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Haven History: The mad general’s ghost

By Lou Bernard in Arts & Entertainment

October 27, 2011


Photo courtesy of Google Images

Chances are, you’ve encountered some variation on the name of Mad Anthony Wayne. Traveling along highway 220, you pass through Wayne Township, which was named after him. Wayne County, Pennsylvania, also was named after Mad Anthony. So was Wayne County, Georgia. Ever been to a Batman movie? Guess where the hero got his name from? The character of Bruce Wayne was named after the general. Schools, streets, communities have all been named after him. Also a brand of beer. I’ve tasted Mad Anthony Ale, myself.

Mad Anthony Wayne was born January 1, 1745 in Chester County. He became a general under George Washington, and had a reputation for being exceptionally brave in battle—He once told Washington that he’d lay siege to Hell, if given the order. Another time, he got drunk and rode his horse through a hotel lobby.

The nickname “Mad Anthony” came from one of his men, who was arrested for disorderly conduct. When Wayne was contacted for bail, he told the police to keep the man locked up, and added that he should be lashed if he gave them more trouble. The man said he must be mad, and “Mad Anthony” had a ring to it, and stuck.

In spite of all this, Mad Anthony is best known for being in two locations. It’s not as if he had a summer home or something—-Mad Anthony wasn’t in two locations until quite some time after his death.

Mad Anthony Wayne had two graves.

Though he was from Chester County, in the southeast part of the state, Wayne died in Presque Isle, on the opposite end of Pennsylvania. He died on December 15, 1796, from complications arising from gout after a short ill- ness. He was buried there.

However, it had always been his wish to be buried with his family. Thirteen years after his death, in 1809, Wayne’s son Isaac was sent north to bring his father’s body back home.

Isaac rode to Presque Isle on his horse. He brought only his saddlebags to bring his father’s remains back with him. After all, he reasoned, how much of his father could be left after all these years?

Quite a bit, as it turns out.

Mad Anthony had barely deteriorated at all. Nobody ever figured out why. Could be something in the soil of Presque Isle. Could be that he’d con- sistently drunk enough alcohol to embalm himself. Whatever the explana- tion, Mad Anthony was still well-preserved—He could have been buried the previous day.

Which left Isaac with a problem. He solved this by bribing a local doctor to boil his father. (You get the feeling these two didn’t have such a warm father-son relationship.) The doctor boiled the flesh off Wayne’s bones, and poured the flesh back into the original grave. The bones were put in Isaac’s saddlebags, and he headed home.

The route he took has never been conclusively proven. Some say it was along Route 322 in Centre County, but looking at it on a map, that actually goes considerably out of the way. Another theory makes more sense—Some say Isaac used the trails that followed the Susquehanna River to get back home.

Which would have taken him along what is now Route 120, Water St., and Lock Haven University.

It wasn’t the smoothest of rides. According to legend, the saddlebags spilled several times along the way. Though most of the large bones were gathered, smaller ones remained unfound along the route. So Mad Anthony Wayne wound up with a final resting place of Presque Isle, Chester County, and many points in between.

It’s said that on his birthday every year, the ghost of Mad Anthony still

walks the route between his graves. Much of Pennsylvania shares in this legend; the path would have taken him through quite a few towns and back roads. And it’s possible that the ghost walks through Lock Haven, right down Water St.

Chester County has Mad Anthony’s birthplace, and one grave. The Erie County Historical Society has the kettle used to boil him, and a second grave. And the Heisey Museum may have his ghost, parading past once a year.

And who knows? Maybe, somehow, he can.


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