The legend of Alabama’s ‘Dead Children’s Playground’

Spooky Urban Legends in Every State - Urban Legends in America

Adjoining Huntsville’s historic Maple Hill Cemetery is a playground that looks much like any other, featuring a modern swing set and climbing apparatus. But this playground isn’t like others. Passersby often say they can see the swings moving on their own volition, as well as orbs or spectral figures.

The playground is surrounded on three sides by the limestone that formed many caves in the area, giving it a shadowed appearance that lends itself to spooky legends. The proximity to the historic cemetery doesn’t hurt, either.

Local teens call it the Dead Children’s Playground, a macabre name for a place still used by families.

So how did the innocent place get its gruesome name? According to legend, many children who died in Huntsville during the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic are buried in Maple Hill plots adjoining the playground. The spirits of those children, some say, come out after dark to run and play, as they might have in life. An online search turns up photos of unexplained shadows and orbs.

It is true many children, as well as adults, died during the worldwide pandemic, which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide and hit Huntsville particularly hard. Hospital beds were filled, and doctors were working long shifts in hopes of easing some of the patients’ misery.

Many patients were treated at home, with large quarantine signs on the doors, a practice which resulted in the disease spreading through entire families. Bodies were often stacked on wagons and hauled to morgues by horses.

To try to prevent spread of the disease, parents cautioned children to leave the windows closed. This sing-song rhyme was a reminder:

“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 deadly flu arrived in Alabama by way of Huntsville on Sept. 25, 1918. Within 10 days, it had spread to the general population. The Alabama DHP quoted an October 5 article from The Birmingham News “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.”

On Oct. 7, the governor of Alabama ordered closure of public places statewide, including stores, schools and churches.

By October 13, the Birmingham News was reporting that only one local pharmacist and one local doctor remained uninfected: “A desperate situation exists in Huntsville growing out of the Spanish influenza epidemic. All druggists, physicians, and prescription clerks, except one, have been stricken with the disease, and a distressing appeal reached Montgomery last night in telegrams for immediate help for the stricken city.”

Although there is no official count of the number of children who died in Huntsville during the pandemic, or how many were buried in Maple Hill, the number must have been in the hundreds.

Maple Hill Angel
A monument in Huntsville’s Maple Hill Cemetery. (Kelly Kazek)

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