Top: Mary’s Playhouse at Head of the Harbor.
Mary lived with her father in a large rambling house on Stony Brook harbor, in what is today known as Head of the Harbor, New York. One can assume that Mary’s father was anticipating a large family, or perhaps more likely, he inherited the house. But either way, for him this wasn’t to be.
Mary’s mother died just after childbirth. It was a difficult delivery, and though the doctor was sent for, the isolation of the house meant it was hours before he made it. There were few options available during childbirth in the early 19th century. Quite often, to save the life of the mother, a doctor would be forced to perform an embryotomy, which was literally cutting the baby apart, often by decapitation while still in the womb, and removing the pieces. When the decision was made to save the baby rather than the mother, the results were equally ghoulish. At any event, when he arrived, he found a healthy baby girl, but her mother bleeding to death, nearly ripped apart from the birth. It is said the father never recovered from the loss of his wife, and held Mary responsible for her death.
Life was busy and hard, even for a man of means which Mary’s father certainly was. There were crops to attend to, and there was money to be made harvesting scallops, shellfish, soft clams and oysters from the harbor. Being an only child, and isolated from the other families in the area, Mary had few friends, and spent hours wandering in the woods and along the shore.
One of Mary’s favorite places was the springhouse along the harbor. Being made of stone and fed by a natural spring, the little building was warm during the winter and cool during the hot summer months. And it was in this little building that Mary’s father found her one afternoon, and her life changed from one spent in imaginative isolation, into a downward spiral into madness and horror.
Life was lonely for her father as well, and by this time Mary had grown into what at the time was considered a young woman, a fact which had not escaped him. He was a religious man, and it is often among such men that temptation strikes hardest, and for her father, still grieving the loss of his wife all these years later, and now seeing her face in Mary’s was more than he could bear, and he cracked. There in the springhouse he had her for the first time, before eventually moving her into his bed.
Mary was loyal to her father, and though she knew what he asked of her was wrong, there was little she could do. Her father was well thought of in the community and no one would believe her story if she told it. To run away was more dangerous than to stay, and so she accepted his advances, growing slowly and inexorably mad as time wore on. Until the day when what she had most feared became a certainty, and she knew she was carrying her father’s child.
Mary had spent many long hours in the woods, and the creatures she found there had grown used to her presence. It is said she had the power to draw these animals to her, which she did now as she sat in the springhouse, torn by guilt, torn by rage, and as they came to her she tore them limb from limb with the aid of the hatchet which was always kept there. It was then that she decided what she must do, and she went back to the house with the hatchet carefully hidden in the folds of her dress.
That night was a night like many others, and when her father called her into his bed, she came. She moved under cover of darkness, just a silhouette to her father, and standing over him as he lay there, brought the hatchet down into the center of his skull. Again and again her arm raised and fell, the weapon gripped tightly in her fist. Until eventually she stopped, climbed beneath the sheets and went to sleep.
And so Mary went on with her days as though nothing had happened, and each night climbed into the bed with her father’s now bloated and rotting corpse, and went to sleep.
Eventually the townspeople took notice of his absence, and a few of them rode out to pay him a visit. It was still early, and as there was no answer at the door they went inside. They could smell the stench of death, a smell that during those times would have been familiar to most. Up the stairs they went and pushing open the door they found Mary, sleeping peacefully next to her father’s blood-soaked corpse.
The townspeople, horrified by what she had done, and Mary far too mad now to defend herself against their accusations, dragged Mary from the house and down the hill to the tree which still stands alongside the road. And there they hung her and put an end to a sad tragic life.
Though of course that’s not the end of the story, for though Mary was guilty of the crime which she was hung, the circumstances certainly merited a degree of mercy. And so Mary is seen sometimes, standing beside the tree where her life was cut short. She’s seen through the gates of the house, near the unmarked grave just inside the woods where she was buried. And of course she’s seen in the springhouse, where the water still runs clean and cool.
Through the years the little house has become a test of bravery. It is said that at night, only the bravest of teenagers will pee against it, and those that do will return to their car and find it won’t start. At least the lucky ones, for it’s also said that after pulling away they will meet their death on the curves ahead, forced off the road and into a tree by a young lady in white who runs from the darkness and into their path. And if you choose to drive by Mary’s house at night, look up the hill to the window on the top floor, and you’ll see a light burning. If you look closely, you’ll see Mary sitting there, looking out at the tree where she met her death.
* * * * *
This is the story of Mary’s Grave, sometimes called Mary Hatchet, and incorporates many, but not nearly all the elements found in the many variations of her tale. It’s associated with several locations, all over Long Island, and of course there is no way of knowing what parts, if any are true.
Two questions arise: Why is the story, and indeed so many stories involving women named Mary, found not only around Long Island, but throughout the country? And second, how old is the story?
Luckily for us, the names involved in the story might provide clues to its age. There seems to be two camps when it comes to the tale, those who believe, and those who don’t. Those who don’t point to the fact that the tale is told in too many different places. And why is the basic tale so widespread? The details themselves vary, but typically involve Mary committing a murder or murders with a hatchet, a stone hut in the forest, incest and Mary’s ghost. Mary is often described as a ghost dressed in white, but just as often, a woman with an angry or fearful expression, wearing Victorian era clothing and holding a hatchet or axe.
And this part is simple, for Mary Hatchet was a historical, though fictional character, well known in the last part of the nineteenth and first part of the twentieth century. She was a symbol used in the literature for the Women’s Temperance Christian Union (WTCU), a group dedicated in part to bring about prohibition. Mary used her hatchet to bust open casks of liquor, and is frequently depicted as an angry woman, in Victorian era clothing, holding a hatchet. The WCTU frequently met in member’s homes, and these homes were often called Mary Hatchet’s house. So it’s entirely reasonable that there will be found across Long Island, as well as throughout the country, many so-called Mary Hatchet’s houses. As time wore on, the name stuck to these old houses, which were typically of the Victorian era or older, the type which quite often find ghost stories attached to them. And it’s often the older generation that used to pass on ghost stories, and it’s easy to picture a grandfather passing on with a twinkle in his eye, to his children and grandchildren, the story of the woman in black, wielding a hatchet who used to live in the house.
The well not only fits the same pattern, but also pushes the date of the story back farther. In the middle ages, in an area which later was swallowed up by London, there was a natural spring known as Black Mary’s Hole. Though in later years, sinister stories were told about Black Mary, it appears that originally she was a nun, and was called that either because of the color of her habit, or because she was originally of African origin.
When the English came to this country, quite often they would give the name to natural springs which they found here, as well as small ponds or lakes. And so it’s quite likely that originally the spring at Head of the Harbor reflected the name Mary as well. To begin with, the nearest settlement at the time would have been Saint James, which was named for the Episcopal church there, which showed that this was a heavily English area. Further evidence can be found in Massapequa, which has a small pond that was long ago known as Mary’s Hole. It’s also worth noting that another location associated with the story of Hatchet Mary is Mount Misery. There Mary is associated with either a school or asylum, which according to the oldest reference I’ve found of the story, was located at the corner where Mount Misery, Sweet Hollow and Chichester Roads meet. And is the site of another natural spring, known since the time of the Native Americans’ occupation of the area.
Natural springs and wells have of course often been thought of as enchanted or haunted, so it’s no surprise that the early settlers of the area brought folk tales with them, and associated them with these sites. These tales had a practical aspect, in that they were intended to frighten children away from these areas, which were often dangerous.
Incest in association with wells were also known throughout the history of folklore. A traveller, a class of people who move from place to place in Ireland, sang a song to a collector in 1966 which dates from the middle ages and was thought to be long lost. The original was believed to be either English or Scottish in origin, and relates the story of a man traveling through the countryside, who meets a woman alongside a well. There he learns that she has had several children, each by a different member of her family, and each that were killed at birth. And it’s worth noting, that one of the legends of Mary Hatchet is that she has a child or children with her father, who she dispatches with her hatchet along with the father, and these are the crimes for which she is hanged. It should also be mentioned, that Scandinavian versions of this song includes verses about Jesus meeting Mary Magdalene at a well, who claims to be a virgin, untill he tells her she has had children by her father, her brother and the village priest. And so another, more ancient Mary enters the story.
The Well Below The Valley
A gentleman was passing by
He asked for a drink as he got dry
“My cup is full up to the brim
If I were to stoop I might fall in”
“If your true lover was passing by
You’d fill him a drink as he got dry”
She swore by grass, she swore by corn
That her true love had never been born
“Young maid you’re swearing wrong
For six young children you had born”
“If you be a man of noble fame
You’ll tell to me the father of them”
“There’s two of them by your Uncle Dan
Another two by your brother John
Another two by your father dear”
“If you be a man of noble ‘steem
You’ll tell me what did happen to them”
“There’s two buried ‘neath the stable door
Another two ‘neath the kitchen door
Another two buried beneath the wall”
“If you be a man of noble fame
You’ll tell me what will happen myself”
“You’ll be seven years a-ringing the bell
You’ll be seven more burning in hell”
And of course none of these bits of evidence says anything about the historical facts of the tale, if indeed there are any. But I do get a feeling that the tale told of Mary at Head of the Harbor is quite old, perhaps as old as the original settlement there. The Europeans who came to this continent brought their legends and folklore with them, and old ghosts found new haunts in the new world.
Very interesting take on legends. It is True that there are a lot of Mary mentioned in not only history but legends and folklore as well. I have heard of a similar tale about a young woman named Mary whom murdered her mother due to some mental instability which comes about during the time of her Menstruation. I also know that there was a movie based on that particular version. It is stated it is based on a True story. Is that Legend in any relation to the ones you have mention? It stated that the woman Mary was commited to a mental institution when in that particular time period the female populace was often mistreated by guards. I do know that during that particular time period it did often happen and it stated the woman was Raped while instituionalized and the baby supposedly died and Mary was later buried after having died as well. I was curious as to whether or not there was any truth in the tale or if it was in any way related to the above article? Also I do have an interesting tale of my own childhood home if you are interested. Also It is nice to know that some people want to find out the truth behind legends and folklore. Something that has always interested me.
where is the Mary hatchet location???
If you’re referring to the Mary Hatchet of movie fame, only in people’s imaginations. The Mary Hatchet house refers to any home which in the past served as a meeting of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and the only think they took the hatchet to was barrels of booze. There were many scattered over Long Island, and as a result, there are many Mary Hatchet legends, each in a different town.
So I have to say it is an interesting story but doubt almost every word. There are a ton of little graves all around Head of the Harbor and many are relatives or workers for the Smith family as this is where most of the family congregated as Head of the Harbor predated St. James by about 200 years (not the villiage but the area). The area of Mary’s grave is just to the right of the main entrance to Wetherill (that hous on the hill) and was an access road to the grounds. There was also a rear entrance off Moriches Road when I was a kid but has since been developed. The house was designed by Stanford White who’s estated was just adjacent to it to the west. The stone “house” across the street that is pictured at the top of this page is a pump house for water and nothing more. It had a roof and flowing water from the flanged pipe in the ground when I was a kid. The water flowed until it was capped due to polutants caused by a dry cleaning spill miles away. You have to keep in mind that the Smith’s settled the area starting in 1665 after Richard got the land from Gardener (the guy the island is named after) wen he got it from the native americans for getting the chiefs kidnapped daughter back from a rival tribe in Connecticut. That whole riding the bull thing was just that….BULL! Like I said, there are graves all over because people were burried near where they lived and most of the graves you will find date back before the early 1800’s because there were no graveyards except where the one church was at the corner of River and Moriches (later moved up to the corner of 25 and 25A in Smithtown Branch).
Heck, the railroad did not even make it to what is known as St. James until after 1870. People just got planted on the corners of the property when they died. Across for the general store, in the woods to the west of the Deep Wells field are graves of Matthew and Sarah Smith. They were not murdered….They were just a “Revolutionary war veteran” and a “Daughter of the American Revolution”
Ah, you must have just read the first part, for had you read further you’d surely have noticed I doubt nearly every word as well. The question is not whether Mary existed (doubt it), or did the things the story talks about (almost certainly poppycock). Instead the post is about the sources of the legends, and where they might have come from. Which is after all what is important about folk tales. As long as people tell tales and pique interest, there will be those who look further and learn the truth. And in the process, the people who actually lived in these places, and their lives are not forgotten.
If you’d like a bit more history on the area, try these posts:
Yes, I was only referring to the orignal top section and not your page in general. I did not mean to offend as I found it interesting. My grandfather, after retiring, worked as a house painter and actually painted the interior of Wetherill. Two doctors owned it at that point and there was nothing really spooky going on then either. That was the late 1940’s or early 1950’s. I still live in Head of the Harbor and my sister was fairly friendly with Barbara Van Liew (my sister was a history major). Before he died, my sister interviewed “old man” O’Berry and has a tape of their trip around the villiage explaining who did what and what used to be where. I still miss the Thorton Estate that Gate Road used to lead to. It was a much sleepier town 50+ years ago when I was young but nothing was ever spooky. I did scare the pants off my friends driving down Shep Jones Lane in the dark with all the lights off on the car (by moon light). The people seemed friendlier then. I guess I’m just getting old.
No offense taken. That’s my standard explanation when locals find stories about their neighborhood in print. A lot of times they are the last ones to find out that their towns and neighborhoods are plastered all over the internet, and are understandably concerned.
Much of the information for these articles came from Barbara’s books, Fifty Years, and A Journey Through Time. I once ran into one of Standford White’s descendants, his grandson Robert’s wife Claire Nicolas, and had a very nice conversation, but she ended it with a warning that people around there like to keep their business private. I didn’t mention that I had recently seen an hour special on her husband’s grandfather on PBS titled Crime of the Century, so perhaps it’s understandable why they like to keep what privacy they have left intact.
I’ve also heard that one St. James Resident, the brother of Stanford Hunt’s wife Bessie died on the Titanic. It seemed the more I poked around the area, the more stories I heard, which is a wonderful thing to have. Whenever you have that much history in one place, you’re bound to have folklore as well. What people don’t know they make up, and that’s what tends to be remembered.
And surely there had to be some ghost stories or mommy lies when you were a kid? I’ve never found a town without any! And yes, driving down Shep Jones lane in the dark would be a bit terrifying.
I too knew Robert White. He was an artist and a heck of a nice guy if not a little off center at times. He was more my dad’s age but used to have is mid-sixties Benz repaired at the Bishop Auto Repair where I worked while in High School. It was a building almost as old as O’Berry’s (noe Penney’s) by the fire house. Mr. White’s car was almost always broken in some way so I saw alot of him. He lived in the house next the the stables on the grounds of Box Hill. His brother Peter lived in Box Hill proper but much of the house was closed off because it was like trying to heat Yankee Stadium. The White’s and Lisard’s were interesting and “creative” people. They did not share much on Stanford as I’m sure they had heard it all and did not want to dredge it all up again.
I agree that St. James and Head of the Harbor seems to have more than its fair share of “stories” but with the early residents of St. James being largely actors from NYC summering there, you would expect some stories.
I grew up across the street from a potato farm that had been a polo field and horse race track prior to the farm. With your research, you should know just how close I lived to Box Hill, Wetherill and the Carman-White house (which was for sale just a year or two ago)
Clinch( Bessie Smith White’s Brother) was not the only local to die on the Titanic.
A man who briefly owned the Lane Estate- I believe A. T. Stewart( who had involvement in the circus industry among other things) also went down with the Titanic but for some reason, as a township resident, he is often not mentioned.
I find that odd because old accounts of the sinking has a survivor who was well to do write a book of the event. He saw Clinch go overboard( they were friendly) and were standing next to each other when Clinch was taken over and into the water by a wave .
He seemed to relate in the book who hobnobbed with whom on the ship prior to the disaster. I could have sworn he mentions Stewart. In any case, it would be odd for Clinch not to meet up with Stewart, not only because they were of the monied class, but also from the same area- be it the Smithtown Township or New York.
First of all, all of these pictures are FAKE because the house in these pictures are the Wetherill house and wasn’t built until the late 19th century and this story says it happened in the early 19 century. Also the house was built for the builders sister in law. So all of this is FAKE!
Fake? Oh my god no! I FAKED them? Oh wait … you didn’t read the whole article did you? I know, reading is hard, but if you do read, you’ll notice that I point out the locations are real, it’s the legends that are FAKE. Besides, it’s a nice day, so go outside now and play.
Fake fake fake fake fake
disbelief is fuel to her fire…
dogsRbetter AKA Cindy Carlson
I’m so glad I found your page! I, too, find legends and myths fascinating. I also believe, and it’s only my own never to be humble opinion, that legends, tales, folklore, myths etc. are nearly always bested on at least a kernel of truth. Knowing the present rate of incest and molestation acknowledged today it is not difficult to imagine an isolated, backward girl bearing a child by family then slowly losing her mind. In fact a girl in my 6th grade class, (dob 1954) was impregnated, tho authorities never determined if the father was her brother or her own father. In any case, I’m using this legen to Segway to another. We are all familiar, I would think, with the “Little People”, as well as Primordial Dwarfs, and children having Progeria, the rapid aging disease. I speculate that our stories and legends of Leprechans, nymphs, fairies, sprites, etc. arose from these people. During the Middle Ages, and even beyond, a family known to have any form of “difference” including those mentioned but also including mental illness, would find it nearly impossible to blend into society. Aa common goal, alas even now, is to marry well, which one would find impossible if the family bloodline was considered “tainted”. No doubt many parents loved their child but because of ignorance, fear, etc. felt it more humane to help the child live wild, with assistance. This could easily account for sightings and sworn statements of sightings. The legend of the pot of gold could be easily explained if the child was the offspring of a wealthy man, supportive financially. It could have been willing, loving secretive support or blackmail. In any case, I hope to get your thoughts and comments on this subject. Just as there are logical, reasonable explainations for fairy tales and lullabies I feel it must be so for these tales as well. Thanks for your insights! dogsRbetter
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thank you so much i love dark stories pliz gv me more
I grew up near head of the harbor.that well house had a roof when I was a kid.the artesian well there still runs cold pure water.just to the right in the bog I used to pick watercress for my mother.it was one of the nicest things I did for her.there used to be an old windmill to the left side of the harbor that burned down long ago.the water was brackish,and the smell and consistency of the mud at the bottom was unique and unforgettable.if you ever swam there you know exactly what I mean.the big house you are referring to was always vacant and spookey.im not sure but it might have been built by Stanford white.
It was so great reading this about the hamlet of St James!
It’s always interesting to hear about a towns history. I’m sure
most out there aren’t aware of the stories of St James, so thank
you for sharing this!
I need to know if you know any real facts about Mary Mattock aka Mary Hatchet. I do a lot of studying and research on historical haunted places. Fortunately the history of the paranormal runs in the family and I’ve been investigating, studying and researching on these myths and legends and bringing going to haunted sites to gather facts on the locations and turn the facts into reality. I’ve read that Mary Mattock’s house sunk into the ground and the only thing still visible is the chimney. Is that her real house where she murdered her parents and was sentenced life at kings park.
Another one is in head of the harbor on harbor rd that is mentioned, that she grew up with her abusive father and lived at that Octagon house known as Kate Anette Wetherill Estate. She did supposedly spend most of her time at the stone house where she enjoyed her time with wild animals. Lots of people say that she is buried there and others say she is buried on the property of the house not far from the tree where she was hanged cause of the abuse and assaults’ from her father and killed him in his sleep with a axe.
Then we got another Mary that roams around Mt Misery where the old hospital used to be located. My friend lives right in that area and has told me things that goes on at sweet hallow rd and Mt Misery at night. Of course I had my fare share of experience with Mary that roams around sweet hallow rd at night when leaving my friend’s house and it wasn’t a good experience. Do you know where the ruins of the old asylum is located inside West Hills County Park off of Mt Misery Rd. Is it located behind the church on old country rd or is it located all the way down the main path from Mt Misery Rd where you park at the dead end and enter the trails from the north side and walk the main path all the way down till you can’t go any further. As for the Mary who supposed to burn the asylum down, I was told that her grave site is on the south side of Mt Misery Rd. Please get back to me and let me know if you know any info to help me with my research. I am working on a few locations right now, one in Jersey a few in PA and others here.
Most of what I write is based on facts. Mary Hatchet is a Temperance figure, a metaphor not a real person. Mary Mattock is a character from a film, which is mostly bullshit. Most of the legends about her are variations of mommy lies, things they tell their kids to keep them out of danger. Campfire tales, told to scare the smaller kids, but remembered always as we grow older.
The Wetherhill house was designed by her son in law, based on her ideas. His story is more fascinating than all these legends to be honest, if you’re looking for reality.
There was no old asylum on Mt. Misery. At the time it supposedly existed, there were 85 people living in the area. Not enough for an asylum. They didn’t send people from New York City out onto Long Island till much later. There was no military hospital. The rumors about both likely come from Pilgrim Psych, a few miles away. It fits the description.
When you start investigating these stories, you find few facts because the stories are fiction. They’re interesting as folk tales, and the history of both areas are far richer than the urban legends.