Friday, March 26, 2010

Anthony Wayne: All Over the Place


I don’t know how I got started on this series of weird Pennsylvania graves … but I definitely have a story appropriate for following the caged graves of Catawissa and the ticking tomb of Landenberg.

General Anthony Wayne is undoubtedly Pennsylvania’s greatest hero of the Revolutionary War. Often called “Mad Anthony” for his brash temper and fearless approach to warfare, he once promised George Washington that he would “lay siege to Hell itself” if asked. After the American Revolution, Wayne continued to distinguish himself in the Indian Wars, particularly in the Battle of Fallen Timbers. A fine (and colorful) representation of Anthony Wayne can be found in Frances Hunter’s historical novel The Fairest Portion of the Globe – a recommended read for American history buffs.

Today, sixteen counties in the U.S. bear Wayne’s name, along with an equal number of towns and boroughs. To my mind, that’s a fine way to honor an American hero – certainly better than burying him in two graves!

Wayne died near Erie, Pennsylvania in 1796 from complications of gout. He was buried there with all due honors, but thirteen years later, his son came retrieve his father’s body, wanting to re-bury him near the family home in Radnor, Pennsylvania. Accordingly, the old hero was exhumed, whereupon it was discovered that Wayne’s body was unnaturally preserved. The son had planned to take his father’s bones home with him in a cart, and yet there was a lot more of him left than bones – which presented (ahem) a logistical problem of transportation.

A local doctor was hired to resolve the problem by separating the flesh from the bones. It can be assumed that butcher knives were used at first, but eventually the doctor resorted to boiling Wayne’s bones to clean them entirely. The flesh and the remains of the stew pot (eeeww!) were re-buried in the original grave. Wayne’s son departed with his father’s bones in a box.

According to legend, the box with the bones fell out of the cart several times on the journey home (What kind of bumbling idiot was this son?), but eventually some number of General Wayne’s bones were buried in Radnor. Anthony Wayne’s ghost may (or may not) haunt the diagonal path across the state, looking for the missing bones, but that’s another story.

Somehow, I find it fitting that in a state where you can’t buy beer and wine in the same store, you also can’t pay your respects to our most famous Revolutionary War hero in just one cemetery!

4 comments:

  1. Keep those graveyard stories coming!

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  2. Awesome post, Dianne! And thanks for mentioning our book. It's hard to imagine that Wayne wouldn't haunt the place if he could. He was pretty particularly about how he liked things done.

    Another angle to add to the graveyard tale is that some believe that Wayne could have been poisoned by his arch-enemy, traitorous general James Wilkinson. But after he was boiled and scattered all over Pennsylania, I doubt even CSI could prove it.

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  3. Thanks!

    It does seem like some weird cosmic joke that a man as organized, commanding, and effective as Anthony Wayne had a son who must have been an incompetent boob.

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