Post by Graveyardbride on May 11, 2017 19:00:53 GMT -5
Dixboro Woman Returns from Grave to Avenge Her Death
The final paragraph of the sign (above) in Washtena County’s Oak Grove Cemetery reads: Some of the earliest settlers buried here are members of the Mulholland, Freeman and Parker families. Martha Mulholland is reputed to be the Dixboro ghost, haunting local residents until her death was found to be a murder.
The frightful apparition wears a long, voluminous white gown, carries a lit candle and her face is that of a corpse, with sunken eyes and protruding teeth. Though she is what some might call the prototypal spirit of the dead, those lucky – or unlucky – enough to have seen her say she’s terrifying.
According to the story, in 1835, Martha Crawford, a widow from Canada, and Joseph, her 10-year-on son, were visiting her sister Ann in Dixboro, Superior Township, Michigan, where she was introduced to John Mulholland, Ann’s brother-in-law. Before anyone realized what was happening, the two were talking marriage. But John had a dark secret and Ann felt compelled to warn Martha. Some say after talking with her sister, Martha was making preparations to return to Canada when she was accosted by James, Ann’s husband, who warned, “If you don’t marry John, you’ll never make it back home alive!” Perhaps out of fear for her life and that of her child, in September of that year, Martha married John and around a year later, Ann, who was in her 20s, died. Did John know Ann had revealed his secret?
There’s evidence suggesting John and Martha’s marriage wasn’t made in heaven for when her husband died in 1840, there was talk that his widow seemed relieved. The couple had a son, born in 1936, who also died in 1840. Unfortunately, John was barely cold in his grave when James began arguing with Martha over his brother’s property, claiming John owed him substantial sums of money. As time passed, Martha became increasingly melancholy and fatigued. At night, her sleep was disturbed by horrifying nightmares and people noticed her condition was similar to that suffered by her sister before her death eight years earlier. Her physical ailments, combined with her legal woes, were more than the poor lady could bear. Needless to say, her mind deteriorated along with her health. James seized the opportunity – or did he create the opportunity? – and started legal proceedings to have his sister-in-law declared incompetent.
When Martha was examined by Dr. Sam Denton of the University of Michigan, she begged him to bleed her to death and in exchange, she would tell him her late husband’s secret. However, after relating the secret, the physician, who had no intention of committing murder, claimed the lancets he had in his bag were faulty and he could not bleed her. Martha became hysterical, crying, “They’re going to kill me!” Not long thereafter, in June 1845, the woman, indeed, died and the cause of death was listed as “ill health.”
In the fall of 1845, Issac Van Woert, a carpenter, accepted a job in Dixboro and moved his wife and two young sons into Martha’s old domicile. The following day, September 27, strange things began to happen. “I put my hand on the window sill and looked in,” Van Woert told anyone who would listen. “I saw a woman with a candlestick in her hand in which was a candle burning. She held it in her left hand. ... She wore a loose gown, had a white cloth around her head, her right hand clasped in her clothes near the waist. She was bent forward, her eyes large and much sunken, very pale indeed. ... She moved slowly across the floor until she entered the bedroom and the door closed. I then went up and opened the bedroom door and all was dark,” he continued. “I stepped forward and lit a candle, but saw no one, nor heard any noise, except just before I opened the bedroom door, I thought I heard one of the bureau drawers open and shut.” He claimed to have seen the horrifying apparition with “protruding teeth” 10 or 12 times and each time, she spoke in her Irish accent, saying, “He robbed me little by little, until they kilt me! They kilt me! Now he has got it all!” Oh, he did a awful thing to me. The time is coming. But, oh, their end! Their end! Their wicked end!”
Initially, people gave little credence to Van Woert’s claims, accusing him of either over-indulging in strong drink or being possessed of a most unusual imagination. But others argued that he was a sober, hardworking man of good character. Van Woert had become so unnerved that on November 7, 1845, he moved his family out of the house. Nonetheless, he stood by his assertions concerning the ghost and on December 8, traveled to Ann Arbor, where, after being duly sworn by William Perry, Esq., gave the following statement:
“I spoke of what I had seen several days after, and then learned for the first time that the house in which I lived had been previously occupied by a Widow Mulholland, and that she died there.
“The second time I saw her was in October about one o’clock in the morning ... as I opened the bedroom door it was light in the outer room. I saw no candle, but I saw the same woman that I had seen before. I was about five feet from her. She said ‘Don’t touch me – touch me not.’
“I stepped back a little and asked her what she wanted. She said ‘He has got it. He robbed me little by little, until they kilt me! They kilt me! Now he has got it all!’ I then asked her who had it all and she said, ‘James, yes, James has got it at last, but it won’t do him long. Joseph! Oh, Joseph! I wish Joseph would come away.’ Then all was dark and still.
“The third time I saw her I awoke in the night, know not what hour, the bedroom was entirely light. I saw no candle, but saw the same woman. She said ‘James can’t hurt me anymore. No! He can’t! I am out of his reach. Why don’t they get Joseph away? Oh, my boy! Why not come away?’ And all was dark and still.
“The fourth time I saw her was a few days later, about eleven o’clock p.m. I was sitting with my feet on the stove hearth. My family had retired and I was eating a lunch, when all at once the front door stood open, and I saw the same woman in the door supported in the arms of a man whom I knew. She was stretched back and looked as if she was in the agonies of death. She said nothing, but the man said, ‘She is dying. She will die.’ And all disappeared and the door closed without noise.
“The fifth time I saw her was a little after sunrise. I came out of the house to go to my work, and I saw the same woman in the front yard. She said ‘I wanted Joseph to keep my papers, but they are ....’ Here something seemed to stop her utterance. Then she said, ‘Joseph! Joseph! I fear something will befall my boy.’ And all was gone.
“The sixth time I saw her was near midnight. It was the same woman standing in the bedroom. The room was again light as before, no candle was visible. I looked at my wife, fearing she might awake. The woman then raised her hand and said ‘She will not awake.’ She seemed to be in great pain; she leaned over and grasped her bowels in one hand and in the other held a phial containing a liquid. I asked her what it was. ‘The Doctor said it was Balm of Gilead.’* And all disappeared.
“The seventh time I saw her I was working at a little bench ... I saw the same woman. ‘I wanted to tell James something, but I could not, I could not.’ I asked her what she wanted to tell. ‘Oh, he did a awful thing to me.’ I asked her who did. ‘Oh! He gave me a great deal of trouble in my mind. Oh they kilt me! They kilt me!’ I walked forward and tried to reach her but she kept the same distance from me. I asked her if she had taken anything that had killed her. She answered ‘Oh, I don’t ... Oh, I don’t ....’ The froth in her mouth seemed to stop her utterance. Then she said ‘Oh, they kilt me.’ I asked her ‘Who killed you?’ ‘I will show you,’ she said. Then she went out the back door near the fence and I followed her. There I saw two men whom I knew, standing ... I saw them begin at their feet and melt down like lead melting, until they were entirely melted; then a blue blaze two inches thick burned over the surface of the melted mass. Then all began bubbling up like lime slacking. I turned to see where the woman was, but she was gone.
“The next time I saw the woman was in the backyard about five o’clock p.m. ‘I want you to tell James to repent. Oh! If he would repent! But he won’t, he can’t. John was a bad man. Do you know where Frain’s Lake is?’ She then asked another question of much importance and said ‘Don't tell of that.’ (Van Woert later revealed this latter question pertained to a well at the corner of Main and Mill Streets, directly across the street from the Dixboro General Store near Martha’s house.)
“I asked her if I should inform the public on the two that she said had killed her and she replied ‘There will be a time. The time is coming. But, oh, their end! Their end! Their wicked end!’
“The last time I saw her was on the sixth of November, about midnight in the bedroom. She was dressed in white ... she looked very pale. She said ‘I don’t want anybody here.’ And then muttered something I did not understand and then she said ‘I wanted to tell a secret and I thought I had.’ And then she was gone.”
Stories of the “haunting” spread like wildfire and local citizens demanded Mrs. Mulholland’s corpse be exhumed and examined. In January 1846, a coroner’s inquest determined the woman had died of poisoning “administered by some person unknown.” Both the well at Main and Mill streets and Frain’s Lake were searched, but no human remains were found.
Today, most dismiss Isaac Van Woert’s encounters with Martha’s ghost as nothing more than imagination, if not outright lies, but in the 19th century, people were more religious, making it much more difficult to deny the supernatural. Furthermore, like the Greenbrier ghost† in West Virginia, Martha Mulholland’s phantom was proven to be correct about having been murdered. How would a man new to the area have known about such events, some of which happened years before?
In the meantime, a patent-medicine dealer (apparently the “Doctor” mentioned by Martha), who had provided some of the medication Martha took before she died, left town under cover of darkness and James Mulholland was becoming increasingly uneasy.
However, James didn’t leave the area immediately. In 1838, he had married Emily Loomis and when she died in 1847, the two had four young children, one of whom was only 4-weeks-old. Although there was no evidence to charge him with murder, or any other crime, townsfolk condemned James, then 34, for his greed and blamed him for Martha death. Because he was no longer welcome, he gathered up his family and belongings and departed Dixboro for parts unknown, never to be seen nor heard of again. In 1852, some of his former land holdings were sold at public auction.
In the end, Martha’s son, Joseph Crawford, inherited John Mulholland’s estate and by 1850, he was the only one of the principals with a connection to the Dixboro ghost still living in Superior Township. He was a successful businessman, married in 1855 and later settled in Livingston County.
What was John’s deep, dark secret? The doctor refused to reveal it – and some doubted Martha ever told him – still, people were pretty sure they knew what it was. There was a tavern near the Mulholland house and one evening, a peddler stopped for the night, but when morning came, he was nowhere to be found, though his horse, wagon and goods were still there. Despite an absence of proof, many were convinced John, James, or both, had killed the man for his money and other possessions and dumped his body into a well.
Van Woert’s tales of Martha’s ghost were picked up by newspapers throughout the state and nationally and the house became a favorite destination for thrill-seekers. Somewhere around 1860 or 70, the old dwelling burned down and no one ever knew if the fire was accidental, or deliberately set. At some point, the well was filled in and today there is no sign of it. But the disappearance of the house and well didn’t stop the stories. In an interview in the 1960s, Emmett Gibb, who had owned the Dixboro General Store (above) on the commons since 1924, told a reporter that on cold, still nights, if one listened carefully, the tinkle of the peddler’s bell could still be heard.
For close to 175 years, the Mulholland name has been connected to murder and the Dixboro ghost and to this day, ghost-hunters and sightseers flock to the location where Martha returned from the grave to avenge her untimely death. The house where Isaac Van Woert was haunted by the gruesome specter of Martha Mulholland stood behind the late 19th century home at 5164 Plymouth Road, directly across Cherry Hill Road from the Dixboro General Store, the address of which is 5206 Plymouth Road.
Sources: John Robinson, WFMK, April 29, 2017; Ellen Hoffman, GLakes-Tales Blog; Dixboro.com; Washtenaw Impressions, Washtenaw Historical Society; and William B. Treml, Ann Arbor News, October 31, 1972.
*Usually cottonwood oil.
† “The Greenbrier Ghost: Testimony from Beyond the Grave”: whatliesbeyond.boards.net/thread/1466/greenbrier-ghost