The Howe family of New England was among the first settlers in the new world. The family grew and spread to different areas of the region, establishing history in one way or another. In Damariscotta, Maine, one branch of the family made history in a more macabre fashion. Here is the account.
Colonel Joel Howe, born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1748, married Mary Gates in 1770. After the War of 1812, he, his wife and his family of nine children removed to Damariscotta where he purchased a plot of land where Elm and Hodgdon Streets now exist. After the Colonel died, the family moved across the street and established “Howe’s Tavern.” Joel III became the proprietor and business was good. Many distinguished guests made the tavern a destination such as President James K. Polk.
The Howe family became caught up in the spiritualist movement that swept the nation in the 19th century. Edwin and Lorenzo were somewhat interested in the movement but it was their sister Mary that seemed to be more sensitive than the rest of the family. She became known as a medium and held séances at the tavern where she was known to go into trances, sometimes for days without stirring a muscle. People flocked from miles around to witness Mary’s uncanny ability.
There is one account where Mary was asked when a relative would return from his visit to New York City. Mary began mumbling and said she saw many lights and that he would not return. “When all those lights appear, he will die!” She exclaimed.
Several days later, news came that the man died of a heart attack the exact same time the new gas lights were turned on to illuminate the Brooklyn Bridge.
Her trances were something to behold. She would appear to be dead but in time would arise from her strange slumber with no apparent after effects. Then in 1882, Mary died, or did she?
Mary had gone into one of her trances and lay inert for the better part of a week. Edwin invited the curious in to glimpse at the phenomena and explained that the stones were placed around the body to keep her warm. As another week passed some became suspicious and called the authorities. The constable to further delve into the matter called on Dr. Robert Dixon. When he arrived, Mary had no discernable pulse or noticeable breath yet her skin was supple and full of color, her cheeks rosy and her eyes still full of life. There was no indication of rigor mortis as she remained warm and flexible but with nothing else to go by but respiration and pulse, the good doctor declared her deceased and ordered her buried at once.
The constable, undertaker and doctor carried her away despite many protests from neighbors who knew Mary. They attested that they had seen Mary go into these trances and wake up like nothing happened. Benjamin Metcalf refused to let the throng bury her in his cemetery, forcing them to make the trip to Glidden Cemetery in NewCastle. Still the deed was done and Mary was taken for burial.
The task was met with much difficulty, as no one would dig the grave for fear that she was being buried alive. The undertaker’s assistant refused to lower the body into the grave, leaving the constable, minister and undertaker to perform the grueling task. Her grave remained unmarked for fear she would be exhumed at once.
After the burial, even the most daring of souls refused to pass the cemetery. Many claimed to witness strange lights and hear moans and groans coming from the earth. Dogs would abruptly stop while passing by the burying yard and howl in fear. The Howe Tavern became the Plummer House, before becoming a hospital and later Clark’s Apartments. The home where the incident took place was known as the George Alva Chapman House.
Was she buried alive or did Mary Howe really meet her maker? We may never know as so much time has passed. People still claim to hear the moans from the cemetery and search for her grave. There is a circle of trees where a few stones were uprooted in more recent years. Could this be Mary’s grave?