Volunteer day at Rockland Bike Park. Click here to visit facebook event page
Help us build Rockland Bike Park and the Natural Playground at Rockland. NEMBA will host as we move 90 yards of mulch to prep the site for a playground. Bring mulch moving tools: buckets, wheelbarrows, shovels, metal rakes, and pitch forks.
Why is it called Mary’s Ghost Trail?
Many riders have asked me about the trail name Mary’s Ghost Trail. Perhaps you’ve been riding on the singletracks and heard strange noises or a scream in the distance. To know Rockland you should know about “Poor Mary” and her spirit that still haunts the hills of North Madison. Mary’s Ghost Trail was named on the day that I believe that she reached out to me to identify her killer.
Who was Mary?
Mary was a sweet, poor child of Rockland. From the first settlers until suburbanization, the Rocklanders were simple people, mostly woodsmen, known as the Black Rock Farmers. They were far removed geographically and culturally from cosmopolitan society. Rocklanders were good neighbors, minded their own business, and until the tabloids circled over them, no one ever accused Rocklanders of committing “dark deeds.”
Mary was not beautiful and no one ever called her smart. She was born without money, but she was loved in Rockland. Mary was a child of the land, born and raised in its ways. She was kind and compassionate; she had ethics and integrity to compensate for her lack of a formal education. Mary lived in a tiny home under the same roof as her father, Charlie, half-sister, Susan and bastard son, Willie. The foundation of her tiny home is still present today, just south of Rockland Preserve on Old Madison/Durham Road. Mary was not much more than a child when she met her fate, on her 22nd birthday, September 3rd, 1878.
Mary and the Reverend Herbert Hayden had an affair that was well documented. Their relationship was professional at first. Herbert came to Rockland as a traveling preacher, filling in for the sick minister Joseph Gibbs at the Methodist Church. Hayden had aspirations of becoming an ordained minister, but poor scholarship forced him to take temporary positions as an alternate route to becoming ordained. After a year in the role, Hayden was dismissed from his position in Rockland and he was forced to travel to Madison Center each week for lower wages and more responsibility than his previous post. Mary Stannard was brought to the Hayden home as caretaker for the children while Herbert worked and his wife Rosa taught at the Rockland school and ran the family farm.
Mary and Herbert saw enough of each other in passing to engage a toxic curiosity. Mary was drawn to Hayden’s stature as a minister and caring father. Herbert played the part of a confident young man in control of his destiny. He was good-looking and projected himself as a man bound for things greater than Rockland. Mary was an easy target. She was in a social class even lower than his own. Herbert was broke and struggling to make it as a minster. His personal life was spiraling downward and Mary represented a new low.
Neighbors frequently saw Herbert and Mary walking together or driving in his carriage. He would often find excuses to visit Mary, including to fetch the cow that somehow kept drifting toward their shared spring.
In March, 1878, there was a parish oyster supper that Rosa and Herbert attended together. Mary stayed home with the children. Upon return from the dinner, Rosa retired early and Herbert attended to Mary at around 10:00 PM. At 11:00, Mary and Herbert were comfortable on the couch when they were surprised by Mary’s sister Emogene and half-brother Charles summoning Mary to walk home. Herbert insisted that she was still needed around the house, even though the children had been in bed for some time. Mary understood the consequence of a second transgression but accepted the risk.
Mary and Herbert’s affair waned during the summer of 1878. Rosa and Herbert Hayden welcomed their third child into the home and Mary went off to work in North Guilford for Edgar and Jane Studley. While peace was restored to Herbert’s life with Mary several miles away, Mary was left with a growing consciousness of symptoms much like she had felt during her first pregnancy. Her menstrual cycle was often irregular, and though she had just started her monthly, she did not trust that alone in determining whether she was pregnant. Rosa Hayden recently told Mary that she had menstruated during her own complicated second pregnancy. Mary’s suspicions grew because five months after her first meetings with Hayden, her breasts became swollen and she developed growing discomfort in the abdomen. Mary believed that she was once again pregnant with the child of her former employer.
Another child would break Mary. She could not afford to raise it, and she would not dare show her face in the small village at Rockland as the mother of a second illegitimate child. Mary pursued an abortion and wanted Herbert to help. She understood the potential consequences of the pregnancy on Hayden were grave as well. Hayden would be blocked from any path to full ministry and it would ruin his marriage. He would either comply with Mary and help her end the pregnancy or end Mary’s life.
The Murderer’s Mission
Hayden understood his options as well and prepared for both. On the morning of Tuesday, September 3, 1878 Hayden set out on a murderer’s mission. He told Rosa that he was headed to Durham Center to get some supplies: molasses, sugar, and fuller’s earth. Durham could not provide what he was really desperate for, but collecting on debt was sufficient rationale to allow him to take the morning journey north. First on his agenda was a visit to Lafayatte Burton, a Middletown man who owed him some tools. Anything of value could help Hayden obtain the means to solve Mary’s problem. Though Hayden was unsuccessful in finding Mr. Burton, he was constructing a rationale for his own defense in the fatal option that played out in his head throughout the morning ride.
Next, Hayden visited Dr. Leonard Bailey, the physician who had helped Rosa through her complicated second pregnancy. Rosa had given birth to their third child just two weeks earlier, so it must have come as a surprise to Dr. Bailey when Hayden mentioned to him that Rosa was once again showing signs. “Due to Rosa’s weak condition and her difficulty in the past,” Hayden implored, “could you provide something to put an end to her condition?” The doctor refused to offer a prescription for abortion medication and was disturbed to hear that the Reverend would be willing to pursue that course. Once again, Hayden’s least vile plans were blocked and the only option remaining was becoming increasingly clear.
Hayden’s last stop was Tyler’s drug store, where he purchased an ounce of arsenic “for the rats.” The druggist carefully wrapped it in paper, put another wrapper on top of that with the words “arsenic, poison.” There was no mistaking the toxicity of the contents of that package, and no reversing Hayden’s intent.
Around 11 AM, Hayden arrived back at Rockland. This time, instead of taking the more direct path on New Durham Road (Route 79), Hayden directed his carriage up and over that fated Dead Hill on Old Madison/Durham Road, directly to the Stannard home.
Hope for Mary
It was a warm, humid day and the Stannard house was buzzing. Mary was home with Willie and her half-sister Susan Hawley, and Charlie was passing the day with his neighbor and friend Ben Stevens, who was hung-over from a long night of drinking and dancing at a barn-raising in Guilford. Hayden needed an opportunity to speak privately with Mary. “It’s hot,” Herbert said. “I’ve been on the road all day, would you mind getting me a glass of water?” Mary brought him a glass from the kitchen. The Stannards had no well and no running water, their supply was from the nearby spring. “This water is warm,” Hayden stated. “Mary, I’ll join you for a trip to the spring for a colder drink.” Mary was thrilled to see him, she couldn’t think of anything else but her problem and his willingness to help.
During their short walk together to get water, they developed a plan. Mary should meet Hayden by Whippoorwill Rock just after 2 PM. She would tell the family that she had gone out to collect blackberries for a pie. It was her 22nd birthday and she deserved a treat. Hayden would meet her shortly thereafter, with the “medicine” in hand. He had to go home first and visit with Rosa and tend to the children so not to draw suspicion. Hayden’s deceit did not end with Mary, he was fully committed to his plan, and the lies that would take to accomplish it: his scheming at the Stannard home, his conversation with Dr. Bailey, his excuses to Rosa. Hayden was leaving a trail of crumbs that he would have to explain, should they be discovered.
As planned, Herbert spent the next two hours at home with his family, changed his clothes, and had lunch. Rosa had fixed some oysters for him and he grabbed his knife for shucking. At nearly 2 PM he headed over to the woodlot, dressed appropriately for hard labor, hanging on to the knife he used to prepare his lunch, and the arsenic moved to his front pants pocket. This time, the bag indicating the contents and warning was removed, and the powder was placed in an empty pepper tin.
Mary was there as planned, and she was excited to see Herbert walking up the woods road to meet her, grateful to put the worries of a second pregnancy out of mind. Hayden offered her the arsenic as a cure to the pregnancy. She accepted the medication without hesitation. Hayden knew that 2 or 3 grains was enough to kill a person, but he wanted to move things along.
Around 3:15, the closest neighbor, Miss Eliza Mills heard a scream from the woods, around Whippoorwill Rock. However, no one thought to go looking for Mary until she did not return from her blackberry picking in spite of a heavy rain around 4 PM. The first to find her body was her father, Charlie Stannard, who found her dead, lying in a pool of her own blood. In her blood was 90 grains of arsenic, enough to kill all of Rockland. Her killer wanted Mary dead for certain, and decided not to wait for the arsenic to take its course. As the poison burned through her organs, she was beat with a club and finished with a knife, then left to rest peacefully with her arms carefully folded across her chest. Beneath Whippoorwill Rock she was left cold, in the tranquil blackberry patch in the Rockland hillside close to her home.
Joel Helander’s 1878 Map of Mary Stannard’s Murder, overlaid on a map of Rockland Preserve Trails
Mary’s murder was a Victorian Era crime with enough intrigue to make it the focus of national attention. The New York Times, New Haven Register, and Hartford Courant printed articles almost daily with accounts of Rockland. Professional and amateur detectives searched for clues around the quiet old roads, peered into the windows of the Rocklanders, and gawked at the real-life woodsmen. Accounts of the investigation and the two trials that ensued shone a light on the simple folks’ way of life. Tabloid vultures circled Rockland for clues about whether Hayden was the murderer, or whether the life of a Rocklander was worthy of his conviction. Those vultures stirred up a dark cloud. The newspapers printed anything they heard. Rocklanders were not as sophisticated as the cultivated world treading upon their privacy.
The Justice Court
There were two trials. First, the Justice Court trial that began on September 10, 1878 and lasted only nine days. The scales of justice were not weighted by facts, they were weighted by ideals. In one pan, the defense of the Rocklander: the gruesome murder of a young mother void of sophistication. In the other pan, the preservation of societal standards: the elite of Victorian New England united to defend a representative of their most sacred institution. The papers declared “there has not been an event of greater importance in the criminal annals of the State.”
The gravity of the trial made little difference in the stringency of its proceedings. This was a jury-rigged operation from its very beginning. Presiding was Justice of the Peace Henry Wilcox, who was a parishioner at the Congregational Church that played host to the trial. Wilcox wore no blindfold as he meted out the ruling of his court. Wilcox was not a trained judge, he was a justice of the peace and registrar of vital statistics. He had history with both the Stannards and Hayden. Just a few days earlier, he had signed Mary’s death certificate. Before that, he recognized the birth of Willie, noting him “illegitimate” on the certificate of birth. Hayden and Wilcox were fraternal in the order of Freemasons and Wilcox held high esteem for Hayden as a minister. Wilcox had refused to sign the arrest warrant for Hayden, saying he “would rather sign his own death warrant than one for Hayden’s arrest.” Lack of a proper courtroom brought the trial into the basement of Madison’s First Congregational Church, a church populated by congregants sympathetic to Hayden and likely to recognize the importance of this trial on the reputation of their friends at the Methodist Church.
Hayden’s defense was based in sentiments. He was calm and collected in his testimony, presenting himself as a devout Minister and dutiful father. His wife, Rosa Hayden, provided testimony that was well-rehearsed and matched her husband’s accounts of the fateful morning. She was the vision of a committed wife, unwavering in her commitment to her husband, a pillar in the community as both the minister’s wife and the Rockland schoolteacher.
Nine days the trial ran from the opening remarks to Hayden’s acquittal. Nine days and not enough time for the results of the second autopsy. Nine days were not enough time for the jury to hear that Mary had enough arsenic in her blood to kill all the residents of Rockland, and that the arsenic in her blood was a perfect match to the arsenic that Hayden had purchased in Middletown on the day of the murder.
The Grand Jury
Every bit of the brevity and thrift of the Madison Justice Court was contrasted in the New Haven trial. Hayden was held in jail for a year and a day before his counts were read to the Grand Jury so that the State could have time to assemble its case. In addition to the coroner’s autopsy and the second autopsy concerning arsenic in Mary’s blood, experts conducted two more autopsies on Mary’s body, one where the doctor removed Mary’s head, and the last, where they removed her remaining organs. Very little of Mary’s body remained intact. Mary’s exhumed body, left dismantled and without any semblance of peace or honor stood as proxy for the entire village of Rockland that had similarly become unshelved in the search for truth.
The State’s prosecution team had a stacked deck of lawyers and evidence to present to the Superior Court. Results of the second autopsy showed arsenic in Mary’s stomach, liver, brain, diaphragm, esophagus, intestines, kidneys, and lungs. In total, 85-90 grains of arsenic were measured throughout Mary’s body, when only 1 ¾ grains would have been enough to kill her. The investigation of the arsenic that spread through Mary’s body resulted in the most complex forensic research ever to be introduced in a criminal trial. Specialists traced the source of the powder that was in Mary’s body and matched it perfectly to the arsenic that Hayden had purchased in Middletown on the day of Mary’s murder. The arsenic that was placed in Mary’s barn did not.
Arsenic was not the only smoking gun that gave credence to the State’s case against Hayden. Additionally, the doctors found beyond reproach that the marks that were evident on Mary’s cheek were a perfect match for Hayden’s distinctive boot heels. One doctor testified, “there is not another boot heel in the country that would make such a mark, and it would be impossible to make a heel that would make such a footprint.” In the moment of passion, Mary’s murderer must have stomped her face into the dirt with his boot in order to have access to her throat. However, the bootmark was not admitted as evidence to the case because the defense requested that the face be brought into the courtroom, the face which had been detached from Mary’s body in one of the autopsies, and Mary’s family preferred to omit the evidence instead of further dishonoring the deceased.
Doctors also investigated the blood on Hayden’s knife. In the absence of DNA testing, they used the most complex methods available to state the probability that the blood on the large blade of Hayden’s blood, the one he used on the day of the murder, was human blood. The corpuscles found on the small blade of Hayden’s knife well within the expected diameter range of human blood, and one of Hayden’s shirts had blood spots that were similar to those on his knife, and similar to the blood found on Mary’s sunbonnet. The conclusiveness of the evidence was overshadowed by the manner in which it was presented. The scientific evidence and methods presented by experts to the jury was incomprehensible to the men and women charged with determining Hayden’s fate. The primary response to all of the expert testimony provided by the state was general confusion. The State’s prosecution focused on facts, experts, and details.
Hayden’s defense redirected the focus from facts to sentiments. Hayden, the pious man, the family man could not be guilty of such a heinous crime as the one to which he was accused. His guilt would have to be murder in the first degree, there was no compromising. By convicting Hayden, the jury would make Rosa into a widow and force Hayden’s children to be raised without a father and the memories of his actions. Hayden’s defense, led by attorney Watrous implored the jury “What, do you know about this case? Leaving out the testimony of Susan Hawley, you know nothing about it accept that Mary Stannard was found dead September 3rd, 1878. That she committed suicide does not seem probable, although it is possible. Assuming that it was a murder, who committed the deed? As there was no eye-witness to it, we must find who could have had a motive to do it. The State has tried its best to show a motive on the part of my client. Their labors have been multitudinous and Herculean, but have they been successful? You, and you alone, must decide this.”
The Suspect Ben Stevens
Throughout the defense, there were insinuations of who might have been the murderer, and why. Most of them focused on Old Ben Stevens. Ben, Charlie Stannard’s friend who was present at their home the day of the murder, had been staying at the house quite often those days. Ben’s wife died when he was 34. Now 61, Ben enjoyed the bustle of the Stannard home. He spent nearly every night the two weeks prior to Mary’s murder at the Stannard house, where he slept on a pull-out cot in the kitchen. Ben would frequently find excuses to help the Stannards make ends meet. He would never provide charity, but would offer food to fill the cabinets during his tenures at the Stannard home and he would offer work when Charlie, Mary, or Susan needed a job.
Ben became a spectacle at the New Haven trial for his country talk and his inconsistent stories. He was every bit a Rocklander, from his rugged looks to his last name (half of the Rocklanders had the last name Stevens). Under oath, he was asked how much money he was worth and he replied “can’t tell what a man is worth till after he’s dead, and then you don’t always know.” Ben was country rich. He was an enigma to the speculators; why would a man that could afford a better life choose to remain in Rockland? Perhaps, the defense hinted, Ben enjoyed Mary’s absence while she was working in Guilford because he had a relationship with Mary’s sister Susan and preferred to have her all to himself.
The accusations were not supported with evidence. Ben was an easy target because of his peculiar closeness to the Stannard family, the amount of time that he spent at the house, sometimes lounging on Mary and Susan’s bed (because there was no other furniture), and because he was regarded a low-class farmer, someone capable of committing the crime and conveniently more dislikeable to the pubic than Herbert Hayden. However, no blood was found on Ben’s knife or clothes in the expert’s investigation.
The Suspect Charlie Stannard
Another theory proposed to the jury was that Charlie murdered Mary so that he could handle the family’s problem on his own. Mary would be an outcast as the mother to a second illegitimate child and her actions would bring dishonor upon the family. Further, perhaps Charlie was so offended by Mary’s actions or the thought of an abortion that he decided to take her to the woodpile himself. It seems unlikely that Charlie would have any concern for public opinion given the way he lived his own life, barely paying the bills and living in a small home hidden from society. Again, there was no evidence to support Charlie’s guilt and he never seemed bothered enough by public opinion to take such an action against his own family.
The closing procedures at the Great Case were the grand finale of Rockland drama. Judge Lynde Harrison presided over the deliberations in New Haven. Throughout the trial, he observed the jury’s reactions as they became confounded by the scientific arguments that incriminated Hayden and persuaded by the defense’s personal attacks on the country culture of Rockland. He observed the clash of cultures between Victorian Society, the church and the Rocklanders. He was charged with mediating a case that had become more than the proceedings in his courtroom, it was the tabloid temptation of major publications. Just before the jury was sent to deliberations, the judge laid out one more plea to the jury to consider the State’s case. “Do not get lost in the interpretations of these defendents,” the judge implored of his jury, “do not lose sight of the girl who was murdered. Do not lost site of the strength of Hayden’s motive.” For three days, the jury debated the outcome, and were unable to reach consensus. Once again, Hayden was set free, acquitted by the Grand Jury in the New Haven trial.
No Justice for Mary
Several outstanding accounts of Mary’s death are worth reading. In 1979, Joel Helander wrote a detective’s report of the happenings in Rockland surrounding Mary’s Death in his book Noose and Collar: The Story of the Rockland Murder, Madison, Connecticut. In December 2005, Virginia A. McConnell highlighted the Victorian Era intrigue in her account of the Rockland murder and another in New Haven, entitled Arsenic Under the Elms: Murder in Victorian New Haven. Each of these books, along with a litany of articles from the period lay out the facts, but neither is able to declare the identity of Mary’s murderer. Mary’s spirit remains haunted by the identity of her killer and the fact that neither jury nor historian could bring justice to her family.
Mary’s Call for Help
On September 23, 2013, at 3:15 PM, 135 years exactly from the moment that Eliza Mills heard the scream from the blackberry patch, I believe that Mary reached out for help.
Jon and I were working in parallel to complete segments of the Summit Loop. He had just completed building Thunderdome and started working on Beyond. I was working on the segment which would soon become Mary’s Ghost.
I had just ridden the trails at Kingdom Trails and fell in love with a corkscrew trail called Sidewinder. That trail rides the steep walls of a valley, each time pointing the rider into the next turn with just enough momentum to reach the crest, and then points them into another free-fall. I was inspired to try this on a smaller scale, and many who ride it can guess the inspiration.
That day, I was working with two young men, each 18 years old, named Stephen and Robert. Robert recently completed his Eagle Scout project building the Waterfall Bridge nearby. Each of us spent countless hours at Rockland Preserve. I was in my second year building and that Summer I spent hours each day with a trail tool in hand finishing the East Loop or helping Jon. Robert and Stephen were trail builders like me but also spent plenty of time exploring Rockland as children. They grew up close to the trail and would take to the woods for adventure the way young people should. We were each intimately connected to Rockland Preserve, the creatures that lived there, the sounds, the smells, and the feel of the place. I believe Mary was comfortable with each of us. Her spirit had grown used to our presence around her woods.
All the builders were obsessed with the apocalypse those days. Jon named his Doomsday Log after the anticipated end day that he spent building it. He also named Thunderdome and Beyond Thunderdome based on the post-apocalyptic movie series, perhaps as recognition that their completion marked our survival of the doomsday event. Stephen and Robert were obsessed with the zombie apocalypse. Most of their conversations circled around how their familiarity with Rockland and the availability of trail tools would give them a survival advantage over the rest of humanity. I laughed most of it off, entertained by the speculation and slightly spooked by the darkness of discourse. Still, I was focused on the build, and entranced by my connection to the land, appreciating every minute of just being on the hillside and completing the trail.
I had flagged the corkscrew earlier so I set Robert and Stephen on an assignment to remove rocks and smooth the winding trail. While they were working, I finished another project about 100′ to their east. I should have known that they would need supervision, because they ended up digging a hole about 5 feet deep to remove a stone that was clearly bedrock, unlikely to ever be removed by hand. We ended up with a crater in the middle of the flow route that would need to be filled and smoothed. Plenty of soil was pushed just outside of the trail, so it was no problem filling it in, just the time necessary to do the work.
There we were, digging and laughing off the error while we corrected it, still aware of the eeriness of the place and our obsession with doomsday. At around 3:05, the sky grew dark and rain was threatening. I sent Robert and Stephen home to avoid the storm, but I wanted to complete the job and make sure the trail was safe before leaving. The storm was fast and loud, and through it I rushed to complete the job.
It was 3:15 and I was exhausted to hallucination so I can’t say with certainty that it was her, but as time has passed I have become sure that it was. A woman’s scream off to my south-west, probably a quarter mile away and deep in the woods. It was faint, but clearly a call of distress. I looked off in her direction, spooked and concerned. I paused and listened. Again, Mary’s scream for help, then the letters, “H.H.”
That was the end of it. Order was restored. The rain had stopped, the scream was gone, the instant passed, and trail was complete.
In her honor, I am bound to share this story. I named the trail after her, and think of her often as I visit and connect with the land. I know she is with me, and I hope that she rests easy because I listened.
So, as you ride her trail, and you wind through the corkscrew along the fourth pass you will hit a bump. That is the boulder that we were unable to move. Digging down to unearth that rock we lifted her voice. Consider calling back. As you roll over that rock give a holler, “Mary,” and let me know if she responds.
“The Murder of Miss Stannard.” Hartford Weekly Times, 12 Sept. 1878, p. 1. “Hayden Almost Acquitted.” Hartford Weekly Times, 1 Jan. 1880, Evening Edition p. 1. “Hayden Out on Bail.” Hartford Weekly Times, 29 Jan. 1880, Evening Edition p. 1. “The Rev. Hayden's Trial.” Hartford Weekly Times, 11 Dec. 1879 Evening Edition p. 1. Hayden, Herbert H. The Rev. Herbert H. Hayden: an autobiography: the Mary Stannard murder: tried on circumstantial evidence. Hartford, Plimpton Mfg. Co., 1880. Helander, Joel Eliot. Noose and collar: the story of the Rockland murder, Madison, Connecticut. Guilford? Conn., Helander, 1979. McConnell, Virginia A. Arsenic under the elms: murder in victorian New Haven. Lincoln, Neb., University of Nebraska Press, 2005. “Mary Stannard's Murder.” New York Times, 4 Oct. 1878, p. 1 Oslander, Joseph A. . “The Rockland Murder.” Madison Historical Society. 21 Feb. 2016, Madison, CT, First Congregational Church Madison.