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PAST STORIES : 2001

Skeleton Crew
History of Kingsbury Cemetery

Many years ago in the 1860's the area where you now stand was a very large tract of land called Kingsbury Farm. As recently as the 1940's the area was still commonly known as Kingsbury plot. It is now known only as a street, Kingsbury Avenue.

The Kingsbury's were hard working folk who came to settle here in the early 1800's and began to farm a small plot of land in the area North of the Chemung river originally known as Knoxville. Knoxville was incorportaed in the City of Corning in 1890. The Kingsbury's began as subsistence farmers but slowly expanded into corn, wheat and tobacco.  Tobacco was at the time the largest cash crop in the area and the tobacco trade saw large amounts travel up the Chemung River and downstate by train. As their success in their farm increased Jonathan Kingsbury continued to purchase additional large plots of land nearby. As the acreage of the farm increased they required more and more farm hands to assist with all the day to day operations of the farm. At one point there were approximately 30 people employed by the Kingsbury's. They were mostly single men but also some married couples and a few families with children. Tobacco farming was making Jonathan Kingsbury a rich man.

Most of the farm hands who worked on Kingsbury farm were for the most part uneducated and rather superstitious, but were hard-working and God-Fearing. Being that they believed in God, they also believed in the existence of the Devil, for everything on heaven and earth has a direct opposite. The Sun and the Moon, the Day and the Night, Hot and Cold....... There can be no Good with out the existence of Evil. Late at night around the fireplace in hushed tones the adults would speak of strange and ethereal things seen in and around the farm while out on a night with a full moon. Children, as they have for generations, would try and scare each other late at night with stories of ghosts and goblins when they were supposed to be asleep. Life at Kingsbury Farm was good and for the most part uneventful..........  

Then strange and tragic events began to occur in and around the farm. It was discovered one morning that several of the farms' cows had turned up missing. They had been fenced in, so folks were certain that they hadn't just walked off. Talk began to center around possible thieves, when three days later the cows were found in a clearing in the woods nearby, by a couple of farm hands taking a much needed break from the hot sun.  All the cattle were dead, that much was obvious, but how they had died was a complete mystery, for all that was left was a skeleton!  Now when an animal dies, scavengers will often pick at the carcass, this is true, but usually something is left even after a long time, a scrap of hide, a bit of flesh. These cows however were stripped completely clean; nothing was left but pure white bone. Also disconcerting were several areas in and around the clearing where it appeared that the earth had been scorched with an intense heat. It almost appeared that there had been numerous lightning strikes in that place but the trees nearby seemed perfectly fine, no scorched and splintered wood as is common when lightning strikes a tree.

As if this event was not bad enough soon the two farm hands that had discovered the cows disappeared. Eight more farm hands went out looking for them and never returned. By the end of that week every adult male farm hand had mysteriously disappeared without a trace. Twenty-two in all. They were all found, about a week later by the local sheriff, who had been investigating the disappearances.  They were found nearby and in the same condition as the cows. Striped down to nothing but a skeleton, save for scrap or two of clothing, which was used to identify the remains of each victim. Each victim was given a proper burial in a small cemetery nearby the farm, which was its namesake.

Jonathan Kingsbury was perplexed and distressed at what had happened to his workers but was even more disturbed by the simple fact that these terrible events had happened in the weeks just prior to the harvest season. He had acres of crops to be harvested and no one to do the work. It would be nearly impossible to hire more workers as many able bodied men had left the area to enlist in the Union army to fight against the south in what was to become the worst conflict ever fought on American soil, the Civil War. Even many of the former slaves in the area had left to enlist. With no workers to harvest the crops everything would rot in the fields. Without any income from the harvest the Kingsbury's would have no money to pay their creditors for the extra farmland they had purchased. The farm might be lost.

It would be understandable that following the terrible events at Kingsbury Farm, folks rarely ventured outside after dark, and only then if was absolutely necessary. One late night during the harvest season a widow of one of the unfortunate victims ventured outside her small cabin to bring in and silence the family's dog, which had been barking almost nonstop for nearly an hour. Once outside the dog saw her and took off in the direction of the fields. The widow had to chase after the dog. She stopped short out of breath at the edge of the tobacco fields and was dumbstruck by what she saw. There, out in the light of the full moon she observed a workforce harvesting the tobacco, a workforce consisting of twenty-two skeletons, and Jonathan Kingsbury, very much alive and in the flesh, overseeing and directing the work! The widow never recovered from what she had seen and slowly went insane. She had no relatives in the area and Jonathan Kingsbury had her taken to a small institution near Elmira, NY where she spent the remainder of her days.

Somehow Kingsbury Farm finished the harvest in record time that year and the Farm stayed solvent for years afterward. There was talk amongst the locals of Jonathan Kingsbury making a deal with the Devil, but no one really knew how or when he harvested his crops that terrible year. He died a very old man and took the secret to his grave. It has been said that sometimes around harvest season, the Skeleton Crew can still be seen doing their ghostly work. Maybe you will see them tonight..................