She's been dead for 50 years, but Lottie Edwards hasn't been able to rest in peace.
Lottie has become a legend in Siouxland, with stories varying from her "curse" on anyone who trespasses on her gravesite to the belief that she haunts her cemetery grounds.
Those familiar with the legends say Lottie's burial place in Taylor Cemetery near Homer, Neb., was at one time a place where hundreds of high schoolers from around the area would scare their friends, hang out and drink beer. The cemetery has also been targeted by vandals, who have chiseled into her gravestone and tipped over other gravestones around it.
Even today, rumors still circulate about what everyone calls "Lottie's Grave." But in reality, what is known about the life and death of the former South Sioux City woman suggests that these stories are merely fiction.
Some legends kicked around about the haunting of Lottie's Grave surround how Lottie died -- in some she was murdered, in others she was run over by a car or even beheaded. In many tales, Lottie was a witch with supernatural powers.
But the one story heard time and time again pertains to jewelry with which Lottie was supposedly buried, said Jody Boyd of the Dakota County Genealogical Society. Boyd said people apparently believed Lottie had been wearing precious jewelry when she was interred. Would-be thieves attempted to dig up her grave, Boyd said, but most weren't successful.
Boyd maintains that three teenage boys managed to unearth her remains. As legend has it, when they opened the casket, Lottie awoke and cursed them all to die within a year.
But did they? Boyd said that two of them actually did die within a year -- both in car accidents near Homer, Neb. She said she didn't know what happened to the other one.
Lottie's relatives say none of that ever happened.
The wide variety of stories spread about Lottie's Grave is the first clue that none of them is probably true, Boyd said, and she approaches them with skepticism.
"There's one story, but then someone adds a little bit, and someone else adds a little more," she said. "Besides, if she were a witch she wouldn't be dead now, would she?"
In fact, Boyd said, the tales were probably all made up by teenage boys who wanted to scare their friends and dates. Many of those who have visited Lottie's Grave say the same, but that didn't stop the rumors from becoming legend and being perpetuated.
While the three were still students at South Sioux City High School, 1974 grads Brett Thacker, Ray Hogan and Rick Zimmerman produced a 10-minute silent film, "The Legend of Lottie's Grave," for a class project. The movie relates the tale of the three teenage boys who Lottie cursed, and all three die within a year.
"Countless victims have fallen to Lottie's curse," a piece of paper displayed at the end of the film reads. "They say she still haunts her gravesite because of the constant trespassers. Listen the next time you're out near there -- she might be looking for YOU!"
Thacker, now a Sioux Falls resident, said his graduating class still watches the movie during class reunions because the tale played a part in their high school years. The movie wasn't meant to be taken seriously, he said, but in those days he and many of his classmates used Lottie's legend to scare each other.
"When we'd have nothing to do we'd find some guys or girls and go out there," Thacker said. "The tradition of people scaring each other at Lottie's Grave has been passed down for years. I heard about it from my older sister ... it was more about scaring girls and guys who hadn't been there. It's not like everybody didn't know it was fake."
The truth behind Lottie's life and death is not as interesting as legend would have you believe.
Born in 1878, Lottie Edwards lived most of her life in Dakota County, Neb. -- first on a farm in the bluffs near Homer, then in a house in South Sioux City. She was the mother of seven children, and many of her relatives still live in Siouxland.
Lottie's death was definitely not strange either -- according to her official death certificate, she died at 78 in a Norfolk hospital after several years of heart degeneration. She was buried between her second husband and her daughter Alice, who died at age 11 of pneumonia.
One of Lottie's granddaughters who still lives in South Sioux City and wished to have her name withheld said Lottie lived a very humble life and never owned any fancy jewelry. She was present at her grandmother's burial, she said, and knew she wasn't buried with anything valuable.
"She wasn't buried with any jewelry except her wedding ring," the granddaughter said. "She never even owned a diamond."
She also wouldn't comment on whether anyone ever attempted to dig up her grandmother's body.
So why did spooky tales begin to circulate about a woman who merely died of old age in a hospital?
Boyd said she had found through her extensive research on Lottie that the woman was eccentric and may have sometimes exhibited odd behavior.
"She was a very nice person but she scared kids," Boyd said. "If other children came into her yard by themselves she'd chase them off."
Lottie's granddaughter said Lottie's gravesite, which sits away from other graves in Taylor Cemetary, may have been an impetus for the tales to begin. Sometimes the moon hits it just so and makes it look spooky, she said, and the trees open up on either side.
Other than that, her granddaughter said, there was nothing that should have made Lottie legend material.
"She had a very boring life," she said. "To pick on somebody like her was stupid."
The curse's effect
The tales surrounding Lottie's Grave have caused more damage to the cemetery and her family than they're worth, her granddaughter said.
She hadn't even heard the stories about Lottie until her children told her about them when they were going to school, she said.
"I had to laugh at first," she said. "But when we saw what was happening at her grave everyone was upset."
More than once, vandals have knocked over gravestones around Lottie's, and her daughter Alice's gravestone has been broken into pieces. Journal stories from the 1970s related thousands of dollars in damages and cemetery officials having to carry beer cans out by the cartful.
Boyd said the destruction got so bad that the cemetery asked her family for permission to move her body to another location. Lottie's granddaughter wouldn't comment on such a move and cemetery officials also wouldn't confirm that the move ever happened.
Thacker said he realizes now that messing around near Lottie's Grave was probably not the best thing to do but it was fun when he and his friends were younger.
"We just wanted to scare people, and that legend is just what got people going," he said. "It's one of those things you do when you're a kid and you don't know any better. If it was my grandmother, I'd probably be mad, too."
In the end, whether any shred of truth exists in the tales surrounding Lottie's Grave is questionable.
"It's time to just let her rest," Boyd said.
Alicia Ebaugh can be reached at (712) 293-4276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.