Here Lies Ethan Allen ... Or Not


Flickr User Don Shall // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Ethan Allen: Revolutionary War hero; founder of the state of Vermont; namesake of an overpriced furniture store. Yes, he did a lot for our country, and after his death in 1789, his family and the state wanted to make sure that his grave was worthy of him and easily identified by any future visitors.

When he died, Allen’s family marked the plot with a tombstone that read, “The Corporeal part of Ethan Allen Rests beneath this Stone, the 12th day of Feb. 1789, Aged 50 Years. His spirit tried the Mercies of God, in Whom Alone He believed and Strongly Trusted.” They intended, of course, for their patriarch to rest peacefully at the Greenmount Cemetery in Burlington, Vermont, for all of eternity. In reality, we’re not sure how long his restful slumber in the family plot was—but it certainly wasn't eternity.

In 1858, the Vermont legislature decided to honor Allen with a 42-foot gravemarker column, one that would pay proper homage to their most famous son. When they went to install the monolith, however, they ran into a little problem: There was no body underneath. There had been no grave robbery that anyone was aware of, so officials wondered if perhaps the original marker had simply been misplaced. They sought out two elderly townspeople who claimed to have attended Allen’s funeral when they were just children. Neither of them were any help in nailing down a burial location.

Another theory as to the location of the “corporeal part” of Ethan Allen: He was never buried in that cemetery to begin with. Some Allen enthusiasts say he wouldn’t have wanted to eternally rest in a place surrounded by people who believed in organized religion, and secretly arranged to be interred elsewhere.

Whatever happens to be the truth, no one was willing to dig up the entire cemetery in search of Allen’s corpse, so the legislature decided to fudge the wording of their new monument a bit:

Vermont to Ethan Allen Born Litchfield Ct 10th Jan A.D. 1737 Died Burlington Vt 12 Feb A.D. 1789 and buried near the site of this monument

To this day, Allen’s actual whereabouts are unknown.

And here’s another mystery: Although a life-size statue adorns the top of this 42-foot column, it probably doesn’t look much like Allen at all. No photos or depictions of him were known to exist. The closest anyone could come was to dig up a photo of his grandson, General Ethan Allen Hitchcock, who was said to somewhat resemble his grandfather.