If you grew up in Titusville, you likely heard about the witch’s grave. Maybe a friend told you in a hushed whisper or you heard a group of kids chattering in trembling tones about the witch buried on the hill. Supposedly, a witch was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery almost 150 years ago. Upon her stone is a skull. When it rains, the water runs in red rivulets down its face in tears of blood. Many people have sought out her headstone and others have even camped out in the cemetery to see if her ghost may greet them in the night. But the question remains: is the story true?
As the historian at Benson Memorial Library, I have been asked more times than I can count about the witch’s grave, who the witch was, and how she practiced her witchcraft. Thus, for Halloween 2019, I present to you the truth about the alleged witch’s grave in Woodlawn Cemetery.
Elizabeth E. Falkner Cummings was born around 1849 in the Toronto, Canada area. Her first appearance in Titusville was the 1870 census. She was 21 years old and a servant living in a boarding house in Titusville’s First Ward. Elizabeth found love in the Oil Region and married Daniel A. Cummings on August 17, 1870 in a ceremony back in Canada.
In 1872, Elizabeth and Daniel had a daughter named Hattie in 1872 and a son named Harry William Cummings, born November 21, 1874. Unfortunately, Elizabeth was not long for this world after the birth of her second child. She died on July 6, 1875 at the age of twenty-six years old. Daniel married again less than one year after Elizabeth died. His second wife’s name was Violet Heron Cummings. The marriage expanded the family since Violet’s first husband passed away, and she brought to the new marriage a son, Elbert Heron.
The inscription on Elizabeth’s gravestone is an 1831 song by George J. Webb titled “Weep Not For Me: A Sacred Song.” The song was used in Christian congregational churches. Thus, while one could be a secret witch and a churchgoer, it’s very unlikely this young lady was both. The song lyrics on her grave are:
“When the spark of life is waning,
Weep not for me.
When the feeble pulse is ceasing,
Start not at its swift decreasing,
’Tis the fettered soul’s releasing,
Weep not for me.”
As for her cause of Elizabeth’s death, we cannot say for sure. The state of Pennsylvania did not start documenting death certificates until 1906. Youthful death was not unusual in the late 1800s, particularly for new wives and mothers. Contagious disease is a likely cause (tuberculosis, scarlet fever, etc.) given the date of her death and age, but we cannot know for sure since her obituary did not detail the circumstances of her death.
The icon on her gravestone is not a skull, but a rose. The rose most often symbolized a person dying in the prime of their life. Due to the location of her grave, rainwater and runoff have eroded the motif, making it look unfortunately sinister. Furthermore, the minerals in the stone and ground, coupled with rainwater dripping from overhead trees, produces the reddish tint to the water that pools in the crevices of her final resting place.
The one thing we can say with fair certainty is that Elizabeth E. Falkner Cummings was NOT a witch. But don’t worry – there are plenty of other spooky stories from Titusville’s past to keep you watching for ghosts as you walk through the graveyards of the Oil Region…