Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Annie Mary still remembers me on Halloween October 31, 2014

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THAT ANNIE MARY TWENTE is getting a tad forgetful is to be expected. She would, after all, be 134 years old if she had lived past age six.

The little girl from Hanska was buried alive in October 1886 after presumably falling into a coma and thought dead by her parents. But she wasn’t. Dead, that is.

Stories featured in Ghostly Tales of Southwest Minnesota.

Stories featured in Ghostly Tales of Southwest Minnesota include “Annie Mary’s Restless Spirit.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

As this southwestern Minnesota ghost story goes, Annie’s father went a bit mad after exhuming his daughter’s body and finding scratch marks inside her coffin and locks of hair pulled from Annie’s head.

I can only imagine. The very thought of burying one’s child alive would make anyone crazy.

I first learned of Annie Mary more than 30 years ago, when I lived in a community near Hanska. My Aunt Marilyn grew up hearing the story from her mother, Stella, who grew up just across the lake from the Richard Twente farm.

So when I moved to St. James, near Hanska, my aunt reminded me that I now lived in Annie Mary’s backyard. She told me about the fenced cemetery with the lone gravestone and somewhere in her storytelling Marilyn mentioned Annie swinging in a swing knotted to a tree branch. Legends seem to take on a life of their own, meaning it’s often difficult to separate fact from fiction.

A card I received from Annie Mary on a past Halloween.

A card I received from Annie Mary on a past Halloween. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But one fact remains constant. Every year for about the past thirty, I’ve received a Halloween card from the little girl who was buried alive. It’s always signed ANNIE MARY in an awkward childish print of block letters.

Up until this year, Annie also wrote, “I MISS YOU!” That always sent shivers up my spine, even though I don’t believe in ghosts and knew my Aunt Marilyn had penned the message. This year she forgot the “I MISS YOU!” part.

But she made up for the omission by finding a card with a bare branched tree shadowed in the background inside a fence. And when I look closely, I swear I see the face of a little girl and a swing dangling from a branch.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling