any phantom girls on the hill. But he did recall hearing vague stories it was, or had been, a Native American burial ground and there were rumors that the ghost of a Native American warrior still walked the area around the cemetery. As a youngster, these stories were enough to keep Ben from exploring the area too closely and as he grew older the legends of the cemetery began to fade from memory.

So we made plans to meet in Whitehouse on Friday, April 1st and I would follow him out to the location.

The cemetery now sits on the grounds of the Maumee State Forest. It was the noon hour and overcast when we arrived. Everything was still drenched from a soaking rain the area received the day before. There was a chill in the air and a slight breeze, bringing with it the threat of fresh rain. As I got out of my car and surveyed the thick forest in front of me, everything was quiet and still. It looked as if Ben and I were the only ones there.

This portion of the forest had been set aside for use as a bridle trail for horses and as we headed up the wide path cut through the woods, the cemetery came into view on our left. And, I must admit, I was a little disappointed. Just a little.

It wasn’t the forlorn cemetery my imagination had dreamed up. It wasn’t a patch of land that had been lost to time. In fact, the cemetery looked to be well-kept and clean. The grass was healthy and closely-cropped. There were no weeds. No vine-entangled tombstones. No branches laying about or upturned trees. It was just a small cemetery sitting in the middle of a forest.

Ben remembered a black, wrought iron fence at one time encircling the cemetery, but it’s long gone. The stone corner supports for the fence are still there, but a woven-wire livestock fence has since replaced it.

There are no signs posted that would provide a formal name for the cemetery. There aren’t even any signs discouraging trespassing, claimants of ownership, or even offering the year it was established.

The fence line extends around the perimeter of the cemetery and even includes a gated and padlocked private roadway which is most likely used by caretakers to access the area with maintenance equipment.

We walked the perimeter of the cemetery, taking photos as we went. It is definitely as it was described in the account I read – a small cemetery with a hill in the center atop which there are a handful of graves. All but one tombstone are small and sit low to the ground. The most obvious marker, the one which draws your eyes to it every time, is a short, badly weathered obelisk roughly four feet tall.

I wondered aloud how often park rangers might pass through this part of the forest as I eyed what looked like fresh tire tracks in the muddy bridle path running alongside the cemetery. The absence of “No Trespassing” signs didn’t exactly mean it was okay to hop the fence and have a closer look. The fence itself and its glaring lack of a pedestrian gate should’ve been enough of a clue to keep out. Still… y’know, in the interest of research, over the fence I went.

Ben and I spent around fifteen minutes photographing the tombstones, a dozen in all, and speculated that it must be a private cemetery as many stones had the same surnames. Oddly, there was one stone situated in the corner of the cemetery all by itself. Why was this one isolated from the rest? Even more interesting, if the claims of a phantom girl pointing to the south are to be believed, she would be pointing in the general direction of this solitary grave.

With a lack of signage, there is no obvious way to tell if the people who are buried here died due to some smallpox outbreak as the story I heard suggests, but there are several graves of young children here and many from the late 1800s.

More research about the cemetery and its inhabitants obviously needs to be done. But, I can say this: It seemed very peaceful here. Very calm. Whether or not it’s haunted is another matter entirely.

Before leaving, Ben and I made plans to venture back once the weather turns warmer for a sunset exploration of the legends surrounding this lonely, little cemetery.

As of this writing, this cemetery is still unnamed. I will continue to call it the “Whitehouse Smallpox Cemetery” until I learn more.

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