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


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


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


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