Is it true that “Mad Anthony” Wayne is buried in two places? Yes, and a strange story it is; one that fits a man whose duties took him to all corners of the Early American frontier.
Gout was a terrible but common disease in early America. It was a painful swelling of the joints accompanied by lumps under the skin. Contemporaries thought rich foods and fine wines caused it. We now know it is caused by the kidney’s failure to rid the body of uric acid. The excess acid crystallizes and forms lumps around the joints and under the skin. It is basically kidney failure.
In 1796, Major General Anthony Wayne, Commander-in-Chief of the American Army, had defeated the Indian Confederation, secured thousands of square miles of disputed land for the United States, and had signed peace treaties with the Indian tribes. The mission for which President George Washington had called him out of retirement was successfully completed. Ironically, Fort Presqu’Isle was the last post that General Wayne’s was to visit before returning home. Presqu’Isle, French for peninsula, was the site of earlier European forts. He had a pleasant 5-day sail from the “city” of Detroit on a 65-ton sloop of the same name. But while the weather was pleasant, his thoughts turned grim and he wrote a number of letters listing his final wishes.
Wayne suffered a serious gout attack. There were no physicians at the fort so calls for doctors were rushed to Pittsburgh and the Army hospitals. As his health worsened he developed intense stomach pains. Unfortunately, the doctors only arrived on the same day as his death, December 15, 1796. He was buried in a plain coffin, his initials and date of death driven into the wood using round-headed brass tacks, at the foot of the blockhouse’s flagstaff on garrison hill.
Twelve years later, Isaac, General Wayne’s son, rode to Erie in a small, two-wheeled carriage called a “sulky”. His sister, Peggy, had begged him to bring their father’s remains back to be buried in the family plot at St. David’s Church, in Radnor, PA. Isaac met Dr. John Wallace. He was the same physician from Pittsburgh who had been called to the dying Wayne’s side.
When Dr Wallace opened Wayne’s coffin, he found Wayne’s corpse almost perfectly preserved. It was the consistency of chalk and only one leg was decayed. But Isaac had only space to bring his father’s bones in his horse-drawn sulky.
Dr. Wallace used a custom common to American Indians to solve the dilemma. He dismembered the body and boiled it in a large iron kettle until the flesh dropped off. He cleaned the bones and packed them into Isaac’s boxes. The task was so distasteful that Dr. Wallace threw the remaining flesh and his instruments back into the coffin and closed the grave.
In 1853, the abandoned blockhouse was burned down and the land around it leveled. The gravesite was lost until 1878. The coffin lid with the brass tacks, remnants of clothing and the dissection instruments were recovered. These items are on display at the Erie County Historical Society. The rest was reburied in a reconstructed “Wayne’s Blockhouse” monument located on the grounds of the Pennsylvania Soldiers and Sailors Home.
Isaac Wayne made the long journey across Pennsylvania with his father’s bones in a trunk in the back of his sulky. He was upset that he had allowed his father’s remains to be treated poorly and would have rather allowed them to stay in Erie and erect a monument in his memory. However, he made the journey and the general’s bones were interred at St. David’s church with the funeral rites celebrated by a huge crowd on July 4th, 1809.
So Major General “Mad Anthony” Wayne, Revolutionary War hero and Commander-in-Chief of the American Army, lies buried in two places nearly 400 miles apart. And maybe in between…
For this strange internment has given rise to a popular ghost story. The tale is that Isaac had problems carrying the large trunk of bones in his small sulky over the 380 unpaved miles of what is now Route 322. One version is that the trunk kept falling off and breaking open, losing bones along the way. The other is that Isaac was in such as rush that he did not notice bones falling out until he reached Radnor.
Now, some claim that on each New Year’s Day, Wayne’s birthday, his ghost rises from the grave in Radnor and rides across the state searching for his missing bones.