Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ikie's Tomb

A teller of ghost tales is often also the recipient of ghost tales. Today I heard the strange story of Ikie's Tomb.

It was a storytelling day in one of my favorite places--the library in Sistersville, West Virginia. I was speaking to their noontime book club about my most recent CD and ghost stories in West Virginia in general.

My take on ghost stories differs from that of ghost-hunters. I am interested in what people tell me, the stories of things that happened to them or to family members, and not as much in whether the tales are "true" and definitely not in trying to contact the dead or determining if there is any paranormal activity. I prefer the story and the folklore/legend aspect; if someone tells me that it happened, I take their word as a collector of stories. Who am I to say if it happened or not?

During my program today, one of the audience members asked me if I knew about Ikie's Tomb. I had not. She told this eerie story:

A boy named Ikie died when very young. His mother had him entombed in glass, with a little door that could be opened. She put the child's toys into the tomb, and also a rocking chair. The mother would go to the tomb on a regular basis, take the child's body from the glass case, and rock and croon to him in the rocking chair. Then she would put him back into the case until her next visit.

Where was this tomb, I asked? My informant gave me some general directions and I realized that today would not be a time to visit. It will have to wait for a day when I am dressed properly and the weather is a little warmer. She found some information online and the librarian graciously printed it out for me. When I got home, I came straight to the computer to see what I could find.

Photo from WV Culture website; taken by John Tice.
Indeed, there is a place called Ikie's Tomb. The story as I heard it today was basically true, although details vary. A Goldenseal article in Fall 2003 identifies the child as Ikie Gorrell, or Ikie Mooring, who died on March 3, 1904, at seven years of age. Some versions say he simply got sick and died, others that he died of bad "ice milk" he'd had earlier in the day. His mother had him entombed in a concrete vault, and the vault filled with formaldehyde to preserve his body. There was a glass window for viewing inside the crypt and a door in the top with a seal.

The part about putting his toys in the vault seems to be true as it is repeated in various versions of this story. A high-wheeled tricycle, a wagon and other toys are mentioned, which gives an indication of the size of the vault. Two other children were also buried in the same tomb; in one version, these were babies who were placed in stone crocks with only their faces showing to preserve them; in others they are two teenage sisters to Ikie. The Goldenseal article reports finding pieces of a stoneware crock in the tomb.

In 1979 the local sheriff realized that teenagers, who found the gravesite a good place to hang out, were vandalizing the grave so he arranged for Ikie's body to be properly buried. The mortician who did this task reported that there were remains of an old wood rocking chair in the tomb, possibly confirming the story that Ikie's mother often took his body out of the vault and rocked him. Another person told John Tice, author of the Goldenseal article, that the mother would take the children's bodies out of the tomb and hang them in a tree while she cleaned the tomb but this seems unlikely to me.

Photo from Mount Welcome Cemetery page.

The parents moved away from the area a few years after Ikie's death and ended up in Cabell County, where both are buried. Ikie's tomb remains in place, although it is a ruin today, and his grave can still be seen in the Mount Welcome cemetery.

Imagine the grief of the mother who must have been deranged by the loss of her son; the image of her rocking her dead baby is a haunting one. I hope that those who visit Ikie's tomb remember her sorrow, and leave a flower and a prayer at the side of her beloved child's grave.

You can find more about Ikie's Tomb at:

Goldenseal Magazine, Fall 2003: Searching for Ikie's Tomb.

Genealogy information about Ikie.

Information about Mount Welcome Cemetery.


  1. I have often imagined the grief of a mother in the loss of a child but I thank the Lord that I never had to live through such as that. What a sad, vivid recalling.

  2. I have thought the same thing, Nance. What a terrible thing for any parent to go through. This is one of the strangest tales of grief I have read. But in my research I discovered that entombment with formaldehyde was a popular method of burial at the turn of the century, which makes me wonder how many other graves there may be like this one. Another trail to follow.

  3. That's a story I had not heard of before. You paint such a vivid picture for all of us as you tell your tales. Thanks so much for sharing.

  4. GSUE - I have this story in my collection. It is indeed a sad one, but then death is hardly ever happy.

    I did not know, however, that this story was in Goldenseal or that the boy's name was Ikie. I had it simply as Ike. I had heard about other children being buried in the tomb, and that many of the toys they were buried with were later removed by vandals. That may explain their disappearance.

  5. That was what the article said too, Jason; apparently vandals did a great deal of damage to the tomb before the body or bodies within were removed and buried. Today some geocachers visit the site. i found several sources of information online but the Goldenseal article is excellent, providing photos and interviews with people who had some memory of the events.

  6. Very interesting, Susanne... and sad.

  7. Wow! What a story Granny Sue! I just can't imagine.....

  8. It is sad, Janet, and makes you think about why--why did she choose such a burial method, did it really work, why did they move away and leave him in the tomb...all sorts of questions.

  9. I can't imagine it either, Angela. In one account, someone said that the mother was seen leaving with blue stains on her dress from the sailor suit the little boy was interred in--the formaldehyde apparently made the dye leach from the cloth.

  10. A very fascinating tale. A mother's grief can be so deep.

    Getting Reacquainted in 55

  11. What a heartbreaker of a story. If the mother's ghost is anywhere, she would surely be there beside him.

  12. Some of the stories I heard involved people seeing the ghost of the mother holding the child and rocking in a chair.

    This is an odd story, indeed.

  13. I personally saw the tricycle with the big wheels & some books when i was there in the 60s. It scared me & made me so sad at the same time...i cant imagine her grief...

  14. I saw this post when I was looking up the info on the tomb. I live in St. Marys and I have been there several times. Although many say that most of what happens there is a myth, almost every single time I've been there, something odd has happened.

  15. I believe his last name would have been Gorrell because RA Gorrell owned a lot of land at one time.

  16. This locatexmd on my family farm. The area os still vandalized today. ATVs constantly tear up the ground an they leave beer cans and bottles all around there. Shameful. No respect from people. Law enforcement has been called repeatedly yet nothing has ever been done about them.

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