Chaptico, MD –In Chaptico, across from Our Lady of the Wayside Catholic Church, a road winds up a hill to what in modern times has nestled a series of apartments.
Down the road, barely a half-mile away, Christ Episcopal Church has stood since the early 1700s.
At the time of this Halloween tale, in the 1840s, the Catholic Church had not yet been built.
Christ Church has a significant history. British soldiers plundered the building—ironically known as King and Queen Parish—using it as a stable for their horses.
The Redcoats smashed up tombstones, leaving only one grave that predates the War of 1812, and that belonged to an American Revolutionary captain, another irony.
For years parishioners needing to bury a loved one faced the challenge of cutting into a grave no one knew was there due to the antics of the invaders.
There is a story of one particular grave in the cemetery whose origins were some twenty years after the British conducted their destruction.
A mariner named Gristis lived in the town in the 1840s and had a large home on a hill overlooking Chaptico Bay known as Gristis’ Venture. He was a sea captain who sailed from Chaptico all over the world, bringing back with him tradable goods and fine linens.
His wife was an invalid, confined to bed. The story is told he loved her dearly and being a man of wealth and means, on every trip would return with a ring for his beloved. It was said with the emeralds, rubies and diamonds adorning her hands, she literally slept with a fortune on her fingers.
One day while home from sea, the captain’s servant came to tell him his mistress had died. Going to her bedside he found it to be so.
Gristis sent a slave boy to the village below, informing the pastor at Christ Church and other neighbors that his wife was dead and there was to be a burial.
In those days, folks didn’t wait to bury their dead. The funeral was held that very afternoon and the woman laid to rest in the church cemetery.
That evening, some boys from Virginia were drinking in the village tavern where the barkeep kept shaking his head, lamenting the loss of “a fortune in jewels.” Asked what he meant, the bartender told them of the invalid woman buried that very day with an alleged treasure on her fingers.
Bolstered by whiskey, the Virginians procured shovels, ropes and lanterns, and headed for the graveyard in the timid hours of night. The freshly dug grave was easy to discern and the men set to work. After much effort, they lifted the coffin out of the soil, pried the lid from it, unwrapping the winding sheet from the corpse.
There in the half light, the jewels on the woman’s fingers sparkled under the lantern’s gaze. Her hands, however, were clasped tightly into fists and they could not force them open. Finally, it was decided to cut the rings from her fingers. When knife bit into flesh, however, the woman sat up in her coffin and moaned out loud.
Apparently, she wasn’t dead at all!
The Virginia boys took off running, leaving shovels, lanterns, ropes and their night’s work behind them in terrified flight.
It took the revived woman some time to get her bearings. At last, she realized where she was and recovering from her own horror of being buried alive, began crawling, pulling herself by force of will away from the cemetery a good half mile up the hill to her home at the edge of town.
Later that evening, as her husband sat reading the Bible by lamplight, he thought he heard something whining at the door. Lantern in hand, he opened the entrance to find his wife, her jeweled fingers bloody, lying at the threshold in her winding sheet.
Shocked and stunned at the sight, he passed out.
The lantern fell between them, bursting into flames, setting the house on fire, killing them both and reducing the elegant home to cinders.
Contact Joseph Norris at email@example.com