The hallowed grounds of Oxford Historical Cemetery and Tabernacle Cemetery hold the bones of hundreds. From former slaves to former leaders - families have been burying their dead in these cemeteries for hundreds of years. And legend has it that if you listen very closely as the day comes to a close, you can hear the voices of those laid to rest begin to speak once more.
Originally established as a cemetery for residents of Oxford and for those who were involved with Oxford College, the Oxford Historical Cemetery has approximately 1,000 graves, including several professors, ministers and Miss Kitty, a freed slave of Bishop James Andrew, who reportedly declined to leave the Bishop's family once freed.
But according to Mark Auslander, who wrote a paper on Miss Kitty in 2001, several different versions of the Kitty tale are floating around Newton County, including those who say that although she was set free by the Bishop, she was his "coerced mistress" and bore him several children whom he never acknowledged. According to one long-time resident of the city, whose home lies very near the cemetery, it is Kitty who can find no rest.
"They used to do school trips to her cottage," said the resident who asked that her name not be used. "And they tell those children how good everything was. It wasn't good and she wasn't really free; people just want to believe that because it makes them feel better about how it was then. I know different and that's why that woman can't find no peace. Cause lies are still being told."
There are also rumors that the inhabitants of several unmarked graves in the cemetery still speak to those who will listen, begging to be identified and to rest finally in peace. But for all the rumors of restless spirits at the cemetery in Oxford, none are considered malevolent.
That is not the case at Tabernacle Cemetery.
Located off Ga. Highway 11 on the Newton/Jasper County line, Tabernacle Cemetery is not as well-loved as Oxford Historical Cemetery. The sign marking the turnoff for the cemetery has fallen down and the leaves falling from the trees have started to cover it. The dirt path leading into the cemetery is rutted, lending the area a forgotten feel, and many tombstones have been cracked, some from a tree that is split and fallen in one area of the cemetery.
Although Cindy, a woman who has been working on a listing of those buried in the cemetery has never felt ill at ease there, a group called Spook Hunters visited Tabernacle Cemetery on the advice of an e-mail which told of an unhappy spirit that would follow people home from the cemetery.
According to a man named Charles who once lived in the area but now resides in Jackson, there is a World War I soldier who is buried in the cemetery that he believes is the culprit. Charles said that the man will dart in and out of the trees that nearly engulf the graves at Tabernacle Cemetery; he also said he's heard strange sounds when visiting family graves in the cemetery.
"I'd hear these footsteps and when I looked around no one was there," said Charles, who refused to give his last name because he "doesn't want people to think I'm crazy." He also said that he had been touched when visited before.
"I was standing at the grave of my grandfather and it got real cold all of a sudden. Then I felt a touch on my shoulder - like someone was standing behind me. I nearly jumped out of my skin and when I turned around there was no one there but out of the corner of my eye I saw someone walking toward the woods. When I turned to look full-on, there was no one there. And every time I would ever visit, I would leave and feel like someone was with me and I'd feel awful for the rest of the day -depressed and scared - like those dead folks came back home with me. I don't visit that cemetery anymore," he continued. "I figure someone buried there just wants to be left alone and I intend to do just that."
But for as many who believe, there are those who feel nothing but peace in these and many other reportedly haunted cemeteries in Newton County. Do restless spirits walk through graves and call out for history to tell their tales? Perhaps, or it may just be nothing but visitors' imaginations, wanting desperately to believe in a life after this one.