The land that would become Glenwood Cemetery was bestowed to the city of Yazoo City by John Willis, a retired barge captain, and his wife Annie in 1856. The cemetery boasts a captivating collection of cadavers from a Confederate mass grave, to the graves of two brothers claiming to be the grandsons of John Hancock. An interesting claim considering neither of Hancock’s children lived to adulthood. Generations of Yazoo City’s upstanding citizens and scoundrels populate this sprawling necropolis. But there is one resident more infamous than the rest. Locals know her as the Chain Lady, and she is waiting ever so patiently for her revenge. The story is a simple one, and local legend tells it as such.
One day a young boy was exploring the Yazoo River and stumbled upon an old shed. There an old woman was torturing a pair of locale fishermen she’d drawn to her shed. The boy raced back to town where he alerted the local Sheriff.
The witch managed to escape from her pursuers by running through the surrounding swampland, but drowned in quicksand. With her final breath the witch placed a curse upon Yazoo City, proclaiming that she would take her revenge upon the people of the city in twenty years time. The witch’s body was recovered and buried in Glenwood Cemetery. Some industrious citizen encircled her gravesite with a metal chain. According to Irish folklore, magical creatures such as fairies and demons lose their powers when they came into contact with iron. Perhaps they thought such tactics would prevent the witch’s day of reckoning. They were wrong.
In 1904, Yazoo was engulfed in a fire that nearly wiped it off the map. The fire would burn down more than 300 buildings, turning the city into barren ash before it was finally subdued. The citizens would report that there had been an almost supernatural quality to the fire. It seemed to dance, leap and lash as a living creature intent on destruction. Flames would rise high only to come crashing back down as if caught in some monstrous storm. But, weather reports from the time make no mention of there being any strong winds.
Over the years there have been numerous theories as to what caused the fire: a careless servant forgetting to put out a candle, a brush fire that had gotten out of hand, etc. But, there were those who knew what had been the cause. It’d been 20 years to the day since the witch had placed her curse on their city. The citizens of Yazoo City, covered in the ashes of their homes and businesses, made their way towards Glenwood Cemetery. The chain was shattered. It seemed that the witch had been true to her word. To this day the chain is periodically broken, or links are stolen. Some people believe that if the chain is ever completely destroyed then that will be the end of Yazoo City.
Years later Yazoo City native Willie Morris would write about the Chain Lady in his novel Good Old Boy and the Witch of Yazoo. Morris is best known for his memoir My Dog Skip, which was turned into a feature film in 2000 starring Frankie Muniz (Malcolm in the Middle). Morris is buried not far from the witch’s gravesite in the same cemetery. Guided tours of Glenwood Cemetery (complete with costumed tour guides, including the Witch of Yazoo City herself) can be scheduled at visityazoo.org. The chains still break from time to time, and are promptly repaired by the grounds keepers. Let’s hope they stay that way.