Beware the Witch!

hillwitch

The classic representation of “a witch,” in a scene from 1959’s House on Haunted Hill.

How does one spell the word witch? In St. Charles County it is sometimes spelled any one of three different ways–Molly, Mollie or Molley. For those who still remember the story, it doesn’t really matter. However one spells it, it still references the witch. Somewhere between the film plots of The Blair Witch Project (1999) and It Follows (2014) lies the legend of Molly Crenshaw. “Witch Molly,” as she has come to be known by generations of school students in St. Charles County (Missouri), the real story is as much a mystery as the urban legend itself. Reputed to have been a “freed slave of Jamaican decent,” it was her predilection for practicing Voodoo that led to her unspeakable fate. Blamed for the calamitous failure of farmer’s crops during one particularly harsh winter, she was besieged by a mob of irate townsfolk.  Hacked into pieces, her dismembered remains were then “scattered throughout the woods.” In truth, the varying accounts surrounding  “Witch Molly” and her gruesome demise, are actually based on the mysterious 1913 suicide death of former schoolteacher Mollie J. Crenshaw. She was not from Jamaica–but from St. Louis (supposedly born there). The former St. Charles Cosmos-Monitor (1902-1937) reported she had “graduated from St. Charles College” (believed to be Lindenwood) with a teaching degree in Education.

1913

A 1913 article reporting Mollie’s death.

During a late winter visit to the home of relative Harry Towers–a wealthy and prominent member of the community (who lived in the Harvester-Cottleville area of St. Charles County), tragedy struck. Mollie had been staying at the residence for about a week, as she continued to commute to and from a small job she maintained in St. Louis. By then, she was no longer working as a school teacher–as she had gone predominately deaf.

She committed suicide by ingesting a lethal amount of carbolic acid (Phenol),  following breakfast, on a cold and gloomy Saturday morning. She was found in her room, “frothing at the mouth,” by Tower’s wife. A doctor was summoned, but it was too late. Mollie succumbed at 10:20 a.m., on February 22, 1913. The Cosmos-Monitor reported her age at being “about 40 years,” though the official funeral register states her age was “52” (but with no specific birth date noted). She was laid to rest in a small private cemetery—a cemetery which has, in the last fifty some years, acquired a rather “haunting reputation” for peculiar happenings. “Before all those new homes were built, only fools would dare set foot out there at night,” recalls one local man, referring to a time predating the 1970s, when the area surrounding “Witch Cemetery” was still relatively isolated–and foreboding. “You don’t have to physically be there (at the cemetery) to get hexed by her,” according to one former female student who remembers an unnerving experience that took place behind the high school, four miles from the cemetery. Some years ago, a group of female students headed towards the woods behind the school’s football stadium, jokingly on a mission to find “Witch Molly.”

oldcharles

The Old St. Charles Bridge, where the young girl jumped. Closed in 1992, it was torn down five years later.

Fear (and common sense) kept most in the group from actually entering the dark woods at night, while the remaining few “threw caution to the wind” and pressed forward. Their lackluster attempts at “summoning the witch from her slumber” seemingly backfired, after one of the girls in the remaining group began “taunting and provoking” the witch into revealing herself. Strange things later began to plague the lives of all those who had been there. “Bad luck followed me for years after that night,” claims the one former female student–who was part of that original group (but not among those who actually entered the woods). Then there was the infamous bridge incident. It occurred in the 1970s. A “high school prank,” orchestrated by two male students (at the cemetery), scared a young girl so badly, she later jumped from the deck of the Old St. Charles Bridge–fearing “Witch Molly” was pursuing her. The negative publicity surrounding the incident prompted the removal of Mollie’s tombstone from cemetery grounds. The stone was then taken to be stored for an indeterminate length of time at a relative’s home in St. Charles–“for safekeeping.” It was never seen publicly again.

darksharp

The St. Charles home where Crenshaw’s tombstone was taken, following the 1970s bridge incident.

Most will argue “Mollie was no witch. She was just an ordinary local woman, who met with an unfortunate end.”  Examples do, however, exist that suggest that “spectral consequences” may very well await those who take their own lives. In fact, ghostly phenomena has bedeviled visitors at Lemp Mansion for decades–triggered (it is surmised) by the multiple suicides which took place there between 1904 and 1949. Seeing the ghost of a person who has befallen such a fate is one thing, but willfully tampering with those from “the other side,” best be discouraged. Back in the 1960s, a local spiritualist paid a visit to Mollie Crenshaw’s grave. This was at a period in history when the counterculture movement in America was obsessed with the occult. The spiritualist made several attempts to contact Mollie, later claiming the “vibrations” she received while at the cemetery indicated that Mollie Crenshaw was “indeed a witch.”

retrocemetery

At “Witch Cemetery,” in 2016.

Be that as it may, people continue to seek out Mollie in her eternal rest. As a result, area neighbors  nearest the cemetery remain ever vigilant for any sign of malicious trespassing. I stopped by recently (with permission) to pay my respects. I found it to be quiet and serene. As I entered the grounds and turned to close the gate, I heard a loud “snap” in the near distance behind me. Startled, I spun around to look, only to discover it was just a small tree branch, having fallen to the ground. I did notice one minor particular that I couldn’t seem to explain–the temperature inside the grounds. It felt strangely colder than it had been on the outside of the fence? But then again, a pending storm was brewing in the distance. I stayed only long enough to take a few pictures, while pondering in my thoughts the whereabouts of Mollie Crenshaw’s unmarked grave (as I best not say “the witch”).

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