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Travel: An Overnight In Old Town

Dear Diary,
I’m perpetually hesitant to call posts of this nature “guides,” because I don’t want to sound like I’m telling you what to do, or that it must be done in same manner I did it.

Instead, my goal with this post is to spark your interest in a place and inspire you to see it for yourself. I will share with you what I experienced, but in the end, the choice and opinion is yours. 

With all of that said, exploring Old Town San Diego was like stepping into a time capsule. It is considered the birthplace of California, with the first settlement created in 1769 with merely a mission and a fort. After strolling along the modern downtown city and watching the seals, a visit to this historic site completes the picture.

When we traveled: mid-December (this Minnesota family was EAGER!)

Where we stayed: Hilton Garden Inn, Old Town (request a room with a renovated bathroom!)

Restaurants we ate at: CafĂ© Coyote and Casa Guadalajara (we ate at Casa multiple times!)

(Casa Guadalajara)

What we did:

We bought souvenirs at the Bazaar Del Mundo.

(Inside the Mormon Battalion)

Take in a free tour at the Mormon Battalion.

Purchase tickets for a walking tour through the Whaley House. It’s completely self-guided, and they allow photography. This was one of the most interesting homes to see! (Whaley House Web site)

Then, go to the nearby cemetery. The stories that come from this site stay with you.

We also walked around the State Historic Park and the Cosmopolitan Hotel, which is another option for your stay.

(*All photos by Brianne Sieberg unless a source is linked beneath the image. Links will take you to either my related blog posts, or the official site of the places mentioned here.)

For more information, visit the Old Town San Diego Guide.

A MN Urban Legend Inspired a Megadeth Song

Dear Diary,
I revisited a post I wrote in 2016 that discussed one of Minnesota's infamous urban legends.

Mary Jane Twilliger was a real human being, not a beheaded witch as the legend describes, who died young at age 17 from diphtheria.

I wish I could pinpoint why and how her memory was spun off in this story, which has spurned frequent online searches to uncover any reasoning behind it.

According to one result, the legend can potentially be traced to a man named James Sanford Peters, who had operated a mill. Anytime something went wrong at the mill, he’d blame the witches.

What kept it growing remains unsubstantiated.

Another result points to the proprietors of the Loon Lake Store. In the 1970s and 80s, alcohol was not sold in Iowa on Sundays. In order to boost sales and entice Iowans to cross state lines, they relied on the myth. “After all, it is best to confront a haunted area when fortified by spirits." I take issue with this assumption as well, since Minnesota also didn't sell alcohol on Sundays until just recently.

It is also undetermined if May Jane Twilliger’s name is spelled is one ‘l’ or two. I keep seeing both.

What I found most intriguing, and thus, inspiring today’s update, is the legend’s connection to the heavy metal band, Megadeth.

Turns out, their song “Mary Jane” is not about marijuana as notably assumed, but rather – Mary Jane Twilliger.

You see, founding member David Ellefson graduated from high school in Jackson, MN, and released the song in 1988 on the band’s ‘So Far, So Good … So What’ album. 

In fact, Twilliger’s epitaph inspired the song’s chorus:

Beware my friends, as you pass by
As you are now so once was I
As I’m now so you must be
Prepare my friends to follow me.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Twilliger’s tombstone is on display at a museum in Lakefield, MN to protect it from vandals.

It appears this story is much more far-reaching than I had thought.


The Loon Lake Cemetery, where Twilliger’s family plots are, had its first recorded burial in 1821 and last in 1926. Unfortunately, as was the case with the Farmington Middle Creek Historic Cemetery, when the associated small country churches close, these cemeteries become abandoned, neglected and lost to time.

It is a felony to destroy the property. That’s why Highland remains at the intersection of a busy thoroughfare, and Middle Creek stands within a modern subdivision. However, as properties change hands and farm equipment got bigger, maneuvering around headstones became difficult. 

There are reports of farmers simply piling headstones in a ditch to plow the land atop the graves.

At one time, there were over 70 gravestones and markers standing in memorial. Today, there are less than 20.

Finally, as nature reclaims the land, the neglect and abandonment likely contributed to the spookiness that propels the urban legend into the present. It’s important for us to remember that every person matters – that they had a life, a family who loved them, and have earned the right to be respected in death.

Hopefully this particular urban legend has been laid to rest.