What does the beginning of WWI, anti-immigrant sentiment, and a vampire have in common? Oddly enough, a small dilapidated cemetery located in Park Hills, Missouri. Due to decades of neglect and vandalism, most of the headstones in the Gibson cemetery have been broken and tossed around. The trees and brush have taken over, and if it weren’t for a few headstones poking through the dead leaves you might not even realize that you were standing in a cemetery at all.What helps to make the story of this cemetery even more strange is that there’s an urban legend of a vampire being buried here. A vampire that would lure children to his home and then eat them. I received a research request asking me to see what I could find out about the Gibson cemetery and its legend. What I found was pretty intriguing, and harkens back to a time with some interesting history.Gibson Cemetery saw its first internment sometime after 1824 when the Gibson family made their homestead in this area. This cemetery was initially just for the Gibson family but eventually began to be used by people from the surrounding towns of Flat River, Rivermines, and Elvins. The exact number of interred is unknown, but from what records exist, most of the burials are from the early 1900’s.The small towns in this area were mining towns, and the area became known as the Lead Belt.((Missouri Department of Natural Resources)) A lot of the miners were immigrants, many of whom were from Hungary. They were often referred to as “hunkies” by the local people and were given the worst job in the mines, that of shovelers. It was difficult, back-breaking work, and they were paid about thirty cents an hour.
The Flat River Riot of 1917Miners part 2: We will have your ‘frou‘Hateful Hunkies or Hardworking Hungarians: The Lead Belt Mining Riot of 1917
From 1910 until approximately 1920 an unusual number of children died. Rumors began that one of the Hungarian miners was a vampire. He was said to live in the town of Elvins and the locals believed he was somehow responsible for the deaths of the children. Depending on your source of information, this vampire was also an albino. It was said his skin was deathly pale, his hair shockingly white, and his eyes were red.((Tales of vampires, Civil War soldiers and more reside in Gibson Cemetery))When this man died the people didn’t want him buried near the others, especially the children. His grave was placed at the outskirts of the Gibson Cemetery and surrounded by a wrought iron fence. Crosses were hung on the fence surrounding his grave in order to keep him from roaming the cemetery, even after death. And from there the legend of the Vampire of Gibson Cemetery began to spread.Years of neglect and the elements have deteriorated Gibson Cemetery to the point where it’s impossible to say where this man (and numerous others) are buried.Obviously, this man was no vampire, and probably not surprisingly the children all died of natural causes. Life was a lot tougher during that time, and many children died from diseases that are now preventable. In fact, in 1917 this area saw a diphtheria epidemic which claimed the lives of many people, mostly young children.Another interesting fact is that the Washington Times printed the complete serialization of the 1899 Doubleday & McClure edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in September 1917. I think that this combined with the riots, the anti-immigrant sentiment in the area, started the legend of the Gibson Cemetery Vampire. Huge thanks to Kayla Asher for sending me the pics below of the Gibson Cemetery.