A Witch's Grave at Bridgeport Cemetery? History or Fly-By-Night Tale .. Which is it?

By Julie Perine on October 31, 2013 via

For years – especially during the Halloween season – there have been tales flying around town that there is a witch’s grave at Bridgeport Cemetery.
The truth, said Cemetery Superintendent Kitty Sapp, is that under an unmarked grave lies Rhoda Ward, who in January of 1787 was tried on charges of witchcraft.
But here’s the twist: Ward was never convicted.
“She was really sick and fevered and she was accused of being a witch because someone said she was spewing up crooked pins,” Sapp said.
It was the chicken pox with which Ward suffered. During her trial, she delivered a sworn statement in her defense about throwing up the pins. That statement – which has been documented – reads in part:
“If I did, I knowed it not, though it might be the case, and if the pins had not been showed to me, and I have been told that I spewed them up, I should have thought that the above had been a fiction, proceeding from being light-headed with fever.”
Twelve years later, Ward went to trial for a second time and was again found innocent by a church-appointed committee. Again, there was no punishment and again, she was allowed to continue her membership with Simpson Creek Baptist Church.
Although she was never convicted of witchcraft - nor burned at the stake, as some versions of the story go – Ward’s notoriety has continued for more than 200 years.
“She still has that stigma of being a witch, even though she was not found guilty,” said Joe Shuttleworth, deputy director for Bridgeport Parks and Recreation.
The city department receives inquiries about the grave site, especially from local student groups which tour the city, which always include a stop at Bridgeport Cemetery.
Sapp said she gets plenty of questions about it, too.
“People usually want to know where it is,” she said. “And that’s in the old baptist section of the cemetery.”
Individuals are also interested in how and when Ward died, but to Sapp’s knowledge, there are no records indicating that information. There is also no record in the Bridgeport Cemetery archives about Ward’s burial.
Legend has it, however, that she’s in a grave site marked off with a concrete barrier.
A Bridgeport Public Works employee, Richard Sparks cannot confirm that Ward lies in the grave, but he does have first-hand information about why the entire grave is filled with concrete.
“It was close to 15 years ago,” he said. “I was working at the cemetery and we were filling in the grave - where they said the witch was buried – with dirt. Every time we put dirt in it, it disappeared. It just kept sinking in,” he said.
The cemetery superintendent at the time decided to fill it with concrete, so that’s what a crew of workers, including Sparks, did.
“We put a little flower bed around it to mark it,” he said.
Through the years, Ward and her story have occasionally surfaced. Among the most memorable is the 1970 tornado that ripped through the city, supposedly winding up at Bridgeport Cemetery – but not before doing significant damage to Simpson Creek Baptist Church.
So is it all just a fly-by-night tall tale? The jury is still out on that one, but Sapp has a creeping suspicion there just might be something to it.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if that witch is walking around in spirit,” she said.
A few years back, there was an occurrence in the cemetery office which Sapp thinks may have been the handiwork of Ward.
“It was around 4 p.m. and I was sitting in my office waiting on an appointment,” she said. “There was no clock on the wall so I walked into the main office to see what time it was. The second hand was working ok, but the minute hand was flying around and around the clock.”
The phenomenon went on for 30 seconds or so and then the minute hand landed at precisely 4:03 p.m. – the correct time.
“It stopped at the exact right time. What made it do that?” Sapp asked. “Maybe it’s that spirit and energy. It makes me wonder.” 

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