Episode 58 The Legend of Octavia Hatcher

In 1891, Octavia Hatcher died in Pikeville, Kentucky. After her death, people in town contracted a sleeping disease which caused them to fall into a coma, but wake up weeks later. Was Octavia dead when she was buried? Or had a tragic mistake been made?

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Pikeville, Kentucky (year unknown)
PHOTO: Kentucky Coal Mines Facebook

Octavia Smith was born in Pikeville, Kentucky on May 21st, 1870. The daughter of  Jacob and Pricey Smith was part of a well respected and successful family. Jacob Smith owned a local dry goods store and had been one of the founders of the town. In 1889, Octavia met James Hatcher. They were married on December 18, 1889. She was 19, he was 30. 

Just over a year later, on January 4, 1891, 20 year old Octavia Hatcher gave birth to their first child, who was named for her father, Jacob. The joy of welcoming their first child would turn to sorrow when, within hours of birth, Jacob died.

Octavia Hatcher

A devastated Octavia fell into a deep depression. She was so ill by April of that year that she became bedridden. Within weeks, Ocavia fell into a coma.

James Hatcher had been shattered by the loss of his son. On May 2nd, 1891 he was forced into a new kind of grief when his beloved wife Octavia died. It was an unusually warm spring in Pikeville, and James agreed that Octavia should be buried quickly.  

James Hatcher
PHOTO: Big Sandy Heritage Center Facebook

The loss of Octavia seemed to linger heavy over the town not only because of her youth and life cut short, but the town feared their loved ones who had become ill soon after Octavia died, would face the same fate.

Weeks after Octavia was buried other people in town became ill with what was described as a sleeping disease. The person who was afflicted would fall into a coma, but with the patience of doctors and the care of their loved ones, they would wake up.

It would take days for some, weeks for others. But they would get better.

Watching this happen time and time again, haunted James Hatcher. He kept asking himself, what if Octavia had not died of sadness? What if Octavia had suffered from the same sleeping disease? What if the doctors made a mistake in declaring his wife dead? James Hatcher had to know. He requested his wife’s grave be exhumed so he could investigate.

Octavia Hatcher Memorial in Pikeville

Folks say that what James saw when the casket was raised and opened, would haunt him for the remainder of his life.

When the casket was opened, James saw that his wife’s face had a horrified and contorted expression. He looked at Octavia’s hands and saw that her fingernails were broken and appeared bloody. He was shocked when he saw that the lining of the casket ripped and almost shredded as if someone had tried to claw their way out from six feet below. 

James Hatcher was convinced he had hastily arranged a funeral and burial for the love of his life who was still alive when she was lowered into the ground on burial day. Octavia Hatcher would be reburied and within a year, James Hatcher had a life sized statue of Octavia installed over her grave in Pikeville. 

The memorial that stands in the cemetery today has been damaged. An arm is missing. But the monument to Octavia towers above those buried nearby, as if watching over them. Watching over her baby Jacob who was buried at her feet. 

This is the legend of Octavia Hatcher, but we all know legends can inspire us. They can also trick us.

J’aime Rubio is an author who has invested a lot of time and effort into researching this legend. She’s written that it seems strange to her, that after extensive research, she could not find a single newspaper article or mention of Octavia Hatcher’s death or any strange occurrences surrounding it.

J’aime also makes the point that when James Hatcher died in 1939, the successful and wealthy businessman’s obituary was carried in many papers. The only mention of Octavia was that he had been married and his wife died young. 

Where does the truth end and fabrication begin with Octavia Hatcher?

Walls in lobby of Hatcher Hotel
PHOTO: Digital Library of Appalachia

We can’t know it all but we do know James Hatcher played a part, whether he intended to or not, when he opened the Hatcher Hotel on Main Street. In the lobby you’d see a photo of Octavia, mottos and philospophical quotes on the walls and even James Hatcher’s own coffin on the back porch.

Lobby of Hatcher Hotel (Octavia’s photo hangs on wall on right)
PHOTO: Digital Library of Appalachia

The story of James Hatcher is almost as fascinating as the legend of his dearly departed wife.

Listen to the episode and make sure you connect with me and fellow fans of the show on the Facebook discussion group to let us know your thoughts on the legend of Octavia Hatcher.

Episode Sources

The True Story Of Octavia Hatcher – History vs. Myth. Dreaming Casually, Investigative Blog. 13 January 2015
The Horrid Story Of Octavia Hatcher, A Grieving Mother Who Was Buried Alive. Ranker.  
The Story of Octavia Hatcher. Appalachian History. 3 April 2012.
How Long Could You Survive In A Coffin If You Were Buried Alive? Popular Science. 31 October 2013


Theme Song “Dark & Troubled” by Pantherburn. Special thanks to Phillip St Ours for permission for use.

Additional Music

“Tranquility Base”, “Ambient”, Lost Time”, “Dark Fog”, “Dhaka”  and “Epilogue Ghostapocolypse” by Kevin MacLeod; “Gloomy Night” by Morwan Nimra All music licensed under Creative Commons

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Categories: folklore, ghosts, history, kentucky, legends, mysteries, myth, podcastrecommendations, podcasts, urban legend

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