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Nicholas County Death Bell

By Staff | Nov 27, 2019

With midnight always in one’s heart,

And twilight in one’s cell,

We turn the crank, or tear the rope,

Each in his separate Hell,

And the silence is more awful far

Than the sound of a brazen bell.

Standing on a small hill in the center of historic downtown Summersville, sits a Neo Classical and Art Deco style building constructed of locally quarried sandstone. The building sits solid as the day it was built which was way back in 1898. As with any old structure, if you dig deep enough, there will be some interesting facts and legends that emerge. Many locals, including some of those who have held public office, have heard of the legend of the Death Bell.

Sometime back in the late 1800s, there was a courthouse caretaker who cleaned the courthouse, maintained it and also had the unusual responsibility of overseeing the making of coffins in the courthouse basement. Each time someone would pass away, he would begin to build the coffin after ringing the courthouse bell eleven times. The sound of the bell clanking could be heard for many miles as it bounced off the mountains and hillsides and into the valley.

Occasionally there would be a female prisoner as the cells were both used for men and women back in those days. A young female prisoner and the courthouse caretaker began a clandestine relationship. The feelings of love continued to bloom between the caretaker and the jailed woman. Love sometimes blossoms under the oddest of circumstances and so, we eventually have the lovebirds hatching a plan of escape for the jailed woman. The captive’s door jail cell would be left unlocked on the night of the next death. She would escape from her cell after hearing the bell toll eleven times and would climb down the dark basement steps into the basement where the coffins were made. Not using any lights so that discover would not happen, she would make her way to the freshly made coffin that waited. The plan called for her to climb quickly into the casket of the newly departed, closing the lid down upon herself and the other occupant. The caretaker would dig up the fresh grave as soon as he could after the cemetery attendees left the graveside the next morning.

What fears the love-smitten jailbird must have felt as she lay in the coffin with the dead body and waited for rescue. The minutes drug by and became hours and with some sense of morbid curiosity, she drew a match from her reticule and lit it. She wanted to see the face of the dead soul beside her. To her horror and disbelief, the face she saw in the dim light was that of her lover, the caretaker who was supposed to be her rescuer! Legend says that she died in the coffin with her lover next to her. The legend also states that if you listen closely on certain cold snowy nights, that you may hear the faint sounds of the ghost bell as it rings from its solemn perch in the courthouse cupola.

Sherri Brake is a paranormal researcher, author and Haunted Heartland Tour owner. You may email her at SherriBrake@gmail.com or visit her website at www.HauntedHistory.net