Wye Mills is a quiet and unpretentious little Eastern Shore village which dates back to the 17th century, and straddles the rural-suburban Maryland counties of Talbot and Queen Anne’s. The Wye East River, running north and west of the town, and, to the south, Skipton Creek, create a ragged 90-degree capital L permeated at its edges with a supersensory end-of-the-road vibe, especially after the sun sets.
Before U.S. Rt.50 was expanded in the late 1940s, allowing the rest of the western world easy access across ‘The Shore’ on their way to ‘The Beach’, the stretch of two-lane highway between Queenstown and Easton was part of Rt.213, and even back then, like today, Wye Mills, tucked back just out of sight from the beaten path, must have seemed like a place lost in time.
The place is old.
The town’s namesake flour-producing mill has been grinding it out since 1682. It’s the oldest operating mill in the United States. Wye Mills Lake was formed from the Wye East early in the colonial era to divert water to the mill. http://www.oldwyemill.org/
The Old Wye Church was established in 1712.
The Wye Oak, until struck down by a thunderstorm in 2002, was believed to be almost 500 years old.
Old. Old. Old.
And old places have histories, sometimes histories with mysteries.
This mystery began in November, 1934.
Two gravediggers were preparing the final resting place for a recently deceased member of the Wye Mills Methodist Church congregation when their shovels hit something. Something solid. Something unanticipated.
They uncovered a rusty iron coffin about five foot in length and shaped like a sarcophagus, tapering at the shoulders to fit the general form of the human body.
Partially according to the Star Democrat newspaper of November 16, 1934, and partially according to legend, a top section of the casket was loose, and while officials decided what should be done with their graveyard Jane Doe, some kind of liquid dripped from inside her iron entombment and brought with it a stench that worsened the longer she spent topside.
A sliding faceplate was part of the coffin’s design.
The men slid the faceplate back and stared into the dead eyes of a woman, skin turned dark with decay, but possessing beautiful teeth, along with hair and skin that was “like new.”
The authorities were called and after what appears to be some cursory investigation, including various hypothesis provided by neighbors and local school children, the body was reinterred, and the recent dearly departed was deposited next to the mystery corpse, roommates of a sort, forever and ever.
Over the decades, rumors and guesses lingered as to who the mystery mummy may have been, and where her remains might now be kept, as her location was once again lost to memory. It wasn’t until 1970, when a man named Robert Lord, armed with a high quality metal detector, got a ping that would indicate perhaps the large metal coffin had once again been found.
Judge B. Hackett Turner of Maryland’s Circuit Court approved a petition filed by church elders to excavate, and on August 8, between 1,000 and 1,500 onlookers showed up to take a look at the Mummy of Wye Mills.
As described in the August 13, 1970, Bay Times “tension and excitement mounted” as the casket was raised to the ground for all to see.
And what some saw was something different than they’d seen before.
Onlookers who had been on hand back in 1934, including Alfred Covington, Ralph Ireland, and Buddy Miles, insisted this was not the same coffin they’d seen almost forty years before. The old reports and what was now on display in that hot summer sun seemed to bear out their assertions.
First, weighing almost three hundred pounds, this coffin was much larger than the original. Inside, as opposed to the woman who was seen the first time, this cadaver was obviously a man. He had a mustache and a long black beard. Whereas her eyes appear to have been exposed, the male corpse’s eyes were sewn shut. She had beautiful teeth and skin, this fellow, dressed in a collarless white shirt and suspenders, had sutured lacerations to his face, and large irregular teeth, which due to substantial parts of his lips and gums being missing, seemed locked into a permanent sneer. The Star Democrat ran a photo with their article:
It was determined by research performed by Easton radio station WEMD news director and general manager George Dietrich that both coffins were probably made by the Fisk Company. Designed to be airtight and as light as possible in most cases, typically the air would be removed from inside and a liquid or gas would be injected to keep the body in viewable condition far longer than typical wood caskets. Fisk Iron coffins were not cheap. Though neither Wye Mills mummy was ever identified, it has always been assumed they had to have been well-off and perhaps important people when they walked among the living.
Nevertheless, at the end of the day, after hundreds and hundreds of the curious took their turn peering into the sliding glass viewing window, as per the court order, the male mummy of Wye Mills, like his female predecessor, was once again interred, and once again in an unmarked grave.
Many believe both burial sites have been lost forever now.
Yet, in the silent and still night of an old, old, old place, it’s easy to get the feeling we may not have yet seen the last of the Mummies of Wye Mills.
After all, in spirit, they might be right there beside you. And they might not be alone.