Maple Hill Cemetery and the Dead Children’s Playground

Maple Hill Cemetery is the largest — and oldest — cemetery in Huntsville, Alabama. Founded in 1822, it had humble beginnings, originating on two acres of land. It now encompasses nearly 100 acres and contains over 80,000 burials, including five former governors, five U.S. senators, and numerous other figures. 


But how did it earn such an ominous name?


What does a cemetery have to do with a playground that ‘belongs’ to dead children?  Keep reading to uncover the strange facts about Maple Hill Cemetery and the Dead Children’s Playground.

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History of Maple Hill Cemetery

The original two acres of Maple Hill Cemetery were sold to the city of Huntsville in September 1822 by a farmer named LeRoy Pope. Though its earliest burials are difficult to document, there is evidence that the land was used as a burial ground long before it was officially established.

The oldest marker in the cemetery is that of Mary Frances Atwood, the infant daughter of William and Martha Caroline Atwood, who passed away on September 17th, 1820. Headstones are sparse in the oldest section, with many of them falling and decaying over time, while others were never marked at all.

The cemetery expanded after 1849 to include the two acres on which LeRoy and his family are buried. Several other monuments in this section suggest its use at least as early as 1844.

Civil War Involvement

During the American Civil War, Maple Hill Cemetery became the burying ground for 187 unknown Confederate soldiers and an uncertain number of Union troops. Confederate troops are buried in their section on the north side of the cemetery — most of them died early on in the war from disease or accidents while training in camps close to Huntsville. The names of many of them are known, but it’s unknown whose grave is whose.

In 1873, the cemetery expanded again with a purchase from James Donegan. The city later purchased a few more acres since the need for more plots became apparent as the city grew. Over time, the cemetery grew and grew through donations of land and purchases of plots.

In 2007, the city-owned part of the cemetery ran out of space. An attempt was made to enlarge the cemetery by first removing playground equipment and picnic tables from an adjoining city part. This was met with resistance from residents, but alas, the cemetery grew into the playground anyway.

The cemetery playground is now referred to as ‘The Dead Children’s Playground’ by locals, and it is considered to be one of Alabama’s most haunted locations. Visitors report orbs, apparitions of children who died in Huntsville’s 1918 flu epidemic, and swings that move without being touched.

The Dead Children's Playground

The playground that adjoins Maple Hill Cemetery looks like any other—a modern swing set, a jungle gym—but it isn’t like the others. It hides a pretty dark secret. The playground is surrounded by large limestone rocks, giving it a shadowy appearance that lends a spooky angle.

How did such an innocent place receive such a gruesome name? According to reports, many children who perished during the Huntsville flu epidemic of 1918 are buried in Maple Hill Cemetery, right around where the playground is today. The ghosts of these children are said to come out and play on the equipment.

Many children indeed died during the worldwide flu pandemic, which is estimated to have killed over 50 million people. The sickness hit Huntsville pretty hard — hospital beds were filled, and doctors and nurses were working for hours on end with the hopes of easing the misery of their patients.

To try and prevent the spread of the disease, parents warned their children to keep the windows closed. A nursery rhyme even surfaced:

‘I had a bird, its name was Enza

I opened the window, and in flew Enza.’

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, the flu arrived in Alabama in September of 1918. Within ten days, it had spread across the populace. One October article quoted:

‘Reported cases of Spanish influenza have increased to more than 1,100 in Huntsville. According to Dr. C. A. Grote, health officer of Madison County, there have been an additional 300 cases and seven deaths in the past 24 hours.’

There is no official count of the number of children who died in Huntsville during the epidemic or even how many of them were buried in Maple Hill Cemetery, but a walk through the cemetery and a peek at some of the headstones gives a hint. The headstone of a young soul who passed near 1918 is most likely one of someone who died of this disease.

So, why is the cemetery—and more specifically, the playground—said to be so haunted? Visitors to the cemetery and those who have visited the playground witness some pretty strange things. One of the most common occurrences is the swings on the swing set moving on their own as if they’re being used by invisible entities. Others report hearing laughter and children calling out. Flitting orbs of different colors are also reported and have been captured on film once the photos are developed.

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