The Harrodsburg Mystery Grave

In the first half of the 19th Century, Harrodsburg was a prosperous town, made wealthy by trade and the easy access to the Kentucky river. It was also the crown jewel in Kentucky's antebellum social scene. The healing waters of Graham Springs and the grand hotel there drew the planter class year-round for music, dances, gossip, and all the other pleasures of Old Kentucky's social life. But at one of these dances, a young woman danced herself to death, and her ghost still walks the town.

The grounds of what was one Graham's Springs Sanatorium are around Young Park on the south end of Harrodsburg. At the height of its popularity, wealthy patrons from all across the South flocked to the springs and the accompanying resort hotel. Throughout the summer, the hotel would hold grand balls, where bourbon flowed as freely as the gossip and the dancing went on late into the night accompanied by a band composed of enslaved African-American musicians.

It was on one such night in 1840 that a beautiful young woman walked into the ballroom on the arm of a handsome escort. The woman's gown was luxurious, excellently tailored with an eye towards even the smallest whim of the current fashions. Dark eyes shown out from pale skin and a crown of lovingly curled hair. The patrons at the springs were in awe as the lady and her gentleman companion glided with grace and precision across the dance floor.

Nobody in the hotel knew this beautiful young couple. They hadn't been seen earlier in the day taking the waters or dining in the hotel. They seemed to have arrived only to dance.

But late in the evening, the mysterious woman fell from the arms of her companion and collapsed on the dance floor. The music stopped and everyone in the room rushed to the side of the young woman. Everyone, that is, except her companion, who disappeared out the door in the confusion. But nobody noticed he had disappeared at first, because of the alarm that spread quickly through the room. The beautiful unknown dancer lay dead on the floor.

A search began for the identity of the young woman. No trace of her companion could be found. None of the patrons in the hotel nor any of the townspeople recognized either one of them. The owner of the spring, Dr. Graham, was understandably alarmed that an unknown young woman had died at on his dance floor, but he thought that surely such an obviously wealthy and well-dressed young woman would be missed by someone. He sent word out across the state, hoping to find someone to claim the body. But no one did. Eventually, Graham decided to burry her on the grounds of the hotel, in a simple grave with a marker that stands still today and reads:

Unknown

Hallowed and Hushed be the place of the dead.

Step Softly.

Bow Head.

Who was this mysterious young woman? One story that emerged a number of years after her death was that she was a Tazwell, Tennessee woman named Mollie Black Sewell, the wife of a traveling actor named Joe Sewell. She had married him impulsively, attracted by his glamour, but sound found that she had married an abusive cad who beat her and routinely played around with other women. Mollie fled for Harrodsburg and the glamorous life she had expected, finding a companion with similar interests on his way. This story comes from a man named Joe Rupp, who had been told by Joe Sewell when he was a boy that his wife had "Danced herself to death in Harrodsburg." Rupp told this story to a reported years later, when Sewell was already dead, and so whether or not the mysterious young woman really was Mollie Black Sewell has never been verified.

But you might still have a chance to ask her who she is. Ever since that night in 1840, late on warm, clear summer nights residents of Harrodsburg have reported seeing a pale, whit figure dressed in the height of antebellum luxury walking the grounds near the mystery grave. Maybe some brave soul can hide himself by the grave on one such night, waiting for the ghostly figure to appear. Perhaps if he's gentlemanly enough, the ghost might even speak to him and reveal her secrets.

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