Perpetuating the ghostly tale of Annie Mary Twente

Even if I tried, I doubt I could make up the true ending to my recent query in to the ghostly story of Annie Mary Twente.

First some background. Annie Mary, *according to her official Brown County, Minnesota, death certificate, died on October 25, 1886, of “lung fever.”

But legend says otherwise. As one story goes, the six-year-old fell into a coma and was buried alive on her family’s rural Hanska farm. Her father, Richard, apparently fraught over the loss of his daughter, had her body exhumed, revealing fingernail scratch marks inside the coffin and locks of hair pulled from Annie’s head, essentially proving that the child was buried alive.

From there, the story takes on a life of its own with reports of Annie Mary’s ghost wandering inside the walled burial plot where she was laid to rest by her grieving family. Her body has since been moved to a cemetery in central Minnesota.

Stories featured in Ghostly Tales of Southwest Minnesota.

Stories featured in Ghostly Tales of Southwest Minnesota.

Annie Mary’s demise and haunting are perhaps one of southwestern Minnesota’s best known ghost tales. Or at least to me and other writers like Nicole Helget who devoted a chapter (“Rooted Here”) to Annie Mary in The Summer of Ordinary Ways and Ruth D. Hein who included Annie Mary (“Annie Mary’s Restless Spirit”) in her collection, Ghostly Tales of Southwest Minnesota.

And then there are other prairie dwellers like my Aunt Marilyn who perpetuate the legend of Annie Mary. Each Halloween for decades—neither of us remembers exactly when this started—Marilyn has mailed a Halloween card to me with the message, “I MISS YOU! ANNIE MARY.”

Her block printed letters are always uneven and tilted, mimicking the writing of a six-year-old. And the return address always bears the initials A.M., to be interpreted either as Annie Mary or Aunt Marilyn.

A few days ago I phoned Marilyn, hoping to pinpoint a time-line on this long-standing Halloween card tradition. Marilyn lives in my hometown of Vesta, but was raised in the Comfrey area west of Hanska (south of New Ulm). She grew up hearing the story of Annie Mary from her mother, Stella, whose childhood farm was only four miles away across Lake Hanska from the Twente farm.

The horrid details of fingernail scratch marks inside the coffin, tufts of pulled hair and Annie’s ghost swaying in a tree swing are imprinted upon my aunt’s memory.

And, after I moved to Sleepy Eye in the early 1980s to work as a news reporter for The Sleepy Eye Herald Dispatch and then relocated six months later to report from the nearby St. James news bureau of the Mankato Free Press, the legend took on new significance for me. It was fueled by Marilyn’s reminders that I was now living and writing in Annie Mary’s backyard.

For my 1982 bridal shower, Annie Mary gifted me with a box of artificial birds (I am not particularly fond of birds). I expect it was shortly thereafter that the cards from Annie Mary began showing up in my mailbox each Halloween.

Just before Halloween each year, my aunt begins searching for a greeting card that features a tree swing. She has yet to find one. But whatever card A.M. sends me, it serves as a spine tingling reminder of the legend of Annie Mary, and of an aunt who loves me.

This year I have my own postscript to add to this Annie Mary card tradition. After phoning Marilyn, I pulled my copy of Ghostly Tales of Southwest Minnesota from the bookshelf to read the chapter about Annie Mary. I picked up this collection, published in 1989, at a used book sale in Faribault last spring, but had yet to read the stories.

I opened the book. And there, penned in cursive opposite the inside cover page, was a name—Marilyn.

The women to whom Ghostly Tales of Southwest Minnesota previously belonged. And she is not my Aunt Marilyn.

The woman to whom Ghostly Tales of Southwest Minnesota previously belonged. And she is not my Aunt Marilyn.

This story was cross posted at

* The death certificate information comes from Ruth D. Hein’s book.

About Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Audrey Kletscher Helbling, a native of Vesta in southwestern Minnesota, has been blogging at Minnesota Prairie Roots since 2009. She brings a passion for sharing the stories of rural Minnesota to her work, capturing the essence of small town life in her words and images. Audrey appreciates Sunday afternoon drives, garage sales and thrift stores, hanging laundry on the clothesline, gravel roads and anything that reconnects her to the land. She's lived in Faribault for more than 30 years where she continues to professionally pursue her passions for writing and for photography. An enthusiastic writer of poetry, her award-winning poems have been published in places from anthologies to billboards. Follow Audrey's blog at

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