Mary of Sweet Hollow Road, outside Melville, New York is perhaps Long Island’s most famous ghost. And with Hallow’een coming up, she finds herself more popular than ever.
Last week I was on a video shoot, this time for http://www.forgottenli.com, and the producers wanted a clip of Mary darting out in front of a car on Sweet Hollow Road, standing by the side of the road, outside of the graveyard – all the usual Mary as the Lady In White stories. Between takes I started telling the young lady playing Mary, Amber D’Amato, some of the other Mary stories. Mary was the daughter of the school teacher who either killed all his students with an axe, or in another version, locked his students in the schoolhouse and set it ablaze. Finding out what her father had done, she hangs herself out of shame. There’s the Mary who is committed to the asylum on Mount Misery and sets fire to it, burning alive the patients and workers alike. There’s also Mary’s grave – you find the grave, shine your flashlight on her name, say it three times and if her face appears it means your imminent death.
There are several others, including Mary Hatchet in which she kills her family with a hatchet. Or Mary is buried in the graveyard near the overpass of Northern Parkway, and can sometimes be seen standing next to her tombstone. Mary is buried across the road from the graveyard, a suicide victim, not eligible to be buried in hallowed ground, and can sometimes be seen standing just inside the forest, watching. Mary can be seen sometimes, walking along the side of the road in her white dress. Mary sometimes flags you down and asks for a ride home. When you reach the graveyard she tells you to stop, and says this is where she lives. When you look again to the passenger seat she is gone.
But my favorite is much simpler. Mary is seen wandering the woods along Sweet Hollow Road. No reason why, no horror or gore, just a ghost moving through the trees.
As I spoke, Amber’s face began to show fear and more than that, sadness. “You mean she wasn’t a victim” she asked? And I thought about it, and yes, except for the Mary Hatchet stories, she was a victim? Even as the arsonist burning the inmates alive, her sickness is the evil, not Mary herself.
The first question to ask to get to the truth of the legend is why Mary? All these events didn’t happen here, and certainly not by women named Mary But most legends have some grain of truth about them, and at some point there was a probably was a Mary, and something happened so memorable and so horrifying, that she’s become a magnet for what seems like every other folk tale or legend in the area.
I’ve talked to people who were teenagers in the sixties and Mary stories were around then. That some of the tales are much older is a strong possibility as well. Legends about the Lady in White are almost certainly false. They involve a young couple arguing while driving down Sweet Hollow Road, he pushes her out of the moving car and she’s killed by another car following behind, and she haunts the road now dressed in white. You find variations of this story all over the country.
That some tales date from the colonial era, or the 19th century is quite possible. Whether or not there was ever an asylum on Mount Misery is hotly debated, though probably unlikely, so it can’t be said if there was any real chance she was ever an inmate there, let alone set the fire.
Curiously enough, there was a fire in the schoolhouse in the area, in the 1880s, but certainly not with all the students inside. And according to legend, the bloody schoolhouse sat on the corner of Sweet Hollow and Mount Misery roads, a short distance from where this schoolhouse still stands. Perhaps that’s the grain of truth to that legend. It’s possible that there was a school on Mount Misery prior, it wouldn’t have been unheard of in the colonial era even. But again, no evidence exists.
Which is why I like the simplest story the best. Why does Mary still wander the woods of Mount Misery and Sweet Hollow? Because she is called to. She’s summoned by countless fear seekers, ghost hunters and curious teenagers each year, and no doubt will be this Halloween as well. I have no doubt that from time to time, when someone calls, she’s there. There is something about us that needs the supernatural. And as long as we need Mary, she will come.
The location for this photo is a spot on Mount Misery where two paths meet. I found there a fire ring, as well as crosses painted in red on the surrounding trees. Mary played by Amber D’Amato