For one hundred and fifty years how Greenwood came to be has been a mystery. There are no records of early burials, but Native Americans did use the grounds for a burial site. It is thought that settlers in the 1820s used it as a graveyard, and there is a rumor that some captured runaway slaves were buried there in the dark of night. The only clues were many unmarked graves strewn about the current grounds.
In 1857 the cemetery was incorporated into the city of Decatur. By 1900 it was Decatur's most prestigious cemetery. But, in 1920, it had fallen into disrepair. The roads were no longer usable. Time, the elements, and vandals had wreaked havoc on the gravestones also. Many were tilted and some were damaged beyond repair.
By the time Decatur took over in 1957, it had been neglected and remembered as a "spooky novelty." The stories about Greenwood
started because of the deteriorated condition of the older section of the graveyard, where it is said that people have seen wandering spirits and glowing apparitions.
On a hill at the edge of the forest is an old burial plot that belongs to the Barrackman family. If you go toward it from the east, there is a set of stone steps that lead to the top of the hill. Four rounded stones mark the burial sites of the family.
Dozens of people have said that if you stay in the cemetery until dusk you may see a spooky sight. As dusk falls a woman in a long dress appears on the steps leading up to the graves. She sits on the steps with her head lowered as if crying, but nobody has heard any sounds. Those that have seen her say that as the sun goes down she disappears. This is the only time of the day when she has been seen.
The most bizzare occurance is the ghost lights that are seen on the south side of the cemetery. They have been seen for decades.
Reportedly many years ago the Sangamon River overflowed and rushed into the lower parts of the cemetery. The water knocked over tombstones and washed away the layers of sod and dirt, pushing coffins to the surface. Many of which floated downstream.
After the water had gone down, it was many days before the coffins could be found, some of them were never found. People were finding bodies and caskets several miles down river. These bodies were buried in unmarked graves because their identity wasn't known.
Ever since then the spook lights have been appearing. Many witnesses have watched them moving in and around the old stones. Natural or supernatural these lights are a mystery to everybody.
Tale from Jack G.
"I was in Greenwood Cemetery one night back in 1977 and had decided to wait until after dark to climb the back fence and get inside. I walked out into the tombstones by moonlight. I didn't bring a flashlight with me because I didn't want to chance being spotted by a caretaker or a police car, but I saw something that night that has kept me from returning to the cemetery to this day!
I crossed the road and started up a hill, and then I saw someone standing among the stones. I froze, sure that I was about to be caught. The cemetery closed at sunset, and I knew that I could be arrested for trespassing. So I ducked behind the largest stone that I could find and figured I would stay there until the other person—whom I figured was a caretaker—walked away. After a few minutes, I looked to see if he was still there, and he was. He was staring at something, not moving, but was not staring at me
I saw that he was tall and ordinary-looking, but it was really to dark to get a good look at him. He was just standing there, staring out toward the fence. I couldn't figure out what he was looking at. Then the man turned slowly around, facing in my direction—but he really didn't turn, it was almost like he rotated. Then I saw his eyes, which looked empty! They were like black holes, but they sort of glowed a little, like the moon was shining through the back of his head.
I took off running then, and I don't have any idea if the man chased me, but he wouldn't have caught me anyway at the speed I was going! I have never been back to Greenwood Cemetery since." -Jack G.
Tale from David T.
"One winter's night I was cutting through Greenwood Cemetery on my way to a friend's house. I was walking along a cemetery road when I heard the distinctive sound of hard-soled shoes behind me. I looked back several times but couldn't see anyone, because it was to dark. Finally, unnerved by the sound, I veered from the paved road and set off across the cemetery grounds. But the sound followed me, sinking through the hard crust of the snow. The footsteps got closer and closer...and that was when I took off running.
Finally I arrived at my friend's house, breathless and pretty damned scared. It wasn't long, though, before my friend managed to calm me down and made me realize that the so-called chase had been all in my mind. To prove his point, he accompanied me to the cemetery the next morning. We soon found the place where I had left the road, and we got quite a surprise when we examined the surface of the snow. We easily found my footprints, but behind them was a second set of tracks that followed my tracks to the edge of the cemetery—then abruptly disappered!" -David T.