Sabbat Traditions: Ghosts in the Graveyard

Now that I’ve gotten to think about Samhain food traditions I’ve enjoyed in the past, I can’t believe I’ve never mentioned the wonder of “Ghosts in the Graveyard” before.

Let me take you back to my wonderful college years.  DePauw University was a great place for me for many reasons, but the best one is that I made a ton of pagan friends there.  Together, we started a pagan student group called The Rede, and we celebrated most of the sabbats together.

We were all also very fond of a particular cemetery out in the countryside of Putnam County.  Boone Hutcheson Cemetery might just be one of the oldest active cemeteries in Indiana.  It has gravesites that go back as far as 1812, four years before Indiana became a state and more than a decade before the county was formed.  It is most famous for being the cemetery in which many relatives and descendents of the pioneer and explorer Daniel Boone, who died himself in 1820, are buried.  Boone Hutch, as the locals call it, is also famous for its ghost stories.  The most famous phantoms include a police officer from about the 1950s who sits inside the graveyard with a blue light and chases away nocturnal visitors.  There is also purported to be a pack of ghost dogs with eyes that burn red who chase similar visitors back into their cars.  These dogs are supposed to emerge from a cave near the cemetery, which has its own trove of lore involving bodies dropping from their rotting caskets into the cave.

Boone Hutch as seen from the base of the hill

Well, we spent oodles of night time at Boone Hutch, and while the place clearly had its ghosts (including the spirit of a then recently-buried teenager who sort of adopted us and often followed us home) we never saw the sinister famous ones.  In fact, Boone Hutch was one of the safest places we knew of.  We used to go out there just to walk around the loop road over and over again just to talk out our troubles or just to be safe in the night.  I found tons of bioluminescent grubs (glow worms) all around the graves once, looking like stars on the ground.  (In fact, I almost thought it was a watery reflection of the sky.)  I saw the Northern lights there.  I watched fog roll in from the big creek in the valley below the cemetery and saw it blanket everything in the valley.  It was a beautiful place.

We Reders also often went there to re-create parts of our childhood, and part of what that entailed was playing “Ghosts in the Graveyard.”  One person would be ‘it’, and everyone else would be the ghosts.  ‘It’ had to stand in place at a grave designated as base while all the ghosts tried to creep up on ‘it’ unnoticed.  ‘It’ had the responsibility of spotting  and identifying all the ghosts before he/she got tagged.  The last person identified (or the successful tagger) was ‘it’ in the next round.

We played this so often that when I saw this dessert called “Ghosts in the Graveyard” in a Kraft brand magazine in our junior year, I knew I would have to make it for our Samhain Dumb Supper.  It sort of became a tradition after that.  I baked a chocolate cake and decorated it like you see here, but it’s also easily done with a more “dirt pudding” type of recipe.  No matter what is used for the base, every time I see this Samhain dessert, I get very nostalgic for my Rede friends and our good times together.

The image from Kraft that inspired me

Ghosts in the Graveyard

1 9×13 chocolate cake, baked OR enough chocolate pudding to fill a 9×13 baking dish
1 batch chocolate frosting if using a cake
1 tub (12 oz.) Cool Whip whipped topping
15 or so Oreo Cookies, crushed (about 1-1/2 cups)
Assorted decorations: 4 Cameo Creme Sandwich Cookies, decorating icing in white, brown, and orange, 5 candy pumpkins, 10 candy corn pieces, 1 green chewy fruit rollup.

To assemble the dessert, make the pudding or frost the cake.  Cover the frosting/pudding evenly with the crushed Oreo cookies to make the graveyard ‘dirt.’  Pipe the colored frosting onto the Cameo cookies to make them look like gravestones (RIP down the center works well, as does outlining the cookies).  Pop the cookies into the pudding/cake, then snip the green fruit roll up into shards of ‘grass’ and arrange the grass around the grave stones.  Drop spoonfuls of Cool Whip onto the cake to resemble 3 ghosts and give them orange eyes with the frosting.  Scatter the pumpkins and the candy corn around the cake.  Serve.

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