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A ‘Bell’ of a ghost and the hanging sailor

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PERRYMAN — John Clark Monk was a sailor who loved the sea. Born in Siston, Gloucestershire, England on Feb. 25, 1760, he found his calling and his livelihood at sea. He was considered by many to be a bit eccentric during his own lifetime, but he’s remembered as eccentric by far more folks nearly 200 years after his death.

Captain Monk loved the sea so much, he didn’t want his body to touch dry land upon his death. The legend has it that his family soaked the sailor in rum, wrapped him appropriately enough in a sailcloth and suspended his casket from chains in a crypt so he’d not be covered with soil.

Two hundred years later, the chains have broken, but the grave remains in Perryman.

Monk came to America with his three children and wife Mary about 1795. The family purchased some property in Abingdon, eventually culling together some 300 acres where they had a tavern and a general store. Meanwhile, the captain continued his seafaring way of life as Maryland weather allowed.

There are those who have heard Captain Monk’s legend that say it was his family who prepared his body for burial when he died Dec. 9, 1827. Others say it was his loyal crew who placed his rum-soaked body in a boat-shaped wooden casket and carried it to the cemetery of the Old Spesutia Parish. There the body was suspended from chains in an underground vault. It is believed the wooden casket was also shrouded in lead to prevent decay.

His white slab grave at Saint George’s Episcopal Church Cemetery in Perryman is badly weathered, but surrounded by a protective though rusted chain. He is interred with his wife, Mary Monk, who preceded him in death in 1800 at only 35 years of age, and his second wife, Sarah Lewis Monk, his widow, who died in 1854 at 58 years of age. The grave has come to be known as the Hanging Sailor of Perryman.

After the local legend became book fodder in Matt Lake’s “Weird Maryland,” tourists seeking the paranormal or just plain odd have paid visits to the grave. No matter their intent, those peering through the slates over the grave can’t find a clear view, and those who do catch glimpses inside are rewarded with a peek at rotting leaves, debris and rusted flashlights of those who came before them and failed equally to see the captain.

He is remembered by a local band, the Captain Quint, with a song called “The Swinging Sailor of Perryman,” recorded in 2005.

There’s another legendary tale that is oft-told in the area of the Susquehanna River. That of Bell Manor, where a decayed manor house is rumored to have been a part of the Underground Railroad. The property surrounding it is a Girl Scout camp, thus the legend is told around campfires to generation upon generation. The story is the property is haunted by a woman who committed suicide by hanging herself in front of an oval window in the building. Legend says she was distraught over the death of her husband and her only son during the Civil War.

Others tell of escaped slaves hidden in the home perishing while seeking freedom.

A stone chimney, on another part of the property, is also a rumored place for ghosts. Here it is said a woman hid her children inside the large fireplace when she saw soldiers approaching during the Civil War. The soldiers — tales differ whether Union or Confederate — pulled the struggling woman from the home and burned the house to the ground, with the screaming children trapped in the ancient fireplace, which is why it alone still stands. Others say the mother was killed by the soldiers but the children, unable to escape the chimney, perished of starvation not from a fire.

Some claim to hear the cries of the children when the moon is full.

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