Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Perpetuating the ghostly tale of Annie Mary Twente October 31, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM

EVEN IF I TRIED, I doubt I could make up the true ending to my recent query in to the story of Annie Mary Twente.

First some background. Annie Mary, *according to her official Brown County, Minnesota, death certificate, died on October 25, 1886, of “lung fever.”

But legend says otherwise. As one story goes, the six-year-old fell into a coma and was buried alive on her family’s rural Hanska farm. Her father, Richard, apparently fraught over the loss of his daughter, had her body exhumed, revealing fingernail scratch marks inside the coffin and locks of hair pulled from Annie’s head, essentially proving that the child was buried alive.

From there, the story takes on a life of its own with reports of Annie Mary’s ghost wandering inside the walled burial plot where she was laid to rest by her grieving family. Her body has since been moved to a cemetery in central Minnesota.

Stories featured in Ghostly Tales of Southwest Minnesota.

Stories featured in Ghostly Tales of Southwest Minnesota.

Annie Mary’s demise and haunting are perhaps one of southwestern Minnesota’s best known ghost tales. Or at least to me and other writers like Nicole Helget who devoted a chapter (“Rooted Here”) to Annie Mary in The Summer of Ordinary Ways and Ruth D. Hein who included Annie Mary (“Annie Mary’s Restless Spirit”) in her collection, Ghostly Tales of Southwest Minnesota.

And then there are other prairie dwellers like my Aunt Marilyn who perpetuate the legend of Annie Mary. Each Halloween for decades—neither of us remembers exactly when this started—Marilyn has mailed a Halloween card to me with the message, “I MISS YOU! ANNIE MARY.”

Her block printed letters are always uneven and tilted, mimicking the writing of a six-year-old. And the return address always bears the initials A.M., to be interpreted either as Annie Mary or Aunt Marilyn.

A few days ago I phoned Marilyn, hoping to pinpoint a time-line on this long-standing Halloween card tradition. Marilyn lives in my hometown of Vesta, but was raised in the Comfrey area west of Hanska (south of New Ulm). She grew up hearing the story of Annie Mary from her mother, Stella, whose childhood farm was only four miles away across Lake Hanska from the Twente farm.

The horrid details of fingernail scratch marks inside the coffin, tufts of pulled hair and Annie’s ghost swaying in a tree swing are imprinted upon my aunt’s memory.

And, after I moved to Sleepy Eye in the early 1980s to work as a news reporter for The Sleepy Eye Herald Dispatch and then relocated six months later to report from the nearby St. James news bureau of the Mankato Free Press, the legend took on new significance for me. It was fueled by Marilyn’s reminders that I was now living and writing in Annie Mary’s backyard.

For my 1982 bridal shower, Annie Mary gifted me with a box of artificial birds (I am not particularly fond of birds). I expect it was shortly thereafter that the cards from Annie Mary began showing up in my mailbox each Halloween.

Just before Halloween each year, my aunt begins searching for a greeting card that features a tree swing. She has yet to find one. But whatever card A.M. sends, it serves as a spine tingling reminder of the legend of Annie Mary, and of an aunt who loves me.

This year I have my own postscript to add to this Annie Mary card tradition. After phoning Marilyn, I pulled my copy of Ghostly Tales of Southwest Minnesota from the bookshelf to read the chapter about Annie Mary. I purchased this collection, published in 1989, at a used book sale in Faribault last spring, but had yet to read the stories.

I opened the book. And there, penned in cursive opposite the inside cover page, was a name. Marilyn.

The woman to whom this book previously belonged before I purchased it last spring.

The woman to whom Ghostly Tales of Southwest Minnesota previously belonged. And she is not my Aunt Marilyn.


This story was cross posted at streetsmn.com.

*The death certificate information comes from Ruth D. Hein’s book.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


23 Responses to “Perpetuating the ghostly tale of Annie Mary Twente”

  1. Mere Frost Says:

    As a 14th generation American descendent of the Mayflower…and like all New England kids, I grew up listening to ghost stories!!! Salem Witch Trials and hauntings all over New England come to life every Halloween! Tell your son to check out HP Lovecraft! He won’t sleep for a week!!! Or more!!!! LOL My friends and I found his grave in the Blackstone Valley historical cemetary on the East Side of Providence, RI. It has been said that if you spit on his grave he will find you!!!! No! Not me!!! We have ghosts in every old house, church, and barn, or ship!!! Thanks for sharing this one!!! Now the big question…are there ghosts or not???? Have you seen a ghost? Are there really people out there who are sensitives? Hmmmmm…. 😉

  2. Loving your post – enjoy a good haunting story:) My grandmother is from Vesta and her and my grandfather farmed in Vesta from 1935 to 1938. I also have relatives in the Sleepy Eye area too. Small World at times! Happy Halloween:)

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Oh, wow, this is exciting to hear that you have roots in my hometown of Vesta. Who were your grandparents and do you know where their farm was located? Share only if you feel comfortable doing so.

      When I tell people I grew up in Vesta, they give me a blank look. So I am always happy when someone actually knows the location of Vesta.

      • I do not know where their farm was in Vesta. Their last farm was in Kandiyohi County and the 40 some acres is still in the family. My grandmother was part of the Whealy family (her mother was a Dahl).

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        I am not familiar with the Whealy name, but the Dahl name is one I recognize.

      • I would love to research my family roots more and on both sides too!

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        I have an aunt on my mom’s side who is really into family history. And, on my dad’s side, an uncle who has researched the family tree. From what I hear, it can take substantial time to research. What I find most interesting are the stories rather than dates.

      • I have to agree with you on the stories:)

  3. No way. That must have given you shivers when you opened the book and saw that signature! And speaking of shivers – that awful story gets me every time I hear it. SO HORRIBLE HORRIBLE HORRIBLE. I can’t even begin to imagine how horrible.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Yes, the hairs on my arms stood up, for sure. I mean, what are the chances that someone named Marilyn would have owned the book?

      I received a Halloween card today from Annie Mary. The message reads: “We’re always together in spirit. Thinking of You on Halloween.” Perfect.

      It was signed, as the card always is, with “I MISS YOU! ANNIE MARY.”

  4. Jackie Says:

    I love all this spooky stuff around Halloween. I bet you love the anticipation of getting that Halloween card every year, to me that would be wayyyy better than a birthday card. Oh dear, I hope that little girl didnt really get buried alive, spooky tale!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Yes, Annie Mary’s card arrived today. I would be disappointed if she forgot me. I hope, too, that she truly was not buried alive. You never know what to believe about these legends.

  5. Vivian Says:

    I’ve heard of God-cidents… This is a Ghost-cident!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      It is pretty strange, isn’t it? I snail mailed a copy of this post to my Aunt Marilyn as she does not have a computer. I found a message on my phone this afternoon from her. She’d gotten the story and shivers were running up and down her spine, too.

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