“In recent years the cemetery has become a popular target for paranormal investigation groups, who document their findings in spine-tingling detail. There’s the little girl who appreciates the dolls that visitors place on her grave. There’s the Italian immigrant miner who enjoys a nice graveside conversation via EMF meter. And let’s not forget the cold spots or the power drains on electronic devices.
Or the would-be voices discovered later on digital recordings, which state with horrific clarity things like ‘You don’t belong here.’”
The following originally appeared in the October 28, 2010 edition of the Tooele Transcript Bulletin.
FULL MOON: CHECK. Midnight: check. Spooky, century-old graveyard: check. The inexplicable flickering of my LED flashlight: check. It was the perfect recipe for a Halloween-time adventure.
Granted, the inexplicable flickering of my flashlight might have had less to do with otherworldly phenomena and more with the fact that I bought it at the gas station for $1.99. But there’s no need to quibble over technicalities, because none of them mattered when the boys and I walked into the old Mercur cemetery and laid our eyes on those first moonlit graves.
Paranormal enthusiasts argue that places marked with high emotion or scarred by traumatic history act as spectral magnets. They’re “hot spots”—areas of high paranormal activity. In short, they’re haunted. Many ghost towns naturally fit the bill—especially those built around mining.
Life in boom-and-bust mining towns was rife with anxiety. Technology was primitive. Miner safety was often an afterthought and fatal accidents were commonplace. Even on the best days, the threat of cave-ins, injury, or an ill-timed blast always loomed. If you didn’t meet your fate deep in earth’s bowels today, there’s always tomorrow. And if your business doesn’t go broke when the mine plays out, it’ll probably be destroyed in a freak, town-wide fire.
If such ghost towns attract real haunts, Mercur should be a good candidate. Its story began in 1870 when prospectors in the Oquirrh Mountains working southward from Ophir discovered gold in Manning Canyon. Then called Lewiston, the town saw its first boom around 1873. Its population grew to 1,500, but not for long. The mines proved unreliable, and by 1880, a single soul called Lewiston home.
The town saw its second boom when a Bavarian prospector discovered mercury and named his claim Mercur. The name stuck, even after the focus of mining shifted predominantly back to gold. By 1898, nearly 6,000 people lived in Mercur. The town prospered even after a 1902 fire claimed most of its buildings, only to be abandoned again in 1913.
Though limited operations continued in the mines until 1997, Mercur’s real R.I.P date was 1913. Any remaining structures were razed in the 1980’s and a gate blocks entrance to the area that was once town proper.
All that’s left of the great mining town is its small cemetery, which closed in 1915. It sits atop a steep hill and is accessible from the canyon road by a narrow trail that must have been a pall-bearer’s nightmare. The graveyard is the resting place of some 100 souls. Rock ovals with larger limestone slabs at their heads mark 40 or so graves. The rest are completely unmarked. Around 20 of the marked graves are individually enclosed by picket fences. Of all the graves on the hill, only one bears an actual carved headstone.
SIDE NOTE: The grave is that of Annie C. Jones– born 189(7), died 1898. Her headstone is mostly illegible.
Tales of paranormal encounters at the cemetery are ubiquitous online. The stories range from humorous to terrifying. In recent years the cemetery has become a popular target for paranormal investigation groups who document their findings in spine-tingling detail. There’s the little girl who appreciates the dolls that visitors place on her grave. There’s the Italian immigrant miner who enjoys a nice graveside conversation via EMF meter. And let’s not forget the cold spots or the power drains on electronic devices.
Or the would-be voices discovered later on digital recordings, which state with horrific clarity things like “You don’t belong here.”
I read the stories with interest, but my skepticism was firm. It’s not that I don’t believe in ghosts—I just don’t see why they’d be hanging out at cemeteries. Why exactly would a dead miner haunt a place he had little or no connection with in life? Wouldn’t his afterlife be better spent scaring the tar out of witless teenagers along the canyon road, or stealing campers’ left socks?
Craig Campbell, founder of Salt City Paranormal, shares my skepticism. Campbell and crew conducted their own investigation of the cemetery several years back with inconclusive results.
“There are just too many variables in that environment,” he told me. “You’ve got the wind, other interference— it’s just too easy to get a false positive.”
Campbell says he looks at each investigation as a court room case. Until he finds solid evidence, he’s not convinced. Solid evidence, as Campbell defines it, would be a documented phenomenon that he is unable to recreate himself. But the lack of solid evidence of the supernatural at Mercur Cemetery doesn’t mean nothing’s afoot there.
“It’s definitely a hot spot,” Campbell ceded.
In his book, Talking to Yourself in the Dark, Wasatch Paranormal founder Tom Carr recalls leaving the cemetery after a particularly disturbing visit:
“No more than an hour into the investigation, we found ourselves heading back down the hill to our cars. I would have to say this was the first time in a long time that I was that scared.”
I’m glad I didn’t read that chapter until after our own trip. The storm clouds parted almost full moon illuminated the picket fenced graves. I only needed my flashlight to examine the sole carved headstone.
“1898—that’s forever ago, Dad,” pondered 9 year old Bridger. “Wow,” echoed his 7 year old brother, Weston. They scampered from plot to plot looking for another legible headstone. I paused to collect my thoughts.
No voices, cold spots or other disturbances— only a solemn calm, punctuated at times by a slight unease. Maybe the ghosts had taken the night off. If so, I wasn’t complaining. Perhaps they weren’t ghosts at all, but echoes of consciousness—or reflections of our own.
Were we welcome there? Were we imposing? Craig Campbell or Tom Carr might have asked out loud. I didn’t, just in case.
When my flashlight finally died, we hiked back to the car and drove up the canyon to the gate. Mercur was back there, once upon a time. When we arrived home I emptied my pockets, habitually clicking my flashlight’s power button as I put it away. It was only after I was half asleep that I realized it was working just fine.