If you’re driving down a rural stretch of road in Johnson County, Indiana and you see a gravestone in the median—your eyes are not deceiving you. The final resting place of Nancy Kerlin Barnett has become one of Indiana’s most curious roadside attractions. Travelers from all over the United States and beyond precariously park their cars in the median and leave coins and flowers on Nancy Kerlin Barnett’s grave.
Nancy Kerlin Barnett—who was the wife of a farmer named William Burnett—passed away in 1831 at the age of 39. Nancy’s grief-stricken husband honored Nancy’s dying wish to be buried on a peaceful hill overlooking placid Sugar Creek. As Johnson County expanded, the powers that be decided to exhume Nancy’s grave so that they could construct a road that would connect their sleepy county to more developed areas of the state. Nancy’s sons successfully protected her grave until 1912, when county officials decided to widen the road that they had previously built.
Nancy’s grandson Daniel Doty showed up at her gravesite with a shotgun to ward off any person who would attempt to disturb his grandmother’s remains. Doty’s shotgun was mightily persuasive. County officials opted to build a road around Nancy’s grave, in lieu of relocating her grave to a cemetery.
In 2016, Johnson County officials finally exhumed Nancy Kerlin Barnett’s remains. A team of archeologists discovered several other bodies that were buried alongside Nancy Kerlin Barnett. Historians believe that they may have stumbled upon a family plot—which certainly explains Daniel Doty’s passion for defending his grandmother’s grave.
After you visit the grave of Nancy Kerlin Barnett—no stretch of highway will ever be the same. There is no telling how many small cemeteries have been paved over. At least Nancy Kerlin Barnett has a proper gravestone so that travelers can pay their respects.
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