If you have ever been to a cemetery, you many have noticed intricately sculpted chairs or wooden benches scattered throughout. These resting places (the chairs and benches, not the grave plots) were first constructed in the nineteenth century, are referred to as “mourning chairs,” and have been placed about cemeteries for visitors to have a nice sit and attempt to find peace as they grieve over the deceased. However, over the years since these chairs were built, they have become the subjects of urban legends and teenaged rites of passage throughout the United States and England. Often called the “Devil’s Chair,” each version of the urban legend suggests a different outcome for sitting in the designated chair from finding good fortune to being dragged down to the underworld. So, choose your seat wisely…
The urban legend likely originated in Kirksville, Missouri where the Devil’s Chair— also known as the Baird Chair in this particular region— was placed in Highland Park Cemetery by William Baird who was a well-known banker in the town. The finely detailed chair was sculpted from concrete cement by Charles Grassle of the local Baird and Grassle marble company and it was sent to the cemetery as a memorial tribute to William Baird’s kin Anna and David Baird. According to this town’s legend, if you sit in the chair at midnight or on a given night such as Halloween, the hand of a corpse will rise from a nearby grave and pull you all the way down to the depths of Hell. Perhaps William Baird, himself, believed that there was something sinister about the chair as he is not buried in Highland Park Cemetery but rather in Forest-Llewelyn Cemetery across town.
Of course this is not the only midwestern state with stories of a cursed chair sitting among the dead. In Decatur, Illinois, the locals will give you chills with tales of the Haunted Chair of Greenwood Cemetery. Initially, the legend in Decatur was that this mysterious chair will emerge from the ground on specific nights during the year and whoever sits on the chair has a chance to make a deal with the Devil in exchange for anything that they desire for seven years. The legend has evolved over time and locals now believe that anyone who sits on the chair will die within one year. Perhaps there was some resentment toward those who may have received seven years of luxury.
Iowa also has their own version of the Devil’s Chair. In Guthrie Center, Iowa, a cement-sculpted chair placed in Union Cemetery between two graves despite being unmarked and not noticeably tied to either plot. Unlike the origin story in Illinois, Iowans believe that anyone who rests their rump on this chair will have bad luck for an indefinite number of years.
The Deep South
The Devil’s Chair has been specially modified in the Deep South for the locals of Cassadaga, Florida. In Cassadaga, the Devil’s Chair is an old chair made of bricks that is located in a cemetery that borders between Cassadaga and Lake Helen. Some locals say that if you sit in this chair, you will hear the Devil speak to you. Pro tip: make sure that you come to the cemetery with an ice-cold beer for El Diablo. Another variation of the Florida legend suggests that if you leave an unopened can of beer on the chair at night, it will appear empty by the morning. The poor demon could use a nice cool down and some good conversation after spending eternity in a fiery cesspool.
Unlike many legends spread across the United States, variations of the Devil’s Chair have traveled overseas. In Shropshire Hills, England, that which locals call the Devil’s Chair is not a cemetery structure but rather a natural outcrop that somewhat resembles a giant chair in the highest summit in the hills. Legend has it that the rocks that form the Devil’s Chair were placed in the summit by Satan himself. It is believed that the Devil was traveling from England to Ireland with these large rocks when he found a place in the summit to rest. Satan intended to use the rocks to fill the valley on the other side of the summit which is now known as Hell’s Gutter. However, as he got up to continue his journey he dropped the rocks and left them behind. Locals in Shropshire believe that during the night of Winter Solstice, the Devil rises to sit in his chair and summon his followers.