Driving along one of many county roads in the miles of Illinois cornfields, a gravel road will lead you to the town of St. Omer, or what’s left of it at least: its cemetery. The ghost town might have been forgotten if not for the strange Barnes monument, the subject of a local witch legend.
The Barnes gravestone is a ball atop a pyre. While many of the other graves in this cemetery are oriented east to west, this one curiously faces north and south. Four people are buried there, Marcus Barnes, his parents Granville and Sarah, and his wife, Caroline, whose stated date of death could never have happened: February 31, 1882.
The prevailing lore is that Caroline Barnes was a witch, or at least was accused of being one. She was hanged (or, depending on who you ask, burned or even buried alive) for her magical crimes. The sphere atop her tombstone is actually a crystal ball, which is said to glow on moonless nights. The impossible date is actually a preventative measure: The witch would rise again on her death date, but if her death date never came she wouldn’t reappear.
People also claim that film photographs of the Barnes’ grave won’t develop (though digital seems to do just fine), and that secret rituals are carried out there in the dead of night. That last claim may have some credence to it, given that the ball has repeatedly been found with melted white candle wax dried atop it.
In reality, there are few facts to back up accusations of witchery. Local lore seems to have sprung out of the weird anomalies surrounding the tombstone. There is, however, some tragic history surrounding the Barnes family. Marcus Barnes died in a sawmill accident in 1881 and was buried with his parents. Just two months later Caroline would die of pneumonia at the age of 23. Her actual death date was either the 26th or the 28th of February. “February 31st” was likely just a typo too expensive to fix, not to mention that there was no one left in the Barnes family to mend the error.
In fact, there wasn’t even anyone in town. The town of St. Omer only held about 40 to 50 families, a post office, a blacksmith’s, and a general store. By the time the Barnes family had died off, the town had done the same. Now, fittingly, all that remains of St. Omer is its cemetery.
Aside from the mysterious monument, the remote and serene cemetery has many other old grave markers worth perusing. It’s a brief walk through history that Caroline Barnes is somewhat responsible for keeping alive.