Many of you have heard of "Water Witching", but how many of you have heard of "Grave Witching"? If you live in Lucas County in Iowa, you probably have heard a lot about this technique to locate unmarked graves in abandoned cemeteries.
Darlene Arnold and Mary Ruth Pierschbacher, members of the Lucas County Genealogical Society, are experts at finding male, female and even infants with their magical rods. If you didn't believe before you saw it done, you believed afterwards. Mary Ruth is also a member of the Lucas County Pioneer Cemetery Preservation Commission and Darlene is the treasurer of the genealogical society. They have been witching for years. Their tools are two lengths of No. 9 gauge steel wire - the same kind of wire farmers use to mend things. These wires are about 2 feet long, the wires are bent into an "L" shape and the short end or handle, is inserted into pieces of PVC pipe. When they grab the PVC pipe, the wire can move easily. Lots of old Pioneer Cemeteries have old headstones that become hard to read and it is hard to determine what family member might be buried there.
Darlene and Mary Ruth walk through a cemetery with a sense of reverence. This is serious, if not grave, business for them. After they locate a grave, they're often able to match it to old records and identify the person. A relative will be thrilled when they are able to piece together a family tree.
The rods are held one in each hand, straight out in front of the body. As Darlene and Mary Ruth walk through a cemetery, the wires will suddenly begin to move and crisscross in front of their hands. "There's a man buried here," Darlene explained. At another spot, the wires swung even further. The wires crisscrossed behind Mary Ruth's hands, an indication a women was buried there. She said they can also determine the site of an infant burial by marking the short distance from when the wires begin to move and when they return to their normal position. One time they were both stumped as they approached a grave, the wires clearly indicated a woman was buried there, but after a couple more steps over the site, the wires definitely moved to the male position. It was only after they checked the headstone that they realized another woman had been buried there with her infant son in her arms.
Nobody can explain how or why grave witching works (or water witching either). Dowsers, as they are sometimes called, have been successful using different types of rods, including their hands. Some believe it is a gift from God and others say it has something to do with the electromagnetic pull between what's in the ground and the wire (or tree branch, a peach branch seems to be the tree of choice among many dowsers). But that doesn't explain why some dowsers can locate water with their outstretched hands and no divining rod at all. Everyone has different magnetic fields in their bodies. Mary Ruth notes that one member of the Cemetery Preservation Commission can dowse for water, but he can't locate graves. She adds that the pull in some cemeteries is stronger than others. Grave witching is a fascinating subject and the mysteries that are uncovered with the identification of these lost souls is even more so. I have heard that some dowsers are trying it on ashes. It will be interesting to hear how that works out.