In Part II we examined the real lives of Mary Angle, James Henry, and Rachel Hodge and how research can help to determine fact from fiction in the tale of Perry County's horseshoe grave.
In the final part to the saga we will give our documentary artifact, Mary Angle's gravestone, a closer look.
If you recall in Part I, there was mention of the tale being reprinted and expanded upon throughout the decades, beginning in 1928 with the Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum newspaper article. All told, I was able to find a dozen instances of the tale printed in newspapers across all of Ohio as well as its inclusion in various national pulp magazines. You may be thinking, well what's so great about that - we've already disproven some of the timeline?! The key is not the printed tale itself but the photographs published of Mary Angle's gravestone over the years.
As you can see in the photo, there are visible effects of past vandalism and subsequent repairs upon the gravestone and as we turn back the clock, we can track these events.
We begin in 1960 with an image from the Zanesville Times Recorder, showing the horseshoe mark upon Mary's grave with a ghostly apparition at it's side. From this view, it is clear that the gravestone had already been reconstructed at this point and metal framing was installed around the parameter of Mary's grave to prevent it from collapsing entirely.
In 1966, Robert Wunderlin, writing for the Columbus Dispatch Magazine, produced multiple views of Angle's gravestone. The caption states that "someone, more than 26 years ago, according to a caretaker, rimmed the stone with a heavy iron band to keep it from falling to pieces." We can therefore assume that the near-destruction of the gravestone occurred ca. 1940. Moreover, this photo collage provides a rare glimpse of the inscription side of Mary's grave with the topmost portion still intact where the common Victorian-era drapery motif can be seen.
Though without an image, Robert Wunderlin again publishes the tale in Fate Magazine in 1973 and remarks that the gravestone was again hammered to pieces by vandals around 1968.
This assertion is supported by photographs taken by the Newark Advocate in 1971, where new metal casing is seen, repair to the upper right hand corner of the stone is visible, and a metal wire grave fence has been erected to encompass Mary's gravestone.
At some point between 1973 and 1997, the upper third of Mary's gravestone had been dislodged from it's frame, as visible in an image published in the Zanesville Times Recorder in 1997.
To this day, the upper third of Mary's gravestone remains missing. A Google image search retrieves tens, if not hundreds, of images of Mary's gravestone taken within the last decade - typically illuminated by a camera's flash surrounded by nightfall.
Reflecting upon the photographs presented, it is obvious that the horseshoe mark upon Mary's gravestone remains unchanged over the decades.
How this mark came to be remains one of the outstanding missing pieces to this saga and the best way to determine this is to first figure out what type of rock Mary's gravestone is made of.
Our good friend Dale Gnidovec, Curator of the Orton Geological Museum at The Ohio State University, took a gander at the historic photos and my present-day photos to determine the rock type used. He posits that the stone is likely a fine-grained sedimentary rock, most probably sandstone.
If this is the case, the horseshoe mark is non-unique and either a trace fossil or a naturally occurring stain.
A future field visit may be in the works to better determine the exact rock type and to settle the mystery of the horseshoe-shaped presence.
All considered, a rewrite of the tale is apt to reflect all of the things we have learned over this winding saga. I present just that, for your consideration, adapted from the original 1928 article.
"...Miss Mary Angle and Miss Rachel Hodge, reigning belles of the countryside, and James K. Henry, a young farmer, were the three principals of the narrative which begins with the marriage of young Henry to Miss Angle on January 11, 1844.
A devoted couple - this was the approving verdict of the townsfolk. But their earthly attachment was short lived for on February 28, 1845 the winsome young wife died due to unknown causes while giving birth to a lusty son.
The husband was grief-stricken and as a sign of his sorrow, erected the grave marker, already mentioned.
On December 7, 1848, Henry took unto himself another wife - this time he chose Miss Rachel Hodge. Soon after this second marriage, some say within a week or two, there appeared on the grave marker of his first wife, the queer formation of a horse shoe. Where it came from or how it came to be in the lonely cemetery likely has a scientific explanation. no one knew but thereafterward, farmers having occasion to pass the grave yard after sunset, whipped up their mounts and, with averted heads, dashed past the spot at breakneck speed.
Shortly after the horseshoe print was first descried [sic], Henry was kicked to death by one of his horses - a high spirited mare, which had been the driving pet of his first wife. Henry was buried in a nearby grave yard and his second wife, who died soon after, was interred beside him.
James's death occurred on April 8, 1859, due to unknown causes, and was buried in an unknown grave yard. His second wife remarried six years later and lived until 1882.
Since their deaths and burial, the tale has persisted for well over a century sparking the curiosity of many persons claim to have seen the ghostly hue and glow when darkness has settled over the lonely graveyard. At such time, they say, two female figures, separated by the horseshoe, rise up in the horseshoe’s silvery brightness and gesticulate as though in dispute
... the salient episodes in the story happened over eighty one-hundred and seventy-eight years ago all efforts to obliterate the horseshoe print by human hands have failed. ..."
Sometimes, the truth is less strange than fiction but it shouldn't stop the innate curiosity surrounding the lasting horseshoe-shaped mark found upon a battered gravestone within a small cemetery in Perry County. There is still much to be said regarding the people involved who have continued to live on within the tale for over nearly two centuries. No act of preservation is fruitless and only serves to enrich our continued understanding of the past, as evidenced by the actions of those who have tirelessly worked to help elongate the life of Mary's gravestone.