For more than two decades, a white, Italian marble statue of a young woman has stood headless over the Gray’s Island Cemetery in Hillsborough, inspiring urban legends and ghost stories.
But this week, the century-old monument’s long-lost head was there.
The return has puzzled the closest living relatives of the woman buried in the cemetery.
Jennie Steeves was the daughter of an aunt of Kathleen Wallace’s father. Wallace recently saw a photograph of the monument on Facebook, which caught her by surprise.
“It showed the statue with the head beside it, that the head had been returned,” she said.
The only daughter
The monument was built at the family gravesite, about 25 kilometres south of Moncton, in memory of Jennie.
Born in 1885, she was the daughter of Archie and Laura Steeves. With family connections overseas, she left for London at age 14 to continue her studies.
But Jennie fell ill, catching what her family believes was tuberculosis. She returned home to Hillsborough and died from the disease at age 15 in 1900. Her obituary described her as a girl with a “sweet disposition” and a “kind and gentle spirit.”
In the 1930s, her mother, Laura Steeves, erected a grand monument for her only daughter, built from imported marble that arrived in the village by train.
“It was very heavy, and they didn’t really know how they were even going to get it over to the cemetery,” Wallace said in an interview at her 19th-century farmhouse.
The cemetery on the edge of Hillsborough is where dozens of members of the Steeves family are buried. The name originates from a land grant issued to a Mr. Gray, on a large hill once surrounded by rising tidal waters — becoming an island.
After the construction of dikes, the graveyard became accessible at all hours along a long, dirt road leading far from the centre of the village.
Ghost stories and legends
Throughout time, the statue tucked into the far corner of the cemetery has compelled New Brunswickers and graveyard historians.
“There were all kinds of stories told about the monument — that it was haunted, that the eyes had rubies in them — but none of that is true,” Wallace said. “It was just put there for the family plot and especially in memory of Jennie.”
Wallace and her sister would visit the monument when they were young, while her father cut the grass around the family plot. That’s when it started to experience vandalism.
“We used to go down and see it, and there were fingers that had been shot off at that point, and there was a little bit of damage to the face,” she said.
In the 1990s, the head and face that sparked those stories disappeared, leaving a cracked, headless top of the statue.
The Wallace sisters tried to locate it with the help of RCMP, even offering a reward and advertising in the local paper. But the head never resurfaced as years went by, so the sisters thought it had been broken or destroyed.
‘Kind of a miracle’
After the photo was posted on Facebook by a family friend who visited the site, the graveyard keeper returned the head to the Wallace home for safekeeping.
The face is chipped and the nose damaged, with some red colouring on the eyes, which peer down. During the interview with Wallace, it sat resting on the kitchen table.
A descendant of the family who built the statue has offered to restore it.
Patricia Wallace, Kathleen’s sister, said the statue was special to her aunt Laura, and she’s thankful the head was returned.
“It means so much to us to know that the statue will be standing again and hopefully safe,” she said.
The white lady in marble, which is not meant to exactly resemble Jennie Steeves, is expected to be restored this spring.
Kathleen Wallace said stories and rumours about the head are beginning to go around. She doesn’t know who had the head or how it was returned — and expects she may never know for sure.
“It was really kind of a miracle,” she said.
“It remains a mystery, somebody maybe had a guilty conscience.”