I am originally from Grayling, Michigan. As a teen, my friends and I would make several pilgrimages a year to our local haunted spot. Going to Pere Cheney is easier said than done if you are not familiar with the roads up there in Crawford/Roscommon county. The cemetery is located in the middle of absolute nowhere. The only way back up in there is a deeply rutted two-track. If you have a low-set car, don't bother driving in there. You will bottom-out and be stranded. I'd like you to hear about Pere Cheney from a local (who isn't totally full of crap). Here's the straight story.
In 1873 Michigan Central Railroad completed the railway system between Gaylord and Jackson. About that time George Cheney got a land grant from the railway company to establish a stop on the railroad for gas, freight, water and passengers. It was previously known as Center Plains Township. Cheney built a sawmill, and later Cheney House, a Hotel to accommodate the number of fast rising settlers, lumbermen and tourists in the area. On December 1st, 1874 Pere Cheney received a post office. By 1877 the town had two sawmills, a general store, a wagon maker, two carpenters, a doctor, a hotel telegraph service, and daily mail. Lumber was the only product ever shipped from Pere Cheney. The cemetery was established on about five acres, in 1878, located south east from the town. By 1896 the population had dropped drastically from around 1500 people to around 55 to 25 people in 1901, and 18 people in 1917. The post office was closed in 1912, and the land was sold off at a public auction on May 7th, 1917. The only remaining families were farmers of the outer lying area of the town. Diphtheria was spread through the town twice in its short life, once in 1893, and again in 1897. It took several lives, many from the same family at the same time. The Barber family lost three children in less than three weeks over Christmas in 1893. Many families moved out of the town into neighboring towns of Roscommon and Grayling or further.
There were several fires in Pere Cheney due to the sparks from the mills that were located behind and to the south the cemetery. There was no water supply near Pere Cheney, so the town's people had to use water wagons and shovel dirt to put out these fires. Sometimes they were not successful and had to let the fires burn out themselves. Most of what you will read says that townspeople from neighboring towns tried to burn the town down to stop the spread of disease; I have found nothing to credit that. Although some of the buildings burnt down due to a mill fire after the town had been deserted. Like hundreds of other cities in the lumber-boom days, Pere Cheney just withered away.
If you ask any random Grayling resident, they might tell you about the "witch" of Pere Cheney Cemetery. I have heard nothing about a witch while researching the town's history. There are few gravestones left in there, most have been destroyed by delinquents drinking. In fact, there is a story about a Crawford County sheriff who as a kid desecrated a grave and drove around with a human skull in his rear window. How horrible! One of the witch stories had something to do with cursing the town with plagues and fires after she was "banished" to the woods. There is nothing to support this. It is also told that the witch has a grave in the cemetery - that doesn't sound right. If there really was a witch, do you really think the townspeople would bury her with the rest of the dead folks? Probably not. The witch theory is a tired one and I hate it when people swear that it is the god's-honest-truth.
People do leave mementos on headstones. I myself have places flowers on the few remaining headstones out of respect. Other items that have been left there are dolls (on children's graves), candles, crucifixes, rosaries, and pentacles. Most of these items are gone the next day because the gentleman who lives a mile or so up the road cleans up the cemetery on a daily basis. Other things you might find at the cemetery include beer cans/bottles, drug paraphernalia, random garbage and pop bottles. People do not know how to clean up after themselves.
Is Pere Cheney Cemetery haunted? I believe that it is but not to the extent others make it out to be. I have probably been there at least 200 times over the years and maybe 10 of those times I have had something strange happen to me and others that were with me. I have had my car radio switch channels for no reason, my car not wanting to start (at the time I had a 1997 Pontiac Grand Prix and this happened in the spring of 1998). A few times we have heard children giggling and laughing VERY close to the car late at night. One particular time there were small hand prints all over the roof of my car after we left the cemetery. On Halloween of 2002, myself and three others saw an apparition of a woman in a light colored dress walking through the rear of the cemetery, then disappeared all at once. That's about it. I've never been chased... I've never seen a witch. I've never felt like someone was trying to lynch me (one of the many Pere Cheney stories--this one involving a large oak tree in the center of the cemetery). The temperature has fluctuated from time to time but it wasn't anything worth writing home about. I do not feel an overwhelming sadness there but I do feel a peculiar energy I cannot fully explain. However, I feel this was when I walk into any cemetery.
If you plan on visiting Pere Cheney, have some respect and don't go in there expecting to see a ghost. Just enjoy the natural beauty of the Northern Michigan countryside and make sure you pick up your garbage. I hope this clears up the big Pere Cheney debacle.
e-mail me for pictures from the way back. tucksup1 [at] hotmail [dot] com