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Laurianne Woods Cemetery

The Sad Tale of Johanne Clebsch

In the woods sits a cemetery, unkempt and forgotten.  The ground here, in defiance of the departed, pushes its inhabitants to surface.  Stories tell of a sinister being that hides in the shadows of the *mausoleums and crypts.  In madness, he is hell bent to never let anyone that passes through the  cemetery to leave. Legend calls him ‘The Demon of Laurianne Woods Cemetery’, but this has not always been the case…


1821 – Birth of Johanne

Johanne Clebsch was born the son of German immigrants. His father, Gustav, arrived in America in the spring of 1798 and settled in rural Western Pennsylvania.  Born in 1821, Johanne was the 4th of 7 children. At age 19, he left Pennsylvania to set out on his own ending up in Virginia, buying a small plot of farmland for what at the time seemed like a steal.


1840 – Life in Virginia

Johanne struggled to farm the land. Crops withered and died before harvest. Livestock were sickly or stillborn. Still, Johanne found a wife, Ruth, and had two sons, Gregor and Ammi; life was trying but good. Gregor grew to be an ox of a man before even reaching puberty. What he gained in size came at a price as Gregor never learned to speak. Mute and  awkward around others, Gregor took to spending most free time in the woods near the family farm. Often spending several days and nights at a time while on hunting excursions. By the age of 13, Gregor had taken to all but living in the woods. He’d grow visibly agitated when detained from returning there more than a day.

Ammi was born 2 years after Gregor. At first he appeared to be on the same growth spurt as his brother. As a baby he was healthy and full of vitality. Near his 7th birthday, Ammi grew ill; fevers and coughing spells were a weekly occurrence. He grew pallid and frail, bedridden with a sickness that doctors could not diagnose. By his 11th birthday, Ammi had not grown an inch more than he was on his 7th. Attempting to have other children after Ammi proved fruitless, Ruth miscarried twice, the last leaving them fearful that she may not survive another. Darkness spread over Johanne’s temperament; he became reclusive from his neighbors and short tempered to his family, spending most waking hours in the fields or barn. His dreams were filled with death.


 July 21, 1861 - The Battle of Bull Run

The Battle of Bull Run was fought on July 21, 1861, in Prince William County, Virginia, near the city of Manassas. Confederate soldiers were at an initial disadvantage, even though successfully defending a flank attack by Union troops. The course of the battle quickly changed when Confederate reinforcements under Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston arrived from the Shenandoah Valley by railroad. The Confederates launched a strong counterattack, and as the Union troops began withdrawing under fire, many panicked and the retreat turned into a rout. Men frantically ran without order in the direction of Washington, D.C. Two Union soldiers, Privates John Maxwell and Robert Blackburn, disoriented in the battle, lost their way in the retreat. The night of the 21st they ended up at the Clebsch farm seeking refuge. They held Johanne, Ruth & Ammi hostage while taking shelter, but Maxwell and Blackburn had missed Gregor, whom had taken to sleeping in the woods.

It’s unknown what happened that night, was there a struggle between Johanne and the two soldiers. Did Gregor return home?  What is known is Ruth and Ammi were killed and the farmhouse and barns set afire. Three days later the Union soldiers were found hanging from trees in the Woods, flayed and gutted. When questioned, a panicked Johanne exclaimed no recollection of the events of that night and babbled on about strange folk that had appeared to him  -  A woman and her goat headed companion.

These are the sounds I heard, especially those wrenching noises, I thought my brain was dying and I was hearing the last of this world. Then the darkness became conscious after a silence that felt like eternity of feeling abandoned, I spoke which broke the silence helping me find my bearings somewhat. Calling out for God many ways: ‘Ever Their praises, and abundance to the Black Goat of the Woods. The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young!!"


 October 31, 1861

Ammi and Ruth were buried in a modest cemetery plot. On October 31st 1861, their graves were exhumed and the bodies reported missing the next morning. Legend has it that Johnanne made a deal with a Witch that had lived there hidden since the earliest Virginia settlements amongst the thick undergrowth . She promised him the secrets of the dead and how to bring back his loved ones. Johanne was to bury the bodies in unhallowed ground on All Hallows Eve and present a blood sacrifice to resurrect the dead.

Many things have returned from the grave, but not his beloved wife and son. Now, year after year, Johanne waits in crypts of the Laurianne Woods Cemetery on Halloween for his family’s eventual return. And for each year they don’t return the Black Goat whispers to him…


“Maybe a larger sacrifice is required”.

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