Trotter’s Curse: Part Two

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The Antes Schoolhouse at Black Moshannon State Park. Located along Route 504 – the Philadelphia-Erie Turnpike

Note: The first part of this article can be found here: Part One

It was freezing outside as I huddled in the warmth of the vehicle that was buffeted by the wind. My initial plan was to get out of the vehicle and wait for the spectral rider, who according to legend, rides from Erie to Radnor at midnight New Year’s Eve. Most stories claim the spectral rider follows Route 322, but seeing the current road did not exist at the time, I had been searching for the possible route the phantom figure would be taking for his midnight ride. After numerous messages back and forth with Lou, we both came up with our own theories the route the figure would be riding. While Lou’s guess was Route 120, my thoughts leaned towards Route 504 of it had once been part of the old Philadelphia-Erie Turnpike.

The vehicle rocked as another blast of freezing wind hit it.  I shivered as I scanned the darkness in search of the phantom rider. The figure I was waiting on was General “Mad” Anthony Wayne, who was also a victim of the curse called down by Sergeant John Trotter in the moments before his execution.

By 1793, General “Mad” Anthony Wayne had moved his men into the Northwest Territory, which consisted of lands north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi River, lands that would later become the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and a portion of Minnesota. It was within this territory that General Wayne and his men would set up a series of forts to protect the settlers and fight the Native American warriors. On August 20, 1794, General Wayne’s men would crush the force led by Chief Blue Jacket at the Battle of Fallen Timbers near present-day Toledo, Ohio.

To the people on the frontier, General Wayne was considered a hero. But General Wayne had to face the curse that was placed upon him by Sergeant Trotter. “May his days be few…May another take his office.”

With the Northwest Indian War over, General Wayne turned his attention to winning a victory in a different type of “war” – he entered the political field. In 1795, he returned home to Waynesborough near present-day Paoli with great fanfare and celebration. With the support of the people around him, General Wayne made the decision to enter the race for Governor of Pennsylvania.

Wayne was running against the incumbent Governor Thomas Mifflin and challenger Representative Frederick A. Muhlenberg. The war hero certainly had the support of those he protected on the frontier and also of those who welcomed him home.

What happened in the polls was a complete disaster. The result of the election was Wayne failed to unseat Governor Mifflin. Not only did he not win, what happened that day created one of the worst landslides in Pennsylvania’s – and America’s – history. Governor Mifflin received more than 30,000 votes. General Wayne received 139.

Little did General Wayne know his days were quickly coming to an end. In 1796, he arrived in Erie on orders from President Washington. Wayne had been assigned the duty of checking the line of forts along the Great Lakes. He had finished his mission and when he arrived in Erie he suffered a massive gout attack. Seeing there were no doctors in the Erie region, men were dispatched to Pittsburgh to retrieve a doctor, but the doctor arrived too late. The doctor arrived December 15, 1796, and Wayne would die shortly after the doctor’s arrival.

General Wayne was buried in a plain wooden box with his name and death date hammered onto the coffin with brass tacks. His body was buried at the foot of the blockhouse on Garrison Hill in Erie.

Even in death, General Wayne would not find peace. In 1809, the children of General Wayne decided to have their father’s remains dug up and reburied in the family plot near Waynesborough. However, the General’s last statements were that he wanted to be buried in Erie. Many years had passed and surely their father wouldn’t mind if they ignored his last wishes. Margaretta convinced her brother, Isaac, to retrieve their father’s body.

Isaac traveled to Erie, where he exhumed the coffin. He opened the coffin thinking he would find nothing but bones. Imagine his surprise when Isaac opened the coffin and found his father almost perfectly preserved.

After some debate, a decision was made. The body of General Wayne has hacked up and boiled in order to remove the flesh from the bone. Once the gruesome task was finished the flesh was reburied at the foot of the block house and Isaac took the bones and headed home to bury them St. David’s Cemetery in Radnor.

According to legend, not all of General Wayne’s bones made it to the second burial location. Some claim that the bones were carelessly placed in the wagon and by the time he arrived home the skeleton was incomplete – the General’s bones had fallen out of the wagon along the way. The children never attempted to retrieve them, and the remaining bones were buried in St. David’s Cemetery. Sadly Margaretta, would die the following year and buried in the same plot as her father’s bones.

Sometime after the reburial, legend started to spread that the ghost of General “Mad” Anthony Wayne was spotted riding the route his son had taken from Erie to Waynesborough, searching for his missing bones. The most popular version states the General rides on January 1, the date of his birth, looking for his lost bones and only once they’re all recovered can he rest in peace.

My vehicle rocked as the wind picked up. The heater was working overtime to keep the interior warm. I glanced at the clock: 12:05. Maybe Lou was right and I picked the wrong road. Maybe he was running late. Maybe I had missed him. Maybe he found an escape from the curse. Maybe he no longer rode searching for his bones.

Or maybe, just maybe, it was too cold out tonight and his ghost decided that searching for the lost bones this evening wasn’t worth it. Maybe it was huddled in someplace warm in an attempt to stay warm. If so, I couldn’t blame him as I started back towards the warmth of the house.

Maybe next time, I’ll try sitting along Route 120 to see if he makes his appearance there.

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