Anthony Wayne's Final Resting Place(s)
Anyone who has spent a little time in Northwest Ohio is familiar with Anthony Wayne. In fact, it's damn near impossible to ignore his legacy. The Anthony Wayne bridge connects East Toledo with downtown Toledo. The Anthony Wayne Schools serve students in Toledo's southwest suburbs along the Maumee River. The busy Anthony Wayne Trail ferries commuters to and from downtown Toledo and points south. And of course, just outside Maumee, we have the handsome Battle of Fallen Timbers Monument, featuring a bronze statue of General Wayne flanked by figures of a Native American and a settler. Face it, Anthony Wayne is deeply rooted in the consciousness of our community. But what do most of us really know about his story? How much do we know about the man we cannot ignore? I doubt many of us can answer the question, where is Wayne buried? Or, better yet, where are General Wayne's final resting places? Did I write places? Yep, read on...
Just two years after Major General Anthony Wayne and his Legion defeated the Northwest Indian Confederation at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, opening the Northwest Territory for settlement, the general suffered a debilitating gout attack during a visit to Fort Presqu' Isle in modern-day Erie, Pennsylvania. Wayne was on his way home to enjoy a quiet retirement from his 20-year military career. Sadly, he would not make it home...in one piece. His gout attack mushroomed rapidly and he developed intense stomach pains. He died sitting in a chair waiting for a doctor to arrive from Pittsburgh on December 15, 1796. After a brief military ceremony, he was buried in a plain wood casket at the foot of the fort's blockhouse flagstaff. His initials and date of death were recorded on the lid of the casket using round-headed brass tacks, which would come in handy later.
In 1809, General Wayne's son, Isaac, arrived in Erie in a small sulky. His mission was to grant his sister’s wish to bring their father's remains home so they could be interred in the family plot at St. David's Church in Radnor, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia. Isaac met Dr. John Wallace in Erie, the same doctor from Pittsburgh who had been summoned to the dying general's side in 1796. Their plan was simple, exhume Wayne's remains, the doctor would vouch for the identity, and what remained of Wayne would be placed in a small container for Issac to take home for burial. But here's where this story gets strange. When Dr. Wallace opened Wayne's coffin, he found the general's corpse almost perfectly preserved. In fact, too well preserved (and too large) to fit in his son's single-seat sulky for the trip home. The wily doctor developed a disturbing plan to fit the general's remains into a box small enough for the ride home. He dismembered Wayne’s body and boiled it in a large iron cauldron to remove the flesh. He cleaned the bones and packed them in a box for Issac to take back to Radnor. The remaining flesh (and his instruments) were thrown back in Wayne's coffin and reburied. Issac headed home, where the general's bones were laid to rest at St. David's church with the funeral rites celebrated by a huge crowd on July 4th, 1809.
You would hope this is the end of this odd chapter in the Anthony Wayne story and he was left to rest in peace. Unfortunately, that's not the case. In 1853, the blockhouse on Presque' Isle (which had been abandoned years earlier) was burned down and the land around it leveled. As a result, Wayne's original grave site was lost until 1879 when his remains were accidentally dug up. The coffin lid with the brass tacks, remnants of clothing and Dr. Wallace's dissection instruments were recovered. These items, along with the boiling cauldron and Wayne's "chair of death" are on display at the Erie County Historical Society. The rest was reburied in a reconstructed "Wayne's Blockhouse" monument located on the grounds of the Pennsylvania Soldiers and Sailors Home.
Finally, if you want to add a bit of the supernatural to this dark chapter in Wayne's story, don't forget to add in the details of the "Mad" Anthony Wayne ghost. Folks who live along Route 322, which runs diagonally across the entire state of Pennsylvania from Erie in the northwest to Philadelphia in the southeast, will tell you that Issac Wayne had a few issues on his way back to Radnor back in 1809. Apparently some of his father's bones spilled out behind his sulky on the bumpy ride home. One version is that the trunk kept falling off and breaking open, losing bones along the way. The other is that Isaac was in such a rush that he didn't notice bones falling out until he reached Radnor. Today, as the story goes, each New Year's Day, General Wayne's birthday, his ghost rises from the grave in Radnor and rides across the state along Route 322 all the way to Erie, searching for his missing bones.
Now you know at least one more interesting chapter in the story of the man Northwest Ohio will never forget. The next time someone asks you where General Anthony Wayne is buried, you can explain how his mortal remains are resting in two places in Pennsylvania, nearly 400 miles apart.