Need to Find an Unmarked Grave? I’m Your Gal

Hello there Frank M Smith, who died May 12, 1862!

So, part deux of our cemetery adventures gets a little weirder. You see, in a recent post, I shared how Brendan and I helped clean up a local historic cemetery not far from our upstate home. Amid copperhead snakes, mice and maybe a few ghosts, we mowed, raked and weed whacked with abandon, until the cemetery was groomed to perfection.

What I didn’t mention is what I did post-cleanup: I learned to “dowse” for unmarked graves. Dowsing is an old artform (and some might say witchcraft or quackery) in which a person uses two thin metal rods to search for things underground — especially water, precious metals or unmarked graves. How it works: You loosely hold the rods out in front of you, and walk slowly over the area you’re investigating. The rods will begin to move when you hit a sweet spot. No one really knows how or why this works, some claim a magnetic field, some claim it’s just the dowser himself making the rods move.

I’m a huge skeptic, so when Charles from the local historical society brought out his dowsing rods, I kind of hovered in the background, amused. He said he  was trying to find a few unmarked graves in the front of the cemetery, and said that’s how he found some of the graves in the cemetery when they first started trying to restore it back when it was in extreme neglect.

Charles then came over to me and insisted I try it. Maybe he could tell I was a non-believer. He showed me how to do it by walking over the grassy area in front of a headstone, while I lightly hold the rods.

And holy shit, when I walked over the area where a body might be, those rods moved.

The creepiest part was how I could feel them tugging on my skin. I was aghast. WHAT?

You can see my look of semi-panic here. This is the rods going bonkers while I do nothing but hold them.


So, while dowsing may have been largely written off by scientists, and others may call it “witchery,” my day of dowsing was incredibly real. It worked for me. And that’s enough to prove to me that it can work. (Further proof that I think it works: I posted these sweaty, unflattering photos of me! Awe trumps vanity.)


5 thoughts on “Need to Find an Unmarked Grave? I’m Your Gal

  1. Vicki says:

    I also do grave dowsing and it never ceases to amaze me. There are a lot of “us” dowsers out here! 🙂
    You go girl!!

  2. cpcooks says:

    We want to believe there’s something out there. How can you not believe when you lay on your back on a summer night and look at the stars! Why does God or the Universe or whatever it is have to be so cagey?

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