Saturday, January 5, 2008

Mad Anthony Wayne's Bones

wayne's grave - radnor
General Mad Anthony Wayne's Radnor Grave
Image from American Revolution Organization

The colorful career of Revolutionary and Indian War General “Mad” Anthony Wayne came to end at Fort Presque Isle on December 15, 1796 at the age of 51. He was buried underneath the Erie Blockhouse per his request at the foot of the flagpole.

There his body lay for the next dozen years, until his daughter Margaretta asked her brother Isaac to bring their father's remains home to the family cemetery in Radnor. He jumped into a buggy and headed to Erie. When they opened the coffin, they found Wayne's body had barely decomposed.

They couldn't take the body home in Wayne's sulky, a light, two-wheeled wagon (although another version said the locals protested the move and held out for two burial sites), so Dr. Wallace and four assistants boiled the meat from the bones of the good general in a big black kettle, much like traditional cannibal chefs.

Isaac headed east with his dad's bones, neatly packed in a trunk, for burial at St. David's Cemetery in Chester County. The flesh, clothes, water and instruments used to filet Wayne were reburied at Presque Isle.

It's said that Isaac, on the steep and bumpy ride home along what is now Route 322, lost a few bones along the way. Every New Years Day on his birthday, Mad Anthony Wayne arises from his Erie grave and travels the road to St. David's in search of his missing bones.

What's left of Wayne's Presque Isle grave is now on display at the Presque Isle Blockhouse museum, including his coffin lid, some bits of clothing, and Dr. Wallace's tools. The rest either rotted away (burying the water was probably not a stroke of genius) or was destroyed in a 1853 blaze at the blockhouse and a subsequent leveling of the old parade grounds. The kettle is on exhibition at the Erie County History Center.

So if you're driving along 322 on New Year's Day and see a Revolutionary War figure riding along the road on his charger, pull over and say hi to Mad Anthony while he proceeds on his annual quest to make his skeleton whole after all these years.

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