“The People Shall Be Troubled at Midnight and Pass Away”. Buried in New Haven’s Evergreen Cemetery is the late Mary Hart.
There isn’t any mystery of this seamstress’s death – she fell into a coma at noon and finally passed on at midnight on October 15th, 1872. There’s nothing menacing about her life that would give meaning to her eerie headstone. She lived a relatively anonymous life as a corset maker until her death at age 47. Reports in the years following her death suggest rumors of her being one of the many witches of New Haven. However, the only fact remains – what happened after she was layed to rest galvanizes the fear in all that read those words. Mary Hart was buried alive.
In the 1800’s medical technology could not diagnose certain illnesses, the exact cause of death, or even if someone was actually dead. In Mary’s case, she was stricken with an apparent stroke. In rare cases, when the cause of death was unknown people were buried alive. Sometimes at the request of the family, the caretaker of the cemetery would install a bell tied to the toes of the dead in the event the recently buried would ring the attention of the caretaker so he could unearth them before succumbing to certain death! The phrase “dead ringer” was thought to be born by this safety coffin.
The night of Mary’s burial, an aunt had a nightmare that Mary was struggling and suffocating in the coffin. She immediately sprang from her bed in fear that they hastily buried Mary without truly knowing her affliction. She ordered the caretaker of the Evergreen Cemetery to dig up her coffin. When they went out to her plot, Mary’s bell was nearly torn off it’s hinges and the rope tied to the dead ringer was stripped off as if she was so frantic in her struggle that she ripped the rope clear off the bell. When the coffin was opened Mary was certainly dead. Her face wrought in fear, her hands bloody from clawing at the casket, the casket itself shredded and scarred, and the bell rope lying in the coffin, the end frayed.
None of the caretakers in history know who inscribed the haunting warning on Mary’s headstone. There are stories of those who have tried to sit by her gravesite with the hopes of seeing Mary’s ghost, only to find their own death coming at midnight on October 15th the very next year. There are accounts of people picking up a middle aged woman hitchhiking on Davenport Avenue, and all she wants is to be “brought home”. Without an address, she just asks to be dropped off at the cemetary. But all legends pale in comparison to the tale of those that have been at the grave at exactly midnight on October 15th that could still hear the silent screaming of a soul forgotten.