Nestled in a woodsy area of far northeast Urbana township, positioned on a grassy slope along High Cross Road is Clements Cemetery.
The large swath of land surrounding it is characterized by dense trees, family farms, the Saline Branch river. The graveyard shows its old age; the etched words on its oldest headstones have begun to disappear; worn away by the elements over the course of the last hundred and fifty years. Some are missing; some nearly completely ravaged by overgrowth.
It is in this place, before the towns of Urbana or Champaign were ever on the map, that the first settlers to this area established the community of Big Grove in the early 19th century. And although Clements is technically still an active cemetery, it is also the place in which many the pioneering families of this area are lain to rest.
Its residents include the families who worked hard, helping each other to raise the first cabins and grow the first crops. There are Civil War soldiers and veterans of the war of 1812. Clements Cemetery is one of the last remaining signs of this early Illinois settlement.
And it is home to one of this area’s most fascinating ghosts, the Blue Man.
The legend goes like this: If you venture out to Clements Cemetery at night, you will be visited by an eerie orb of light.
This orb of light is said to belong to the lantern of the Blue Man, who some say is the original caretaker of the cemetery. He is one of the spirits of the old Big Grove community, continuing to do his duty of protecting the cemetery and its residents from beyond the grave.
Another version of the legend identifies the Blue Man as a settler who was found hanging from one of the nearby trees in 1841. It is unknown whether his death was caused by lynching or suicide, but his spirit cannot rest, instead roaming the cemetery and the nearby road with his lantern.
The intrigue surrounding the legend has persisted for a full century, attracting thrill seekers to the cemetery, particularly during the full moon, in the hopes (or fears) of catching a glimpse of the Blue Man’s lantern. This legend existed for the youth of the Prohibition era just as it has for the youth of this generation, fueled by persistent confirmations of the sighting of this strange orb of light.
“We went there out of boredom,” says Champaign resident Sheila Daniels, of her high school venture to the cemetery some 25 years ago. “”We were already creeped out by the time we got there, and I don’t think we lasted more than 15 minutes. We think we heard things, and we think we saw something; but really, I think the adrenalin got the best of us.”
The next full moon is Oct. 29, the Monday before Halloween. Perhaps the Blue Man and his lantern will make an appearance at Clements and along High Cross Road.