The curious story of Mary Paine

Mary Paine died in 1713 at 15 months.  Hardly the making of a life story, but there she was on the front page of the Metro section of the Boston Globe this morning.

It seems that in 1955, a 20 year old sailor, Roland McCandlish found Mary’s tombstone in a Copp’s Hill Burying Ground shed.  He took it with him back to his ship at the Charlestown Navy Yard.

From there, the vessel visited exotic ports of call, from Greenland to Haiti to Puerto Rico. When he returned home to California for good, he used the stone as a small but cherished ­table.

“I never thought of it as a tombstone; I thought of it as Mary,” McCandlish, now 79, said by phone Thursday. “She had, through me, the life she never­ had. She was a part of my life.”

McCandlish mailed it back to Boston.

McCandlish, in declining health and thinking about a headstone of his own, decided it was time to send the headstone back. He packaged it up, along with a photo of himself as a young sailor holding the stone, and a letter explaining the tale of its travels.

And I think this is my favorite part of the story.

McCandlish said parting with the relic was not easy. They’d made memories together.

He recalled when his Navy captain found the headstone stashed in a filing cabinet on the ship and called McCandlish into his office to explain.The captain laughed at his story.

“He reacted differently than others might,” McCandlish said. “He put it in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet and said, ‘We’ll call it our dead file.’ ”

So the headstone will be reset next to the grave of her mother in the next few months and her travels will come to an end.

The headstone of Mary Paine, who died Dec. 31, 1713, at 15 months old, was discovered by Roland McCandlish during a 1955 tour of Copp’s Hill Burying Ground in the North End of Boston.

The headstone of Mary Paine, who died Dec. 31, 1713, at 15 months old, was discovered by Roland McCandlish during a 1955 tour of Copp’s Hill Burying Ground in the North End of Boston.

Photograph credited to Old North Church.

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