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The Mary Jane Twilliger Story

Writer's note: this is a developing story, and one that has sparked my curiosity as I read Minnesota's abundance of stories and legends. My two preliminary sources are linked, and I intend to update in the event I uncover more information. 

Dear Diary,

An urban legend is defined as a "humorous or horrific story or piece of information circulated as though true, especially one purporting to involve someone vaguely related or known to the teller."

One such urban legend talks about the Loon Lake Cemetery, near Lakefield, Minn. (186 miles from the Twin Cities), where 3 witches were brutally executed in 1881.

Believed to be the most powerful of the three, Mary Jane was beheaded, and a curse was placed upon the land. Desecrate their graves and you will meet a swift, unpleasant and unnatural death. The story adds a twist in mentioning however, that Mary Jane's gravestone has been removed so you could stand upon or walk across her grave without even realizing it.

It was an interesting story to read, especially as Minnesota's weather cools with the transitioning seasons and Halloween approaching. I was skeptical though, witches? Beheadings?! I believe it's important to respect the dead (all dead), so I began wonder if this was just a made-up story to scare kids away.

Twilliger's headstone, now on display at the nearby historical society (source)

Of the 67 tombstones that once stood in Loon Lake Cemetery, only 18 still stand. And of those 18, the passage of time has weathered their inscriptions making it impossible to know who is buried where. The location is remote, swampy, and inhospitable so I'm sure that alone has fueled the creation of this urban legend. Plus, this urban legend lead to the destruction of one of Minnesota's pioneer cemeteries.

There is no record of a visitor meeting an untimely end because he inadvertently traipsed upon the unmarked graves. Fueling speculation, it could be because all of those offenders fell victim to the curse. Or, there just simply isn't one.

Then I found information that there was a Mary Jane buried in Loon Lake.

And her headstone is now at the local historical society, which eerily lends a bit of credit to the urban legend.

But what the urban legend cannot deny, is recorded fact - her name is Mary Jane Twilliger and she was 17 when she died of diphtheria.

She was born in Iowa and worked as a servant, and her parents are also buried at Loon Lake. She had siblings, she had a life and she has a story far different than the urban legend that paints the picture that she was a witch.

Here's the largest disconnect that discredits the legend - Mary Jane's documented death was March 5, 1880 and the storied witch was beheaded with an ax in 1881. The great-grandniece of Mary Jane, researcher Janine Eller Porter, found this documentation to clear her ancestor's name and call into question why she became the subject of this story.

Loon Lake Cemetery now sits in a state of disarray due to vandalism, and after Mary Jane's headstone was found in a neighboring yard, it was taken to the courthouse and soon after, the historical society. We may never locate her body's final resting place. We may never know how or why a 17-year-old girl came to be improperly immortalized as a witch in a story that is not true. What I do know, is that Mary Jane Twilliger lived a short life, denied of the life experiences we take for granted, and deserves to be remembered for who she was instead of who she is not.

May she rest in peace.

Other facts:
-Last burial in 1926
-There is no longer a direct road to the cemetery but it can still be accessed

Summer's Last Hurrah in Hayward, WI

This was "home" for the week.

Also, there's bears.

Our cabin was on the Ojibwa Reservation located quite literally at the end of the road.

We raced go-karts twice and played a round of mini golf.

 She was MAD Nick wasn't in the lead.

 Clearly things got a little intense.

 Driving Miss Daisy

 Now we have a race!

Until next time, Hayward!

The Lumberjack Show

Dear Travel Diary,
Before leaving Hayward, WI, we took in a lumberjack show.

 Tossing a razor sharp 6-lb ax at this small target, what could possibly go wrong here?! (Nothing for this guy at least, since he hit it.)

 Swing and a miss.

 This looks totallllly safe.

 Scaling a 100-foot pole of NOPE.

But then, Landen & Madelyn got up onstage to cross-cut with the pros.


 Well that's unfortunate.

 After the show, Madelyn scurried up on stage for a piece of scrap wood that she made the lumber jacks sign for her.

Goof balls.

The Muskie Museum aka Hall of Fame

Dear Travel Diary,

If you look closely, you'll see the mouth of a Muskie above the tree tops as you enter downtown Hayward.

To understand why this is a tourist draw, I must inform you that Hayward is known as "the Muskie capital of the world," and this 4-story tall fiberglass fish is the world's largest roadside attraction to honor its namesake.

Inside, is a museum. Enter through the fish's tail, and work your way up to its mouth where you're treated to views of Wisconsin landscape from the observation deck WHILE ALSO discovering what it's like to be eaten alive.

Bring the kids.

But this wasn't the weirdest thing about this place.

Oh no - as we walked the grounds, we quickly realized THIS WAS A MEMORIAL GARDEN where each bench and fish statue was dedicated to the memory of a "hall of fame" fisherman (and they all seemed to have passed in the 70s/80s). It was the most bizarre experience of my life.

So you see Landen "doin' the Dab" in front of the Perch and Crappie statues in the memorial garden. His rationale was, he caught it; he must mark it.

And then there was Maddie, who wanted to pose in the flower garden, but she insisted the Muskie be included in the background. Side note: surrounding the Muskie was a moat that seemed to be a fish hatchery. But to fuel our suspicion, there were quite a few floating dead fish.

In case you were wondering, I have absolutely crushed my bucket list this week.

Lake Life: On The Boat

Dear Photography Diary,

Because a picture is worth a thousand words.

 (I don't think the boat is getting through that.)

 (Sleeping on the job!)