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The Grave of Florence Irene Ford and The Mysterious Staircase Leading To Her Coffin Atlas Obscura via Natalie Maynor
Atlas Obscura via Natalie Maynor

On the banks of the Mississippi River, in Natchez City Cemetery, there is a gravestone with a staircase into the ground. And while it sounds creepy, the story behind the final resting place of Florence Irene Ford is actually touching.

Florence Irene Ford

Florence Irene Ford was 10 years old when she died of Yellow Fever in 1871. Yellow Fever, a viral disease spread by mosquito bites, ravaged the South during the 1870s. During the Civil War, the southern population believed yellow fever could only kill the northern troops. Union troops actively sanitized and quarantined throughout their occupation of the region, which lasted until 1877. Without the departure of Union troops, the Mississippi River Valley suffered without their own disease prevention procedures. Approximately 20,000 people died of Yellow Fever in Mississippi, in 1978 alone. It seems the spread of misinformation about a virus is an American tradition.

Florence Irene Ford was an early victim of the epidemic in Mississippi. Not much is known about her now, except one sure fact: Ford hated storms. She was terrified of thunder and lightning and ran to seek comfort from her mother whenever storms began to roll in. This childish fear, which Ford never got the chance to outgrow, defined her even in death. Ford’s mother Ellen specially designed the tomb of her 10-year-old girl so that she might console the corpse, for eternity.

The Grave of Florence Irene Ford

The gravestone of Florence Irene Ford has an epitaph that reads: “As bright and affectionate a Daughter as ever God with His Image blest.” A sweet tribute to a short life. But the structure of Ford’s tomb reflects a much stranger request. Ellen asked that a small window was installed in the coffin, near the head of her daughter. Then, dug into the green Natchez ground, a set of stairs leading down to the casket. From then on, whenever thunderstorms threatened the Mississippi sky, that’s where Ellen would go: six feet below, into the grave of little Florence. Metal trapdoors covered the top of the narrow stairway built to protect Ellen from the elements. She sat with her daughter during countless storms.

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Although Ellen is long gone, the special gravestone has been upkept. During the 1950s a small concrete wall was added, covering the glass in the coffin, to prevent vandalism. You can visit Natchez City Cemetery at 19-27 Cemetery Road in Natchez, Adams County, Mississippi. Some other spots of interest at the burial ground include The Turning Angel and the tomb of Rufus E. Case. But remember: if it starts to rain, it’s up to you to go down and comfort the little dead girl.

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Emily Mack About the author:
Emily Mack is a staff writer for Rare. She currently lives in Chicago and has very strong opinions about where to find the best hot dog. She studied nonfiction writing at Columbia University in New York City, and recently graduated with the Ellis Avery Prize for creative writing. Her favorite topics are Cher, fast fashion, Chicago urban legends, and Jack Nicholson movies.
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