One of the strangest tales, told to me by a lady at one of my storytelling events, is the story of Ikie's Tomb. I had the opportunity last year to visit the tomb with a friend who knew its location and who was able to add to what I had already heard about the place.
Here's the story as I have gathered it from several sources:
A boy named Ikie Mooring died when very young. Ikie's name was probably Isaac, after his grandfather but everyone called him Ikie (pronounced Eye-key, or Icky, depending on who you talk to). Ikie died, people said from eating bad ice milk. I have wondered about that. How could ice milk kill him? One suggestion was that ice cream and ice milk were made in the old metal ice cream makers, that were soldered together with lead--could it have been lead poisoning? Another suggestion was that the milk was tainted with the brucellosis virus, known to be deadly. Either is possible, I think.
Ikie was buried first on the family's farm but his mother wasn't satisfied with that. She wanted something better for her little boy, and apparently wasn't willing to give him up to the earth just yet. So she had a concrete tomb constructed high on a ridge near her home. The tomb had a doot for entry, and also a window so you could stand outside and look within. Inside the tomb was a concrete trough, for lack of a better description. Ikie was disinterred and his body, wearing a little blue sailors suit, was placed in the trough which was then filled with formaldehyde. I believe the trough was then covered with a sheet of glass, because formaldehyde would surely have evaporated over time.
The mother put the child's toys into the tomb, and also a rocking chair and a broom. The mother would go to the tomb on a regular basis to sweep and clean it, and she would then take the child's body from the glass case and rock and croon to him in the rocking chair. Then she would put him back into the case until her next visit. Some stories say that when she came back down the hill there would be blue stains on her clothing from the little boy's clothing.
The family moved away to the Huntington area and the tomb was left untended. Vandals broke in the door and window; some people say dogs got in and dragged out Ikie's remains. Still others say that a local rock group stole his skull and placed it on stage during their performances. Groups often visited the site at night, and local people worried that strange rites might be taking place there. The local undertaker got word of the desecration of the tomb and alerted state authorities. With the state's approval, Ikie's remains were collected and he was buried once again in what is his final resting place, beside his beloved grandfather.
And odd twist in this already strange tale says that there were other children in the tomb as well--babies that had died at or soon after birth and were placed into stone crocks and put into the tomb. Some versions say there were two teenage girls in the tomb as well, laid one on each side of Ikie. From what I could see inside the remains of the tomb there did appear to have been three troughs, but I think perhaps those other two were intended for later use by his parents. Disconcertingly, though, there were also shards from old crocks within the tomb. Could the stories of other babies kept there be true?
A search of US Census records revealed that Ikie's mother reported having given birth to five children, but only one was living. I wondered about that, and began looking for that one living child. I found nothing. That made me wonder, was Ikie her only child who survived after birth? Did she have four stillborn children, and only this one little boy who lived? The story, whatever the truth might be, is a sad one that leaves me with many questions--and empathy for this woman who struggled so terribly with the loss of her much-loved child.
We visited Ikie's Tomb in early November. Leaves were mostly gone from the trees and the site was lonely and remote, accessible only by four-wheel-drive. Far off the Ohio River glinted in the sun; a cold wind blew drifts of leaves across the road and the graveyard. There were only a few graves in the place, and it seemed that maintenance of the site was minimal at best. Ikie's tomb stood off by itself along a path between the trees. I left with as many question as I had had when I arrived, but with an even deeper sense of the tragedy of Ikie's life, and of his death.
You can find more about Ikie's Tomb at:
Goldenseal Magazine, Fall 2003: Searching for Ikie's Tomb.
Genealogy information about Ikie.