Legendary Ghost Walk of Masonic Cemetery
She still loves him – 124 years after his death
By Linda Jones
She came every year, year after year, on Nov. 1, gliding over the crest of the hill beyond the Masonic Cemetery above Central City. At John Cameron’s grave she knelt and tenderly laid fresh blue columbines. After lingering awhile she left as suddenly as she had come.
Finally in 1899, some of the townspeople in Central City began declaring she was a ghost. More rational citizens loudly disagreed, insisting she was flesh and blood. A group of men from both sides decided to meet at the cemetery and see for themselves and 14 men gathered at the gate on that Nov. 1. Before sunset, she came. She approached from the opposite side of the cemetery and was dressed in an outdated mourning style, but she was beautiful and according to reports, she always was. The transfixed onlookers watched as she laid a bouquet of columbines on John’s grave; they could hear her say something but could not understand her words.
One man came to his senses and started toward her, but she silently glided back in the direction from which she came. Although the man began running after her, and others followed, she was cresting Gunnell Hill. When they reached the hilltop, she was nowhere in sight and a strong wind began blowing at that instant so they returned to town to ponder and theorize.
This mysterious woman, forever beautiful and always wearing black satin brocade in a style popular in the 1880s, wore columbines and wildflowers in her hair. Some say they saw her at John Cameron’s grave on April 5, but she always came on Nov. 1, laying blue columbines on it. The first time she was seen at his grave was immediately after his funeral in 1887, and that winter she came daily and spent long hours lingering there. Several locals, including the gravedigger, saw her and told others.
She planted the yellow rosebush that bloomed every spring beside John’s tombstone. In late June 1888 she stopped coming, but two years later, on Nov. 1, 1890, the sexton saw her again placing a bouquet of columbines on John’s grave and disappearing toward Bald Mountain. Anniversary after anniversary, she visited the cemetery on Nov. 1.
Nov. 1 was the date the young and handsome bachelor died. John was an only child, born in 1859 in Perth, Canada, to Robert and Catherine Cameron. They had emigrated from Scotland and the family would move to Wisconsin, Illinois, Nebraska and Black Hawk before settling for good in Central City in 1867 when John was 7 years old. Robert died on April 25, 1880, at the age of 47 and was buried in the Masonic Cemetery between Central City and Nevadaville, originally named Bald Mountain.
John developed into a generous, good-natured, charming and altogether popular young man, a favorite with men, women and children – and many young ladies. He joined the Central City Rescue, Fire & Hose Company No. 1, and became such a favorite with the men that he was elevated to First Assistant Foreman quickly. In 1886 he received an award for valor for rescuing trapped miners from a cave-in.
Many a young lady in Central City set her sights on the handsome bachelor, but despite the best efforts of dozens of mothers, via countless dinner invitations, John seemed tempted by none of the local beauties. Because he spent many evenings walking to Bald Mountain, the gossips speculated that his chosen lady lived there.
The healthy young man became slightly ill on Monday, Oct. 31, 1887 – nothing serious. But on Tuesday evening, Nov. 1, at the tender age of 28, he called out to his mother and collapsed dead. “Paralysis of the heart” was the official verdict.
At the funeral the former Fire Chief Thomas Lucas eulogized, “John was a man loved by all, who cared for everyone he met.” But did he care most for one special someone? Who was the young lady? She was surely flesh and blood, although no one in Bald Mountain knew her. Perhaps John’s mother knew her identity, but if so, she kept it to herself. Catherine eventually moved back to Canada, where she lived to be 80 without ever talking about the beautiful woman in black satin brocade with wildflowers and columbines in her hair.