The Swamp Road Chronicles®



(Editor's Note: This interview was conducted in October of 1992, but due to survivor sensitivities we delayed publishing the interview until now. (February 2023)


My name is Lionel Digby, I was born June 6, 1911 on the Isle of Wight, in the United Kingdom. For over forty years I was the sexton for three churches in and around the Swamp Road area.

Most folks don't know what a sexton is, so I'll tell you. A sexton has the responsibility of keeping up the outside of a church property, including the church's cemetery if there is one; not all churches have their own. One of the most important duties I had was to dig graves. A sexton, above all else, is a gravedigger.


These days a cemetery employee will use a big backhoe and dig the hole in about thirty minutes. They do a good job, I reckon, but I have always felt that the job of preparing the final resting place for a fellow human, which they will be using for eternity is a humbling honor and it should be done by hand with a shovel and a pick in a careful and reverent way.


Now, I can tell you that some fellows don't take the job too seriously; some make the hole too big, too small or even too shallow. Not me! I make sure that every grave I dig is perfectly rectangular with sharp corners and EXACTLY 6 feet deep. I take pride in my work, and you can see the difference even if you aren't in the profession.


The thing that I want to tell you about has worried me every day and night since it happened back in 1957. I never told anybody about it until now, but I am not long for this world, I reckon, so I want someone else to know about it. The family that this story touches on are all dead now; I didn't want to distress them, so I have kept my mouth shut these many years.


There was a family that lived in Outville, a father, a mother and 2 small children. They were a good, decent family of church-going Christians. The lovely young mother was a pleasure to behold, beautiful both inside and out. I never knew a kinder, more gentle woman. The family was well-respected by all who knew them.


Unfortunately, that beautiful young mother fell ill with cancer and passed away after a short battle for her life. I had the responsibility and privilege of digging her grave. Believe me, it was a heart-breaking task, preparing her grave, but I did the very best job I could, out of respect for her and her family.


I was just finishing up and standing in the bottom of the grave when I noticed a sound that seemed to be coming from somewhere under the ground not far from where I was standing. You see, it is not unusual to find a fox den or a groundhog's tunnel when digging six feet down into the earth. I suspected I had gotten near such a thing and was hearing the distressed sounds of an animal that my digging had disturbed. I put my ear against the dirt wall to my left, where the sound seemed to be coming from; I could clearly hear the most frantic scratching. I knelt down closer the the bottom of the grave where the sound seemed louder. It sounded like an animal scratching against a tree root. Whatever it was, it was clawing desperately.


As I was listening, I began to hear a new sound, it was just like the distant shrieking of an old woman. Scratching and shrieking! It was an unnerving combination, believe me.

I have heard foxes crying in the night when they are caught in a trap; their cries of pain, fear and hopeless despair were just like what I was hearing down in that hole. I wondered if a fox could have somehow gotten trapped underground and was scratching desperately to save itself.


I climbed out of that pit to see if there was a grave next to the one I was digging, or if it was unused ground. I thought I might find the entrance to a fox den or something that I had not noticed before. What I found was another grave. I looked at the headstone and it told of a lady who had died nearly one hundred years earlier at the age of 74. I clearly remember her name, but that information will go to my grave with me.


I climbed back down into the grave I had been digging and put my ear to the dirt wall again. The scratching and shrieking continued. I pounded on that wall of dirt with my fist and the shrieking and scratching stopped for a moment and then started up again with even more energy. I was horrified, I can tell you. The hair stood up on my arms and I had goosebumps an inch high. I realized I was hearing the sounds of a woman buried alive for almost one hundred years who was somehow still alive and desperate to get out of her coffin.


I did not know what to do. There was only about 2 feet of dirt between her and me, I could get to her easily enough and release her.

But did I want to free someone or something that had been entombed for a hundred years? It would have to be entirely insane; incomprehensibly insane. Would YOU set something like that loose on the Earth? Would you even want to see what it looked like?


I could have done nothing at all and let the lovely young mother's funeral take place, but would you lay YOUR mother beside a shrieking, scratching maniac for an eternity?

And, what if the mourners should hear the shreiking and scratching sounds during the interment service? What if they heard them after the young mother had been laid in her grave? Wouldn't they think it was her they were hearing and have their hopes raised and then horribly dashed? I couldn't do that.


Maybe I should have called the pastor of St. Jude's and the sheriff as well and let them decide what to do and wash my hands of the whole horrible mess, but I knew they would have to open that old grave and set loose upon the world an entity that might be more horrible and dangerous than we could even imagine.


I prayed: "Oh God, give me wisdom." I decided to do what I believe was the right thing to do: I re-filled the grave I had just dug. I dug another grave in a distant part of the cemetery. I reported to the sheriff and the Pastor of St. Jude's that when I dug the first grave, I found that it was already occupied by someone else's coffin.

That sometimes happens, a paperwork snafu, an unmarked grave. Unusual, but not unheard of. The Pastor noted the cemetery records with the information that that plot was occcopied by an unknown person so that particular plot would never be disturbed again.


I worry and pray however, that I did the right thing by leaving the old grave sealed and, hopefully, trapping that shrieking,

scratching horror forever.


 As submitted by Digby October, 1992 Kirkersville, Ohio


© Copyright 1992-2023, Randal Lenn Hall, All Rights Reserved.