Monday, March 1, 2010
The Ticking Tomb
As a follow-up to my post about The Caged Graves in Catawissa, PA, I thought I’d mention another weird PA grave – a very local one for me. (It’s about 10 minutes from my house, and I grew up knowing this legend.)
In the cemetery adjoining the London Tract Meeting House in Landenberg, there’s a marker for a grave known as The Ticking Tomb. It was said that if a person placed their ear against the stone, he would hear the distinct ticking of a watch. (Who discovered this first, I don’t know. Who goes around pressing their ears to gravestones?) The Ticking Tomb is an old, old legend. In fact, it is believed that Edgar Allen Poe, while visiting the area, went to hear it for himself and was inspired to write The Tell-Tale Heart.
According to legend, in the mid 1760’s surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were passing through the area while mapping out their famous Mason-Dixon line. A local tot supposedly swallowed Mason’s pocket watch, which continued to tick inside the boy throughout his life and beyond. (That’s some watch!)
When I was a kid, teachers told us that the ticking sound was most likely caused by an underground spring beneath the gravestone. In recent years, the ticking has reportedly stopped, which suggests that the underground spring has shifted – or that Mason’s watch has finally run down.
As for the story that Poe visited the grave – it’s quite possible. In the early 1840’s, Poe stayed at the Deer Park Tavern in Newark, Delaware – the same place where Mason and Dixon stayed nearly a century earlier. He may very well have heard the legend of the ticking tomb at that time.
It is also said that Poe stumbled while getting out of a carriage at the Deer Park Tavern, and for this indignity, he placed a good-natured “curse” upon the place: Anybody who visited it was doomed to return, again and again. The curse is still in effect: The Deer Park was my college hangout when I attended The University of Delaware, and my family still goes there for dinner now and then. The ticking tomb does not hold quite the same appeal …