Mary Ann Boyer was a foul-mouthed woman of the sea. In the 1850s, she sailed with Captain David "Bull" Conklin on his whaling ship off Alaska, until he got tired of her nagging and abandoned her in Port Townsend. She made her way to the tiny village of Seattle and began running the Felker House, Seattle's first hotel, a two-story structure at Jackson Street and First Avenue South whose pieces had been carried here in the hold of a ship. And after she died, Boyer's bones soaked in the flooded earth of the old Seattle Cemetery. When they dug her up, the undertaker discovered that her body had turned to stone.
That's the legend, anyway.
The real Mary Ann Boyer exists only in the scrawls of old census records, scattered accounts from early historians, and the reminiscences of an old admiral. The woman peering out from the balcony of the Felker House in a photo taken around 1868—a small, stout figure in voluminous petticoats—might be her, but we don't know for sure. The Felker House, which some say was also a brothel, burned down in the Great Fire of 1889. Today, the city's only mark of her is a grave in Lake View Cemetery, a flat headstone placed close to a road, supposedly because the men couldn't carry her petrified body any farther.
They say she kept rocks in her apron to throw at people, and that she cursed constantly in five languages—English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese, plus a smattering of German. That's partly how she earned her nickname: Mother Damnable...
...Boyer's unpleasantness, of course, is part of why everyone loves the story of her turning to stone. It seems like divine retribution, proof that God has a sense of humor. And yet the transformation also seems to prove that her stubbornness, her hard-as-nails attitude, carried on past the grave. While the rest of the city's pioneer dead fell victim to worms, she grew ever more impenetrable.
And the tour guides, guidebooks, historians, and librarians who repeat this story aren't making it up.
The tale goes back to undertaker Oliver C. Shorey, who founded what later became the funeral home Bonney-Watson, now the city's oldest continually operating business. In 1884, Shorey got the contract to dig up the bodies from the old Seattle Cemetery, which was being turned into Denny Park. (The cemetery was known for flooding, leading the coffins to bob around in the ground and turning the bodies black.) In a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article from August 22, 1884, Shorey describes what happened when he dug up Boyer:
"We discovered that the coffin was very heavy, weighing at least 400 pounds and it took six men to lift it out of the grave. On removing the lid to the coffin we found that she had turned to stone. Her form was full sized and perfect, the ears, finger nails and hair being all intact. Her features were, however, somewhat disfigured. Covering the body was a dark dust, but after that was removed the form was as white as marble and as hard as stone."
Shorey's description makes no mention of the smile that some say beamed from Boyer's face, and which makes her preserved body seem like that of an incorruptible saint. It's also worth noting that he describes her coffin as weighing at least 400 pounds, not the 2,000 that is sometimes recorded. But the real question is, could she really have turned to stone?
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