dianne salerni author
dianne salerni author

Anthony Wayne might have had the weirdest burial(s) in Pennsylvania, but there’s another strange grave in southern Chester County, PA, about 10 minutes from my house.

In the cemetery adjoining the London Tract Meeting House in Landenberg, there’s a marker for a grave known as The Ticking Tomb. It’s said that if you place your ear against the stone, you can hear the distinct ticking of a watch. The Ticking Tomb is an old, old legend. In fact, it’s believed that Edgar Allen Poe, while visiting the area, went to hear it for himself and was inspired to write The Tell-Tale Heart.

According to legend, in the mid 1760’s surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were passing through the area while mapping out their famous Mason-Dixon line. A local tot supposedly swallowed Mason’s pocket watch, which continued to tick inside the boy throughout his life and beyond. (That’s some watch!)

When I was a kid, teachers told us that the ticking sound was most likely caused by an underground spring beneath the gravestone. In recent years, the ticking has reportedly stopped, which suggests the underground spring has shifted – or that Mason’s watch has finally run down.

As for the story that Poe visited the grave – it’s quite possible. In the early 1840’s, Poe stayed at the Deer Park Tavern in Newark, Delaware – the same place where Mason and Dixon stayed nearly a century earlier. He may very well have heard the legend of the ticking tomb at that time.

It is also said that Poe stumbled while getting out of a carriage at the Deer Park Tavern, and for this indignity, he placed a good-natured “curse” upon the place: Anybody who visited it was doomed to return, again and again. The curse is still in effect: The Deer Park was my college hangout when I attended The University of Delaware, and my family still goes there for dinner and brunch! Hard to believe that Edgar Allen Poe – not to mention Mason and Dixon – ate at the same establishment, but that’s just the awesome thing about history. Time marches on but stories last forever.

No, this isn’t a weird version of Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind. This is a true story about how we treat our heroes here in Pennsylvania!

General Anthony Wayne is Pennsylvania’s greatest Revolutionary War hero. “Mad Anthony” once promised George Washington that he would “lay siege to Hell itself” if asked. After the American Revolution, Wayne continued to distinguish himself in the Indian Wars, particularly in the Battle of Fallen Timbers.

Wayne died near Erie, Pennsylvania in 1796 from complications of gout. He was buried there with all due honors, but thirteen years later, his son came retrieve his father’s body, wanting to re-bury him near the family home in Radnor, Pennsylvania. The old hero was exhumed, whereupon it was discovered that Wayne’s body was unnaturally preserved. The son had planned to take his father’s bones home with him in a cart, and yet there was a lot more of him left than bones – which presented (ahem) a logistical problem of transportation.

A local doctor was hired to resolve the problem by separating the flesh from the bones. Butcher knives were used at first, but eventually they resorted to boiling Wayne’s bones to clean them entirely. The flesh and the remains of the stew pot (eeeww!) were re-buried in the original grave. Wayne’s son departed with his father’s bones in a box.

According to legend, the box with the bones fell out of the cart several times on the journey home (What kind of bumbling idiot was this son?), but eventually some number of General Wayne’s bones were buried in Radnor. Anthony Wayne’s ghost may (or may not) haunt the diagonal path across the state, looking for the missing bones, but that’s another story.

Somehow, I find it fitting that in a state where you can’t buy beer and wine in the same store, you also can’t pay your respects to our most famous Revolutionary War hero in just one cemetery!


After a family excursion to the White Clay Creek preserve last Sunday, my family stopped at the London Tract Friends Meeting in Landenberg, Pennsylvania, to visit our local spooky grave, The Ticking Tomb.

It’s been years since my husband and I have visited this cemetery, although I wrote a blog post about the place back in the winter. You can read the story behind The Ticking Tomb here.

We weren’t even sure which tomb was the right one, at first. I had planned on calling up the information on the Droid when we got there, but once on the property I had no bars. NO BARS! It was a DEAD ZONE. Get it? That would have been spooky, if not for the fact that almost all of Landenberg is a dead zone.

So, we just had to wander around until I recognized it – and I did, finally. It was the flat stone inscribed only with the initials R.C., next to the oddly shaped heart headstone. Gina swears that she could hear a slow ticking sound when she pressed her ear to the stone.

Gabbey the Skeptic says no way.

Sorcia was more interested in the treats in Gina’s hand.

Me? Oh, I didn’t listen. I just took the pictures. I’d prefer not to confirm or deny this legend. I just like to wonder about it.

P.S. The mysterious Ticking Tomb is not the only interesting grave in this cemetery. Look at this headstone for Lillie Russell, Beloved Daughter. Have you ever seen one like this before?

P.P.S. Marcy Hatch, my wonderful first beta reader for the Caged Graves, has a review for Struts and Frets (which she won in my 100 Blog Follower Contest) and an interview with Jon Skovron (whom I met at PAYA 2010) on her blog today. Jon’s a riot and a half, and I suggest you check out the interview!


The next entry in my series of intriguing Pennsylvania graves (caged graves, the ticking tomb, multiple graves for Anthony Wayne) is a salute to Dr. Elisha Kane, the romantic hero of my novel, We Hear the Dead.

Located in Laurel Hill Cemetery, in the middle of Philadelphia, this mausoleum is the resting place of the most beloved adventurer of the mid-19th century, as well as a few of his relatives. I made a pilgrimage to see it when I reached the conclusion of my first draft.

When I say the middle of Philadelphia, I mean right smack in the middle of a tough neighborhood. When my husband and I wandered into the cemetery office, we were greeted by a girl behind a bullet proof window. She nodded knowledgably when we explained that we were there to see Kane’s grave, and circled the location on a map, which she slid through a crack in the glass. “You can’t get to the tomb,” she said. “You’ll have to look through the fence.” We stared at her in disbelief, disappointed and rather confused. “It’s for your own safety,” she explained. “You’ll see.”

We followed the map through the cemetery and eventually reached a tall, chain-link fence. Walking along the length of it, still confused, we eventually spotted the Kane tomb — and yes, we could see the girl’s point. The dark stone monument is built into the side of a steep hill and partly obscured by grass covering the entire roof. A narrow stone path leads down to the entrance, but one false step and a visitor could tumble headlong down the rocky incline and onto East River Drive. A couple of bounces and – assuming he wasn’t hit by a speeding car – the unlucky visitor might roll off the highway, plummet down another few hundred feet, and plunge into the Schuykill River. It’s a precarious location for a mausoleum to say the least, although it commands a stunning view.

I had come out of curiosity and to pay my respects, but once I’d seen the tomb’s location, I knew I would have to re-write one of the scenes in my book to better match reality. According to historical record, Elisha Kane took Maggie Fox to visit his family mausoleum as part of a romantic carriage ride during their courtship. Supposedly, he pointed out the tomb as his future resting place and informed her that the future Mrs. Kane would rest there as well. He was, of course, broadly hinting she was under consideration for that choice slab of granite!

A romantic date in a graveyard. What a guy! All right, blog readers, here’s a question for you – have you ever had a romantic interlude in a cemetery? Or, alternatively, have you ever been on a date to a place stranger than this?

Astute blog readers might notice that the picture above does not look as if it were taken through a fence. I’m not going to reveal how that was done, but I will mention that if you are serious about keeping people on one side of a fence, you should spring for a padlock instead of just looping a loose chain around the bars of the gate.


I don’t know how I got started on this series of weird Pennsylvania graves … but I definitely have a story appropriate for following the caged graves of Catawissa and the ticking tomb of Landenberg.

General Anthony Wayne is undoubtedly Pennsylvania’s greatest hero of the Revolutionary War. Often called “Mad Anthony” for his brash temper and fearless approach to warfare, he once promised George Washington that he would “lay siege to Hell itself” if asked. After the American Revolution, Wayne continued to distinguish himself in the Indian Wars, particularly in the Battle of Fallen Timbers. A fine (and colorful) representation of Anthony Wayne can be found in Frances Hunter’s historical novel The Fairest Portion of the Globe – a recommended read for American history buffs.

Today, sixteen counties in the U.S. bear Wayne’s name, along with an equal number of towns and boroughs. To my mind, that’s a fine way to honor an American hero – certainly better than burying him in two graves!

Wayne died near Erie, Pennsylvania in 1796 from complications of gout. He was buried there with all due honors, but thirteen years later, his son came retrieve his father’s body, wanting to re-bury him near the family home in Radnor, Pennsylvania. Accordingly, the old hero was exhumed, whereupon it was discovered that Wayne’s body was unnaturally preserved. The son had planned to take his father’s bones home with him in a cart, and yet there was a lot more of him left than bones – which presented (ahem) a logistical problem of transportation.

A local doctor was hired to resolve the problem by separating the flesh from the bones. It can be assumed that butcher knives were used at first, but eventually the doctor resorted to boiling Wayne’s bones to clean them entirely. The flesh and the remains of the stew pot (eeeww!) were re-buried in the original grave. Wayne’s son departed with his father’s bones in a box.

According to legend, the box with the bones fell out of the cart several times on the journey home (What kind of bumbling idiot was this son?), but eventually some number of General Wayne’s bones were buried in Radnor. Anthony Wayne’s ghost may (or may not) haunt the diagonal path across the state, looking for the missing bones, but that’s another story.

Somehow, I find it fitting that in a state where you can’t buy beer and wine in the same store, you also can’t pay your respects to our most famous Revolutionary War hero in just one cemetery!


As a follow-up to my post about The Caged Graves in Catawissa, PA, I thought I’d mention another weird PA grave – a very local one for me. (It’s about 10 minutes from my house, and I grew up knowing this legend.)

In the cemetery adjoining the London Tract Meeting House in Landenberg, there’s a marker for a grave known as The Ticking Tomb. It was said that if a person placed their ear against the stone, he would hear the distinct ticking of a watch. (Who discovered this first, I don’t know. Who goes around pressing their ears to gravestones?) The Ticking Tomb is an old, old legend. In fact, it is believed that Edgar Allen Poe, while visiting the area, went to hear it for himself and was inspired to write The Tell-Tale Heart.

According to legend, in the mid 1760’s surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were passing through the area while mapping out their famous Mason-Dixon line. A local tot supposedly swallowed Mason’s pocket watch, which continued to tick inside the boy throughout his life and beyond. (That’s some watch!)

When I was a kid, teachers told us that the ticking sound was most likely caused by an underground spring beneath the gravestone. In recent years, the ticking has reportedly stopped, which suggests that the underground spring has shifted – or that Mason’s watch has finally run down.

As for the story that Poe visited the grave – it’s quite possible. In the early 1840’s, Poe stayed at the Deer Park Tavern in Newark, Delaware – the same place where Mason and Dixon stayed nearly a century earlier. He may very well have heard the legend of the ticking tomb at that time.

It is also said that Poe stumbled while getting out of a carriage at the Deer Park Tavern, and for this indignity, he placed a good-natured “curse” upon the place: Anybody who visited it was doomed to return, again and again. The curse is still in effect: The Deer Park was my college hangout when I attended The University of Delaware, and my family still goes there for dinner now and then. The ticking tomb does not hold quite the same appeal …