Moll Dyer Stone

October 7, 2011 — I’m going to have to ask your indulgence on this particular oddity. I have the suspicion that I’m writing about it almost solely because it’s found in the small southern Maryland town where I was born, so I have a soft spot for it. Probably in my brain.

That said, the good news is that the oddity involves a witch. The bad news is, well, all the rest of it.

Today, in the chummily named town of Leonardtown, beside an old jailhouse dating from the mid-1800s that is currently used by the local historical society as a museum and information center, is a smooth, unobtrusive, anonymous-looking, pillow-sized rock set on a manicured bed of mulch. No signs or plaques explain why this rock seems so carefully placed.

If you examine the rock closely, you’ll see absolutely nothing of note. However, if you’ve been preconditioned to see a small hand-shaped indentation, then, well, that’s what you might see in the surface of the stone.

It’s supposed to be the hand print of a witch.

St. Mary’s County is the site of one of the earliest successful English colonies in the U.S. territory and dates back to 1634, 14 years after Plymouth Rock and 27 years after Jamestown. The witch legend goes back to the late 1600s and has been embellished here and there by local storytellers. However, the variations in the story don’t matter too much since there’s not much to embellish.

Stripped down (it’s basically wearing just a neckerchief anyway), the story goes that one winter night in 1697, a woman named Moll Dyer, who was suspected of witchcraft, was chased into the forest. Actually, since she was chased deep into a winter woods pre- the Triple FAT goose coat era of civilization, I suspect suspect is too weak a word. In any case, Dyer wasn’t found until the next day, where she lay prostrate and frozen to death, her hand resting on a stone…a stone which to this day still bears the imprint.

The end. Poor Moll doesn’t even get a goodbye curse for the good old folks of Leonardtown to pass down and blame their bad luck on. Nor were there any disfigured children, illicit relationships with demons, or dramatic trials, as are present in the witch stories of other states.

Even though no historical records have survived to validate the existence of anybody named Moll Dyer from that time period, her name has somehow lived on, and not just in legend. About four miles southeast of the old jailhouse is Moll Dyer Road, a dead-end, thickly forested residential road that paces a nearby stream that also bears her name, Moll Dyer’s Run. I assume there are all kind s of stories of the area being haunted.

At some point in the 1970s, there was enough interest in this story that a rock was identified among all the rocks in that part of the forest as the one upon which Dyer expired. It was dug up and then transplanted to its current location as, I guess, a lure for tourists? Is Leonardtown on your bucket list?

The few online accounts weigh the stone at 875 pounds, although the rock doesn’t seem big enough to be almost half a ton to me. Then again, I’ve never counted rock weight estimating as a specialty of mine. Then again again, an artifact like that, real or false, should be extremely susceptible to mischief theft, and since it’s still there I assume it must be that heavy. Out of kindness, I’m ruling out mere apathy toward the legend.

To see the rock for yourself, since I’m sure my pics don’t at all convey its eerie majesty, set the GPS for 41625 Courthouse Dr., the address of the historical jailhouse, which shares a front lawn with the county courthouse. You can find the rock at the right front corner of the former of those two buildings.

Your first words, I predict, will be “Is this the right rock?”

Still, a wispy local witch legend is better than having no local witch legend at all. And at least we Marylanders can always fall back on the Blair Witch.