Marylynne Pitz: In 1809, a bizarre burial for a 'mad' general

Roundup: Talking About History

As American colonists battled for independence, Gen. "Mad" Anthony Wayne captured a British fort in New York at midnight, earning a reputation as a brilliant strategist in the chaos of battle.

George Washington rode on horseback to congratulate him in person. Soldiers who noticed his reckless bravery gave him his nickname.

Later, the fiery leader trained a fearsome army outside of Pittsburgh in 1792, conquered the Indians and negotiated a treaty with them so the Northwest Territory could be settled.

And 200 years ago, in events being marked today, the daring soldier became the subject of one of Western Pennsylvania's grisliest tales.

After he died at age 51 from an attack of gout, his body rested for 12 years in an oak coffin at Presque Isle, a peninsula off Lake Erie. In 1809, his only son, Isaac, journeyed 900 miles round-trip from Eastern Pennsylvania to Western Pennsylvania to return his father's remains to the family plot in Wayne, Chester County, at Old St. David's, an Episcopal church immortalized in a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Instead of poetry, a series of horrific events unfolded. Unable to face the exhumation, Isaac Wayne rested at a hotel while his famous father was dug up. The general's friend, Dr. J.C. Wallace, was amazed to find the general well preserved.

Embalming was not possible so Wallace dissected the body and boiled the flesh from the bones in an iron kettle.

With his father's skeleton, Isaac Wayne returned to Eastern Pennsylvania. Later, statues would be raised to the general at Valley Forge and in Fort Wayne, Ind., one of many towns that bear his name.

But "Mad" Anthony Wayne, who distinguished himself in the American War for Independence and at the decisive Battle of Fallen Timbers, may be the only general buried in two places. His flesh remained in Western Pennsylvania while his bones were interred in his native Chester County soil, not far from his family's ancestral home, a Georgian mansion called Waynesborough.

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the burial of Wayne's remains near his family members. At noon, an honor guard of about 20 men, including Western Pennsylvania re-enactors, will carry a casket across the property of Old St. David's and stop at the churchyard gate...

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