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Coweta grave dowsers search for unmarked burial sites

  • By Jeffrey Cullen-Dean
  • |
  • Jun. 08, 2021 - 4:24 PM

Coweta grave dowsers search for unmarked burial sites

Ronnie North demonstrates two metal rods crossing, which signifies that a grave is underneath his feet.

Ronnie North stood over his parents' graves with two metal rods — coat hangers bent into an L-shape — in his hands.

As he walked over the graves, the rods crossed to form an X on their own and when he stepped away they straightened back out.

"I have no idea how it works. There's no explanation for it," he said. "It's one of God's little mysteries."

Coweta residents Ronnie and Missy North and their friend Jimmy Dunagan are hobbyist grave dowsers — they use metal rods to detect unmarked graves and burial sites.

"Dowsing is a method of using metal rods to locate bodies in the ground," Dunagan said. "It doesn't matter if it's an animal body. If it's a warm-blooded animal, it will react to the electrical field of the Earth."

Any type of metal rod will work, said Missy North. Common tools include metal coat hangers like Ronnie North uses or the metal from marking flags.

Dowsing itself is a method to find things hidden beneath the earth, said Nathan Lawres, a professor at the University of West Georgia and director of the Antonio J. Waring Jr. Archeological Laboratory. It's been used to search for water, oil, gold, foundation and archeological sites.

When a dowser is searching for something, such as a grave, and walks across it, their metal rods will cross each other and uncross once the dowser steps away.

According to Lawres, no one knows exactly what causes the metal rods to move.

However, dowsing is considered a pseudoscience, Lawres said, because of a lack of scientific basis and evidence.

Neither the Norths or Dunagan have an explanation for how dowsing works.

"I don't know why; I just know it does. I'm not a witch or a warlock," Dunagan said.

Dunagan said he was introduced to dowsing as a trainee in the fire sprinkler business. In the 1960s part of the job required him to find electrical and water lines that were buried under the earth.

After some research, Dunagan decided to combine dowsing with his interest in history by searching for unmarked graves.

"It's finding history," he said. "It's going into a cemetery where there might be 10 headstones, but we can find 100 graves. No profit, no books. It's like going out and looking at birds."

According to Ronnie North, a dowser can glean more information from the rods than just if there is a body beneath their feet.

If someone stands at the center of a grave, the rods will move to the left if it's a woman and to the right for a man, Ronnie North said.

"I don't know how it works, and I haven't been able to find anything that says," he said. "I even got a guy that does dowsing for the Tennessee Valley Authority. He wrote a manual for it and has no explanation for it."

Ronnie and Missy North were introduced to grave dowsing by Dunagan, who had read a newspaper article on the concept and wanted to share it.

"We walked over graves where we knew people were and it worked," Missy North said. "I just enjoy finding the lost history. A lot of people are just walking over these people and don't know they're there. To me, it's enjoyable to find those. Nobody would know about them otherwise."

According to Dunagan, he and Ronnie North use dowsing to find unmarked Civil War era graves.

"We needed to know where to place the headstones of Confederate or Union Civil War graves," he said. "So we used dowsing and have been doing it for years. Then we got involved at local cemeteries and started finding more and more unmarked graves."

The grave dowsers shouldn't be confused with ghost hunters.

Both Ronnie North and Dungagan said they enjoy the hobby for the history.

"I don't see ghosts, never have. I've been to hundreds of cemeteries. We're not paranormal people. It's a hobby to find lost history," Ronnie North said. "We don't contact the dead or anything like that."

"I've been a fan of history for 40 years, and it just kind of adds to and what you thought were maybe 15 graves are actually 60 or 70 graves," Dunagan said. "It's just a fun hobby. You find out history that's not in the history books."