The Story of Octavia Hatcher

Posted by | April 3, 2012

Please welcome guest writer Jessica Forsyth.  Forsyth is a local historian who serves as the Director of Activities and Events for the Big Sandy Heritage Center, a historical museum in Pikeville, Kentucky. One of Forsyth’s many roles includes assisting Pike County Tourism in raising awareness of the area’s cultural and historical locales and events. Forsyth is currently in the process of completing her Bachelors in government and politics.


James Hatcher was one of the wealthiest, most renowned citizens to ever grace the small town of Pikeville, Kentucky.  He engaged in several successful business ventures in the coal mining and timber industries. He owned property reaching from Pikeville to present day Coal Run.

Later in life, Hatcher built the Hotel James Hatcher in Pikeville, where the East Kentucky Exposition Center is now. The hotel was known for Hatcher’s favorite sayings and quotes, which he had printed on the walls of the hotel lobby. A small museum was in one room of the famous reception area, displaying, among other things, an iron lung, the newest piece of medical technology of its day. The hotel was advertised as being fireproof, and offered guests the security of being able to “sleep in safety.”

Octavia Hatcher's tombstone in Pikeville Cemetery, Pikeville, KY.

Octavia Hatcher's tombstone in Pikeville Cemetery, Pikeville, KY.

Also on display in the lobby was James Hatcher’s own casket, which he had specially crafted years prior to his death. This coffin was special. It latched on the inside and had to be sealed with a special tool that would then be pulled out when the body was buried. James Hatcher had a severe phobia of being buried alive, and not without reason.

In 1889, Hatcher was married in Pikeville to young Octavia Smith. Their marriage would be tragically brief and produce only one son, Jacob, who died shortly after he was born. The infant mortality rate in the 1890’s was much higher than today’s numbers. During the 1800’s, children often died of one illness or another before the age of 10. There were few vaccines and medications for treatment, and illnesses that are minor nuisances today were then fatal. One of such sicknesses took the life of young Jacob Hatcher.

The baby’s death lead to a depression and illness that would soon end Octavia’s own life. Jacob died in January 1891. Octavia took to her bed, likely suffering from depression. She grew ill over the next few months, slipping into a coma from which she could not be awakened. She was pronounced dead of unknown causes on May 2nd, 1891.

That spring was unusually hot, and as embalming was not yet common practice, no time was wasted in burying Octavia. Funeral services were conducted and her body was laid to rest.

Several days later, others began exhibiting similar symptoms to Octavia’s. The bite of a certain fly, now known as the tsetse fly, brought a sleeping sickness from which others began to awaken after a time. Hatcher and his family began to worry if Octavia might have succumbed to this illness. Her breathing had been shallow enough in her comatose state for doctors to believe she had passed, but in actuality, she had been buried alive.

Hatcher secured an emergency exhumation and uncovered a horrific sight with the raising of the coffin. The casket Octavia had been buried in had not been airtight. She had awoken from her sleep to find herself trapped beneath the ground. In a panic, she had torn the lining on the lid of her coffin. Her nails were bloody and her face was contorted in terror, scratched in her frenzy to escape from her grave. But by this time, she really was dead.

Her body was reburied, but James was never the same. He had a life-size, lifelike monument to Octavia erected over her grave. In one arm, the statue held a baby, representative of Jacob. He built the Hatcher Hotel at such an angle that he could look up to the cemetery at his young wife and she could symbolically look down on him.

The legend was born with the statue’s completion. Vandals invaded the Hatcher cemetery plot and broke the arm holding the baby from the monument. Now the infant lies on the ground at Jacob’s grave, near the foot of his mother. But the stories do not stop there. In the 1990’s, the Hatcher family erected a fence around the plot, an attempt to keep future vandalism from occurring. The statue was placed on a new marble base so it would be less accessible.

Pikeville residents who live near the Hatcher plot reported hearing the sounds of a kitten crying coming from the area. The sound stopped when they approached the plot to investigate. Others said they could hear a woman crying coming from the same area.

Jacob Hatcher's tombstone, Pikeville Cemetery, Pikeville, KY

Jacob Hatcher's tombstone, Pikeville Cemetery, Pikeville, KY

A photographer taking pictures on a clear day captured a mysterious haze around the statue of Octavia. The mist only appeared when the photos were developed.

The most common story concerning Octavia says that on the anniversary of her death, the statue will turn away and face the opposite direction.

Whether such activities are the doings of vengeful spirits or harmless pranksters is for the reader to decide. Haunted or not, the Pikeville Cemetery, especially the Hatcher plot, is a place where a tragic young woman deserves a moment or two of silence for a life cut dreadfully short and a death that came far too early.

29 Responses

  • Kaye Farley Palacios says:

    Thank you for posting the story of Mrs. Hatcher. I grew up hearing this story, and never tire if it.
    My grandparents, great grandparents, and many other family members are buried there also. (Scotts / Pinsons/ Matneys) Our family always went on “decoration day” to place flowers and spend the day with each other there on that hill. We children always had to go to the statue of Mrs. Hatcher., as she always held such awe for us. I have since then taken my sons there, and this past summer started with my grandchildren.
    Again thank you, and keep up the good work of keeping our heritage alive in Pike Co.

  • Kat says:

    Thank you for posting this story. Octavia was my great great aunt (her brother William my great grandfather). Please, anyone who goes there, be respectful in the cemetery and tell her that her great-great niece loves her and hopes to visit her one day.

  • Sharon Mencl says:

    Octavia is a relative of my stepfather.I watched the Travel Channel special on this story. I found it very interesting. I also found it scary because I have always had the fear of being buried alive since I was very young. To this day I still don’t want to be buried in a casket.

  • Greg says:

    Octavia was my great great aunt, James Hatcher was my grandfather’s uncle. I grew up hearing the story and as a child we went to the Pikeville cemetary while visting family. I see Wlex in Lexington is having a special report on the mystery this week.

  • Felicia says:

    I had never heard of this story and I live in Kentucky not far from there! I just saw a t.v. special advertised about this story and looked online to read about it. Such a tragic event, so sad. And it’s horrible how people vandalize a gravesite. My baby’s grave has been vandalized on several occasions; it’s pathetic that people can be so cruel and heartless.

  • Julie J Byam says:

    I saw this sad sad story on “Mysteries at the Museum”. They seem to have told it accurately and it was just terrifying. I wonder how Mr. Hatcher was able to go on. Bless him.

  • I saw this on Mysteries at the Museum. This was such a horrific experience for everyone to have to go through! I can’t imagine dying any worse of a death as she did. I hope they are all together in heaven with no memory of what happened to them on earth! God bless!

  • […] was on my itinerary to visit the Dils Cemetery and see the grave of the woman who was buried alive. HERE is her story. I finally found the cemetery, but it’s also the final resting place of either […]

  • Pikevillegirl96 says:

    Today I was at my counseling appointment & my counselor and her secretary we’re packing up, we asked why they were and they had went on to tell us paranormal things that had been happening in the office..things such as black dust being in the form of some type of person/animal when they had came to work the next morning, doors slamming & over the nights, a spirit would leave notes wrote in pencil on the door facings saying “door between stairs and office”. Only to find out, the office is the Hatcher hotel..if anyone knows anything about the hotel & now office being haunted please reply back!! Thank you!

  • judith says:

    Just saw this story on “Mysteries at the museum”. How very tragic for Mr. Hatcher to have to go on after losing his wife in this manner, not to mention the death of their son. May they all be reunited in heaven in the happiness of God’s love.

  • muriel says:

    I can understand that people may have gotten some kind of “sleeping sickness” from and insect, but a tsetse fly? They are native to sub sahara Africa! When or how did tsetse flies get to Kentucky?
    Because this article has no explanation for how a tsetse fly made it to Kentucky, nor any other logical alternative, one suspects it’s factually deficient in other areas.
    Scary story though!

  • sidney gilbert says:

    My grandmother was Octavia Hatcher from Pikeville, KY. Her father was a physician there. She would have been a girl when Mrs. Hatcher was alive. My grandmother’s father was a doctor in Pikeville. Both my son and I are doctors and this story sends shivers down my back.

  • […] 1891, Octavia went right into a bedridden depression the place she regularly was very ill and slipped into a coma. On may 2 of the identical 12 months, she used to be mentioned lifeless of unknown reasons whereas […]

  • […] divided in Jan 1891, Octavia went into a confined basin where she gradually became really ill and slipped into a coma. On May 2 of a same year, she was conspicuous upheld of different causes while still in her […]

  • Rachel says:

    The Hatcher Hotel was torn down YEARS ago when they built the Expo center. It sat where the parking lot for the courthouse and Expo is now. Sorry, but there is no way your therapists had an office in the hotel building. They may have had one across the street at what was the Anthony Hotel, but certainly not in the Hatcher Hotel in 2013.

  • J.R. says:

    I have been researching this story as well, however I have not found any records that state Octavia’s grave had been exhumed. Can you please list the source and the location where the records are that state that she was in fact exhumed to find that she had been buried alive? It is a tragic story and if it is true, needs to be told, however, as with many stories so many times urban legend can overpower the true stories and turn them into farce. This woman’s tale deserves to be told accurately and if this is the accurate story, the sources to prove this should be listed.—

  • Dave Tabler says:

    That post was a guest post by Jessica Forsyth of the Pike County Tourism board. She’s since moved on; you should address this question to Jay Shepherd at

  • JR says:

    Also, according to documented record Octavia’s monument never had her holding a child in her arms, but instead it was a parasol. Thank you again. —

  • […] in January 1891, Octavia went into a bedridden depression where she gradually became very ill and slipped into a coma. On May 2 of the same year, she was pronounced dead of unknown causes while still in her […]

  • Rebecca Baldwin says:

    1-What was the year of the first sighting of Octavia Hatcher’s ghost? 2-Also, stories and legends become combined over years-could parts of Octavia Walker’s story have become blended with Roseanna McCoy’s story? From what I understand, both were from Pikeville, both had babies who died young. Roseanna’s baby girl was born in 1881 and died several moths later, and Octavia’s baby boy was born in 1891 and died several days later. Octavia went to bed depressed and fell into a coma and then died in May, 1891. Roseanna reportedly wasted away and died from a broken heart. Not to mention that the initials of the father of both children was JH-Johnse Hatfield for Roseanna, and James Hatcher for Octavia. I’m a storyteller and genealogy researcher and Noticed these similarities. Thanks-

  • Rebecca Baldwin says:

    typo-…initials of the fatherS of both children…

  • Dave Tabler says:

    The Hatcher Families Genealogy Association, a group presumably more interested than most, doesn’t specify a date her ghost was first seen. Here’s the data they offer up on the story:

  • Rebecca Baldwin says:

    Thanks! I’ll check it out. I’m a McCoy descendant and researching the story surrounding Roseanna McCoy. :)

  • redrose says:

    This is such a sad story. I hope William Jacob and Octavia are now together forever. Also Sidney Gilbert there is no way in this life Octavia Hatcher is your grandmother. That would mean her kid is your parent. She only had one kid one kid only that died weeks after birth. So that’s one way she is not your grandmother. also she was born in 1905 this is 2016 that’s 111 yrs ago. in order for you to be her grandson which i know you are not you would have to be nearly 80 since she was 20 when she gave birth. Really i don’t think your anywhere near 80 and with her only only only child dead at weeks after birth you in no way are her grandson. Sorry but you are not believed by me no way. tell me another good story.

  • […] say, when the rest of the sick townsfolk started to fall into comas and WAKE UP, Ocatavia’s hubby freaked out and dug her up only to discover that he was too late. Octavia was reburied and her husband erected a lifelike […]

  • Amanda says:

    A friend of mine who lost her son wrote a whole album of 18 songs to work through her grief, called Vilomahed. Vilomah is a word for a parent whose child has died. Anyway one of the songs she wrote is about Octavia Smith, and that’s how I learned about her and found this website, wanting to know more. I see there are relatives of Octavia who’ve posted here; you might want to check out my friend’s song about your relative, it’s very well done:

  • Zack says:

    My band has written a song to tell Octavia’s story. Anybody is welcome to check the song out on our website. We hope the song portrays her feelings and emotions properly.

  • […] in January 1891, Octavia went into a bedridden depression where she gradually became very ill and slipped into a coma. On May 2 of the same year, she was pronounced dead of unknown causes while still in her […]

Leave a Reply

9 + 6 =

↑ Back to top

This collection is copyright ©2006-2018 by Dave Tabler. All visuals are used in accordance with the Fair Use Law (Per Title 17—United States Code—Section 107) and remain the property of copyright owners. Site Design by Amaru Interactive