￼Vampires, witches and spiders; yes, it does sound more like a Halloween outing rather than a summer escape. But stick with me and you will find out just exactly why I decided to not wait for October to tell you about this backyard adventure.
Many of us have cute figures made out of “found” objects adorning our yards. A few kitchen utensils and a hubcap and you have yourself a very unique lawn ornament. But what if the hubcap was still attached to the wheel? Or better yet — the entire car?
That is just exactly what Dick Schaefer started to do back in 1988. Located at 3705 Hershey Road in Erie, Schaefer's Auto Art is a must see on everyone’s list. There's a bumble bee made from half a cement truck, a rocket ship and of course a spider which is made from an intact VW bug.
This place has been on "Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Unlock the Weird" and featured on "Roadside America." Hours are from sunrise to sundown, parking is a turnout along the roadway (they ask that you not pull into the driveway) and the cost is free. There are many places online that you can log your visit and post your photos if you so choose to share them and they can be accessed at schaefersautoart.com.
Now, we have covered the spiders, so on to the Erie Cemetery located 2116 Chestnut St. in Erie for some urban legends and history. The cemetery opened in 1851 and is 75 acres of some of the most ornate headstones I have ever seen.
Gen. Strong Vincent is buried here along with many of Erie’s early industrialists. Gen. Vincent was the Union officer during the Civil War that led the 83rd Pennsylvania Infantry during the Battle at Gettysburg and was mortally wounded while fighting at Little Round Top.
The cemetery is open during daylight hours while the gate is open, which is one of the reasons to have this be a summer trip when the days are much longer. Since it is a place of reverence, they ask that you turn off your car’s stereo and do not go faster than 10 miles an hour. There is a downloadable walking tour map at eriecemeteryassoc.com filled with famous Erie natives.
There are, however, two places that are most definitely not listed among the highlights of the tour. First is the Witches Circle, which is located in one of the oldest parts of the cemetery along Chestnut Street. To locate this, you must first go through the main gate and turn left, continue to drive until the headstones start getting much, much older. To your left along the fence side of the roadway you will come across a circle of tombstones near a tree. Two of the stones are blackened and if you go to the base of the tree you will also see a stone that the tree almost totally engulfs. Just the very tip of the stone remains.
Legend has it that there was a coven in Erie practicing in the late 1800s; now keep in mind this is where all the legends start to differ. It is told that the two stones that are blackened are the leaders of the coven and the evening of the burial of the last leader there was a horrific thunder and lightning storm and the next morning the two stones were charred. Another states it was the devil himself that burned the stones taking their souls, and the most likely story is it is just acid rain that has discolored the headstone. But then, why only the two?
The other urban legend is a bit more precise and very well known. It starts with a very plain mausoleum perched on the hilltop. To get there you must continue along the road past the Witches Circle until you come to a circle drive that goes over the crest of the hill toward 26th Street. The road is one way to your right, so be sure to go the proper direction.
You will drive the entire loop along the top and then when you start to descend you will see an unmarked tomb to your left. This dark colored monument is marked only with a floral design that oddly can appear to be in the shape of a “V.” The name above the door has been purposely chiseled off more than a century ago.
This eerie place in the Erie Cemetery is widely known as the Vampire Crypt. The mystery surrounding this is based on a legend that an Erie man fell ill after a trip to Romania and later died of consumption. It was shortly after his burial that the tales began.
Supposedly the suburbs surrounding the cemetery started to have strange deaths in which the bodies were drained of blood, and there were two puncture holes in the necks. The story continues that a groundskeeper of the cemetery figured out what was happening and he chained the door, burned the crypt (giving it its blackened appearance) and chiseled the name off from above the doorway. Many tales follow of different untimely deaths from those who have since after entered this tomb, and you are only one Google search away from deciding for yourself if any of the stories are credible.
As I stated earlier, these are all urban legends, so that means there is very little proof of any of the claims, just circumstantial evidence and lots of imagination. But it sure does make for a great campfire story.
So there you have it: vampires, witches, spiders and certainly a bit less creepy to visit on a summer afternoon than at Halloween. That does not mean, however, you can’t make a return trip — if you dare!
Remember as you stroll the 75 acres of the cemetery that “Not all those who wander are lost.”