By Thomas D’Agostino
One of New Haven’s favorite legends lies in the Evergreen Cemetery near the back, close to Winthrop Avenue. There is a pink granite stone with the inscription:
AT HIGH NOON
JUST FROM, AND ABOUT TO RENEW
HER DAILY WORK, IN HER FULL STRENGTH OF
BODY AND MIND
MARY E. HART
HAVING FALLEN PROSTRATE:
REMAINED UNCONSCIOUS, UNTIL SHE DIED AT MIDNIGHT,
OCTOBER 15, 1872
BORN DECEMBER 16, 1824
The epitaph speaks volumes of Mary’s fate, but it is what is written across the top of the stone that has drawn legend seekers and the curious to her grave for over a century. These seemingly ominous words read:
THE PEOPLE SHALL BE TROUBLED AT MIDNIGHT AND PASS AWAY.
There are three different stories relating the death and legend of Mary, now known as “Midnight Mary.” The first is how her family thought her dead of a stroke when she fell prostrate at the stroke of midnight. After her burial, a family member (some say her sister, others her aunt) had a dream where she saw Mary still alive in her coffin. After many pleas to exhume her, the family agreed.
When they opened her casket, they discovered a most gruesome sight. Mary was dead, but not from a stroke. Her fingernails were bloodied and the inside of her coffin was shredded as she had apparently tried to claw her way out. The horrified expression on her face frightened the onlookers so much that they quickly reburied her. Her restless and vengeful spirit now roams the cemetery and takes its wrath out on any who dare trespass upon her grave.
The next legend surrounding Mary is that she now haunts the cemetery as her restless spirit wanders the area near her former Winthrop Avenue home. In this case, she is prone to hitching rides with passing motorists who would often see the strange-looking woman safely to her door. Upon inquiring the next day of her condition, they would be taken aback when informed that they had in truth picked up a phantom hitchhiker.
The third leg of the story revolves around Mary being a witch, Mary and her grave carrying a curse that anyone who was there at midnight would meet a terrible end when the witch rose from the dead. New Haven, being a premier college town has had many a student over the decades testing this last tale. There are accounts of those who have slept upon her grave to see if Mary would rise and take her anger out on them. As far as anyone knows, no one has ever been hurt by Mary, at least at the gravesite anyway.
Of course, the reference circling the top of the stone is a Biblical passage from Job, chapter 34, verse 20. The complete passage, in the King James original version reads, "In a moment shall they die, and the people shall be troubled at midnight, and pass away: and the mighty shall be taken away without hand." The passage in its abbreviated state on Mary’s stone makes for one great legend that has endured over the years. There are those who will swear by the tale of Midnight Mary and those who would rather stay away from the cemetery when the sun goes down and the clock nears the witching hour.