Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Mercy Brown: American Vampire?

Grave of Mercy Brown
Chestnut Hill Baptist Church Cemetery
Exeter, Rhode Island
A couple of years ago I made a trip to Rhode Island to attend a conference near the town of Exeter. While searching for interesting and unique places to visit in the immediate area, I came across a grave I knew I had to visit. On the second day of the conference I snuck away to visit the nearby cemetery and its infamous resident.

Chestnut Hill Baptist Church Cemetery (also known as Exeter Historical Cemetery #22) appears as a “typical” cemetery to the average person, but this cemetery is part of a bizarre saga of New England’s darker side. Within the boundaries of the cemetery are the remains of one of America's supposed vampires, a young lady by the name of Mercy Lena Brown.

George and Mary Brown had a small farm near Exeter and here Mary bore five children – the third child was named Mercy, though she was known by her family and friends as Lena.. In 1883, sickness descended upon the Brown Family. George first lost his wife on December 8, 1883 to consumption (we know it now as tuberculosis) and his eldest daughter, Mary (who is often referred to in some reports by her middle name, Olive) who died of the disease on June 6, 1884.

For several years, the family seemed to have escaped the black hand of death, however in 1891, Edwin, George's only son, took ill. He left the area for Colorado Springs in hope of escaping the figure of death that seemed to be stationed at his family's doorstep. Mercy, however, was not as lucky and death claimed her on January 18, 1892 at the tender age of nineteen. Due to it being winter, Mercy’s body was placed in a crypt until the ground thawed enough for a proper grave to be dug.

Shortly after Mercy’s death, Edwin returned home with his health fading quickly. Neighbors whispered that the Brown Family was cursed - one of his family had to be returning from the grave. It was obvious that one of his dead family members was feeding on Edwin and the attacks had to come to a halt or poor Edwin would die.

At some point George began to believe this too. Normally a sensible man, he allowed others to convince him that one of his deceased family members was a daemon. The word vampire would not be associated with Mercy Brown until later on. George became convinced that the vampire that was residing in the heart of one of his beloved dead. He contacted a doctor Harold Metcalf of Wickford – who according to newspapers wanted nothing to do with digging up the dead – and on March 17, 1892, and the doctor and a group of men set out to open the graves of the women in search of the daemon.
No surprise, George stayed at home as the bodies of his family were exhumed and investigated.

All three women removed from their graves. George’s wife and eldest daughter were both found to be in an advance state of decay (no surprise there – almost ten years in the ground would definitely do that).

After they checked the two Marys, they opened Mercy’s coffin and found that no decomposition had taken place. The body was still as fresh as the day it had been buried. They removed her heart and liver and finding blood still in her heart, declared she was the one responsible.

Early newspapers claim that they dug up all three bodies. However, they also mention that Mercy’s body was being kept in the cemetery’s crypt awaiting burial because the ground was too hard for proper burial. So with this in mind, I want to point out the obvious – or what seems obvious to me. Mercy’s body was still being stored in a crypt. That was January and it was now March, which means it was still cold out. In all honesty the ground was probably still frozen. There should have been no surprise that Mercy showed no signs of decomposition .

The crypt where Mercy's body was stored
And here's when things really get strange (as if they weren't strange enough). Local word of mouth claims that when the doctor cut open Mercy's body and removed her heart, it supposedly dripped fresh blood. Seeing this, the men took her heart and lover and burned them on a nearby rock. The ashes of Mercy’s heart and liver where then given to family members to mix with water and drink. Yes, they drank the heart of Mercy Brown as a means of stopping the "vampire attacks." The rest of her remains were buried beneath the stone that marks her final resting place.

It is recorded that Edwin returned to Colorado feeling better, but died two months later. Mercy’s other two sisters don’t seem to have suffered from tuberculosis, or if they did I cannot find any sources that claim they were affected by the disease.. One died in 1899 and the other in 1954.

I walked back the path in the cemetery, unsure of where her stone was, but quickly found it on the left side of the path. Mercy is buried next to her brother who drank her ashes and her father who allowed it to happen.

I stood there filled with mixed emotions. I don't believe in vampires and what happened to the remains of this young lady (who is often described as an upright citizen) is disturbing. Who could do that to a corpse, especially when it was the remains of your own flesh and blood? They burned her heart and liver, then drank the mixture in an attempt to cure themselves of the “curse” that was upon them.

I shuddered at the thought.

After paying my respects to her, I turned down a dirt road that led to the crypt where her body was stored at during the winter of 1892. It is falling down and in bad condition but here was her resting place until the butchery of her lifeless body.

I had read about ghosts and strange things happening to those who visit, but I had nothing exciting or strange happen while I was there. There is some creepiness about the area, but I figured it was more due to the information I already knew, rather than something unexplainable.

If you do decide to visit Mercy's grave I ask that you please use common sense and be respectful of the cemetery. Police do patrol the cemetery; I had one pull in while I was there – he told me they have had lots of complaints about people in the cemetery doing stupid things.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Marie Doro: A Forgotten Actress

Marie Doro
From my personal collection
One of the neatest parts of sharing the things I “discover” and then share, is when readers send me emails asking if I knew about this person or place and its importance in history. An email from Ryan had me standing in the Duncannon Presbyterian Cemetery that overlooks the spot where the Susquehanna and Juniata Rivers come together.

In his email, Ryan asked me if I have ever looked into the life of Marie Doro. He had included a short biography and a picture of her grave. I was definitely interested, though I have to admit that I had no idea who Marie Doro was at the time.

Standing before the simple marker, located just to the left of the large slab that covers her father’s grave, I came to pay respects to a local girl who made it big in the world.

Marie Doro was born Marie Katherine Stewart on May 25, 1882 in Duncannon. Marie was the only child of Virginia (Weaver) and Richard Stewart, and was a direct descendant of Patrick Henry. Shortly after her birth, her family moved to Kansas City.

Marie’s first public performance was the role of Little Eva in the play Uncle Tom’s Cabin at the Coates Opera House in Kansas City. Now I must divert my story for a moment. The Coates Opera House was a first-class theater – in fact the first theater – in Kansas City. It was founded by Kersey and Sarah Coates who left their home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1856. Kersey opened a bank, built the Coates House Hotel, erected an opera house to bring first class entertainment to the city, and invested in real estate, and was among those responsible for bringing the railroad to the city. The Coates Opera House burned to the ground on January 31, 1901 and sadly would not be rebuilt.

In 1898, Marie’s family moved to New York City, where she attended a boarding school and began to refine her acting abilities. In 1901 she made her breakout as an actress playing Cora in the risqué Naughty Anthony. The following year she would take on the role of Rosella Peppercorn in The Billionaire. This performance caught the attention of Charles Frohman. Frohman was a noted theater producer and had developed the careers of many theater actors and actresses – Marie was soon being managed by him.

An interesting side note: while performing on Broadway, Marie’s name was often associated with William Gillette, the man who gave Sherlock Holmes his famous deerstalker cap.

Grave of Marie Kathrine Stewart
AKA: Marie Doro
Duncannon Presbyterian Cemetery,Duncannon

1915 would be the year of change for Marie. May 7, 1915, Charles Frohman perished during the sinking of the RMS Lusitania. The same year she would marry Elliott Dexter, also an actor, but the marriage would end almost immediately and she never remarried. She would also leave the theater stage in 1915, pursuing a career in film.

She signed with Adolph Zukar and made her first film, The Morals of Marcus, based on the play she performed in years earlier. Marie would make eighteen films in her movie career, but sadly any of her early films would be lost, one she is often noted for is her leading role in Oliver Twist.

Marie was still a leading actress in Hollywood when she stopped acting. The exact reason for her departure is not known, but most agree she became disillusioned with Hollywood and left the movies in 1924.

In fact she left America all together. She moved to Europe and made a couple of movies in Italy and the United Kingdom.

Marie returned to the United States and settled in New York City. Her return to America marked a change in her personality. She entered the Union Theological Seminary in New York City where she studied spirituality.

The Stewart Family graves
left to right: Marie, her father, her mother
Her last years were spent mostly in seclusion. She would often go on "retreats," though exactly where she went and what she did during them remains a mystery. She would go out of her away to avoid not only journalists, but also the people she once called friends. 

While the reasoning behind this self exile has never been solved, there has been a theory that has been put forth, that would explain Marie’s strange behavior. Two of her closest friends were Maude Adams and Mercedes de Acosta, both noted for their lesbian relationships. The thought that her marriage and immediate divorce, and these friendships, hint that maybe Marie herself was fighting feelings for the same sex. But honestly, we will never know.

Marie passed away from heart failure on October 9, 1956. She was buried in Duncannon next to her parents. On February 8, 1960, Marie was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contributions to the motion picture industry.

Marie was more than just an actress. She was a noted song writer of the time – though I must admit looking at a number of the songs she wrote (that I could uncover) I did not recognize any of them. She was a noted authority on Shakespeare Sonnets and Elizabethian poetry. Those who did have a chance to talk to her after her return to the states claim she was a brilliant conversationalist, knowing and passionate about the subjects she talked.

As I stood there paying my respects, my mind drifted to another piece of gossip I had managed to find in my searching. A June 19, 1919 article in the New York Times mentions that her stepfather had shot and killed himself. I could not find any other mention of this, nor could I find any mention of her parents divorcing. Looking at the marker on the right side of Richard Stewart’s grave (Marie’s marker is on the left) I see her mother’s name listed as Stewart. I had so many questions, but the memorials just weren’t answering any of them.

I finished paying my respects and knew it was time to move on, leaving them to stand watch over the river flowing pass far below.

In my opinion, it is harder to find Duncannon Presbyterian Cemetery than it is to find Marie’s grave. The cemetery is located appropriately at the end of Cemetery Street at the northern end of Duncannon. Entering into the cemetery, bear left then take the first right. Her grave is on the left, just off the roadway.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Night of the Living Dead

At the entrance to Evans City Cemetery, Evans City
A recent adventure to the western part of the state took Zech and I to Evans City. With the summer slowly coming to an end and with Zech preparing for college, we decided to take one last grand adventure before he started school. While I had a number of places I wanted to visit and explore and this one was on that list, I had never managed to visit the area around Evans City. When I suggested going to Evans City to visit the cemetery, he was all for visiting the cemetery. The cemetery was added to the list of places to visit on our journey and on one very hot and humid day, we pulled into the cemetery.

There are no ghosts that haunt it – well, none that I am aware of. There are no famous people buried there – at least I couldn't find any. Yet this cemetery had one of the most famous graves in history, especially in cinematic history.

Evans City Cemetery is the filming location for the original Night of the Living Dead (1968). It was here that George Romero filmed the father of all zombie movies and created the horror genre that we know today. Strangely enough, though this is the father of the modern zombie movie, nowhere in the movie are the living dead referred to as zombies - they are called ghouls throughout the movie. It was here that one of the most famous lines in all movies was ever uttered: "They're coming to get you Barbara."

Driving up the dirt road into the cemetery, I instantly had a feeling that I had been here before. Having watched the movie so many times over the years, I knew most of it my heart. In the opening scenes, Johnny and Barbara drive up this road to visit their mother.

The old chapel
We soon were out of the wooded drive and into the cemetery. While the classic movie makes the cemetery appear very old, the Evans City Cemetery is a modern cemetery that has been kept in great condition. The chapel in the movie appears to be near the rear of the cemetery, but it is the first thing seen upon entering the cemetery. Sadly, the old chapel is in poor condition and I did not venture too close in my exploration of the cemetery to visit it.

I parked in the shadow of one of the few trees that still stand along the roadway. The massive pines in the movie are long gone - not even the stumps remain. These trees fell when the cemetery was hit by a tornado in 1985.

Zech and I were getting out of the truck as the caretaker rode past us on his lawnmower. He took one glance at us, saw the camera in hand, and gave a knowing smile and waved. We were not the first to visit the Evans City Cemetery to celebrate the Night of the Living Dead and I knew we would not be the last ones, but we were going to explore the filming location for ourselves.

Grave of Nicholas Kramer
The most famous grave from the movie, and possibly any movie, is the grave of Nicholas Kramer. Nicholas was born February 18, 1842 and died March 17, 1917. A flat marker next to the monument has his name spelled "Cramer" and notes his Civil War service - he was a private in Company K of the 134 Regiment.

It was his gravestone that Barbara sought refuge behind as the ghoul wrestled with her brother, Johnny. Watching the movie, I thought that the stone would have been slightly taller. It is less than six feet tall and the information about Nicholas Kramer is roughly four feet off of the ground. Due to the angle it is filmed, it appears much taller than it really is.

The next stone we visited was a couple steps away and is the grave of George and Grace Cole. Though the front of this stone is never seen in the movie, enough clues exist in the movie to reveal that this is the grace Barbara and Johnny were visiting in the movie - this is the grave of their dearly departed mother.

Grave of George and Grace Cole
Decorating their grave is a flowery cross that is similar to the one placed by Johnny on their grave. It is here that Johnny and Barbara have their spat that ends with Johnny uttering the line, "They're coming to get you Barbara."

Next to the headstone for George and Grace Cole is the Blair family stone. The stone itself is void of any names, except for the last name of Blair that is marked on both sides of the stone. Next to it, on the smaller stone, is Frances Blair who lived to be ninety-five years old. If any other Blairs are buried here, there are no stones or markings to indicate their burial.

The Blair stone is the memorial that Johnny is standing behind when he announces to Barbara that he sees a ghoul. In the movie, the "B" is noticeable as he stands there. The stone is also seen as they are placing the flowers on their mother's grave.

The Blair Stone in the foreground
The Kramer grave can be seen in the background
Of course, Zech and I each had to step up to the stone and use it as our shield to see if any ghouls were around. Looking back the grassy access road between the plots, little has changed since the filming of the movie. Most of the shrubs have survived the storms over the years and the path the ghoul took wandering about the cemetery was easily figured out.

We took turns pretending to be the ghoul lumbering about the cemetery before searching out one more stone. I'm sure the average person would have thought we were crazy, but I imagine we were one among thousands who have done the same thing over the years.

The final grave we visited that day was the grave of Clyde Myers. His tombstone is the stone that Johnny falls on while wrestling with the ghoul. Johnny hits his head on the stone, killing him instantly. Only a very brief glimpse of the stone appears in the movie and only after stopping and studying it a couple dozen times was I able to make out the last name: Myers.

The grave of Clyde Myers is directly in front of the grave of Nicholas Kramer. While Zech and I had a lot of fun being zombies roaming the cemetery, neither of us felt the need to reenact Johnny's death. Though we passed the idea between us, neither was brave enough to lie down on the grassy plot.

The grave of of Clyde Myers
After taking a lot of pictures that day and having a lot of fun roaming about the cemetery pretending to be ghouls, we knew we had to call it a day. We packed up the cameras and headed for the air conditioning of the truck in order to escape the hot, humid day.

"You want to know something?" Zech spoke in a serious tone.

"What's that?"

"I've never actually watched the whole movie."

I merely shook my head at his revelation. The movie had been a favorite of mine for many, many years. Though it had been colorized (kind of ruined it in my opinion) and remade (very poorly), I maintain that the black and white version is one that every horror buff should take the time to watch.

"You going to watch it when we get home?"


"They're coming to get you..." I said in the creepiest voice I could muster.

"Just remember, if zombies do exist, I don't have to run fast...I just need to out run you."

True. Very true.

To find the area used in the film, drive up the dirt road into the cemetery. Turn left onto the first gravel road. You'll only go a very short distance and you'll see the Blair stone along the edge of the roadway on the right. All of the stones are within a very short distance of each other and all of them can easily be seen from the Blair stone.

If you take the time to visit the cemetery, please do so respectfully and use caution - there are a number of smaller stones in the area of the main stones that may cause a trip hazard.

Just watch your back while visiting, because they're coming to get you...

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Fort Norris

Fort Norris
Pennsylvania Historical Marker
East of Kresgeville,

When it comes to the history of our state, the span of years from 1740 to 1760 has become a favorite period of mine. The early growth of the state and the result of the settler’s push into the wilds has become a fascination as I’m discovering that the violence on the frontier was not just from the natives, but also from the settlers.

A recent journey brought me back to a granite marker that sits on the southern side of Route 209, just east of Kresgeville. The memorial that was erected by the Monroe County Historical Society can easily be missed as it is hidden under a small cluster of trees, but closer to the road is one of the familiar blue historical markers placed by the state

The two memorials are for Fort Norris, which was erected just south of here.

The history of Fort Norris is an important piece of the westward expansion within the state, but a piece of history that has often been overlooked. Fort Norris was one of four provincial forts built in what was then a part of Northampton County under the direction of James Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin. Franklin himself had arrived here and selected the location where the fort was to be erected. 

The fort was named in honor of Isaac Norris, who was the Speaker of the Assembly and a Provincial Commissioner. Norris’ legacy lives on to this very day, though many do not realize his contribution to the state’s history. In 1751, Norris commissioned a bell to be made for the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Pennsylvania Charter. This bell still exists in Philadelphia and is visited by thousands daily, known to most as The Liberty Bell.

The four "official" forts were built along the northern side of the Blue Mountain, spread out from present-day Stroudsburg to Snyders. These four forts were Fort Hamilton (Stroudsburg), Fort Norris (Kresgeville), Fort Allen (Weissport), and Fort Franklin (Snyders).

Fort Norris was finished in the February of 1756 and would be abandoned a little over a year later. It was built at a mid-point between the two existing forts of Fort Hamilton and Fort Allen. It was erected in the midst of a clearing that allowed those stationed within the fort to have the ability to see a distance around them.

But the location of the fort had a deeper meaning to settlers – it was built along Pohopoco Creek at the spot where Frederick Hoeth had settled. Hoeth (also spelled Hoethe and Hueth in some reports), along with his wife and a number of their children, were the victims of an Indian raid on December 10, 1755. The account of the massacre was reported by Michael Hute, who managed to escape the attackers.

Frederick was killed immediately in the attack and the survivors were stuck in the house and it (along with the other buildings on the property) were soon set afire.  Mrs. Hoeth has fled to the bake house and remained inside until she could stand the heat no longer – she managed to escape the blaze and jumped into the creek, but died of her burns. Three of the children perished in the fire, one was killed and scalped as she tried to escape and three were carried into captivity. There is mention of another woman who was wounded in the first volley of shots that felled Frederick Hoeth, but none of them are clear as to her fate.

Michael reported that one Indian was killed and one was wounded.

Fort Norris monument
Erected by Monroe County
Historical Society
Of the three taken into captivity, Marianna (also referred to as Maria) would eventually return to civilization. She would return to Bethlehem, bringing with her the son she had to her captor. Her son, who would be christened Frederick in honor of her father, died shortly after his baptism. Marianna would pass at the tender age of thirty-five. Another of the sisters would marry a Frenchman while the third disappeared into history.

I could not find a total number of those killed in the attack. Sources vary as low as four, while other have upwards of eight. George Heiss, who survived the massacre, returned the following day to search for victims and survivors. He reported that they discovered an unidentified man who had been killed and scalped.

Fort Norris was built upon the spot of this tragedy. -The fort was originally commanded by Captain Jacob Orndt. Though they had encounters with Indians, the biggest problem Captain Orndt had to deal with was mutiny. In August of 1756, a detachment of men serving under Lieutenant Miller were stationed at Trucker's Mill (sometimes referred to as Druker's Mill; it was located at present-day Slatington) mutinied. When Miller was supposed to turn over his post to another, he refused, threatening to kill anyone who tried to take him. On August 15, Captain Wetterholt arrived at Trucker's Mill and subdued Lieutenant Miller and turned him over to Captain Orndt so Lieutenant Miller could see how a real soldier acted.

On August 26, a minor mutiny occurred at Fort Norris when a sentry refused to do his job; his refusal was supported by a number of his fellow soldiers. The basis for their uprising was a lack of pay and food.

The fort would see a number of exchanges in leadership, but after the Easton Conference in the summer of 1757, the fate of Fort Norris was sealed. It, like a number of forts across the state, would be abandoned. On September 27, 1757, Governor Denny gave the order to evacuate the fort.

The fort fell into decay and in 1787, when surveys were being done in the region, no trace of the fort could be found – time had erased an remains of the fort.

The memorials for Fort Norris stand along Route 209 just east of Kresgeville on the south side of the road.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Tom Mix: Cowboy of the Silver Screen

Grave of Tom Mix
Forest Lawn Memorial Park
Glendale, California
Armed with vague directions, I stepped out of the car into the warm weather of Southern California. I was definitely not missing the snow and arctic winds that where terrorizing those back in Pennsylvania at the moment. I was surprised when my mother stepped out of the car.

“Who are we hunting for?” she asked. I merely stared. “Don’t look at me like that. Somebody has to do the work for you.”

I didn’t argue. We spread out over one of the many hilltops of Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. The cemetery was a maze in itself and I was glad for the directions and help, no matter how vague they were.

“Guess who I found!” I heard my mother call out. I looked up from the marker I had paused at – the grave of Theodore Dreiser, who wrote Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy (which is based on the 1908 murder of Grace Brown in upstate New York).

I sighed as I crossed the short distance to where she stood above the marker of the most famous native of Mix Run, Pennsylvania. “That’d be him,” I agreed though inwardly I knew I would never live down the fact that she had been the one to “discover” his resting place.

Arcade card featuring Tom Mix
From my personal collection
Thomas Hezikiah Mix was born January 6, 1880 in the small grouping of houses known as Mix Run. Though this may not be the case – he may have been born in Dubois but Tom always insisted he was born at Mix Run. Tom was the third of four children born to Edwin and Elizabeth Mix. It is known that shortly after his birth, the Mix family was living in Dubois where his father worked for John Dubois, the town founder. His father worked in the stables and it was here that Tom learned to love and care for horses.

When Tom left Pennsylvania, he adopted his father's name, Edwin, for his own middle name. In all of his movies and appearances, he went by the name Tom E. Mix.

Tom joined the army at the age of nineteen, and rose to the rank of Artillery Sergeant, but in 1901 deserted the army, a fact he kept a secret until his death. The reason for his desertion was to marry the first of his five wives, Grace Allen. The marriage only lasted a year before it was annulled.

The next couple of years he held odd jobs around the mid-west including, a cowhand, a bartender, a sheriff, a performer in a number of Wild West shows, and a drum major in the Oklahoma Cavalry Band.

In 1910, he was hired by Selig Pictures to be a horse handler and that same year appeared in his first picture, Ranch Life in the Great Southwest. The next twenty five years he was writing, producing, and appearing in almost three hundred movies. Sadly, most of these movies have been lost or destroyed and very little remains of his movie career.

In 1929, Tom served as one of the pallbearers for Wyatt Earp’s funeral, a piece of trivia that was popularized with the movie Tombstone.

Postcard featuring Tom Mix
From my personal collection
By 1935, he had left the movie industry due to his age and the introduction of "talking pictures." Tom appeared in a handful of "talkies" but soon returned to his first love, the Wild West shows. He had continued the Wild West show circuit between movies, but he now devoted his full attention to his favorite past time, and would form the shirt-lived Tom Mix Circus. With his horse, Tony, he showcased his riding and shooting skills.

But for most, it is his strange death that Tom is known for. He had spent October 12, 1940 in Tuscan, Arizona visiting friends. He was headed north on Route 79 near Florence, Arizona when he came upon barriers placed by a work crew fixing a bridge that had been washed out. He slammed on the brakes and the car swerved into the gully. In the back seat he had a large suitcase balanced on top of a pile of his belongings and when the car went into the gully, it slid forward and hit him, breaking his neck and killing him instantly.

Pennsylvania Historical Marker
Along Route 555
At one time, there was a museum dedicated to Tom and his career in the collection of houses known as Mix Run. Early one morning I set out to find the place I had heard about on a PBS special that had played on our local station. 

I passed through the community of Castle Garden and crossed Bennett's Run. No sooner had I crossed the creek and the pavement ended and I was on a poorly maintained back road. Deeper and deeper into the mountains I drove until close to four miles after crossing the creek, I found the birthplace and museum.

Parking in front of it, the buildings appeared to be abandoned. I figured I’d take a couple of pictures and then I'd come back another day when it was open. I snapped a couple of pictures of the old museum (which boasted to have “Tom Mix’s Original Outhouse”) and a Pennsylvania Historical Marker before heading back to  "civilization."

When I started looking up the museum’s hours, I discovered that it had been sold a couple weeks before I had stopped to visit. I do not recommend visiting the place of his birth because nothing remains at the location to celebrate Tom Mix anymore. The building that was once a museum with the picture of a cowboy on it has been painted over giving no hint that the building once held a collection of Tom Mix memorabilia. Even the historical marker is gone from this remote location; the state moved the historical marker to a pull-off along Route 555 that over looks Mix Run..

“You ready to continue on?” mom asked, bringing me back to reality.

“Yeah,” I replied – I knew we had a lot of places I wanted to visit and very little time to get them all in while here. I paid my respects to my fellow Pennsylvanian before we quietly walked back across the top of the hill, leaving Tom to rest among the pines of the cemetery.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Mysterious Moving Merchant Stone

The plot of the Merchant Family
Marion Cemetery, Marion, Ohio
You'll have to forgive me as I journey out of the borders of our state, westward into our neighboring state. Deep in the heart of Ohio, is the city of Marion, where President Warren Harding was born and was later buried. However, I wasn't in town to visit the Warren Harding Memorial although the thought did cross my mind at the time, but I didn’t stop though I drove past it. Instead I arrived in Marion to visit an odd memorial in the Marion Cemetery, just across the road from where the president is buried.

After driving around the cemetery for close to thirty minutes I finally spotted the stone I was searching. Hidden near the back of the cemetery, in the eastern portion of the cemetery, was the memorial I had come searching for. Unfortunately as I stepped out of the truck, the rain that had been threatening for hours finally started. The rain was not going to stop me from investigating and exploring the area – I had driven too far to let that stop me.

The memorial I sought was the Merchant Stone. The Merchant Stone was placed on the family plot in 1896 and, for the most part, the gigantic granite sphere is similar to most of the large granite spheres that decorate graves around the world. Gathered around the memorial are eleven smaller, soccer ball sized spheres in a semi-circle.

There is one thing about the large sphere atop the main memorial separates it from similar monuments. The sphere on top of the Merchant Stone supposedly moves on its own.

Yes, you read that correctly. The sphere (which weighs roughly 5,200 pounds) that sits atop the marker for the family of Charles B. Merchant supposedly moves on it own. According to most "experts" on the Merchant Stone, the granite sphere moves roughly two inches a year.
The Merchant Stone
The memorial was erected in 1886 and within two years of its placement, people began noticing that the large, 5,200 pound, solid granite ball was slowly moving. The Merchant family had the ball reset and within a couple years it was moving once again – this time they did not have it reset and left the ball to do it rolling. Soon the unpolished bottom of the sphere, about eight inches in diameter, was visible and remains visible to this very day.

I stood there in the rain staring at the strange sight before me. After all, my mind could not even start to comprehend the force that would be needed to move the ball. I walked slowly around the stone a number of times, curious about it yet respectful of the strangeness before me. Finally I stepped up to the stone and I did what thousands of people before me (and probably thousands have since my visit) – I hesitantly reached out and touched the ball. The smooth the texture of the stone begging me to push and I did.

The stone did not move. It did not budge. It did nothing. I'm not sure what I thought was going to happen at the time, but the stone did not move; in fact, it didn't budge a millimeter.

Feeling like a fool for the mere thought of trying to push it, I quickly pulled my hand away and looked around to see if anybody was watching. I made my way around the monument one more time. Touching and gently pushing against it from every side. Again, the large stone did not move.

I stepped back a couple of steps and stood staring at the large monument. I was dumbfounded. I knew from reading about the Merchant Stone that it should not move yet is obviously had moved at some point in the past.

So what caused the ball to move? Countless theories have been set forth about what causes the ball to move. This include: the pull of the Earth's gravitational field; water freezing and melting; sound frequency causing it to move; and including the idea that the stone is cursed. Everyone who has visited (or even heard about it) have their own thoughts on why the stone moves.

Whatever the reason may be for the movement, one thing jumped out to me – I didn't see any signs of wear and tear that should be showing due to the movement of the granite sphere. No scratches or grooves were found on the granite sphere. No wearing, breaks or cracks were spotted on the stand holding the sphere. The thing that really jumped out at me was how smooth the sphere was.

So what caused the sphere to move? I do not have a solid thought about why it moved from its original spot, other than it obviously has moved sometime in the past.

Almost ten years later I returned to Marion, bringing Zech along to revisit the Merchant Stone – he refused to test the stone by giving it a push, merely laughing as I tried to move it again.

The Merchant Stone
After returning home from our trip, I studied my new pictures and compared them to pictures from my first trip to the Merchant stone in an attempt to see if it moved. Comparing the photos I had taken almost ten years apart, I had a revelation about the Merchant Stone.

I pulled up the pictures of the stone that others have taken, something about the gigantic sphere jumped out - something that I had missed when I had previously looked at the pictures. The unpolished spot appeared to be in the same place in every picture.

I quickly pulled up the photographs I had taken. The pictures were resized so the ones I had taken in 2006 and also 2012 were the same size and overlapped the pictures, the unpolished spot lined up perfectly.  A search online found a picture of the stone from 1979 (and it is the oldest I could find) also lined up perfectly.

I came to a personal conclusion. The sphere, if it has moved at all, has only moved millimeters since the earliest picture I could find of it – not the two inches per year as many claim.  In almost forty years the unpolished bottom is in the same location in all three pictures and they overlap perfectly.

That does not mean that it has not moved – I just don’t believe it has moved in recent history. I only made two visits to the Merchant Stone – others have visited and measured it daily. They are the "experts" on the Merchant Stone and if they say it is moving, then it must be.

But for me the mystery has come to an end. I personally believe it was never set correctly in 1886 when the monument was erected. I’ve seen other cemeteries that the sphere was not set correctly and the unpolished bottom can be seen. Someone along the line claimed the ball must be moving and the story stuck. But again, that is my opinion – and one I will stick to until I either see a picture of the monument with the spot in an obvious different location than where it is.

If you ever get out to central Ohio, make a side trip into Marion to visit the Marion Cemetery, and let me know what you think of the mysterious moving ball of the Merchant Family.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Nick Adams: The Rebel

The grave of Nick Adams,
Saints Cyril and Methodius Cemetery,Berwick
Hidden next to the grounds of the Berwick Golf Club, the small cemetery was located in an almost ideal location. Located close to the city, but far enough away that it avoids the noise, the birds were calling out that morning as I stepped out of the truck. The silence broken by the sound of Zech and I closing the truck’s doors – the cool morning air mixed with the warmth of the rising sun – it was a peaceful morning as we started walking among the stones searching for one grave among the field of stone.

And then the peace was broken the sound of golf balls being hit.

I instinctively cringed as I heard another one being whacked nearby as I wandered among the stones of Saints Cyril and Methodius Ukrainian Cemetery – which is listed on some online some maps as the Greek Catholic Cemetery – overlooking the town of Berwick. I had already spotted a number of balls resting among the stones and hoped that the players were able to keep their golf balls on the course.

“Hey I found him,” I heard Zech call out and I made my way over to where he stood looking at the stone. The back of it, the side that we could initially see, had the familiar outline of the head of Johnny Yuma.

“That’s him,” I agreed. “We found The Rebel.”

On June 10, 1931, Nick Adams was born Nicholas Aloysius Adamshock in Nanticoke, the son of an anthracite coal miner. At the age of five, his parents moved from the coal fields to after his uncle was killed as a result of a mining accident. While on his death bed, his uncle called Nick’s father over and commented about how the boys would make fine miners. Two days later, Nick’s father moved the family to New Jersey, settling in a small basement apartment just across the river from New York City.

While in school, Nick was a noted athlete. He was quarterback for the school’s team and also played for the baseball team. His ability on the field was enough to get him noticed and he was offered a minor league contract with St. Louis

At the age of seventeen, he appeared on Broadway and in 1950, he left the east coast behind and headed westward to pursue a career in acting. Two years later he starred in his first movie, an uncredited role in Somebody Loves Me. His acting career was placed on hold that same year when he enlisted in the United States Coast Guard as a means of avoiding the Army from drafting him into service (and to avoid fighting in the Korean War).

In 1955 he would star in supporting roles in two major movies – Mr. Roberts and Rebel Without a Cause. He would continue in supporting roles over the next couple of years, including another uncredited scene in Giant, in which he did a voice-over for James Dean, who had died during the filming of the movie.

It would be the series The Rebel (1959-1961) that would be the major role in Adams' career. For two years he portrayed the displaced Confederate Civil War veteran Johnny Yuma. After the series was canceled Adams appeared in guest roles in various shows and B Movies.

On February 6, 1968, the wanderings of The Rebel, Johnny Yuma, came to an end due to a drug overdose. When Nick failed to arrive at a dinner meeting on evening of February 7, his lawyer Edwin Roeder went to Adams’ house in search of him. Seeing the car still in the garage, Roeder broke a window and entered the house to find Nick’s lifeless body propped up against a wall in his bedroom. Nick’s death was due to a mixture of paraldehyde and other drugs. It was ruled an accidental suicide due to a drug overdose. There seems to be some debate if Nick’s death was truly accidental or if it was a murder – there are enough sites out there without me adding to the list.

After his death, Nick’s body was returned to Berwick.

The front of the stone is rather plain, but the back of the stone has a profile of Johnny Yuma, with "Nick Adams" and "The Rebel" within the outline; beneath it is chiseled "Actor of Hollywood Screens." The peace that Nick seemed unable to find during his lifetime fully surrounds his final resting place.

We paid our respects to the talented, though often overlooked, actor before continuing our day’s journey.

Nick Adams is buried in Saints Cyril and Methodius Cemetery, Berwick. The cemetery is located at the end of Crystal Hill Road – the opposite end of Crystal Hill Road is at the top of a hill and it is hard to see oncoming traffic when turning off of it – please use caution when visiting. He is buried along the fence to the right as you enter the cemetery, just a short walk from the entrance.

The back of Nick Adams' marker
The first time I ever heard of Nick Adams was related to the infamous curse that revolved around those who were involved with the movie Rebel Without A Cause. While I mentioned Nick's death above, I want to briefly mention the others who have been involved in the curse.

The most famous name associated with the curse is James Dean. James would die in a car crash on September 30, 1955 - his mechanic and passenger Rolf Wuentherich managed to survive the horrific crash with serious injuries. In July 1981, an intoxicated Wuentherich died when he crashed the vehicle he was driving.

Erwin Roeder was also a victim of this curse through knowing the actor. Edwin, who discovered Adams' body, would be violently killed. On June 10, 1981, Roeder and his wife, Jenny Maxwell, were gunned down during a robbery. Their deaths remain unsolved.

On February 12, 1976, Sal Mineo would become a victim of the curse. He was returning home from the rehearsal of a play he was in when he was attacked. His attacker stabbed him once through the heart, killing him instantly. Lionel Ray Williams was sentenced to fifty-seven years in prison for the murder.

Natalie Wood would be the final victim of the curse. On November 29, 1981, she had gone on a boat trip with her husband Robert Wagner, and Christopher Walken. During the trip she fell overboard and drowned. Originally ruled and accidental drowning, in 2013 it was amended to drowning and other indeterminate factors after the boat’s captain revealed he had lied when originally questioned.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Jayne Mansfield: The Blonde Bombshell

Grave of Jayne Mansfield
Fairview Cemetery, Pen Argyl
I parked only yards away from the large, heart-shaped stone that – due to its size and shape – seemed out of place on the grounds of Fairview Cemetery. The cemetery, located just south of Pen Argyl on the Middletown Road, is the final resting place of a famous – or in the minds of some scandalous – celebrity.

I stepped out onto the well manicured garden of stone and started towards the stone, bringing with me a single rose. As I walked towards the stone, memories of my first visit flooded my mind. My first attempt to find Fairview Cemetery was an adventure in itself. I had become lost in the small town of Pen Argyl - despite twice stopping for directions – it was only due to a wrong turn I discovered the street I was looking for.

Pulling onto the grounds of Fairview Cemetery that day,  I but had no idea what her grave looked like or where it was located at in the cemetery. I knew I had come to pay my respects to her and had given myself extra time to search. Upon seeing the heart-shaped stone, I knew even before I walked over to it, that I had found the final resting place of Jayne Mansfield.

Jayne was one of Hollywood's original blonde bombshells, known for flaunting her sexuality, her wardrobe malfunctions, and her infamous Playboy spread (which resulted in Hugh Hefner being arrested for Jayne's nude pictures and the debate on whether those pictures were obscene or art).

Often referred to as "the poor man's Marilyn Monroe," Jayne was born Vera Jayne Palmer in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania on April 19, 1933, the only child of Vera and Hebert Palmer. Her father was a successful lawyer and moved the family to Philipsburg, New Jersey, where he practiced law. When Jayne was three years old, her father passed away due to a heart attack and the family moved to Pen Argyl.. Her mother would remarry and the family would move to Dallas, Texas.

In 1949, when Jayne was just sixteen years old, she met Paul Mansfield and they were married early the following year. By the end of the year, her first daughter was born.  Though the marriage would not last and despite being married two more times, she maintained Mansfield as her last name throughout her acting career.

In 1954, Jayne made a brief television appearance followed the next year as a cigar girl in Pete Kelly’s Blues.  The following February she would become one of the first centerfolds in Playboy, which would be the first of a number of issues that featured her,

In 1956, she would marry Mickey Hargitay. Mickey was a bodybuilder and had won the 1955 Mr. Universe competition. Their marriage would produce three more children for Jayne. Their youngest daughter, Mariska Hargitay, continues the acting path her mother started on and is known for her role Detective Olivia Benson on Law and Order: SVU.

Jayne’s break-out role would happen in 1957 when she portrayed Rita Marlowe in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? But her fame as an actress was short lived as Hollywood’s demand for the blonde bombshells faded.

A collector's card featuring Jayne Mansfield
The black box is a piece of fabric worn by her
Card is a part of my personal collection
Jayne would marry a third time – this time to Matt Climber, with whom she had one son. Under his….ahem…guidance her career bombed. In 1963, she became the first American actress to appear nude in a mainstream film (Promises…Promises!) due to his directing her career.

At this point, she had descended into alcohol abuse. Jayne had filed for a divorce and in the process had moved in with Sam Brody. She was still waiting for the divorce to be finalized when she took off on a cross-country journey performing in nightclubs, usually doing two shows a night almost every night.

On June 29, 1967, tragedy would strike. Jayne had made an appearance in Biloxi, Mississippi on June 28th and was headed to New Orleans, where she was scheduled to be on a radio show at noon on the 29th. Packed into the car with her were: Sam Brody (her boyfriend at the time), Ronnie Harrison (who was driving) and three of her five children. While traveling on U.S. Highway 90, their car entered a fog created by a insecticide truck spraying for mosquitoes. Behind the sprayer was a tractor trailer that had slowed to a near stop due to the conditions. Their car entered the fog and slammed into the rear of the semi while traveling at a speed of eighty miles an hour. The three adults in the front seat were killed instantly; the three children survived.

Almost immediately rumors that she had been decapitated started circulating throughout the news. Though the urban legend has been proven untrue, it still circulates today. The instant her name gets brought up in conversation, it is usually followed by, "She died when she was decapitated in that wreck (amazing most know she died in a wreck but know little if anything else about her death). Days before she was killed a picture of her was ripped and it had separated her head from her body so she was destined to die the same way." The urban legend is not true, though she did die from severe head trauma.

Probably the most bizarre version of her death is that her body was buried in Pen Argyl and that her head was buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Again a false rumor, but it amazes me the amount of times I’ve read this.

Mickey drove to New Orleans to bring Jayne's body to Pen Argyl and had her buried in the same cemetery where her father had been buried years before and her mother would later be buried.

I placed my single pink rose (pink was her favorite color) among the other flowers and decorations that adorned her stone before knowing it was time to leave. As I started the vehicle, another car parked behind me. The young couple pointed towards Jayne's stone and started to walk over to the grave with a small bouquet of flowers. Jayne has not been forgotten. She may have burst upon the scene, and quickly faded from Hollywood, but she is far from being forgotten

A side note: In Hollywood Forever Cemetery there is a cenotaph (a memorial marker) for Jayne, which interestingly has her birth date wrong. I had the opportunity to visit the cemetery and a visit to Jayne’s marker was on my list of spots to visit while paying my respects to the celebrities interred in the cemetery. However, due to maintenance going on I was unable to visit it...I guess I'll have to return to Los Angeles one of these days...