March 5, 2013 by kittynh
The most well known of all ghosts in New Hampshire is that of Ocean Born Mary. The story of Mary, which began when pirated captured the ship she was travelling on as a baby in 1720, and who died 94 years later in Henniker NH, seems tailor made for a legendary ghost story. Instead, the story of Mary did not begin in 1720, or even 1814 when she died, it began in 1917 when Louis Roy moved to the town of Henniker.
Roy bought an old home, a dilapidated Colonial era mansion built by Ocean Born Mary’s son Robert. Roy fixed up the old home, filled it with antiques, and came up with a great plan to attract tourists.
The plan started with renaming the home of Robert Wallace (Mary’s son) “Ocean Born Mary House”. It didn’t matter to Roy that Mary had come to Henniker to live when she was in her 70’s and had lived with her son William, not Robert. Roy knew nothing attracted tourists (and their admission money) like a good ghost story.
The start to the story, is true. Mary was born on the same day the ship her family was travelling to Boston on was captured by pirates. The pirate, hearing a baby cry, asked if the baby were a boy or a girl. Hearing the baby was a girl, he said he would allow the ship to go free if the baby was named after his mother (or wife). The parents agreed, and the pirate returned with valuable fabric as a gift for the baby. The fabric was to be made into a wedding dress when she married. Indeed, Mary did wear a dress made of the fabric when she married many years later. She had four sons and one daughter. Three of her sons married sisters, and they settled in the Henniker area.
Only when Mary was in her 70’s did she move to Henniker and she lived with her son William. Robert built the home now known as “Ocean Born Mary House”, and while Mary may have visited she did not live there. Mary lived a long and happy life. Mary has been described as “quite tall, red haired with bright eyes, elegant in her manners, resolute and determined, of strong mind, quick of comprehension, sharp in her conversation with a strong brogue and full of humor.”
So how did Mary become a ghost?
Roy took what was a wonderful historic story, a pirate moved to generosity by the crying of a newborn child, as the start of his new story. The story was that his new home, “Ocean Born Mary House” was haunted by the ghost of Mary. Also included was the pirate in various roles. Sometimes it was said that the pirate came to live with Mary in the house with her children. Sometimes it was said the pirate retired and built the home for Mary and himself. Later it was said the pirate buried his treasure somewhere on the grounds. Roy, besides charging for tours of the house, was reputed to also rent spades (for 50 cents) to those wanting to treasure hunt on the grounds.
After Roy sold the house, the new owners were plagued to tourists wanting to see the ghost and hunt for the treasure. A friend that lives in Henniker and now teaches at New England College in Henniker, mentioned that her own children growing up believed the story of the ghost of Ocean Born Mary. On Halloween Eve, a carriage with ghostly horses is said to gallop up the drive to Ocean Born Mary House. My friend said childen spent Halloween Eve waiting for the ghostly carriage to make it’s annual visit.
Now Ocean Born Mary rests in a marked grave in Henniker. The Granite State Skeptics paid her grave a visit Halloween Eve, where much to our sorrow she rested peacefully instead of rising to enter a ghostly carriage and drive to the home that now bears her name.
The home is now owned by a family that has restored it and cares for it, as a beautiful historical treasure, not as a tourist attraction needing a ghostly story to attract visitors.
Many ghostly and paranormal stories are born from greed. We have only to look at recent stories of UFOs during ratings week, historic societies that want more visitors, and restaurants and hotels that invite TV crews in to search for ghosts. Ghosts mean publicity and certainly the thrill of “you might see a ghost” attracts people. The children of Henniker New Hampshire huddled on a cold Halloween Eve in hopes of seeing a ghostly vision, not because they enjoyed being out at night!
As long as ghosts continue to fascinate and scare us, ghost stories will be around. The ghost of Ocean Born Mary is of recent origin. The very reputable and honest Henniker Historical Society has gone out of its way to spread the truth, and not perpetuate a publicity hoax. The hoax is sometimes lamented by locals that enjoyed having the most famous ghost in the state living nearby. But, the Henniker Historical Society thinks the true story of Ocean Born Mary is interesting enough without more recent additions.