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The Two Graves of Mad Anthony Wayne

Of all the heroes of the Revolutionary War, Major General Anthony Wayne tops the list for weirdest Pennsylvanian. Even if he hadn’t ended up in two separate graves, this Chester County boy would still have earned his place in the ranks of the strange. During wartime, he led bayonet charges on the British army against overwhelming odds, and lived to tell the tale. During peacetime, while maintaining a plantation in Georgia, he rode his horse through the lobby of a luxury hotel while in his cups. He famously told his commander-in-chief  George Washington that on his order, he would lay siege to Hell. He probably would have. He had a quick temper and fearless nature that earned him the nickname that has stuck with him for more than 240 years, Mad Anthony.

But apart from the dozen or so Wayne counties across the union named after him, the most enduring

symbol of General Wayne’s stature is the fact that he has two graves: one in northwestern PA where he died, and the other in southeastern PA where he was born. These are not mere monuments: The top left and bottom right of the state both contain the great hero, or at least parts of him. And the story goes that odd bones of his are scattered here and there along a diagonal path through the state. The story behind this distribution of the late General is the weirdest part of the Wayne legend, and it begins thirteen years after his death, with his son Isaac Wayne traveling in a small horse-drawn cart along what is now US Route 322. His destination: the military base at Presque Isle by Lake Erie, where his father lay buried beneath the blockhouse flagpole. His mission: to return his father’s bones to the graveyard of his family’s church, St. David’s, for reburial. His father’s deathbed wish was to be buried where a sudden illness had taken his life. His family wanted to bring the hero back home.

Isaac duly paid to have his father’s remains dug up, which may strike delicate ears as a gruesome request, but it is by no means unusual even nowadays. The really unpleasant part came after they opened the coffin. Mad Anthony Wayne was practically intact. One leg was partially decayed, but the rest of him looked as though he’d been buried yesterday, not thirteen years before. Whether it was the cryogenic properties of Lake Erie’s chill winds, the famous Lake Effect, or the General’s prodigious appetite for alcohol, he was very well preserved for a corpse of his age. This posed a transportation problem. Isaac Wayne had brought only a small cart for the four hundred mile trek back to Chester County. He didn’t have room for a second person on such a long journey, especially one who would soon begin to decay in the open air. Clearly, a radical solution was needed.

That solution came in the form of Dr James Wallace, who for a large fee agreed to separate Mad Anthony’s bones from the rest of his remains. Butchering only takes you so far in such an operation, so he ended up boiling up the bones in a large cauldron to remove those clingy bits of tendon and meat. The raw filet of Wayne, his organ meat, and uniform were placed back in the original grave. Before they filled the hole back up, they poured in several quarts of General Wayne stew. Apparently, Dr Wallace added the instruments he had used, either to honor the defiled body or because he couldn’t bring himself to use them again. Isaac stuck the warm bones in a box and drove back home with them. Along the rough road, as the story goes, the box fell off the wagon a few times, spilling bones by the roadside. The rumor has it that every year on the General’s birthday, New Year’s Day, he rises from his grave at St David’s and rides all the way across the state, looking this way and that for his missing parts.

So when the Weird Pennsylvania research team decided to visit the final resting places of Mad Anthony Wayne, we had to split the duties. Pat Wetherby drove to Erie to visit the blockhouse and Matt Lake tooled around the Main Line in search of the bones.

The Fleshpot When you ask around Erie about Mad Anthony Wayne, you’re more likely to hear “Oh, I went to Anthony Wayne Middle School” or “That bar over there serves Mad Anthony’s Ale from the Erie Brewing Company,” than get any details about his burial place. Some people around town will point you to the Erie County Historical Society, which proudly displays the iron kettle in which the Revolutionary War hero was boiled up. In a masterstroke of odd taste, this black witch’s cauldron features a cellophane fire beneath it and hollow plastic bones inside. This alone is worth traveling to Erie to see. But on the outskirts of town, behind the retired soldiers’ and sailors’ home at Third and Ash stands a restored blockhouse on the spot where Wayne died more than two hundred years before. The Wayne Blockhouse is a Victorian-era recreation of the original, and it’s labeled as the General’s death site, but nowhere around does it say that part of the General’s remains were left behind. But perhaps that’s not surprising.

The Bone Orchard Most of Mad Anthony’s bones rest in pieces in the churchyard of St David’s Episcopal Church in Radnor, almost nowhere near the Pennsylvania historical marker that celebrates the fact. The marker is on Church Road, where you’d expect to find a place of worship, but the church is on Valley Forge Road, where you wouldn’t. To get there, take Valley Forge Road south off Route 30 for a little less than two miles. In the church yard, a large stone pillar marks the General’s bones, erected by his comrades in arms, the Pennsylvania State Society of the Cincinnati, on July 4th, 1809. The inscription notes that the date was the 34th anniversary of the Independence of the United States, “an event which constitutes the most appropriate eulogium of an American soldier and patriot.”

Perhaps so, but one has to ask, is there a more appropriate way to treat a soldier and patriot than to exhume him, cut him up, boil him, cart him 400 miles, scattering bones along the way, and dump him under a stone pillar? Perhaps there is, and perhaps there isn’t. But there’s no denying it’s the weirdest way.

You can read about all of Pennsylvania’s other creepy crypts, unusual interments storied tombstones in Weird Pennsylvania.


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