[NH] Henniker – Ocean-Born Mary: The Truth

(WARNING! This spoils the Ocean-Born Mary legend)

Ocean-Born Mary is one of America’s most famous ghosts. However, only a few parts of her legend are true.

Here is the actual story, according to Henniker records:

Ocean-Born Mary really was born in 1720 aboard a ship, the Wolf. Also, her life was spared by the pirate Don Pedro, just as the story claims.

Mary’s father, Captain James Wilson, died soon after they landed in Boston, and his widow, Elizabeth, took Mary to Londonderry, NH, where she claimed the land Capt. Wilson had been granted.

Elizabeth married a second time, to James Clark (great-great grandfather of Horace Greeley, the man who said, “Go West, young man.”). She died about 1732.

1732 was also the year that the Wallace family, originally from Scotland, arrived in Londonderry, NH after living in Burnt Mills, Northern Ireland. (Burnt Mills is not on modern maps, but this is the town mentioned in historical accounts.)

Thomas Wallace married Mary Wilson on December 18th, 1742. She was actually six feet tall, with red hair. And, true to the legend, she wore a gown made from the silk given to her parents by Don Pedro.

The Wallaces did, indeed, have four sons and a daughter: Elizabeth, Thomas, Robert, William, and James. However, Thomas Wallace, Sr., and his wife Mary lived a long and happy life together, until his death on October 30, 1791. He is buried in Hill Graveyard, in Londonderry, NH.

Their daughter Elizabeth married Major (later Deacon) Thomas Patterson of the NH Militia; he was the son of Peter Patterson. They had at least one child, Robert.

Thomas Wallace, Jr., was a distinguished Revolutionary War hero.

Sons Robert, William, and James married sisters, respectively, Jeanette, Hannah, and Anna, all daughters of Robert and Mary Moore of Londonderry.

“Ocean-Born” Mary Wilson Wallace moved to Henniker on July 6, 1798 at age 78, and spent the rest of her life with her son, William, about a quarter-mile from another son, Robert.

Robert is the one who built the mansion that, today, is supposedly haunted by Ocean-Born Mary. William’s journals and the census records suggest that Mary never lived in that house.

Mary died in 1814 and was buried in William Wallace’s family plot, as described in the legend, in Centre Cemetery.

The romantic tale of Don Pedro cannot be documented after the encounter outside Boston Harbor. He certainly did not have a land grant to 6,000 acres of Henniker; Robert Wallace, who built the mansion, was considered a wealthy landowner with a deed to 300 acres surrounding the home.

The silk wedding gown was very real, and worn by several of Mary’s descendants at their own weddings. Pieces of the gown remain, in the D.A.R. Museum in Washington, D.C. and in the public library of Henniker, NH. It is a lovely faded teal green silk, in a brocade style, with small teal flowers and white stripes through it.

The home that Mary actually lived in was reported to be haunted and–after it was empty for awhile–the town purchased it in 1844 as a poorhouse, and it was known as the “Wallace Poor Farm.” In later years, it was destroyed by vandals.

The “Ocean-Born Mary” house, as her son Robert’s mansion is known today, was owned by several families before it was bought in 1917 by Louis Maurice Auguste Roy, author of The Candle Book.

Mr. Roy and his mother purchased the house and restored it, after hearing rumors of a ghost.

Soon after completing work on “the Ocean-Born Mary house,” the Roys opened their doors to the public. They charged admission, and Mr. Roy told colorful tales about Mary Wilson Wallace and the ghost which his mother claimed to have seen many times.

The phantom rocking chair was never Mary’s, and it rocked because Mr. Roy had placed it over a loose floorboard that he could shift from the other side of the room, to make the chair sway.

Further, Mr. Roy would describe the lost fortune of Don Pedro, still buried somewhere in the garden where the pirate had died. Then Mr. Roy rented shovels to the tourists, for 50-cents each, so they could dig for treasure in the back yard.

The descendants of Mary Wilson Wallace were not amused, but the public’s love of adventure, romance, and a good ghost story, made Ocean-Born Mary one of America’s best-known ghosts.

Mr. Roy died in 1965, and subsequent owners of the home, while intrigued by the legend, have done everything possible to discourage curiosity-seekers from trespassing and otherwise bothering the home and its residents. They have even moved the road in front of the house, blocking tourists from invading their privacy.

The house last appeared in Yankee magazine in September 1996, where it was in the “House for Sale” section, listed at $875,000.

If the house is haunted–and it may be–it is probably not Ocean-Born Mary who walks there.

The first half of the story–in which the pirate spares the life of the crew and passengers, when the baby is named for his mother–is romantic enough to spark legends. The rest of the story appears to be made up by Mr. Roy. (The black-and-white photo on the first page of this article, was taken by Mr. Roy to publicize the house.)

Henniker is a lovely town and it is home to New England College and Pat’s Peak skiing area. Henniker’s Centre Cemetery is a classic New England graveyard, and perfect for picture-taking, if you like stark and eerie images. Mary Wilson Wallace is buried there.

A Henniker grave marker
Grave marker at Henniker’s Central burial ground.

However, the Ocean-Born Mary ghost story is clearly drawn from Green Lady traditions (because she haunts a house, not a family), and the story of appearing on a horse-drawn coach is straight out of Irish legends.

Mary Wilson Wallace is probably not haunting her son’s home.

Special thanks to Colleen D. of Henniker’s public library,
for her time and assistance in locating materials about Ocean-Born Mary.

Also thanks to Mike Wallace, one of Mary’s relatives,
who provided useful information for our research.

[NH] Henniker – Ocean-Born Mary Ghost Story

The Ocean-Born Mary story is charming tale set in old New England, with adventure, romance, and — of course — a classic ghost or two. This is the legend:

Mary Wilson was born at sea on July 17th, 1720 (according to the old calendar), soon after her parents set sail from Londonderry, Ireland, aboard the ship, the Wolf. As the ship neared Boston harbor, it was boarded by pirates, led by the ruthless — but very young and handsome — Don Pedro.

Don Pedro learned that there was a newborn aboard, and offered to let the Wolf and its passengers continue their voyage, unharmed, if the Wilsons would name the baby “Mary,” after his beloved mother.

The Wilsons eagerly agreed, and Don Pedro honored his promise.

However, before his own ship of ruthless (and now unhappy) pirates sailed away, Don Pedro returned to the Wolf with a length of Chinese silk. He told the Wilsons that the fabric should one day be used for Mary’s wedding gown.

And so it was, when Mary and Scotsman Thomas Wallace married, in Londonderry, New Hampshire, just before Christmas in 1742. Theirs was a happy marriage, and they quickly had four sons and a daughter.

Sadly, Mary was widowed soon after the birth of her last son.

Word of the tragedy reached Don Pedro, still young but eager to take his fortune and settle far from the call of the sea. He ordered his men to row up the Contoocook River to the 6,000 acres of land he’d been granted by the King of England. “Don Pedro” was actually an English nobleman, previously the “black sheep” of the family, but his wandering days were over.

Don Pedro had his ship’s carpenter build a fine mansion on a hilltop in what is now known as Henniker, New Hampshire. The beams and detailing in the house are uniquely like a ship.

When the house was completed, Don Pedro went to Londonderry and begged Mary to live with him — as his housekeeper, since she still mourned her late husband — and Don Pedro supported Mary and her children in grand style for many happy years.

However, the fortune that Don Pedro had earned was also a curse upon him. One night, men came to the Henniker mansion under the pretense of visiting with their old friend, Don Pedro. Mary and her children went to bed, unaware that tragedy would soon strike.

Mary heard a curse from outside her window, and then a groan. Recognizing the voice of Don Pedro, she rushed to the garden and found him alone, dying with a pirate’s cutlass in his chest.

Before he died, he told Mary where he’d hidden his gold, and he asked her to bury him beneath the hearth in the home they’d shared so happily.

She honored his wishes, and lived a long and comfortable life, never leaving the Henniker home. She barely touched the treasure buried in her garden, because Don Pedro had left such a fortune.

One of Mary’s hobbies was painting, and the American eagle and stars she painted over the front door of the home, can still be seen there today. Inside, her landscape murals also decorate many rooms in the home.

After her death in 1814, her spirit remained in the house. In the early 20th century, the home was opened to the public and visitors often saw her rocking chair sway gently as she let them know she welcomed them.

Mary has been sensed near the hearth she tended carefully after it became the final resting spot of Don Pedro. Two state policemen saw her one night, crossing the road in front of her house.

Hans Holzer, the famous ghost expert, has conducted two different and apparently successful seances to contact Mary. As recently as 1963, Mary put out a blazing fire in the house, while the owners watched in amazement.

On many Halloween nights, Mary rises from her grave in Henniker’s Centre Cemetery (twelve rows back from the front gate, and marked with a special plaque), and rides a magnificent horse-drawn coach to her home. (Her grave is shown in the photo, below.)

Ocean Born Mary's gravestone
Ocean-Born Mary’s gravestone, in Henniker, NH

Many people have seen Mary’s ghost. They always comment on her red hair, green eyes, and magnificent stature, at about six feet tall. She is, by all accounts, an astonishingly beautiful woman as a ghost, just as she was in life. Her home is now privately owned and definitely NOT open to visitors. Please respect the owners’ privacy.

Ocean-Born Mary remains one of America’s most famous and beloved ghosts. Many people around Henniker will tell you about their encounters with her, especially around Halloween.


That is the legend, and it is a wonderful story. Unfortunately, only half of it is true.

If you enjoyed that tale, you’ll enjoy many other pages at our website. Thanks for visiting!

However, if you want to know more about the real Ocean-Born Mary, read The Truth about Ocean-Born Mary’s Ghost. It is not nearly as romantic as the ghost story.

[NH] Wilton – Vale End Cemetery Frights

vale end cemetery
One haunted grave at Vale End Cemetery, Wilton, NH.

Ghosts and demons are two different things. Demons are generally spirits that have never been human, and they are characterized as evil… perhaps pure evil, if there is such a thing.

They are very rare at hauntings. In over 20 years of research, I’d never encountered one before.

The following continues my story from a chilling Vale End investigation.

As I paused at what seemed to be an invisible force field at haunted Vale End Cemetery in Wilton, NH, I knew that I was right next to something profoundly evil and wholly without a conscience. This was an entity that had never been human, and he viewed me as prey.

I was certain that the Grover guys — I could now see what seemed like dozens of them — worked for this entity. They weren’t evil themselves, but had a, “Sure, why not?” kind of attitude.  I have  no idea why I thought that or was so certain of the hierarchy.

This experience was so foreign to me, I can remember thinking, “Okay, I’m going to take a few photos and then get out of here.”

I’m not someone who runs away from ghosts, and I didn’t plan to abandon this vigil without taking a few more photos.

Demons, caught on film?

As I raised my camera and looked through the viewfinder, the red Grover guys seemed to multiply. When my camera clicked, I saw three of them clearly outlined by the flash. They were emerging from behind Mary Ritter Spaulding’s headstone, and I swear they looked like they were doing the “walk like an Egyptian” dance.

Yes, my sense of humor kicks in at the weirdest times, and this was one of them. I said to my friends, who were standing — wide-eyed with fear — far behind me in the cemetery, “Good. I’m sure that I’ve got them on film.”

That’s when I realized that I was in danger. It was like a bolt of lightning had struck feet from me.  I ran for my car and didn’t even put on my seatbelt until I reached the gate. I floored it, to get away. My friends followed suit.

I was about ten miles away before I felt that whatever-it-was had stopped following me. And, I was terrified, because I didn’t want to die.

I may never know if this is what my friend, Nancy, experienced. She was dead less than a week after she encountered whatever-it-is.  (It was a sudden and mysterious death.)

This remains the only time I’ve been truly frightened during hundreds of ghost hunts.

Obviously, I survived this experience. But, the story doesn’t end there.

When my film was developed, every frame but one was black.  I had been so sure the Grover guys would show up, I was baffled by the all-black pictures.

On the one photo that had an image, I saw a vivid red shape, the same color as the Grover guys. I thought it was just a strange design.

Another researcher who’d been with me that night, looked at the photo and raised an eyebrow.

She turned the photo 180 degrees.  Then, she said that it looked like the classic image of Satan.

She was right.  Oh, I thought that was a slight stretch, but I could see why she seemed so certain.

A couple of days later, after a series of odd events connected with the film and the photos, I gave the negatives and prints to someone who was eager to own them. I wanted the film, the prints, and everything connected with it, to stay far away from my family and me.

The evil lingers

On subsequent trips even near Wilton, I could feel that same evil presence nearby, menacing. This feeling continued for two years and then — for no particular reason–stopped.

Other researchers heard about my experience, and confirmed their similar encounter with whatever’s at Vale End.

And, oddly enough, at a ghost conference, I heard that there’s a spirit at a haunted prison (in Ohio?) that’s described as a Grover-type figure.

But, what really alarmed me was when I met demonologist John Zaffis, and saw some of his startling photos. One of them contained the exact same red, satanic image.

I have no idea what to think of all this. At the time, I didn’t believe in demons in the traditional sense.  I’ve never seen anything like the little Grover guys since then, either. Were they “demons,” too? That’s outside my field of study.

I no longer scoff at the idea of demons.  And, I stay far away from anything related to them.

Obviously, I’m still ghost hunting. And, I did return to Vale End twice more, but only during daytime hours.

Once was to show another team of researchers where different events had happened. They did not have a similar encounter, and their investigation was inconclusive.

Another time, I was filming a segment for a regional TV show.  I’m not sure what the cameraman saw through his eyepiece, but — whatever it was — it terrified him.  He jumped into our van, started the engine, and floored it.

Once we were a few miles outside Wilton, he said he’d seen something through the viewfinder that just wasn’t possible.  And, after saying that, he refused to talk about it.

Ghost hunting is supposed to be fun or at least interesting. When it starts being scary and the fun goes out of it, it’s time to do something different.

I’m glad that the police patrol Vale End Cemetery steadily after dark, to prevent others from visiting it. And, I firmly recommend that no one go there for a ghost hunt.

Yes, there are ghosts in that cemetery, including the alluring Blue Lady.

However, in my opinion, the risks aren’t worth it. Look for ghosts elsewhere. Something at Vale End is not a ghost, and it could be lethal.

Note: I spoke about Vale End at Dragon*Con 2007. Other than that, I prefer not to discuss the subject.  I’m not an expert on demons and I’m reluctant to use that term to describe anything… even the chilling entity at Vale End.

Frankly, I still think the Grover-guys looked hilariously funny.  In any other context, I’d recommend the cemetery, in case you might see them, too.

I am aware that another New Hampshire “ghost hunter” — more of an entertainer than a serious researcher — has gone out of her way to ridicule my experiences at Vale End. (You don’t need to email me about this. Someone first told me about it about a year after the critical post appeared.)

Her main criticism…?  Things that had changed in the 10 years between my report and when she visited the cemetery.  The parking area has been moved. Really, that was her leading attack on my research.

Then, she misrepresented what I’ve said about Vale End, the Grover guys, and so on.

She’s not the first to try to use my name as a career-booster.  That’s okay.  She’s having fun being a self-parody.  Most people can tell the difference between that and serious, academic research, and there’s plenty of room is this field for both.

Mostly, I hope she never has a reason to regret treating Vale End lightly.

You may also be interested in my notes about Vale End and Pukwudgies.

[NH] Wilton – Vale End Cemetery, Wilton – Possible Demons

vale-sarahDemons…? At Vale End Cemetery…? I used to laugh at this idea.

In November 1999, our research focused on haunted Gilson Road Cemetery.

I wrote the following report in 2000:

One night when our team was at Gilson Road Cemetery for an investigation, one of our photographers — Nancy, my closest personal friend — brought her teenaged daughter, Alice, with her.

We had a mixed group that night, including believers and skeptics, new researchers and experienced ghost hunters. A few teens were with us.

The investigation went fairly well, with many manifestations and psychic experiences. It wasn’t especially scary. However, some people became frightened, including my friend’s daughter.

A side trip to ‘safe’ Vale End Cemetery

On their way home, Nancy and Alice stopped at Vale End Cemetery in Wilton, NH. According to Nancy, her plan was to take Alice to a comfortable, familiar cemetery near their home, so she’d feel better about the evening. Besides, Nancy wanted more photos.

They parked the car near the middle of the cemetery, as most of us do when we’re at Vale End. (Remember, this was 1999. From what I’ve heard, the parking area has been moved — or perhaps filled-in, for graves — in the past 10+ years.  I won’t be returning there to check it out.)

The “Blue Lady” gravestone.

And, they strolled towards The Blue Lady‘s headstone. (That’s it, on the right.)

Nancy mentioned being near an attorney’s headstone (identified by the ‘Esq.’ notation on the marker), when something dark seemed to come up out of the ground. She couldn’t tell what it was.

Alice ran in terror back to the car. As Nancy described the scene, she said that something screamed through Alice.

They drove away in such haste, a branch took their outside mirror right off the car.

Some time later that night, Alice called me at home. Fortunately, I was still awake.

She was terrified, and asked if anything follows people home from cemeteries.

I assured her that no, nothing follows you home. If ghosts could leave where they were, they probably wouldn’t be haunting.

A victim of haunted Vale End?

Five days later, Nancy — Hollow Hill’s lead photographer — was found dead as she sat in her car in a busy parking lot in Wilton. Her death must have been sudden, or she’d have hit the horn on the car to get attention. Nancy was the epitome of common sense.  She was also a very physically fit woman, and younger than me.

The hospital declared it a heart attack, and I thought nothing more about the odd circumstances. Mostly, I missed my good friend.

Looking back, if I could have prevented them from visiting Vale End that night… I would have.  And, I wouldn’t have treated Alice’s concerns so lightly.

However, for several months after my friend Nancy’s death, I refused to believe that tragedy had anything to do with ghost hunting.

A terrifying ghost vigil

The following spring, some of us began keeping vigil at Vale End Cemetery, hoping to see the Blue Lady.

One night, four of us were at the cemetery, chatting. Nothing dramatic was going on, although I’d measured some significant EMF levels near the large evergreen just north of the Blue Lady grave.

We were about to call it a night as darkness fell, when I decided to stroll over to the Blue Lady’s headstone for some last-minute photos… just in case.

I was feet away from the attorney’s stone that Nancy had mentioned, when I spotted what I’ve since called ‘a little Grover guy’ about two or three feet from me. (Today, I might call him a little Elmo guy.)

He was short, between two and three feet tall. He looked like he was covered with fur, and disproportionately skinny like Grover.

I paused, startled, but decided to keep walking. After all, if the Grover guy — who was a vivid shade of red* — hadn’t bothered me yet, he probably wouldn’t. And, the figure seemed more amusing than anything to inspire fear.

Then, I walked into something like a force field from Star Trek.  It felt as if I’d hit a glass wall, but there wasn’t anything there.

My story continues at Fear at Vale End Cemetery.

*People have asked why I don’t describe him as “Elmo.” Well, Elmo wasn’t a popular Sesame Street character at that point. Also, Elmo doesn’t have the same distinctively long, skinny arms that Grover has. So, I describe the figure as a “red Grover guy.”

[NH] Wilton – Vale End Cemetery – More Ghosts

Vale End signHaunted Vale End Cemetery sits, somewhat troubled, at the top of a hill in Wilton, New Hampshire. (For a map to visit Vale End, see this link.) The location is deceptively quiet. Few people visit this historic cemetery, often out of fear.

Wilton seems like a charming old New England town. Visitors may not realize that Wilton’s history has been scarred with tragedy from its earliest days.

The mysterious, repeating meetinghouse disasters

Charles E. Clark’s book, The Meetinghouse Tragedy, describes the 1773 tragedy when, during construction, the roof beam of Wilton’s new meetinghouse — and 53 workers — fell three stories in a tangle of bodies and tons of construction materials.

According to folklore, the meetinghouse was rebuilt, but collapsed again, perhaps two more times. Each time, more people died.

In one version of the story, a new meetinghouse was constructed, but fire broke out during a dance in the hall, trapping many people within its flame-engulfed walls.

Whether to avoid bad luck or for more ‘sensible’ reasons, the townspeople chose a new spot for their next meetinghouse, and moved the middle of town to where Wilton center is today.

Wilton’s quartz foundation may be the source of many hauntings. Quartz can be a magnet for paranormal forces. We’ve had a steady stream of reports from Wilton about haunted basements (hewn out of the quartz underneath each house) and possible ghost ‘portals’ throughout the town.

stolen grave marker from Vale End cemetery
Grave marker once at Vale End Cemetery. Stolen prior to 2008.

We know that there are many ghosts at Vale End Cemetery, and some entities that aren’t ghosts and were never human.

Vandalism — including the theft of headstones and markers such as the lovely Mary Magdalene statue shown at right — have compounded the disturbing psychic energy at Vale End.

Ghosts at Vale End Cemetery

In addition to The Blue Lady that haunts Vale End Cemetery in Wilton, NH, there are several other known ghosts.  The following energies have been reported by multiple readers.

A Native American ghost — perhaps several of them — lingers around the northeast side of the cemetery. When you’re in the middle of the cemetery with your back to the entrance, look to the far left wall. You’ll see a wide opening where maintenance trucks can come and go. If you walk just outside the wall, at that path, you’ll start to sense some slightly territorial spirits. There are also some who are simply curious about visitors.

A little boy, perhaps one who’d been abused, haunts the very back of the cemetery where the ground begins to slope. He’s timid and is looking for reassurances. He’s the ghost most likely to ‘cross over’ if the right person can reach him.

The ghost of a military man and perhaps his daughter have been sensed in many parts of the cemetery. They seem fairly nice most of the time, and appear to be ‘just visiting’ their own graves.

Spirits just outside the cemetery walls are represented by gravestones several feet in back of Mary Ritter’s headstone. These graves are generally outside the walls because the deceased could not be buried in hallowed ground. They may have been accused of a serious crime such as murder, or they may have committed suicide.

Vale End features a surprising number of these outside-the-walls graves, and we suspect that many of them are haunted by the ostracized people buried there.

I will not go there again for any reason.  Whatever else is there… it’s not a ghost.

Real ghosts’ stories – Notes from the other side

One of the ghosts is a young man from Colonial times. He was embarrassed by his friends, and felt that he could never recover from it. The shame was too much, though he accepts that he brought the charges — and some ridicule — upon himself. He talks about giving up too soon. I believe that he committed suicide, or at least deliberately put himself in harm’s way. He did his best to stage it so it would look like an accident. He was genuinely remorseful, and didn’t want his family to suffer further embarrassment because of him.

However, there’s also a bitter edge to his grief, and he wanted his accusers to know that they caused his death. (His logic seems a bit murky in this area. He wants his death to look like an accident to most people, but he wants his former friends and acquaintances to feel guilty for embarrassing him. He wants them to wonder, for the rest of their lives, if they caused his death.)

Until he is able to accept that there were — and still can be — good things in his existence, and even true friends, he is not likely to cross over. When this reading was completed, he was far from being able to move forward. If his grave is outside the stone wall, he may be upset that his death wasn’t determined as ‘accidental.’