The story of the curse of Mercie Dale begins around 1800 in Braintree, Mass. Mercie’s daughter Silence had married William Hayden in 1798, and she moved to Albany, Vt., in 1801, with her daughter and son-in-law.
Mercie Dale helped William financially and he initially prospered in his new home. He built a spinning and weaving mill and served as a militia captain and selectmen. He became the town’s highway surveyor, and in exchange for his services he received payment in land.
The Haydens would amass land holdings of more than 900 acres during their time in Vermont. But while William had ambition, he struggled to manage his affairs and had to turn to Mercie for help in paying his debts. She loaned him money, but he never repaid the loans.
In the 1820s and 30s, William’s financial troubles dogged him in numerous lawsuits, seeking repayment of debts. He would eventually flee to Canada to escape his debts and died in upstate New York.
Marcie Dale Curses Her Son-in-Law
Mercie, meanwhile, exasperated at her son-in-law’s inability to repay her, grew ill. She suspected William was secretly poisoning her and her temper reached a breaking point. She cursed the Hayden family name: “The Hayden name shall die in the third generation, and the last to bear the name shall died in poverty.”
Mercie Dale moved in with a neighbor, Sarah Rogers, who looked after her until she died in 1872 at age 94. She procured a burial plot in the Rogers’ family cemetery. The Hayden family fortunes, however, were about to take a turn for the better.
William and Silence’s son William, known as Will, embarked on a career as a contractor, and he got a job building sections of a new railroad line stretching from Nashua, N.H., to Quebec. The lucrative work turned Will into a very wealthy man. He built hundreds of miles of railroad track as far away as Michigan.
A Mansion Springs Up
In the early 1850s, he and his wife Azubah decided to make their mark in the town of Albany, Vt. He swore he would build a grand mansion to “show the foals in Albany what money could do.” And indeed he did.
The Hayden family mansion was an ornate Greek revival structure. It featured marble fireplaces that disguised a modern central heating system. The house’s dining room could seat 30. And the entire third floor was a ballroom. Its floor was specially constructed with an 18-inch gap underneath so that it could withstand large crowds without damaging the ceiling below.
The house was completed in 1854, and gave Will great pleasure. He was fond of telling guests that he owned all the land as far as the eye could see, and his wife and daughter often toured the town in a grand carriage. Parties and balls at the Hayden house were regular events. Mercie’s curse would seem to be just a far away memory. But that would soon change. The next generation of Haydens would see to the fulfillment of her curse.
The Beginning of the End
Over the next decades, the members of the Hayden family began dying off, some unexpectedly and others succumbing to old age. First Will died and then Azbulah in 1892. A family fight broke out over who controlled the fortune. Henry, Will’s son, was accused of burning papers that showed how the Hayden fortune was supposed to be divided and conspiring with a brother-in-law to swindle his relatives. Some even believed that Henry had stolen the fortune and hidden it.
A remarkably small amount of money remained, and Henry apparently frittered it away in a lavish lifestyle that ended in 1910 with he and his daughter Mamie impoverished. The family litigation didn’t end until 1915, and by 1927 the mansion that Will built had been sold and the family snuffed out. It would sit in a rundown state for many years, a potent reminder of Mercie Dale’s curse.
Thanks to: Mischief in the Mountains, by Walter R. Hard, Janet C. Greene. This story last updated in 2022.