“The Cellar Below” is one of the stories in “Raising Your Spirits” by Joe Svehla
The building known today as the Hall of Presidents sits on East Cemetery Hill, just North of the National Cemetery; it did not exist at the time of the battle in 1863. The grounds, however, held a portion of the Union Line that covered Cemetery Hill. There was extensive skirmishing, as the Yankees exchanged fire with their Rebel counterparts to the North, at the edge of town, three blocks away. A failed attack by the Confederates, on the evening of July 2nd, ended near this area resulting in numerous casualties on both sides.
Dead soldiers were buried here and the wounded were cared for in makeshift field hospitals where the soldiers suffered greatly as they tried to hold onto life. Eventually the living was moved to a large hospital North of town known as Camp Letterman. The Union dead were exhumed and moved a short distance to the National Cemetery.
But, were they all removed? We will never know for sure. It is well documented that graves were poorly marked with small wooden plaques and some Confederate graves were not marked at all. Many of these have been lost forever, as the years passed, and the last reminders faded away into obscurity.
Sometime after the war the Homestead Orphanage, for children who had lost their fathers for the Union cause, opened just one hundred feet away to the north. Old photos from 1870 show the orphans running and playing in this open space between their home and the National Cemetery.
During the early 1900’s, a large frame two-story home, complete with a six-foot deep cellar, was constructed on that open space. The front exterior has seen some extensive renovation but the interior remains fairly intact behind the “Presidential Displays”. We will never know if any or how many graves were disturbed as the dirt was removed to create the cavity in the earth under the structure. But, we do think that it may be the root of the haunting in the Cellar Below!
As you venture down the stairs today, you may be taken in by a feeling of depression or melancholy. Others have even experienced light-headedness or an overwhelming sense of anxiety or a need to escape to the outside. Keep in mind that you are standing in the void caused by the removal of earth where soldier’s blood drained into the soil, where bodies were once entombed. This is a realm of those soldiers who may have been temporarily buried here, only to be exhumed years later and hauled away to another burial site. Or perhaps, it’s haunted by the unfortunate forgotten ones, who were thrown in a pit never to have the peace of a proper burial. Is it any wonder that voices are heard whispering in the darkened corners of the area? Voices of spirits wondering when they will be released from this seemingly eternal damnation. Voices asking if you are the one who has come to rescue them and lead them out of the darkness. Voices beckoning you to come closer and seek them out. Do you dare?
Stop back next month to read the rest of this story…
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