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May 29, 2005

The Truth About The "Haunting" Of Ocean-Born Mary

I have been asked by coturnix to submit a post to the Carnival of Bad History. I've decided to write about a popular New England legend that will not die because it is so romantic.

A popular example of bad history is the New Hampshire legend of Ocean-Born Mary. Being a fan of ghost stories since I was a child, I heard about it when I was about twelve, and it was one of my favorites until I learned the truth behind it. I have driven to New Hampshire before, and I was tempted to locate the "haunted" house until I learned that the "history" behind it was completely false.

According to the story, Ocean-Born Mary Wilson Wallace came to her name because she was born on the Irish immigrant ship, The Wolf, in 1720. A band of pirates had taken over the ship, and were set to sink and plunder it. The pirate captain, Don Pedro, learned that a baby had been born, and had told the Wilsons that he would spare the ship if the mother would name the baby after his mother, who was named Mary. They abided by his wishes, and the ship was saved. Don Pedro had also given Mary's parents a bolt of green brocaded silk. He wanted the silk used for Mary's wedding gown when she married. After the pirates left, the ship continued on its journey to Boston. Mary's parents settled in Londonderry, New Hampshire. Mary grew up to marry a man named Wallace, and she had four sons by him. Don Pedro had settled in Henneker, New Hampshire. When he had learned that Mary's husband had died, he invited her to live with him as his housekeeper (or according to some stories, his wife). Her four sons according to the legend also went to live in Henniker, New Hampshire. When Don Pedro died, Mary buried him beneath the fireplace hearth.

The ghost story goes that Mary continues to haunt the house in Henniker. One report states that two tourists had come to get a tour of the house. A tall woman with red hair and green eyes, wearing period dress, had answered the door. The tourists liked the idea of the house's staff dressing in clothing of the period to give tours. It was after hours, but the tall, red-haired woman with green eyes agreed to give them a tour of the house. They learned the next day that the house was closed when they had arrived, and that no one was present. When they described the woman who had given them the tour, they were in for a shock. Ocean-Born Mary was described as being six feet tall with red hair and green eyes. They had been given a tour of Ocean-Born Mary's house by Ocean-Born Mary herself.

The story has been a part of local history for many, many years. Parapsychologists have investigated the haunting. It is a favorite with paranormal investigators. One paranormal web site described the haunting at the Henniker house as follows:


A) Ghostly Appearances Seen and Felt by the Living

1). Soon after her death, an apparition of a 6 foot, red-haired woman with flashing green eyes started to be seen by the living standing by the upstairs bay windows and hanging around the central staircase.

2). Throughout the years,her apparition was often seen throwing something down the well, located in the yard.

3). Besides at Halloween as mentioned above, Some local people throughout the years, though not recently, have also seen the entity of Mary riding in a ghostly coach, touring around the countryside and roads of Henneker, being pulled by 4 ghostly horses.

4). Various police officers have seen Mary throughout the years. Recently, two state troopers also claimed to have seen an entity described as a tall, 6 foot, red-haired woman dressed in 18th century attire, crossing the road below the old mansion.

Visitors to the house also claim to have had ghostly contact of a sort. Some who have touched the hearthstone under which the pirate is buried have spoken of feeling "special vibrations." Mrs. James Nisula of Londonderry, who visited the house more than once, claimed to have "felt the vibrations" of spirits in the kitchen area.

While the mansion was deserted for awhile after Mary's death in 1814, falling into disreputable shape, it eventually was bought and lovingly renovated, which pleased the ghost immensely. She tries to be helpful to the living, even to the extent of saving various owners' lives and doing her part to protect the mansion.

1). Fierce storms have traditionally caused havoc in this coastal town. Mary's apparition was seen once helping a family repair the garage, during such a storm.

2). Louis Roy owned the house in the 1930s. A great hurricane hit the area in 1938. Roy later claimed that that Mary's ghost had saved his life nineteen times during a storm!

Roy's mother, a supposed psychic, claimed to have seen Mary's ghost on this and other occasions.

3). In 1963, Mrs. David Russell, the owner of the house at the time, had a more substantial supernatural incident. In her words: "Our caretaker dropped a space heater all the way down the stairs at the 'Ocean-Born Mary House,' and when it reached the bottom, the kerosene and the flames started to burn the stairs and climb the wall. There was no water in the house, so my husband went out after the snow. While I stood there looking at the fire and powerless to do anything about it, the fire went right out all by itself right in front of my eyes; when my husband got back with the snow it was out. It was just as if someone had smothered it with a blanket."

Still Haunted? Yes. She is still appearing to the living, and helps out when she is needed by people living in her house. Also, others may be hanging around as well, such as Captain Don Pedro, especially in the kitchen area.

Hans Holzer, a well-known para-psychologist, with the help of a medium claims he was able to send the ghost of a young servant girl to the other side, freeing her from this world.

In his 1971 book, "Haunted House Album: A Ghostly Register Of The World's Most Haunted Houses," parapsychologist Hans Holzer had the help of medium Sybil Leek, whom he had often used in his investigations. He had written of the Ocean-Born Mary house that "But I have conducted several investigations - invited by the Russells [Trish's note: these were the current owners of the house at the time] - because of the ghostly goings-on. I have worked with a local medium and with Sybil Leek, and there is no doubt that the surviving spirit of Mary Wallace, whose home this once was, is still present in the structure."

He also wrote the following:

...I also drove up with Sybil Leek and attempted another trance session. Sybil managed to bring through a servant girl who had apparently met with foul play or was involved in it. At any rate, she must be the third resident ghost, in addition to Mary Wallace and her pirate friend. There was also talk of a buried treasure somewhere on the grounds. The directions were quite explicit and after Sybil came out of trance we all went out and looked for the treasure underneath the stones behind the house. We did not dig, of course, and treasures have a way of staying underground, especially after two hundred and fifty years. While there may be some speculation about the reality of the hidden treasure and possibly of the continued residence "in spirit" of the pirate, there is substantial evidence that the house is haunted by a woman greatly resembling the original owner."

There are many problems with these claims that the Henneker house is haunted. Most telling of all is that Mary Wilson Wallace had never lived in the Henneker house. The truth of the bad history behind this "haunting" is easy to find on the Internet, but the story remains strong. It is true that Mary Wilson Wallace was born at sea. She did live in New Hampshire, and her wedding dress was made of green silk. Some of this silk is located at the New Hampshire Historical Society in Concord, and at the libraries in Londonderry and Henniker. But that is where the truth ends.

The story of pirate Don Pedro is nothing more than legend. Pirate stories are very popular in this region, since Blackbeard and other well-known pirates had frequented the area. The Isles of Shoals are located off the coast of New Hampshire, and they were known for their pirate activity. It was rumored that Blackbeard had buried his treasure there, but no treasure was ever found.

Mary and her husband had five children named Elizabeth, Thomas, Robert, William, and James. After her husband's death, she went to live the remainder of her life in Henniker with her son William. She died in 1814. She did not live in the "haunted" house in Henniker. That house was built by her son Robert, and it was about a quarter mile away.

Most telling was that one of the owners of the Henniker house was familiar with the legend, and he chose to profit financially from it. Louis Maurice Auguste Roy bought the house in 1917. He had promoted the legend, even though Mary's descendents were unhappy about it. Roy had filled the house with period furniture, and claimed that Ocean-Born Mary had owned it. He had charged admission to tourists who wanted a tour of the house. He had also capitalized on the buried treasure story by charging tourists fifty cents to rent shovels to dig on the property. Of course, since the legend is bad history, no one found any treasure.

In 1939, children's writer Lois Lensky wrote a story based on the Ocean-Born Mary legend, setting the story in Portsmith, New Hampshire rather than Henniker. Even though she admits in the final pages of the book that Mary had never lived there, the legend was further propelled into mainstream imagination.

Roy died in 1965. Subsequent owners tried to discourage tourists from falling for the legend, but it still prevails to this day. The Ocean-Born Mary story is an excellent example of how romantic bad history has made its way into the minds of many people.

Posted on May 29, 2005 at 10:22 AM | Permalink


Got it. It will be posted soon....

Posted by: coturnix at May 30, 2005 11:56:31 PM

Do they have a Carnival of Bad Laws? LOL

This is cool. I never knew that about Ocean-Born Mary but I am not surprised, it's very Salem-like.

Posted by: Moi ;) at Jun 1, 2005 1:59:21 PM