The following article was forwarded to me by J. P. Yates. I found it fascinating because I know a wonderful couple, Garry Nichols and Deb Kaufmann, in Brooklyn who are excellent dowsers. This skill has been demonstrated to me and I employ a form of dowsing using a pendulum.

This was in the new premiere issue of  ‘Our Iowa’.

‘My Day with the Grave Witchers

‘I was spellbound by two dear ladies as they located old graves in a country cemetery.

By Jerry Wiebel, Editor

I’D SEEN a water witcher, also called a dowser, in action before. We owned a hobby farm in Warren County years ago and needed to drill a new well.The first thing the well driller did as he hopped out of his old beater truck was grab a wire bent like a forked tree branch. He marched back and forth across the barnyard, and when the forked wire suddenly dipped toward the ground, he proclaimed, “This is where we’ll find water.”I’m sure I looked more than a bit skeptical, so he tried to reassure me. Watch this,” he said as he hung his pocketknife on the end of the wire and held it over the spot. The knife bobbed 13 times. Then he said, “We’ll hit water at 13 feet.”I watched him drill, and sure enough, he struck water at about 13 feet! That made a believer out of me.So when I recently heard about two grave witchers from Chariton who contended they could locate unmarked graves in abandoned cemeteries, it piqued my interest…particularly when I learned they could even tell whether it was a man, woman or child buried there.”This I gotta see,” I said, and my wife, Paula, and I soon headed to Chariton in south-central Iowa . There we met MARY RUTH PIERCHBACHER and her friend DARLENE ARNOLD in the parking lot of the public library. “Hop in,” said Mary Ruth, motioning us over to her car. Mary Ruth is a member of the Lucas County Pioneer Cemetery Preservation Commission, and I’d spoken to her by telephone a few weeks earlier (see “Taking the Long Way Home…” on page 44). As Mary Ruth drove us out to an old cemetery next to her family’s farm,Paula and I learned that Darlene is treasurer of the county genealogical society. That explains their interest in grave witching — something they’ve been doing for several years.

Not Everyone Can Witch

How’d they get started on grave witching? They’d seen a demonstration at a meeting, and when they got home, “We just tried it,” says Mary Ruth. But not everyone can do it. “My son can’t, and it really bugs him,” adds Darlene.Their tools of the trade are two lengths of No. 9 gauge steel wire — the same kind of wire farmers use to mend things. About 2 feet long, the wires are bent into “L” shapes, and the short ends, or handles, are inserted into pieces of PVC pipe. That way, when they grab hold of the PVC pipes, the wires can move freely.This cemetery was established in 1851 and is a mixture of relatively new graves and some long-forgotten ones with no trace of a tombstone. A handsome granite headstone on a sunny slope marks where Mary Ruth’s husband is buried.”My son says he wants to be buried over there,” says Mary Ruth, pointing to a seemingly undisturbed grassy spot. “I told him you’ll have company, because there are lots of graves there.”Mary Ruth and Darlene walked through the cemetery with a sense of reverence.This is serious — if not grave — business for them, because after they locate a grave, they’re often able to match it to old records and determine who is buried there. Imagine the joy that brings to someone who is trying to piece together a family tree.

Men’s Vs. Women’s Graves

As Mary Ruth walked along, she held her wires — one in each hand –straight out in front of her. Suddenly, the wires began to move and crisscrossed in front of her hands. “There’s a man buried here,” she explained. At another spot, the wires swung even further. This time they crossed behind Mary Ruth’s hands — an indication a woman was buried there. She said they can also determine the site of an infant burial by marking the short distance from when the wires begin to move and when they return to their normal position. A small burial area is the grave of a child. Darlene and Mary Ruth sometimes put on grave-witching demonstrations at cemeteries they are totally unfamiliar with. Before they arrive, they ask someone to cover some headstones — just to prove they can determine the difference between male and female graves. “After we give our demonstrations, we don’t have many doubters,” says Darlene. But even Mary Ruth and Darlene were stumped one time. As they approached a grave, the wires clearly indicated a woman was buried there. But after a couple more steps over the site, the wires inexplicably moved to the male position. It was only after they checked the headstone that they realized a mother had been laid to rest there with her baby boy in her arms.

Can’t Explain It

Nobody really knows how or why water witching or grave witching works. Some say it has to do with the electromagnetic pull between what’s in the ground and the wire (or tree branch — a peach branch seems to be the tree of choice among many dowsers). But that doesn’t explain why some dowsers can locate water with their outstretched hands — and no divining rod at all. Others say it’s a form of divination, a practice forbidden in the Bible. On the other hand, I recall once talking with a minister who could also waterwitch. He says many dowsers believe it’s a gift from God, which is why they typically don’t charge for their services. “We all have different magnetic fields in our bodies,” Darlene believes. Mary Ruth notes that one member of the Cemetery Preservation Commission can dowse for water, but he can’t locate graves. She adds that the pull in some cemeteries is stronger than others. “We don’t know why,” she says. I became a believer when Mary Ruth placed her wires in my hands. As I approached one gravesite, the wires amazingly crossed in front of me, indicating a man was buried there. At another grave, the wires indicated a woman was buried at that spot. Honest — it really happened! Paula had the same experience. (So does this mean we’re now able to find the skeletons buried in our friends’ closets?)