Matilda Gillette

This grave is located in Lakeview Cemetery in Penn Yan, New York. This is the gravestone for the Gillette family and the ghost is believed to be that of Matilda Gillette. The image of her reclining head appeared on the dark grave and nothing has been able to remove it, even repeated polishing of the stone. Legend has it that over time her whole image will be formed and she will be free to haunt the local community.

The story I heard as a child was that the Gillettes were a happily married couple who made a promise to each other that when one of them died the other would remain unmarried. When Matilda Gillette passed away, Francis Gillette did remarry and as a result of breaking his promise, he found that his wife's face appeared on the tombstone. His was horrified by this image and being unsuccessful in trying to remove the image by polishing the stone, he ordered a new tombstone to replace the original one. Matilda's face appeared again on the new tombstone.

I did asked some local historians about this legend and they felt that there are no facts to support the validity of the stories that have been told about the Gillettes. There is no documentation that the stone was ever replaced. When we visited the grave to take pictures, we noticed that the side graves indicate that Francis Gillette died seven years earlier than Matilda Gillette. That does put a bit of a damper on this story. Even so, the image is real and myths that form can be compelling.

When I was a child, I lived very close to this cemetery. Before I even saw this gravestone, I was told that there was a face that appeared on one of the tombstones and I spent a number of sleepless nights feeling the eerie presence of the unknown and unexplainable. When I finally visited the stone with a group of neighborhood children, I remember how dark and foreboding this large slab of granite was. My dreams were haunted by this ghost and the mystery of her face sparked my imagination. The terrors of life were only a few hundreds of yards away and it added a depth and richness to my vulnerable childhood.

Over time, she was mostly forgotten. When I was a older, when I was in the cemetery, I would glance at the grave as I went past it, but no longer frightened me. I learned to join the adult world of ignoring the suggestion of the supernatural. Even so a part of me held onto the hope that maybe life did remain a little bit spooky. The idea of going into the area where Gillette's grave was located after it became dark was terrifying, so it seems that something deep inside remained and remembered.

I moved away and left the myth behind, but over the years, the ghost came back. She came into my dreams. She was a powerful spirit, filled with a rich mythology. The image of that dark tombstone looming in the distance reminds me of a time, not so long ago, when life and death and everything in between was not to be explained away. The depths, the terrors, the mysteries are not gone, just forgotten for awhile. They are still there.

I have heard of stories about visiting Gillette at night. I have only done this in my dreams. The whole cemetery comes alive. All the tombstone become spirits. The dark grave holds a powerful ghost, a giant. The visitor is no longer separated from death, but finds the distinction between life and death melts away. Something eternal awakens. It is terrifying, but the visitor can walk away realizing that the ghost in granite was always inside her. She was not who she thought she was. She was part of this too.

Or so the dreams will say. When I wake up and wipe the cobwebs away, I can still celebrate the idea of Gillette. This dark gravestone tells me a story. I like this story. Sometimes truths are told in the most despised places, in graveyards, in strange images, and in ghosts.

Close-up picture of the head of Matilda Gillette

Picture of grave with the head of Matilda Gillette

Long distance of grave with the head of Matilda Gillette

Picture of small grave of Matilda Gillette

Picture of grave with the head of Matilda Gillette

Tree near Matilda Gillette's grave