Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Annie Mary still remembers me on Halloween October 31, 2014

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


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


Halloween greetings from Annie Mary Twente October 31, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:28 PM
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I always wonder, what did Annie Mary look like? Anything like this little girl?

THE CARD ARRIVED, not unexpectedly, today in my mailbox as one has every Halloween for the past I can’t recall how many years.

In slanted and uneven letters, my name and address are printed across the plain white envelope, the return address a simple “A.M. 56292, MN.”

Inside I find a Halloween card, this time with a wish that we could be together, Annie Mary and I.

Then my eyes fall upon the familiar message Annie prints every year, always in capital letters: I MISS YOU! ANNIE MARY

Sometimes she adds “LOVE” to her signature note.

Chills run up and down my spine.

And then I laugh at the fun of it all, at the card A.M., aka Aunt Marilyn, sends every Halloween because she knows how very much I dislike the story of Annie Mary Twente.

As legend goes, 6-year-old Annie Mary fell into a coma and was buried alive in 1886 in Albin Township near Hanska in southern Minnesota. Later, Annie’s father had his daughter’s body exhumed only to find claw marks on the inside of her coffin.

It is a sad and unsettling, and supposedly true, story. Many years ago I made the mistake of telling Aunt Marilyn, who lives in my hometown with a 56292 zip code, that the horrifying tale upset me.

Every Halloween (and sometimes on Christmas and Valentine’s Day, too) she remembers…

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Halloween greetings from ghostly Annie Mary October 31, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:29 PM
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YEAR AFTER YEAR she taunts me with the same message: “I MISS YOU! LOVE, ANNIE MARY.”

Awkward block letters printed in the hand of a six-year-old ghost child. Annie Mary Twente of Hanska. Annie Mary, buried alive in 1886 in Albin Township. Annie Mary, her body later exhumed to reveal scratch marks inside the lid of her wooden coffin. Supposedly a true story and one that once scared me enough to unwisely admit as much to my Aunt Marilyn.

Each Halloween Annie Mary purchases and signs a greeting card, addresses the envelope and drops it in the mail to me. Oh, lucky, lucky me.

But if she wouldn’t send a card, I’d be disappointed. Some Halloweens I forget about Annie Mary, until I pull an envelope from my mailbox to read “A.M.” printed in the upper left return address corner.

I smile and I think, “Oh, that Annie Mary, she always remembers me.”

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The ghost of Annie Mary Twente continues to haunt me October 30, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 4:00 PM
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I LOVE MY EXTENDED family, even when they continue, for decades, to haunt and taunt me.

Now, they will never admit it, but I determined long ago that my Aunt Marilyn, and now her daughter Dawn, are the perpetrators, the instigators, the whatever-you-want-to-call-them, behind a Halloween tradition.

You see, for years I’ve received a Halloween card from the ghost of Annie Mary Twente, a 6-year-old who fell into a coma and was buried alive in Albin Township near Hanska in 1886. Legend goes that Annie’s father had his daughter’s body exhumed and found scratch marks inside the girl’s coffin where she tried to claw her way out.

That tale is enough to scare anyone. For some reason, I once told my aunt that I detested this macabre story. I think that was around the time I lived and worked as a newspaper reporter in St. James, near Hanska. She’s never forgotten.

I have no clue how long Marilyn searches for the perfect Halloween card. But she always manages to come up with an appropriate greeting befitting of Annie Mary. Because of copyright laws, I can’t quote card verses here. But the image on the front of this year’s card (the one from Marilyn) shows two glowing jack-o-lanterns atop a fence in the diminishing light of early evening. As I study the photo, I am reminded of the fence that surrounded Annie’s grave. (Her remains have since been moved to the Alexandria area.) Spooky.

As varied as the cards are each year, I can always be assured that Marilyn/Annie will pen the same message in her childish block print: “I MISS YOU! ANNIE MARY.” Clearly, at six, she never learned cursive.

As if one Halloween card from the little ghost girl isn’t enough, for the first time this year, I received a second greeting. That arrived this morning with a nice little message that Annie Mary is thinking of me. How thoughtful.

For years, I anticipated this unsettling Halloween greeting. But I never expected the haunting to extend beyond October. Last December, though, Annie Mary sent me a Christmas book about mice and a plastic mouse that pooped candy and wished me a “Merry Christmouse!”



Annie Mary sent me this mouse last Christmas.


For gosh sakes, I didn’t need Annie Mary knowing that I hate mice. But, somehow, she learned this invaluable information. Just last week an unexpected package arrived from AM (Annie Mary). Honestly, I was afraid to open the darned thing. So I pushed and prodded, suspected a mouse trap, peeked quickly inside and then threw the envelope at my second-born.

She pulled out two tiny sticky gray rubber mice, a flashing skeleton head pin and CHUCKLES candy. Ha. Ha. Very funny, cousin Dawn, uh, I mean Annie Mary.



I did not welcome this Halloween gift from Annie Mary.


I suppose you’re wondering why I dislike mice so much. Let’s see. Would a mouse cavorting in the silverware drawer or floating in a crockpot spook you? Or how about getting stuck in your in-laws’ bathroom with a mouse in the dead of night when you’re six months pregnant? Yes, all three horrible mouse encounters happened to me.

With enough living (and dead) mice in my life, I certainly don’t need Annie Mary mailing replicas to remind me of all that real-life mouse horror.

Oh, and I haven’t even told you that the ghost child blemished Valentine’s Day last year by sending me not one, but two, valentine cards.



Valentine greetings from Annie Mary. Which is authentic?


So…, I’m wondering if you had relatives like mine, who feign innocence about any and all communications from Annie Mary Twente, what would you do? Would you still claim them as your family members? Or…, would you try somehow to get even?

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


An Annie Mary Twente valentine mystery February 17, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:09 AM

VALENTINE’S DAY came and went this year without a single valentine for me. Well, I suppose I should count the small bag of peanut M & Ms my husband handed me on Sunday and the caramel rolls and apple-walnut cinnamon bread he bought for me at The Brick Oven in Northfield on Saturday. Thank you, Randy. All are delicious.

But, I never got a valentine card, from anyone. That is, until yesterday.

Two cards arrived in the mail, one postmarked “St. Cloud, MN.” and the other postmarked “Vesta, MN.” However, they bore similar return addresses, if you could call these addresses: “AM, Morgan.” and “A.M. 56292.” It appears to me as though A.M. is attempting to conceal her true identity and whereabouts.

I, of course, suspect immediately that this mail has come from the ghost of Annie Mary Twente, a 6-year-old who fell into a coma and was buried alive near Hanska in 1886. She has taunted me for decades by sending an annual Halloween card. However, just recently, her haunting has become more frequent. At Christmas, I received a gift from Annie. And now the two valentines with handwriting and postmarks that clearly indicate two senders.

Let me explain. In one valentine, A.M. writes this message, “I still miss you!” with her signature in capital letters, “ANNIE MARY.”

In the other, she simply signs, “Love, Annie Mary.” But, she also drew a quick sketch of an old-fashioned wooden swing hung from a tree. That freaks me a bit because of a tale I heard once of Annie’s ghost swaying in just such a swing.

Valentine greetings from the ghost of Annie Mary Twente. Which is authentic?

And then, to taunt me even more, the valentine features a mouse on the cover. Little Annie sent me a plastic mouse at Christmas. I presume that somehow she uncovered information about my extreme dislike of rodents.

She also includes stickers that plead: “Be Mine!” As if I’m going to be the valentine of a little ghost girl.

Obviously, I have a Nancy Drew style mystery on my hands. Annie doesn’t know this, but I love mysteries, always have. I’m comparing the handwriting and messages in past cards to these valentines. I think I have solved the mystery.

One of these “Annie Marys” is certainly an impostor. And I think I know which one. But I’ll hold my accusations for now and hope for a confession.

In the meantime, I need to warn my Aunt Marilyn, who lives in Vesta, that Annie Mary has been in my hometown. Likewise, I’ll warn my cousin Dawn, who lives in Morgan, that Annie Mary has also been in her community.

I’ll get to the bottom of this mystery. And if I need to call in a handwriting expert to prove my case, I will.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

(Be sure to read my previous posts about Annie Mary Twente, published on November 4, 2009, and December 23, 2009.)


The ghostly Annie Mary Twente wishes me a “Mousy Christmas!” December 23, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:40 AM

WHAT WOULD YOU DO if you received a priority mail package from the ghost of a girl buried alive in 1886? Would you open the box? Or would you toss it in the garbage?

I faced that dilemma on Tuesday when an unexpected package arrived with a return address of “A. Mary from Hanska.”

Instantly, I felt the hairs on my arm rise and not just because of the cold. You see, ever since I heard the true story of 6-year-old Annie Mary Twente, who fell into a coma and was buried alive near Hanska, I’ve been, might I say, taunted by A. M.

Usually, Annie sends only Halloween greetings. But this year she apparently felt I also needed a Christmas gift. Now typically, I like getting packages in the mail because, well, I seldom get them. But this was a bit different, coming from A. Mary.

So I turned to my cousin Dawn for advice. I explained my situation in an e-mail and she advised me to open the package, assuring me that Annie Mary wouldn’t send me anything mean (like the mouse head my husband mailed to his sister nearly 30 years ago. True story, I swear.) But Dawn suggested that the gift could possibly contain Annie’s bones.

Now that was an unsettling thought.

So I proceeded with more than a bit of caution. First, I opened the cardboard box, revealing a wrapped gift and a homemade card wishing me a “Mousy Christmas!” Annie had apparently learned how much I dislike, OK hate, mice.

Then inside, in her childish handwriting, she printed:

Now I was really nervous. I didn’t want to open a box that rattled and that even remotely suggested a mouse-related gift.

With horrible possibilities looming at the forefront of my brain, I tentatively unwrapped the present to discover chocolate candy kisses (at least one thing I like), a Christmas book about mice, a bat and a plastic mouse that poops red and green candies and quite tauntingly wishes me a “Merry Christmas! Guess who?”

Yeah, guess who. I’m guessing my not-so-innocent cousin Dawn and her mom, my Aunt Marilyn (AKA “A.M.”), are behind this whole Annie Mary charade. Upon closer inspection, I discovered a Morgan, Minnesota, postmark on the box. Surprise. Dawn and her family live in Morgan.

So, I decided to accuse my cousin and elicit a confession.

She responded: “Sure, I can confess if that is what you want, but then would you know for sure that I am telling the truth and not just confessing just to confess?!?  A Morgan postmark?  Well, I guess if Norman Bates was in Minnesota, then maybe Annie Mary was in Morgan?  Ever think of that?”

She was referring to Norman Bates of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Bates recently sent Dawn a letter, to which I later confessed authorship. (See my December 15 post, “My cousin receives a chilling letter from Norman Bates.”)

Then Dawn added this warning: “I would continue to watch your mailbox, A.M. may continue to keep in contact with you now.”

Uh, huh. And Norman Bates knows your address too, Dawn.

© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Annie Mary Twente sends Halloween greetings November 4, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:50 AM
Card from Annie Mary Twente

A.M. (Annie Mary) sends greetings each October.

HALLOWEEN BRINGS the macabre, the horrible, the frightening.

And for me, it also brings a message from Annie Mary Twente, or someone impersonating her. As legend goes, the 6-year-old fell into a coma and was buried alive in 1886 in Albin Township near Hanska. For the complete story, go to www.minnesotamoments.com and read blogs I posted there on Oct. 30 and 31, 2008.

For years and years and years, I’ve received a Halloween greeting card from the ghost of Annie Mary. This year was no exception, except for the card’s two-day late arrival.

As always, the envelope bore no return address, only the initials “A.M.”

As always, the envelope bore a postmark from my hometown of Vesta.

Inside this witch-themed card, the little ghost girl signed her name and the chilling message, “I MISS YOU!” I don’t know why those words send shivers tingling down my spine, but they do. It’s as if Annie Mary is taunting me, in the sing-song chant of a child: “I MISS YOU! I MISS YOU! I MISS YOU! Na-na-na-na!”

I suppose if I considered this rationally, I would realize how very nice of Annie Mary to remember me on Halloween. But I can’t get past the possibility that she is trying to haunt me, to scare me, to….

Despite my concern over the intended meaning of A.M’s Halloween greeting, at least I have not been the recipient of correspondence from Norman Bates, the psychotic owner of the Bates Motel. My cousin Dawn tells me of years past when Norman contacted her, even sent dead box elder bugs. She is thankful, she says, that he has forgotten her and moved on.

I have five words of advice, Dawn. Don’t let down your guard.

© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Gotcha: A pre-Halloween scare October 31, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Three almost ghost-like faces, with undefined, haunting eyes, created by Pam Bidelman, and featured in a 2012 exhibit at the Arts Center of Saint Peter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.


WHEN THE DOORBELL BINGED twice in rapid succession Saturday evening, my body pumped adrenalin. The ringing happened at the precise moment of intense drama in a psychological thriller unfolding on our DVD player.

I’ve heard this type of hurry-up-and-answer-your-door ring before, years ago when a young man appeared on our stoop seeking protection from a group of men pursuing him. In that panic of phoning 911, of split second decisions, of waiting for the cops, I felt exposed to real, definitive danger.



This time I expected a law enforcement officer at my door given the darkened hour. Instead, when I switched on the exterior light and peered through the narrow glass in the deadbolted front door, I saw nothing. No shadowy figure. Nothing.



Until I looked to the bottom step. And then my mind clicked into relief mode, to understanding that an unknown person left a Halloween treat for us. After Randy retrieved the treats—by that time he’d already sprung from his comfortable spot—we discovered that we’d been BOOed. That seems a fitting word given the pre-Halloween scare.



Once we recovered, we fingered through an oversized seasonal mug holding mini candy bars, a Little Debbie snack, two packets of hot chocolate, a mini scarecrow and my favorite, a blinking jack-o-lantern ring. You can bet I’ll sport that this evening when doorbell-ringing ghosts and goblins arrive, perhaps even the mysterious ghost who BOOed us. I have my suspicions about that spirit’s identity…


FYI: We’ve been recipients of such kindness in the past, although not on Halloween. But a cousin and an aunt have continued to haunt me each Halloween with the story of Annie Mary Twente. We’ve carried out such stealthy under-the-cover-of-darkness missions on unsuspecting friends on other occasions like Valentine’s Day.


© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Memorable 2010 Christmas gifts December 30, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:50 AM
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WHAT DID YOU GET for Christmas? Anything interesting, fun, different?

This wind-up NunZilla walked and shot fiery sparks from her mouth. Sadly, the toy worked only briefly.

The gift our second eldest gave to her father ranks as the most entertaining and unusual of all the presents exchanged in our household.

Having heard her dad’s stories about attending a Catholic grade school, our daughter picked up a NunZilla at Vagabond Imports in Appleton, Wisconsin.

The sparking, walking, ruler-toting wind-up toy nun proved to be the perfect humorous gift for a man who endured the physical punishment of a sister or two during his childhood. He’s never explained why the nuns slapped his hands with a ruler or dug a thumb into his scalp. Apparently they thought he was misbehaving. He can laugh about it now, kind of.

I don’t condone corporal punishment. However, times were different back in the 1960s and teachers, unfortunately, got away with such physical abuse. Sad, but true. I can’t speak from first-hand experience (because I did not grow up Catholic), but I would like to believe that the ruler-slapping nuns were in the minority and that most were kind and caring.

Another Christmas gift also drew my attention, or should I say my husband’s attention. As he washed the eight new dinner plates that our eldest gave me, he noticed that the “IKEA of Sweden” plates were “made in China.” No need to say more on that one.

FYI, the wind-up NunZilla was also made in China.

Finally, the ghost of Annie Mary Twente, a 6-year-old girl who was buried alive near Hanska, Minnesota, in 1886, remembered me with a Christmas gift. For the second consecutive year, she (AKA my cousin Dawn and Aunt Marilyn) sent me a book about mice. She knows how much I detest rodents and takes great delight in taunting me.

The book was not—I don’t think—printed in China.

The imprint on the bottom on my new IKEA plates.

But the other part of Annie Mary’s gift, a combination calendar and notepad decorated with chickens (of which I am not fond), was manufactured in China.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Did you receive any memorable Christmas gifts? Humorous or otherwise? Submit a comment to Minnesota Prairie Roots. I’d love to hear your stories.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling