Jim Dawson - July 2007
Tales of Old White Marsh
Did Hannah Maynadier Rise From Her Grave?
Probably the best known Talbot County ghost story is supposed to have taken place at old White Marsh church, which dates from the mid-1600s. It burned in 1897 and the ruins and cemetery can still be seen just off Rt. 50 a few miles south of Easton.
Rev. Maynadier was rector at White Marsh from 1711 to 1745. It was said that he was “a good liver but a horrid preacher,” but he is only remembered now because of the story that his wife Hannah was roused from her grave by robbers attempting to steal her ring. This brought her out of a trance, the robbers fled and she walked home to greet her grieving spouse at the door.
The legend of Hannah Maynadier first appeared in print in 1898 in a book about Talbot County entitled Land of Legendary Lore by Prentiss Ingraham in the chapter “Weird Tales That Are Told” and is given in full here:
The story is that the rector’s wife died, and that her last wish was that she should be buried with a valuable family ring upon her finger, for it was customary in those days to bury a body without removing jewelry they had worn most in life.
Two strangers who had attended the funeral and observed this valuable ring and determined to secure it that night, so they went to the old church yard, for it was over half a century old, and digging into the grave, removed the coffin, broke it open and attempted to take the ring off the woman’s finger. It would not come off, and so a knife was used to sever the joint, and this revived the woman, who, not being dead, suddenly uttered a cry and sat up in her coffin. Tradition does not say what became of the two grave ghouls, but it is to be hoped that the fright they received turned them from their evil ways.
As for Mrs. Maynadier, she realized her situation, and though alarmed and ill, she was possessed of great nerve, so drew her shroud about her form and started upon her homeward way. What must have been her feelings, as she trudged through the night to the home she had been taken from in her coffin a few hours before! And what would have been the feelings of a benighted being who had met her on that lone highway? Verily he could have taken oath with truth to having seen one from the grave. In the rectory the old clergyman was seated before his hearth alone, doubtless recalling the wife he had won in the long ago, far across the sea, and whom he had just buried in her adopted land. Sad must have been his memories, deep must have been his sorrow, as he sat there looking into the past and thinking of the loved one in the White Marsh burying-ground.
Suddenly he was started by a fall against the door, followed by a low moan. A fearless man, he sprung to the door and beheld the fainting, shrouded form of his wife. The sight nerved him into action and drove away fear. He raised her into his arms, bore her to her bed, gave her stimulants, chafed her hands, one still bleeding from the cruel cut of the ghoul, and soon restored her to consciousness. Then he called his servants, told them the weird story and sent to Oxford for a physician.
Such is the story, and more, Mrs. Maynadier recovered from her illness and lived for many years. She and her brave old husband now lie side by side in the old White Marsh churchyard. It is alleged that the blood stain from Mrs. Maynadier’s hand still remains upon the door against which she fell.” [Ingraham, Land of Legendary Lore: Gazette Publishing House, Easton, 1898, pps. 85-6].
Ingraham claimed that this really happened and that he had heard the story from the Jenkins family of Easton who were descendants of Mrs. Maynadier, “the heroine of this true story.”
The story took wings and appeared a number of times in books, pamphlets and newspaper articles through the years and with each resurrection became more elaborate. It was said that the blood stain could still be seen at the rectory and no amount of scrubbing would remove it.
Someone even claimed to own the very chair in which Rev. Maynadier was sitting when his exhumed wife came calling:
CHAIR SAID TO BE 200 YEARS OLD
This well-preserved arm chair, now in the possession of Courtney Valliant at Hambleton, is said to be over 200 years old and used originally in the old White Marsh Church. Mr. Valliant said the chair was given to his father by a wealthy Baltimore physician who had purchased the old rectory and farm many years ago.
It is reputed to be the chair in which the late Rev. Daniel Maynadier, Huguenot rector of White Marsh during the time of Loius XIV, was found dead in 1745...
It was Mrs. Maynadier who, according to legend, had presumably died and was buried at White Marsh. When robbers attempted to take a ring from her finger she awoke, and made her way back to the rectory. Her husband was said to have been seated in this so-called “death” chair when she returned and some writers have called the chair the “missing link” in the Maynadier legend. [Star Democrat, Oct. 5, 1962]
In this version, it was Rev. Maynadier who died, presumably scared to death by his wife’s unexpected reappearance. One hopes that the “death chair” didn’t claim any more victims. But fortunately, the photo that accompanied the article showed that it was in the Eastlake style and dated from about 1880, not 1745, and was too new to have been that chair (it was too post era for Maynadier’s posterior).
Historian and folklorist Brice Stump told the most elaborate version in “The Lingering Legend of White Marsh Church – Did the Pastor’s Wife Return From Her Grave?” which is excerpted here:
The men worked quietly. Soon the shovel scraped against the wooden coffin.
Having uncovered the burial vault, they labored to remove the cover. Even though the night was cool, drops of sweat formed on their faces and backs. Fear gnawed at them.
With increased efforts the men pried at the lid, until the wooden top yielded. They moved the light into the gaping hole. The body of the woman had not been too greatly bothered by the moving of the coffin. The wind blew into the hole, and the dirt fell into the vault. The white shawl about the woman’s head moved from side to side as the breeze touched her body.
The light was brought closer. The diamond ring sparkled. One of the men gripped the ring and attempted to pull it from the finger. The ring slipped down and stopped at the swollen joint. The man reached for his knife to cut off the finger..” [Star Democrat, August 14, 1968].
But did it really happen? Even Hannah’s descendants couldn’t agree. Stump added that “Mrs. Charles Henderson of Lloyds Landing states that she is a descendant of Mrs. Maynadier and that her mother had not heard of the tale until she was educated in Talbot County schools. Commenting on the tale, she noted, ‘It is possible, but I doubt it.’ She had read similar accounts happening to others but believes the story of Mrs. Maynadier climbing from the grave and walking home is questionable.” [Star Democrat, August 14, 1968].
However, the next week another descendant, Charles Arensberg of Trappe, stated the contrary:
“My mother, Emily Wright Maynadier Arensberg, was a direct descendant of Daniel Maynadier. Unlike Mrs. Charles Henderson of Lloyds Landing, we sons heard the story of Hannah Maynadier and the grave diggers as small boys in Pittsburgh. Mother used to tell it to us as family history long before we ever came to Talbot County.
“So the story, far from appearing first to us in Talbot County school books, came direct from the lips of a great-great-grandchild of Daniel, having survived the family move from Maryland to Massachusetts after the Civil War and a further transplant to Pittsburgh.
“Mother never questioned for a moment the story. Nor did Dr. Gustavus Howard Maynadier, professor of English at Harvard, who was the family historian and who together with mother installed the bronze marker in the ruins over Daniel’s grave and that of his wife, Hannah.
“We always heard that Hannah, after the ordeal, actually survived her husband, but that fact always escaped the record.
“We also heard that Hannah was buried inside the church in a crypt ABOVE ground, a circumstance which would make it easier for the ghouls to perpetuate their evil deed....” [Star Democrat, August 21, 1968].
Or did it? The “plot” thickened. Fast forward two weeks:
With reference to your recent article about White Marsh Church, it is high time that Mrs. Maynadier’s ghost was laid to rest.
As a direct descendant of the Maynadiers, I feel it is safe to say that there is no truth to the tale that she was buried and then came to life again. None of the older members of the family have ever confirmed the story as a family legend.
The tale appears to have originated as pure fantasy in Ingraham’s “Land of Legendary Lore” and has subsequently appeared in other works, notably Shannahan’s “Tales of Old Maryland,” and Lee’s “Virginia Ghosts and Others”...
P. Kennard Wright
[Star Democrat, Sept. 4, 1968]
As historian Dickson J. Preston pointed out, not only did Hannah survive her husband, but the records of old White Marsh do not show that she died once, let alone twice. This would seem to be the stake in the heart of the legend of Hannah rising.
But it wasn’t until the early 20th century that legend became reality when grave robbers did hit the Maynadier grave:
GHOULS DESECRATE ANCIENT GRAVES AT WHITE MARSH: Vandals Exhume The Remains From Vault In Which The Rev. Daniel Maynadier Was Supposed to Have Been Buried
For at least the second time in the history of the ancient burial ground in which sleep some of the noblest of Maryland’s early settlers, ghouls within the past two weeks desecrated a grave at White Marsh Church by exhuming the remains of one who is believed by Col. Oswald Tilghman to have been the Rev. Daniel Maynadier, an early rector who lived about the time the Protestant Episcopal Church became the established denomination in Maryland. The sole motive for this act of vandalism seems to have been the procuring of any valuables buried with the deceased.
Colonel Tilghman, in an investigation of the case for his own satisfaction as Talbot’s foremost historian, says that he knows the grave in question was untouched two weeks ago. A few days ago Leeds Kerr, a guest of Colonel Tilghman and one of the noted Kerr family of Talbot, visited White Marsh and found the earth had been removed to a depth of five or six feet, laying bare the brick vault in which the coffin had rested. The remains had been removed...” [Easton Star Democrat, Dec. 4, 1915].
Did someone finally get that ring? No one knows. This incredible story was forgotten and appears in print here for the first time since 1915.
The empty vault gaped open for years until someone finally filled in the grave and laid a brick floor over it. The bronze plaque reads:
RECTOR OF ST. PETER’S CHURCH
AND HIS WIFE
But they weren’t there anymore.
And some of the genealogical information is in doubt, too. Hannah’s maiden name has been also given as Parrott, while an Internet site says it was Haskins. We only know that there was a Hannah who was born, married Rev. Maynadier, had children and then presumably died. But no one knows exactly where or when. Anything else is a question mark.
It is important to remember that no one has ever found proof that the Hannah Maynadier story predates Ingraham’s 1898 telling. He was also the prolific author of such dime classics as Satan’s Slave and Darky Dan and so probably wouldn’t have let any stray facts (like, oh, I don’t know, that it never happened) get in the way of his telling a good story. And if he did transplant the tale from somewhere else to Talbot County soil, the seed certainly took root and flourished. All the later versions seem to be based on Ingraham, but the bare bones of the tale were old when he told it.
The woman buried with a ring story is firmly rooted in folklore and probably dates back to Shakespeare’s day, if not before. Mark Twain called it a negro ghost story and told in a dialect variation of it on stage with great effect and even wrote a story about it. In these versions, she is definitely dead and most determined to get her ring back.
This is a tale best told late at night around a campfire. The version I tried goes like this:
A man dwelt by a churchyard and observed the funeral of a wealthy lady he knew. He decided to dig her up that night to steal the valuable ring she always wore. And so he did. As he gloated over his prize upstairs in the privacy of his bedroom, he looked out the window and to his horror saw the dead woman crawl out of her grave and stagger toward his house. Then he heard scratching and the front door scrape open. A voice from the grave called out, “Who’s got my golden ring?”
The man is terrified, but has no place to run. Maybe she will go away, but no, he heard her ascend the stairs step by step croaking, “Who’s got my golden ring? Who’s got my golden ring?”
Trapped, he collapsed in bed and hid under the covers. Next he heard his bedroom door squeak open and the ghastly moan was right there in his room, “Who’s got my golden ring?”
The floor boards creaked as she came closer and closer to his bed until, to his horror, he heard the cold, dead voice slowly and deliberately whisper in his ear, “Whooooo’s got my gooooooolden ring?”
Now, pause for an instant, then grab your listener by the arm and shout, “You’ve Got It!!!”
Don’t try this on anyone with a weak heart. It really works. But if something untimely should happen, be assured, there are burial plots still available in White Marsh cemetery.