Wednesday 13 November 2013

Guest Post: Dianne K. Salerni on her Inspiration and Research for The Caged Graves.

The Caged Graves by Dianne. K. Salerni || Release date: May 2013

17-year-old Verity Boone expects a warm homecoming when she returns to Catawissa, Pennsylvania, in 1867, pledged to marry a man she has never met. Instead, she finds a father she barely knows and a future husband with whom she apparently has nothing in common. One truly horrifying surprise awaits her: the graves of her mother and aunt are enclosed in iron cages outside the local cemetery. Nobody in town will explain why, but Verity hears rumors of buried treasure and witchcraft. Perhaps the cages were built to keep grave robbers out . . . or to keep the women in. Determined to understand, Verity finds herself in a life-and-death struggle with people she trusted.

Inspired by a pair of real caged graves in present-day Catawissa, this historical YA novel weaves mystery, romance, and action into a suspenseful drama with human greed and passion at its core.


Guest Post: Dianne K. Salerni on Inspiration and Research for The Caged Graves. 

In November of 2009, I was researching ghost stories associated with central Pennsylvania, especially the Pocono Mountains, when I stumbled across a strange photograph online: a grave with an iron cage around it. The article that went with the photo was really short on facts, claiming that local legend said the girl’s parents thought she was a vampire … or a werewolf … or something like that. (I’m not kidding. That’s about what the article said.)

The grave was located outside Catawissa, Pennsylvania – near Rorhbach’s, the author helpfully added. Well, Rorhbach’s turned out to be Rorhbach’s Farm Market, and my husband used Google Earth to identify a cemetery plot near their orchard. So, in January 2010, after a family ski trip in the Poconos, we set off to find “Old Mt. Zion Cemetery.” 

We weren’t even sure the cemetery would be there, let alone the grave, so imagine our shock when we pulled the car up beside the abandoned graveyard and saw two caged graves! One of my daughters refused to get out of the car. The other daughter came within a few steps of the nearest grave, changed her mind, and ran back to wait with her sister. My husband took a bunch of photos, then said, “Uh, it’s kind of chilly out here. I think I’ll go wait in the car too …”

I was half-inclined to run back to the car myself. The graves were THAT creepy. They belonged to Asenath Thomas and Sarah Ann Boone. The women were clearly related in some way, since Sarah was a Thomas by birth and Asenath was a Thomas by marriage. Both women died in 1852, within a few days of one another.  I was hooked. One caged grave is weird. Two is a story.

Other than visiting the graves, the rest of my research for the book was conducted online. I found an article written by a local historian who believed the cages were erected to keep out grave robbers. In the mid-19th century, fresh corpses were in demand by medical schools. This was a logical (although still creepy) explanation for the cages -- but why build something permanent when the danger of grave robbing would pass very quickly?  Why were only these two graves protected? What made these women potential targets? Who they were? Or what they died from?

Along with the mystery of the graves, I wanted my story to explore the unique flavor of this mountainous, central Pennsylvania setting.  Again searching online, I discovered that a little known battle of the Revolutionary War had taken place nearby – about 75 years prior to the burial of those women. When the Americans lost, captured Continental soldiers were brutally massacred by British and Indian forces. The countryside was razed by the victors, driving settlers to flee into a vast marsh. Most of them died of exposure in what would eventually become known as the Shades of Death swamp, but a few stragglers made it out and took refuge in Catawissa -- the town with the mysterious cemetery.

Tying these elements together became the heart of my story and a three-pronged mystery. How did Sarah Ann and Asenath die? Why were their graves caged? And how are they connected to events in the Shades of Death 75 years earlier?

My novel The Caged Graves is fictional, of course. The real story behind these graves remains a mystery.


Thanks to Dianne for the great guest post. I really enjoyed reading about the inspiration behind The Caged Graves. To find out more about Dianne and her books check out her WEBSITE or find her on TWITTER.


  1. ChristinaBookAddict13 November 2013 at 13:24

    Love this! I definitely need to read this book. As it turns out, Catawissa is about 5 miles away from where I went to college. For some reason, the Pocono Mts (although very beautiful!) have such weird thing going on....I remember visiting Centralia, the home to an abandoned mining town which has had an underground coal fire raging for four decades. It's so creepy and not far from Catawissa. I can't believe I never visited Catawissa! I am so intrigued now and can't wait to read The Caged Graves. Unfortunately, Catawissa is almost three hours from me now, but if I head back up to the Poconos, I definitely plan on visiting! Thanks for sharing this with us, Leanna!

  2. Sounds like a great area, Christina. I wanted to visit the Poconos after reading Second Chance Summer - and I'd really love to see those caged graves some day!


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