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Legend of girl's premature burial refuses to die

By Carol Stender

cstender@agrinews.com

NEW ULM, Minn. -- The pioneer cemetery, with its stone-walled enclosure and iron gate, located near a Brown County gravel road, is gone. Annie Mary Twente's casket has been moved to a quieter site away from the reach of vandals.

But her legend lives on....

There is nothing unusual about Annie Mary's life except that it was so short. She was just six when she died in 1886 of natural causes, either "lung fever" or diphtheria.

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Her first interment was unusual, if the stories are to be believed.

It is said her mother, Lizzie, felt that her daughter might have been buried alive. When the grave was opened, the coffin's interior showed signs of a struggle, complete with scratch marks. Annie Mary's face was fixed in terror rather than repose.

Author Ruth D. Hein's account says the body was "definitely not in the same condition it was in when it was placed in the coffin."

Hein found newspaper articles that claimed the little girl was buried more than once. A former neighbor said she had been interred first at an area cemetery. However, her father, Richard, didn't approve and had the casket moved to the family farmsite.

Richard, an expert builder, erected an 18-inch thick, four-foot high wall of stone and mortar around the grave, complete with iron gate and brass lock.

It seems the gate could not keep Annie Mary's spirit within the stone walls. The story is told of how, when the gate is open, "her restless spirit dressed in white wanders on the hillside in the moonlight."

The story goes that car headlights fail near the site, the stone is cold on hot days and hot on cold days, cars stall on a nearby bridge, horses refuse to cross the bridge and the ground in front of the marker is barren, although a peony bush blooms there every spring.

The story is fictional, says Brown County Historical Society researcher Darla Gebhard. She said there was nothing unusual about Annie Mary's death; there was only one interment; and she has never experienced or heard of anyone's car stalling near the pioneer graveyard.

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"Someone's headlights probably flickered when they drove by the grave," Gebhard said. "The stories just grow from there. There are probably no two stories the same as they tell the tale."

The unique burial site may have added to the legend.

The site was visible from the road, she said. It was a quality masonry job by Richard Twente, who also built a three-level barn with a stone foundation.

He didn't live near New Ulm for long after his daughter's death. His wife went to live with a daughter while Richard went to Canada where he bought some "worthless land," according to Hein's book.

Annie Mary's tragic story didn't end with her death on Oct. 26, 1886. Once the tale of Annie Mary's ghostly walk became known, vandals tore down the grave marker, damaged the gravesite and even tried to dig up the body. The family, working with the farm's current owner, had the casket moved to another site.

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