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One Tank Ghost Trips: Stepp Cemetery

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Indiana plays host to a variety of paranormal venues—all originating from the central hub of Indianapolis, and all within the range of a tank of gas or less.

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Morgan Monroe State Forest, off of State Route 37 and just due south of Martinsville, lies within a canopy of 24,000 acres of hardwood forest in south central Indiana. It is a rolling terrain composed of steep ridges, elongated valleys, and an atmosphere of mystery that strikes at a gut level. It is the second largest state forest in Indiana—for the most part composed of abandoned farmsteads that didn’t work out, and for all intents and purposes, an area that just doesn’t feel right….

It’s as if--if the trees could talk, the stories they would tell! And then there is Stepp Cemetery…five miles into the forest and a world away.

Any cemetery which lies within the confines of a state park or forest denotes a “history”—a lifestyle now passed and people who have come and gone. It’s a footnote in past endeavors, and I would suppose a reference point in a state’s moving onward;. but, at the same time, a very definite marker when a life no longer moved onward. Stepp Cemetery, located in the bowels of Morgan Monroe State Forest, dates back to the 19th century and then, as now, remains a very rural graveyard off the beaten path. And rumors and stories of hauntings have continued throughout the years.

There is the “Black Lady”, a ghostly who lost her baby son in some sort of tragic accident in the 1930s. The baby was buried in Stepp and she sits near the grave (said to be on a nearby stump) and waits in vigil…chasing visitors rather vigilantly from the graveyard. Also according to the legend, there is the occasional dog specter that guards the grave.

In relation to the woman dressed in black, there have been reports of sighting her figure moving throughout the woods surrounding the cemetery and the sound of a women crying emitting from the bordering trees.

The Crabbites (a church sect offshoot from the Pentecostal religion) was said to have practiced in the area and cleared out because of devious practices. Some were rumored to have remained behind and infiltrated the grounds around Stepp. (Considering that there are no records of the Crabbites ever being in this area, I would find this suspect!)

There is other folklore that has manifested through the years in relation to the remote cemetery: pioneer entities from days gone by, a long dead teenager, and former road workers that have some spectral alliance to the area. And just maybe…there are other things.

Morgan Monroe State Forest is an eerie experience. It is something that one can’t quite put their finger on, but should; a blanket of uncertainty that defies a logical explanation. After all…it’s just another forest in Indiana, but it would seem there is a dark lurking presence just below the surface. A television series that pursues the claims of Big Foot sightings filmed an episode recently in the forest. The jury is still out as to whether this creature is currently roaming the forests of southern Indiana, but it adds an element of intrigue and notoriety to Morgan Monroe State Forest. In addition to the ghostly happenings in Stepp Cemetery, we now have Big Foot to contend with!

Stepp Cemetery is an enigma…not just in the darkness, but also in the daylight. The graveyard is a complex situation for any type of serious investigation, for reasons explained shortly. It continues to be an “interesting” place to revisit and keep on the paranormal map…so to speak. And—at least for me—never seems to disappoint in oddities; subtle, but oddities all the same:

  • For those “sensitive” visitors there can be moments of extreme sadness, dread, or even anxiety…most often occurring in the far right region of the cemetery near the deep ravine.
  • I have photographed several bouts of mist...just above head level and many on a warm and non-rainy summer night.
  • Red eyes glowing in the tree line surrounding the cemetery. (Is this the ghostly dog or Big Foot?)
  • A pinwheel placed at Baby Lester’s grave, spinning with fury on a wind-less summer afternoon and stopping as we approached. (Is this the baby’s grave in the purported “Black Lady” legend?)
  • Shadowy figures moving about, just in the fringe of the tree line.
  • Digital audio recordings…some in a German dialect. Sometimes, audible voices heard.
  • K-2 electronic meters indicating electrical energy in a dormant setting. (I don’t get too excited about these…too many factors that can influence; park ranger radar, etc.)
  • Sudden equipment malfunction, battery drain, and unusual electronic “hum” on audio recordings.
  • Insects and birds would suddenly, and for no visible reason, become quiet. (This often corresponded to other things happening in the cemetery at the same time)

Due to the rather close proximity to Bloomington. Indiana and Indiana University, Morgan Monroe State Forest and Stepp Cemetery have become a weekend mecca for the curious and hardy alpha males wishing to impress and scare their dates. It’s an unavoidable rite of passage and will continue as long as new crop of students continue to cycle into the university and consequently filter into the cemetery grounds. And it makes it extremely hard—if not impossible—to conduct any type of legitimate paranormal investigation at Stepp Cemetery. So…the stories will continue on.

The forest park rangers have heard the tales and have grown tolerant to the constant weekend parade of the curious, only requesting that they not block the access road into the cemetery and be out promptly at 11:00PM. The park rangers are also a helpful resource: I have been told that the original tree stump—the very one in legend that the “Dark Lady” plants her ghostly buttocks upon—is long gone, and the one now residing near the purported grave of the deceased baby child is not the actual original one!

It’s a harsh reality!

So…is Stepp Cemetery haunted? I believe it is, but not from anything to do with accumulated stories and folklore. There is definitely some strange shenanigans circulating about the cemetery grounds, but it is most likely a result of the surrounding forest rather than a woman standing watch over the grave of her departed son. There appears to be more at work there than something as simple as that. The layers just need to be unveiled, and that will take time.

You be the judge.

Morgan Monroe State Forest, 6220 Forest Road, Martinsville, Indiana, 46151

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