Hoodoo Marker Quest

Julianne, at the Hoodoo Marker, January 2009
Julianne, at the Hoodoo Marker, January 2009

January 2009

A rough pillar of stone, known as the Hoodoo Marker, stands by the side of U.S. Route 1 in Kingsville, Maryland, just north of Baltimore. On the side facing the road, there is an inscription:

This stone is in place of a double poplar tree, a boundary of expectation francis freedom alias young’s escape and the second boundary of onion’s prospect hill, the latter now owned by Edward Day. Cursed be he that removeth his neighbor’s landmark and all the people shall say amen. Deuteronomy chap 27 verse 17

The inclusion of the quote from the Bible led to this boundary stone to be known as “The Hoodoo Marker.”

I first heard of the Hoodoo Marker through the web site roadsideamerica.com, which lists roadside attractions and sites of interest throughout the U.S. I was browsing it to find places in my home state of Maryland to visit. The entry incorrectly listed it as being in Bel Air, Maryland, and called it a “Tantalizing El Dorado,” because they had failed to locate it after two attempts. It also contained the note, “Hexed to constrain removal.” I found this comment irresistible. I decided to find the Hoodoo Marker for myself, and with a combination of Internet searching and old-fashioned legwork, I succeeded.

I was unsure at first if I would be able to find it, but thought it would be a good test of my research skills to try. I liked the spookiness of someone putting a Biblical warning on a property marker. But if the Hoodoo Marker was close the road in 1938, what would happen if they decided to widen U.S. 1? On the other hand, I sensed that something used in a legal document such as a deed couldn’t easily be removed.

Searching on the phrase “Hoodoo Marker,” I found the full text online of a W.P.A. guide from 1938, U.S. One: Maine to Florida. The story below, which I later found to be partly incorrect, told the following story:

This ancient marker, much used by surveyors, is a rough shaft about nine feet high; only the side bearing the inscriptions is smooth. The dark stone, hard as flint, and now painted white on its face, is close to the road, though owing to a fill the top of the stone is now at the road level. The stone, thought to be at least 150 yrs. old, is probably a relic of a lifetime of quarreling between brothers, John and Edward Day. The only near reconciliation of the men occurred when Edward was supposed to be on his deathbed and his pastor, shocked by the idea of one of the brothers going to death with the breach unhealed, persuaded John to enter the sick man’s bedroom. He thought his efforts had been successful until John was about to leave. Edward called him back for a last word, “John, if I die this is a go; if I get well it’s all off.” He recovered and the brothers died enemies.

By searching the Internet for some of the properties named on the inscription, I discovered that the Maryland Historical Society had a manuscript collection (The King Family Papers, MS. 519) with Edward Day’s name in it. Among the items listed in the online finding aid, was this intriguing one:

137. Photograph of an old boundary stone standing on the eastern side of the Bel Air Road. n.d. 12 x 20.5 cm.

Could this be a photograph of the Hoodoo Marker? Only one way to find out…a road trip to Baltimore! Luckily, I live only about 30 miles south.

At the Maryland Historical Society library, I viewed the collection, sure enough, there was the photograph of a man standing next to a tall stone with the exact inscription on it still quite legible. I also found that the stone had nothing to do with a quarrel between Edward Day and his brother, although I’m sure that there was animosity there. Apparently, Day was a mean old cuss, judging from the notation on the back of the photo, which reads in part:

It is related that Underwood Guyton, a shoemaker of Upper Falls, was present when a boy, at the setting-up of this boundary stone, and that he was caughed [sic] and thrashed by Mr. Day to make him remember the event. This was in accordance with immemmorial [sic] custom.

The Hoodoo Marker was probably set up in 1810 by Edward Day to assert where he believed that the corners of three properties (called “Expectation,” “Young’s Escape,” and “Onion’s Prospect Hill”) met. His neighbor, Thomas Todd, didn’t agree, and it went to court with Edward Day and Thomas Kell against Todd. Todd apparently prevailed, because on March 14, 1814, an agreement was signed by the parties wherein the boundary stone was to be moved, and Todd’s legal expenses were to be paid by Day and Kell.

The thrashing of the unfortunate Underwood Guyton was probably so that he would remember when and where and by whom the stone was placed. It was probably a vestige of an ancient British custom called “beating the bounds.” Leave it to Edward Day to find the least pleasant way of marking his territory.

Another Internet find was a web page describing sites of interest around Kingsville, Maryland, which included a photograph of the Hoodoo Marker, and the statement, “This ‘curse’, taken from Deuteronomy, seems to have prevented the stone from being moved to this day.” It was then that I realized that the Hoodoo Marker was not lost, that it was still in place, and also that nobody but the WPA guide, Roadside America, and I called it “The Hoodoo Marker.” This site also gave a precise location for the stone. So, after my visit to the Maryland Historical Society, I drove another twenty miles north to see the actual Hoodoo Marker.

Later that day, I turned into the driveway of the Celebrie Veterinary Hospital. The elevation dropped about ten feet by the time I got to the parking lot. As soon as I turned toward the road, I could see a tall rough stone next to the guard rail. If I hadn’t known to go to the vet clinic property to see the Hoodoo Marker, I would have driven right by it on the road without seeing it, hidden as it was by the guard rail.

Sadly, the inscription is now barely readable, and everything starting with Edward Day’s name is below ground level. In the years to come, I’m afraid that people will forget the stone entirely. It will look like just another rock, and may someday be removed because they can’t read the curse at the very bottom. I walked around the Hoodoo Marker and took several photographs. I hope that by posting this story, the Hoodoo Marker will not sink into obscurity.

I would like to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of the friendly and helpful staff at the Maryland Historical Society, and my wonderful husband Bob Cantor who willingly accompanies me on my adventures.