GHOSTS OF THE PRAIRIE

History & Hauntings of America


Ocean-Born Mary

A Classic Tale of haunted New England

The year was 1720 and the place was Londonderry, Ireland. A small sailing vessel called “Wolf” departed from the port, bound for the New World. Here, weary passengers and immigrants would have the chance to reunite with relatives from another Londonderry, this one in New Hampshire. But fate was not kind to this travelers, for as they neared the coast of New England, the ship was overtaken by a band of Spanish pirates. They scrambled aboard the crippled vessel, seized jewelry and valuables and then, at the command of their captain, a buccaneer named Don Pedro, they prepared to murder everyone on board.


Ocean-Born Mary's House in Henniker, New Hampshire

Just as the pirates raised cutlass and pistol, Don Pedro ordered his men to stand down. Beyond the terrified screams of the passengers, he heard another sound... the unmistakable wail of a baby. He ordered the captain, James Wilson, to bring the infant and mother to the deck. This must have taken incredible courage on his part as the baby was his own. She had been born at sea.

After a long moment, Captain Wilson turned and went below. Soon, Elizabeth Wilson stood on the deck at his side, holding a tiny baby in her arms. Don Pedro looked down into the face of the infant and sheathed his sword. Although he was a killer, he also knew that killing this child would bring him bad luck for the rest of his days. It was a superstition of the sea. He turned and ordered one of his men back to the pirate ship. When he returned, he handed his captain a package. Don Pedro unwrapped it and revealed a bolt of beautiful, sea-green brocaded silk.

He held it out to Elizabeth. “Por favor, Senora,” he spoke to her softly. “If you name your daughter Maria, Mary.... after my mother, and accept this silk for her wedding dress, I will spare the lives of all aboard.” Elizabeth tearfully took the cloth from his hands and Don Pedro and his men departed. Captain Wilson managed to bring the “Wolf” into Portsmouth harbor a few days later.

Mary Wilson grew up to be a tall Irish beauty with flaming red hair and fiery green eyes. In August 1742, she married Thomas Wallace, her childhood sweetheart and her wedding dress was made from a sea-green silk that her mother had carefully stored for more than two decades. The radiant bride soon settled into her happy marriage, but her happiness was short-lived. In 1760, Thomas died and left her with four sons to raise.

At about the same time, the golden age of piracy came to an end and Don Pedro retired from his exploits on the high seas. Although he had not thought of Mary in more than twenty years, he sought her out and learned that she lived in New Hampshire. Using money that he had plundered over the years, he purchased 6,000 acres of land in New Hampshire and aided by ship’s carpenters and slaves, he built a mansion on a hilltop south of Henniker. It was an awesome ten room house with six fireplaces and it was said to be one of the largest homes in the state. When he settled in, he called on Ocean-Born Mary and he invited her to come and live with him. He told her that the house was hers but asked that she care for him in his old age.

Mary accepted and she and her sons moved into the house. Don Pedro made sure that she never wanted for anything, showering her with fine clothing and jewels and buying her a black and gold carriage that was drawn by a four-horse team. Mary happily entertained townspeople and distinguished guests at the elegant mansion and lived in comfort for the next ten years.

Death came to Ocean Born Mary again a short time later. Don Pedro returned late one night from the coast and Mary heard the murmur of voices in the field behind the house. She looked out and saw the old pirate and a large, swarthy man burying a large trunk in a rocky hole beneath the trees. When she asked Don Pedro about it, he brushed her off and refused to answer. Time passed, but Mary never forgot the strange incident and soon, it would come back to haunt her.

A year passed and one afternoon Mary returned home from town. When she arrived, she found no stable boy waiting to greet her. In fact, there was no one around at all. She soon found the slaves huddled in a garden shed, too afraid to come out. Moments later, she found Don Pedro lying facedown in the orchard. A cutlass had been plunged into his back, pinning his body to the bloody ground. He had been dead for hours.

In keeping with his final request, Mary instructed her slaves to bury the pirate beneath the large hearthstone in the kitchen fireplace. Rumors spread about who the “fine Spanish gentleman” really was and stories began about a fortune in pirate gold that was hidden on the property. From time to time, gangs of men trespassed on the ground, searching for gold and buried loot, but Mary never stopped them and soon interest waned.

Mary stayed on the house for the rest of her days. Her sons went off to fight in the War for Independence, married and started families of their own. Mary lived until 1814, when she passed away at the age of 94. For the next 100 years, the house remained in the Wallace family. It was rented out but never sold. However, few of the renters ever stayed very long and none of them explained their hasty departures. Regardless, stories began to spread that the house was haunted....

The stories grew more credible by 1910, when the house really began to look like a haunted old mansion. It stood empty and dilapidated, with broken windows and sagging steps. No one lived in the place anymore, but this didn’t stop people from reporting lights in the window at midnight and hearing strange cries echoing in the darkness. A few who were brave enough to peer into the windows claimed to see a tall woman coming down the staircase... others stated that they had seen or had heard a horse-drawn coach pulling into the driveway.

In 1918, a Mrs. Flora Roy and her bachelor son, Louis (known as Gus), from LaCrosse, Wisconsin moved into the house. They had bought the place two years earlier and had hired workmen to restore the place and make it livable again. Even after they moved in though, there was still cleaning to do. One day, they were cleaning out the kitchen cupboards and burning the trash in the kitchen stove. Mrs. Roy had gotten a hot fire going there and was passing papers and refuse to Gus to throw into it. She handed him a paper bag and he went into the kitchen to add it to the fire. But something stopped Gus from doing it. It said that it was like an invisible hand drawing him back away from the stove. He suddenly opened the bag and found that it was filled with gunpowder!

In 1938, a hurricane devastated the Atlantic Seaboard. When the storm hit New England, it turned inland and wreaked even more havoc. The day before it hit Henniker, it rained hard all day and Gus decided to check the condition of the road before trying to take his car into town. Luckily he did, because beyond the driveway, there was no road.. only a sea of mud and wet debris. When Gus managed to get back up the drive to the house, he noticed that the garage he had built was swaying. If it went down, it would crush his new car! He quickly found a few long poles and propped up the building the best that he could.

He was drenched to the skin when he went back into the house. He saw this mother had been watching from the window. “Who was helping you shore up the garage?” she asked him when he came inside. When he replied that there had been no one out there with him, she insisted that there had been. In fact, she described this person as a tall lady in a white dress. When Gus had started back to the house, the lady seemed to vanish.

At that point, Flora and Gus began to wonder if the stories they had heard about the house were true. They didn’t doubt it any longer when they also began to see Mary inside of the house too. Gus saw her first and described a woman on the staircase with long, flowing auburn hair. Flora also began to see her too and they both believed that Ocean-Born Mary was there, watching over them and protecting her house.

Gus would later state that event though they were convinced the place was haunted, they were never frightened. They learned to ignore the strange sounds that came from the cellar because it seemed that whenever the house, or the family, was in trouble, something would happened to avert the danger. Gus claimed to have suffered 17 near-fatal accidents while living in the house and always survived.

As stories of the haunting spread, journalists from all over the country came to the house and wrote of the experiences had by Flora and Gus. The tales of Ocean-Born Mary were spread far and wide and appeared in books, magazines and later on television. Gus charged an admission for people to come and tour the house and grounds, using the money he raised to support he and his mother and for upkeep on the mansion. Every Halloween night, cars would be lined up bumper-to-bumper as people came to see the house and hoped to catch a glimpse of Mary herself.

From 1960 to 1978, the house was owned by David and Corrine Russell, who had once worked for Gus Roy and had cared for him in his final illness before he died. Even though they contacted author Hans Holzer for his 1963 book Yankee Ghosts and told him about the haunting in the place, including their own supernatural experiences, they soon began to deny the stories. They claimed that the house was not haunted and had never been haunted. In an interview with author Susy Smith for her book Prominent American Ghosts, the Russell’s claimed that stories of the house being haunted had been invented by Gus Roy so that people would come to see the house. When Smith then asked them about the stories they told to Hans Holzer, she received only a letter from their attorney in reply. The house was not haunted, it said.

In addition, stories and rumors remain today that say Mary never lived in this house at all. They say the story is nothing more than a folk legend that draws upon old tales of England and confusion over just who did live in the house. Despite this, the legend continues to be told today!

So, what was the truth? Who knows? Ocean-Born Mary’s house still stands today, as magnificent as ever, although it is a private residence now. Mary’s grave can be found in Henniker at the Centre Cemetery... and her ghost? Well, if the Russell’s are to be believed, she never existed at all. If that’s true though, then who was the tall, red-headed woman that was seen floating alongside the roadway by two New Hampshire state troopers a few years ago? Was it Ocean-Born Mary.... or a startling coincidence?

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(c) Copyright 2000 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.

Sources:
Haunted Places: The National Directory by Dennis William Hauck (1996)
Encyclopedia of Ghosts & Spirits by Rosemary Ellen Guiley (2000)
Haunted America by Michael Norman and Beth Scott (1994)
More Haunted Houses by Joan Bingham & Dolores Riccio (1991)
Yankee Ghosts by Hans Holzer (1963)
Prominent American Ghosts by Susy Smith (1969)