The more I read about legends, folklore, and ghost stories, the more I find there are many variations. Storytellers have adapted these tales to fit the part of the country where they live, but they all have commonalities.
As a child and into my adolescent years, I often visited relatives in Alabama. I even went to school there for a short time during sixth grade, so I made friends. One summer, when I was about fourteen, my aunt allowed me to have some of those friends over for a slumber party. We had the entire second floor of the bungalow to ourselves. The setting alone—a half-century-old house—was enough to capture the imagination of four teenage girls.
Naturally, one thing we did was tell ghost stories. One girl even brought a book about ghostly encounters. It was that night when I first heard the tale, “No Grass on My Grave.” Recently, I searched for information about the story. I had always thought it took place in Alabama, but the reference I found happened in Wales. The details were virtually the same but nonetheless makes for an interesting story.
In 1821, John Newton (not to be confused with the hymn writer) was sentenced to death for a crime he claimed he didn’t commit. Throughout his controversial trial, he steadfastly maintained his innocence. However, the two key witnesses were respected citizens of the town.
The trial was lengthy, the witnesses unwavering, so the jury eventually accepted their word against Newton’s. When the judge announced the death sentence, Newton said to the court, “I am innocent, and no grass will grow over my grave for a generation to prove it.”
After his hanging, they buried Newton in a local churchyard. No one believed him, but they took special care in placing fresh sod on the burial plot. Within a matter of days, the grass turned brown and died, leaving a bare spot of earth in the shape of a coffin.
The townspeople thought it was a mere coincidence, so they continued to place fresh sod and grass seed. Each time, their efforts were futile. This went on for decades. Thirty years later, someone published an article that rekindled interest in Newton’s claim.
Residents brought in more sod in another attempt to cover the bare spot of earth. The grass at the head of the grave soon withered. For a while, the rest of the area had sporadic growth. However, this also died within a few months, leaving behind a coffin shape.
In 1886, sixty-five years after Newton’s death, a change took place. Grass began to grow, first on the sides and eventually spreading the length and width of the grave. It was never completely covered, but by 1941, there was another strange occurrence. The grass had grown into the shape of a cross.
It’s safe to say no one will ever know for sure if John Newton was innocent, but his declaration and the ensuing events lead a person to believe he told the truth.
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