Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, April 16, 2018

More on the Strange Disappearance -- and Stranger Reappearance -- of Mary Grote of Pelham in 1884

One of the strangest missing person cases ever to arise in the Town of Pelham occurred in 1884 involving a young woman servant who worked in a home at Bartow, a tiny settlement that once stood along today's Shore Road in the Town of Pelham.  Indeed, with uncharacteristic understatement, The Daily Brooklyn Eagle of October 11, 1884 reported on the matter, saying: 

"The hamlet of Bartow, on the Sound, near New Rochelle, is excited over the mysterious disappearance of Mary Grote, a young woman employed as a domestic in the family of Mr. May, a well to do farmer, living in that neighborhood. She disappeared on Thursday from the grounds near the house, where she had gone to gather apples. It is feared that she has been murdered by tramps, who infest the country in that vicinity." Source:  Current Events, The Daily Brooklyn Eagle, Oct. 11, 1884, p. 6. 

Saying that the little Pelham hamlet known as "Bartow," "Bartow-on-the-Sound," and "Bartow Village" was "excited" over the matter was putting it mildly. The entire Town was up in arms. There were no villages, nor village police departments, to provide police protection at the time. "Tramps" (as Pelhamites called them) were a constant problem with up to twenty-five a day hopping off New Haven Branch Line trains and camping in huts they built in the woods along today's Shore Road.  

Such "tramps" became such a problem that residents of Pelham Manor formed the "Pelham Manor Protective Club" -- a vigilance committee -- in late 1881 to take matters into their own hands. The "Club" offered rewards for the arrest and conviction of tramps and, in effect, played the role of a local citizen police force. Mary Grote's "disappearance" led local residents to fear the worst -- that the buxom young beauty with dark hair and ruddy cheeks had been abducted and murdered.

I have written before quite extensively regarding the strange case of Mary Grote.  See:

Fri., Mar. 11, 2005: The Strange Disappearance -- and Reappearance -- of Mary Grote of Pelham in 1884: Part I.

Mon., Mar. 14, 2005:  The Strange Disappearance -- and Reappearance -- of Mary Grote of Pelham in 1884: Part II.

The young woman disappeared only a short time after she began working in the home of Bartow farmer Francis May.  The disappearance was so abrupt and the circumstances so mysterious that all of Pelham assumed the worst.  Convinced that the poor young woman had been kidnapped by tramps and murdered, farmer May and local citizens searched the countryside without success before going on a rampage and burning a dozen crude huts built by "tramps" in the woods near Shore Road.  

Only a day or so later, Mary Grote was found!  She was hidden beneath hay on the grounds of farmer May's farm. . . . The true reasons for the young woman's strange disappearance and even stranger reappearance are lost to history.

Today's Historic Pelham article transcribes the text of an extensive article on the disappearance and reappearance of young Mary Grote.  It is followed by a citation and link to its source.

Detail from 1893 Map by Julius Bien & Co. Showing the Bartow-on-the-
Sound Region of the Town of Pelham.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *


BARTOW-ON-THE-SOUND, Oct. 12. -- Farmer Francis May was not in A1 spirits this morning.  After the excitement of yesterday and the weary work of sitting up all night, as he claims, to see that Mary Grote did not run away again from his hospitable board, he was, if the truth be told, decidedly ugly.

'I ton't give a tam!' he remarked with emphasis.  'If anypoty say vone word against me I shoot 'em tam quick.  I come tam near shootin' one of de dirty tramps this morning, and, py tam, I shoot some neighbors if this talk not shtop.'

Mr. May was in earnest.  He affirmed, by all the roast beef on the dinner table before him, that he had known nothing of Mary's whereabouts from the time of her disappearance on Thursday until she was found buried in the hay yesterday afternoon.  Neither did his son nor the red-headed boy called George employed as a farm hand.  Everybody about the homestead was innocent of everything that had been or might be charged.  All the same Mr. May made a mighty effort to ship Mary away last night.  Carrie Hartmann, her friend, who arrived from New-York in the morning, pleaded that she must go to City Island, but would meet Mary at the 9 o'clock train.  Mr. May took the buxom, red-cheeked Mary to the train at the hour named.  No Carrie was there.  So Mary refused to go alone, and went back to the May household for the night, says Mr. May.

The May farmhouse was overrun with visitors to-day, mostly women.  Mary staied [sic] in the parlor and refused to talk with one and all.  She sat on her packed trunk, grinned bewitchingly to show her white, regular teeth, but never a word said she, excepting to admit that she lied yesterday when she said, 'Mrs. May made a face at me.'

'What made you say that Mary,' was asked, 'if it wasn't true?'

Then the damsel buried her rosy cheeks in her palms, pulled her flowing hair over her face, and was as dumb as a Sound oyster under 10 fathoms of water.  The Bartow hotels, too, were overrun with visitors to-day.  Mary's peculiar disappearance and still more peculiar finding formed the one topic.  All citizens were unanimous in the belief that something was very wrong, but each hesitated to take the initiative in demanding an investigation.  All sorts of wild rumors were afloat, and all the men of the May homestead were implicated therein.  To Justice Steve, yesterday, Mr. May gave his word of honor, heard by a TIMES reporter, that he would keep Mary there for at least a week until certain clues could be traced.  Scarcely had the Justice turned his back when Mr. May urged the girl to leave the place with Carrie Hartmann.  Mary's mouth is shut effectually, but by what means is a problem.

At noon it had been decided to go north along the railway and break up some of the tramps homes.  Rain until 1:30 o'clock caused many to back out of the agreement, so that only a few started.  First was set on fire the tumble-down shanty of rails and saplings which had been occupied by one of the wandering arabs [sic] since 1878 until this Summer.  Other huts were found, and at 3 o'clock this afternoon half a dozen fires were blazing between here and Pelham Manor.  Since the excitement here not more than five tramps have passed through each day, where before there were 25 at a low average.  It is said they now take the main line out of the New-Haven Road, which leaves the Grand Central Station in New-York.  The branch starting at Harlem Bridge, joins the main line at New Rochelle.  Many weary miles are saved by this road, but that is nothing to the tramps compared with arrest.  To-morrow the tramp cave will be blown up.  

'Py tam!' said Mr. May at 2 o'clock this afternoon.  'Mary must go to Niyarruck on the 4 o'clock train.'

The 4 o'clock train was late.  Mary was not at the station at 3:55, and THE TIMES'S reporter cut through the woods to the May farm.

'She gone, py tam!' said Mr. May.  Scarcely had he uttered the words when Mary appeared at the parlor door, showing her white teeth as she smiled.  'Well,' said Mr. May, 'I knew some tam man see her if I took her down.  I'll drive her into the city to-night.'

He probably will.  Paying no attention to his word as given to Justice Steve, Mr. May is determined to railroad the girl away.  It is the best thing he can do, say his friends.  With Mary gone the case will be dropped.  With her here some who are loud in threats but afraid to act will be compelled to swear out a complaint on which rigid investigation will follow.  The action of the authorities is generally condemned in not at the outset acting vigorously."


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