One day, in the early 90s, some friends and I were wandering around the Delaware Water Gap area. We came to a graveyard on Old Mine Road, with lots of old graves. I loved old graves, loved seeing the people that lived long, long lives, and the ones that were cut super short, and wondering what their stories were. In this graveyard, the graves were mostly much older, but there was a really unique one, for a veteran from the 70s or 80s that was made of lucite.
A single stone far away in the back caught my eye, and we headed back there. It was the grave site of a Mary Ann Perrigo, who died in the 1800s at 14 years old. On her grave was a dirty doll with blonde hair, and next to it, a bag with a note in it, and a photo copy of a handwritten memo.
I can only paraphrase the note, but when i read it, I got chills. It read:
Dear Mary Ann,
As I sit here, and close my eyes, I can almost feel your breath on my neck. It is very still, and if I concentrate, it is like you are right there beside me. Perhaps you are. Love, the Gracious Ghost”
The second piece of paper was a photocopy of someone’s handwriting, with a single sentence:
Mary Ann Perrigo was killed by a wagon train on Old Mine Road.
For years, I wondered who this girl was, why she was there, where the rest of her family was, how she really died, and who was sitting at her grave, bringing her a doll, writing her letters, and hoping she would appear.
I visited several times a year. I was hoping I would run into the letter-writer, but I never did. The second time I visited, around 1995, there was a teddy bear added to the grave.
Eventually, this became the spot I would go to if I skipped school; wandering around here at the time between when my parents would arrive home and when I would arrive home. The old houses on the road, abandoned leftovers of Eminent Domain from the Tocks Island Project, fascinated me.
A 1950s proposal to construct a dam near Tocks Island across the Delaware River was met with considerable controversy and protest. Tocks Island is located in the Delaware River a short distance north from the Delaware Water Gap. In order to control damaging flooding and provide clean water to supply New York City and Philadelphia, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed building a dam. When completed, the Tocks Island Dam would have created a 37-mile (60-km) long lake between Pennsylvaniaand New Jersey, with depths of up to 140 feet. This lake and the land surrounding were to be organized as the Tocks Island National Recreation Area. Although the dam was never built, 72,000 acres (291 km²) of land were acquired by condemnation and eminent domain. This inciting environmental protesters and embittering local residents displaced by the project’s preparations when their property was condemned. After the Tocks Island Dam project was withdrawn, the lands acquired were transferred to the oversight of the National Park Service which reorganized them to establish the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
The houses were old and interesting in their own right and there was one in particular (which plays heavily in the film above) that I loved. It was a stone house that had a small greenhouse attached to it, a pink carriage house, detatched from it, and a secret arch that lead to a garden area, complete with a small bridge. This area thrilled me as much as the cemetery did, but the house and carriage house were sealed up like for knox; I had to be satisfied with the grounds.
A few years later, in college, we made the film above about Mary Ann and used the Secret Garden house as a backdrop.
As the years went by, and Mary Ann was featured in Weird New Jersey (I submitted an early letter and a photo, as did one other person at the same time.) the grave stone got harder and harder to read as weather, and people touching it eroded it. The grave site became littered with more mementos for the dead girl that no one knew. Rocks, coins, flags, tamagotchis, eventually it looked like a garbage can. And the little blonde doll eventually disappeared.
One time, my mother and I went to visit the area. There was a board that was loose in the secret garden house, and we were able to walk inside of just one room- it had blue shelves built into the wall. I was thrilled, but the next time I was there, it was closed up. This may have been one of my very first “explores.”- I just didn’t know it.
Over the years, Mary Ann’s grave got trashier and trashier looking, with cheap baubles and nicknacks littering it. The stone became completely illegible, and was replaced by a new one donated by the Sandyston Township Historical Society.
The Secret Garden House is in a sad state of repair, and I fear it will be gone soon. There is a giant hole in part of the house, big enough you could drive my Hyundai into it. If other doors weren’t already open, I would have walked in through the hole. The plank flooring is all coming up, the railing on the staircase, which must have been impressive at one point, was gone. The third floor is nothing but holes leading down to the second floor. The blue shelves I had seen 12 years ago or so were still there. I didn’t see a kitchen, but there was one room I didn’t get to. There were several fireplaces, one with shoes hanging from it. The bathroom had very colorful wallpaper, and was exposed completely to the elements. The garden area was way overgrown (but its always been, as long as I’ve been there, and trash is all over. The Carriage House was open too, but full of murky gross water, so maybe next time. If it still stands. The last time I was in the house, there was the corpse of a mother bear, pinned by debris, and what looked to be a dead cub or cubs. They had probably spent the entire winter and then some, dead, in the house.
Here are some photos of the Secret Garden House: