In East Donegal Township near the Susquehanna River is the village of Rowenna. It is here along Old River Road that you will find Shock Graveyard. This small and nearly forgotten two-centuries-old cemetery is encircled by a four-foot-tall masonry wall. Oddly enough, it has no gate or entrance. The only way in is to scale the crumbling stone boundary. It’s as if it was built to keep people out…or something inside.
Today the graveyard is commonly referred to as Hans Graf Cemetery due to the engraved name embedded in the wall. It reads, “Within this God’s Acre rest the descendants of Hans Graf.” Graf was a Swiss Mennonite and one of the County’s earliest settlers along the Susquehanna. It’s worth noting that Hans Graf, who died in 1746, isn’t even buried there. He’s interred at the Groffdale Mennonite Brick Church Cemetery in Leola.
Small by most standards, the 60 x 40 feet graveyard has only 31 headstones. Several are entirely illegible or broken from the ravages of time. The oldest identifiable tombstone belongs to Christian Gisch, who died in 1797 at the age of 21.
White Werewolves of Rowenna
While Hans Graf isn’t buried there, the cemetery does hold several of his descendants. Legend tells that a few of them were gunned down on the accusation of being werewolves. As a result, Hans put a perpetual curse on the graveyard to protect family members even in death.
In another variation of the story, Hans was bitten by a werewolf, eventually transforming into one himself. Because of a curse placed on the land, he now haunts the graveyard in werewolf form.
Most of the tales stemming from the cemetery involve phantom canines. Numerous nighttime visitors report seeing a white werewolf or a ghostly wolf apparition among the graves. However, not everyone sees the ghost dog. More people comment that the white wolf howls each time a visitor enters the cemetery and continues until that person leaves. Often local dogs join the white wolf by barking and howling as well.
Even my visit to the cemetery on a dark, rainy afternoon was greeted by the barking of a dog the moment I crossed the graveyard’s wall. They continued until I left. I was able to catch some of it on tape.
Mysterious dog barking from inside Hans Graf Cemetery.
The spectral hound is supposedly joined by other unidentified ghosts who haunt the graveyard, sometimes caught as glowing orbs in visitor’s photos.
In October 1982, as reported by the Intelligencer Journal, Tom Wohlfeil was at the cemetery with friends. He saw what appeared to be a large, oversized Doberman Pinscher saying, “Maybe it was a wolf. Maybe it was the devil himself. I don’t know I just took off running, and I never ran that fast before or since.”
Curse of Hans Graf Cemetery
On the night of a full moon is when this legend is at its strongest. Agreed upon werewolf lore states that these creatures are at their most potent under the light of a full moon.
Invoking the cemetery’s curse is devilishly simple. Those foolish enough to walk the perimeter of the graveyard seven times under the light of the full moon will perish before sunrise hunted down by the white werewolf.
Of course, there is only one way to find out if the legend is true. Walk seven times around the wall. No one has ever done it, so far, we know. At least, no one who’s still alive to talk about it.
Where to find it
Hans Graf Cemetery can be located at 1668-1698 Old River Road on the edge of Rowenna near Marietta nestled between the Susquehanna River and River Road. Click here for the exact location.
What to do
If you walk around the perimeter of the cemetery seven times by the light of a full moon, you will die before the sun rises. Obviously, this goes without saying but do so at your own risk. If you do and live, we’d love to know about your experience.
Poetry: “Within This God’s Acre”
Here’s a free verse poem that Joseph Estlack was inspired to write after his recent visit to Hans Graf Cemetery. Poetry: “Within This God’s Acre”
1864 Map of East Donegal Township, Lancaster County, PA$24.99 – $25.99
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