I was recently browsing the book, Old Burial Grounds of New Jersey, by Janice Kohl Sarapin, while looking for potential information on ancestors of mine who lived in New Jersey in the 1700 and early 1800s. While I didn’t find what I was looking for, there was one chapter titled, “Ghost Stories and Legends” that caught my eye. In particular, I was fascinated by a section called, “The Gravestone in the Parking Lot.” The author describes the curious case of Mary Ellis, whose body currently resides in the middle of an asphalt parking lot outside an AMC Loews 18-Theater Cinemaplex in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Her story was rather compelling, so I did a quick Google search and the image of Mary Ellis’ grave, below, popped up.
While the appearance of a grave in the middle of a movie theater parking lot is odd enough, the story behind the grave is equally interesting.
(Satellite image of Mary’s grave, marked by the red arrow)
Supposedly, in the 1790s, Mary came to New Brunswick, New Jersey, to live with her younger sister, Margaret White, the wife of Colonel Anthony White. Shortly after coming to New Brunswick, Mary met and fell in love with a former Revolutionary War officer turned sea captain, but soon after their romance developed, the captain left on a voyage. Professing his intentions for her, he put his horse in her care, sailing down the Raritan River, and out to the Atlantic. Every day he was away, Mary would go down to the river and look for her captain. In 1813, Mary bought a piece of farmland near her sister along the river, but continued her daily vigil. Sadly, he never returned, but she continued watching for him until she died in 1828.
(Mary Ellis’ original grave in the woods as photographed in the early 1900s)
Mary was buried in the secluded woods on her property with a view of the Raritan visible from the gravesite. The land was sold and resold over the years. In the 1960s, the woods were cleared, the ground was scraped and graded lower to allow for a parking lot for a discount store. Fast forward a few years, and the site housed a discount store, flea market, and finally the movie theater occupied the site. The entire time, Mary’s grave remained in the parking lot, but with each successive grading lowering the parking lot, her grave appeared to rise, so that it now stands about seven feet above ground level.
(Photos of Mary's grave over the years)
There are a lot of people who believe that Mary's story inspired the lyrics to the 1972 song, "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" by the band Looking Glass, since the band is also from New Brunswick, New Jersey.
I shared this information with my history classes today and then said, “So you see, Paso Robles isn’t the only town with people buried in their parking lots.” The students did an immediate double take and then I realized that they were too young to remember the fight over the Wal-Mart parking lot.
(Panorama shot of the mound in the middle of the Wal-Mart parking lot in Paso Robles, California)
Just a short drive down Niblick Road from the high school where I teach in Paso Robles is the local Wal-Mart. Back in 1993, when they were building the place, workers discovered a skull a a couple bones believed to be Indian remains in a little mound on the site.
(Satellite view of burial mound, marked by red arrow - panorama vantage marked by red x)
The developer initially wanted to flatten the rise and pave over it to allow for more parking and better visibility from the road. Some Indians found out about it and sued the developer. Wal-Mart eventually stepped in, talked to the developer, and preserved a pretty large section in the middle of the parking lot. It now sits there, a large grassy knoll surrounded by shopping stores, fast food, and parking.
(Memorial plaque only viewable from across the street or with a camera)
I find it a little odd to find people buried under parking lots. I recall when our family visited Edinburgh, Scotland, we visited St. Giles’ Cathedral where the famous Reformer John Knox (the founder of the Presbyterian Church) preached. After seeing many memorials and markers for important people, my father asked where John Knox was buried. The minister informed him that he was buried in the parking lot out back under space 23. Sure enough, the graveyard had been paved over to provide for parking and there was now a little plaque marking the resting place of Knox.
Somehow it just doesn’t seem right, Mary thinking that her body would be forever in the woods looking towards the river. Or Knox who was buried in the sod of a quaint churchyard, only now to lie covered with asphalt and motor oil drippings.
Have any of you found other odd burials?