The Glowing Tombstone:
Arlington Police Department, 1984
Clearly, this had all gotten out of hand

Part of the job for many small town policemen, is to lock up various buildings or places around town. These might include the Post Office Lobby, public restrooms at the City Park, and the local cemetery. Such was the case in several of the towns where I worked. It’s always good to check the interior of such places to make certain you’re not locking someone inside. For instance, an 8 year old runaway who was hiding under the counter was found in the Post Office Lobby the morning after he was inadvertently locked inside by the night cop.

Oddly enough, during the first few months I worked at Arlington, Dale and I would find kids parked at the back of the cemetery drinking beer, or using it as a local “lovers’ lane”. If we didn’t cite them for Minor In Possession of Alcohol or another sundry violation, we’d fill out Field Interview Cards, and send them out of the cemetery. Personally, I always felt that that the cemetery was a rather creepy place to be making out with your girlfriend, but such was the local custom. Our primary concern was in keeping the peace and dignity of the location. Nothing would upset a family more than to find litter, or worse yet, vandalism to the graves of their loved ones.

While we found that as winter was moving toward spring, we were continually running the kids out of the cemetery every weekend. One night, while keeping a straight face, we told the kids we were dealing with to stay out of the cemetery or the glowing tombstone would get them. They looked at us with wide eyes, and assured us they would never come back to the cemetery at night ever again! This seemed to work pretty well, so we used this line a few more times over the next few weeks. We never embellished much more on the line, except one time when we weren’t even at the cemetery, a kid in town asked us about the glowing tombstone, and we pointed in the general direction and told the kid to look for himself, that he could see the tombstone glowing from right here.

While we observed a noticeable decline in local kids hanging out in the cemetery, it later became obvious that our little legend might be about to back fire! We were coming across people from out of town who were coming to Arlington, looking for the Glowing Tombstone. They would flag us down in the middle of the night to ask for directions to the cemetery. This was all being done in the academic interest of paranormal investigation.

That fall, when the schools were back in session, Dale and I went to lock up the cemetery late one Saturday Night to find about a dozen college girls running around the cemetery in their underwear! Once we got all these girls rounded up, we learned that they were students from Midland College at Fremont, Nebraska who were pledging to join a certain sorority. It was part of their initiation to occupy the Arlington Cemetery dressed only in their underwear, until 1:00 AM, while avoiding capture by the Glowing Tombstone. Apparently Dale and I had supernatural powers as we captured all the girls before the Glowing Tombstone did!

The girls were taken to our office, where we had them call their sorority president to come get them. You would not believe the story SHE gave us, insisting the legend was real! She went on to tell us that during the 1880’s an ax murder killed a bunch of people on a train while passing through Arlington. He escaped capture by killing himself, and was buried in the Arlington Cemetery where his tombstone glows as he wanders about looking for more victims! My reply to her was, assuming the legends were true, why would she knowingly put her pledges in mortal peril..?
I then went on to inform her that the Arlington Cemetery was a peaceful place of dignity for the final rest of many of our local citizens, and that at her directions, these girls were trespassing and disturbing the peace. This could result in citations to each of the girls involved, and twelve citations to her personally for putting the girls up to it. I pointed all of them west to Fremont, and suggested they stay out of Arlington!

Clearly, this had all gotten out of hand. From that point forward, we started locking up the cemetery at or before sundown, and denied any possibility of a Glowing Tombstone in the Arlington Cemetery.

In the late 1990’s, while living in Kansas City and long after I started a career outside of law enforcement, I was browsing the history section at one of the large book stores. I came across a book about Nebraska Ghost Stories, and purchased it hoping to read about the stories and legends my great grandparents used to tell us when we were kids. After getting home and taking the time to sit down and really browse through the book, did I find a chapter on The Glowing Tomb Stone at the Arlington Cemetery of Washington County. It took up about five or six pages, going through the similar details of the legend that the sorority president told Dale and I back in 1984. I shouted to my wife, “Look! They’ve published the story that Dale and I accidently started!

As recently as 2011, I’ve found websites which mention the Legend of the Glowing Tombstone in the Arlington Cemetery, but I’ve not been able to find anything about it on the internet anymore. None the less, it amazes me to learn how a story, no matter how bizarre, can take on a life of its own!


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