The Awful, No good, Very Bad Story of Lucy Keyes

Shit happens. Some awful, no good, very bad shit happens, and that’s just life.

It’s not just the shit that’s always the biggest problem, though. The bigger problem is that the shit always wants to drag you down with it. It has no other function other than to grab onto you and try to stay with you for the rest of your life, stopping you from ever getting back up after it knocks you down the first time.

If you find yourself wallowing in it long after that initial shit attack, then that’s just what it wants. It’s done its job and it can go slinking back to the hell that birthed it until it finds someone new to fling itself at.

That’s what happened to Mrs. Martha Keyes in April of 1755. This is her story, and the story of her daughter, Lucy Keyes.

Definitely not looking good when a headstone is the first image.

The History

It was April 14, 1755 when Martha Keyes sent her two eldest daughters, Patty Keyes and Anna Keyes to fetch her some sand from Wachusett Lake. They were a typical mid-18th century family living the farm life on the eastern slope of Mt. Wachusett.

It may now be known for some sweet skiing and that annoying ass jingle, (WAAAH!WA-WA-Chusett! Now it’s in your head, you’re welcome!) but back then, it was big farm country situated right between Princeton and Westminster. Locals had no problem selling their crops to the large communities all around them and they made a pretty good profit doing it.

Anyway, the Keyes (… Keyeses? …Keyesesies?) lived off of Pine Hill road, which was a short walk down to the lake and the older daughters were tasked with taking it.

Why did Martha need something that you usually have to just brush out of your butt crack at end of a day at the beach? Well, it’s simple: It was 1755 and Charlie Maytag wouldn’t invent the washing machine for another few months, at least. (Citation needed). Beach sand was used as a scrubbing agent and the mother of ten had some laundry that needed doing.

That simple need would end up ruining her life.

By Astro_Alex -, CC BY-SA 2.0,
Sand: Ruining lives since even before the Star Wars prequels.
By Astro_Alex -, CC BY-SA 2.0,


The Tragedy

While Patty and Anna were both old enough to handle the task of sand gettin’, their sister Lucy, was not. She was just four years old and her mother never noticed it when she snuck out to follow her older siblings.

The accounts diverge here just a little bit. One account has Lucy catching up with her sisters on the way to the lake. They reprimanded her for sneaking out on their mother and sent her right back on her way home while they continued to the lake. The other version of events has Lucy never catching up with them at all. No matter which one is right, the outcome is the same. Little Lucy Keyes, only four years and eight months old, is never seen nor heard from again.

Yeah, it's not getting any better, so here's another headstone shot.

The Culprits

What actually happened to Lucy Keyes has been argued for centuries. One of the most enduring arguments is that a neighbor by the name of Tilly Littlejohn came upon her in the woods and killed her. The story is that he was locked in a land dispute with the Keyes at the time. He found Lucy wandering in the woods, lost is mind at the thought of a filthy Keyes anywhere near his property, and bashed her head in with a rock.

Does anything good EVER happen in the woods?

It’s seems like a rock solid explanation when you also consider the 1827 letter from a man supposedly claiming to be Mr. Littlejohn in New York. In it, he goes into detail about how he hid her body in a hollowed out log. It was his deathbed confession and dictated to a third party, so it stands to reason that it’s real.

There are just a few problems with this, though. First off, Tilly Littljohn was never a neighbor of the Keyes. In April, 1755, he was living in Lancaster and working as an apprentice right before he enlisted in the army. Second, according to his grandchildren, he never even lived in New York. On top of all that, it was an old man who confessed to murdering Lucy and that’s something that Tilly certainly wasn’t. He died at the age of just 58 from consumption. (Source)

The likely true story is that an old man dying in New York told a story to a stranger. This stranger wrote it all down and simply attributed it to someone they knew who had lived in the Wachusett area.

The second explanation is just as doubtful. This one says that a native tribe kidnapped, or rescued, Lucy and let her live with them for the rest of her life. It comes from a pair of travelers that claimed to have come across a white woman living with natives by the Canadian border. While this woman couldn’t speak much English, she managed to tell them that she used to live near “Chusett Hill.”

It may give you the warm and fuzzies to imagine this girl being spirited away on a reverse Pocahontas adventure, but this theory has just as many problems. There was once a Native American tribe that called the mountain its home, but they were long gone by Lucy’s time. The Nipmuc tribe was confined to a 4 ½ acre reservation outside of Grafton, MA. in 1654. That’s just over a hundred years too early for them to take on Lucy as one of their own. Add to that the fact this tribe near the Canadian border was never found by anyone else, even though Lucy’s father went looking for them after he heard the story.

The sad fact is that no one will ever know what happened to Lucy Keyes. This little four year old simply decided to follow her sisters one day and never came back. That alone would be bad enough, but it’s what happened to her distraught parents afterward that really marks this as a tragedy fit for a lifetime made for TV movie.

No, seriously!

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The Aftermath

Robert Keyes, Lucy’s father and Martha’s husband, would spare no expense in searching for his missing daughter over the ensuing years. After spending the family savings chasing theories and inaccurate stories, including the story of Native Americans near Canada, he started selling off pieces of his land to fund his search.

He even petitioned Worcester County for financial help in locating her. This petition, for reasons that were never fully explained, was rejected. Robert Keyes died at the age of 85 in 1795, but not before watching his wife go insane with grief.

Just like her husband, Martha Keyes was never able to get over the loss of their daughter. She’s said to have spent the following years screaming Lucy’s name into the woods, in the hopes of finally leading her back home. So great was her grief that not even her death could save her from it. She passed away in 1789 and it’s said that her ghost still walks the cemetery grounds, forever crying her daughter’s name to the wind.

Home, sweet home.

Both are buried at the Meeting House Hill cemetery in Princeton, along with several of their children. The only difference between the two is that Robert was so broke at the end of his life, after spending everything looking for Lucy, that he couldn't even afford a headstone. No one actually knows where he is, but he's probably close by his family.

As for Lucy herself, she may not have ever gotten off that mountain, either. Employees of Wachusett Mountain Ski Area reported seeing fresh, child sized footprints on freshly fallen snow in the early morning, 261 years later. Maybe she’s out still out there searching for her way home, forever destined to just miss the calls from her mother that would finally lead them back to each other.

The Moral

So, back the original point, shit happens. Some awful, no good, very bad shit happens. But fuck that shit. Fuck it hard and fuck it fast before it gets a chance to fuck you. When the worst thing that’s ever happened in your life hits, it’s your job to overcome it. It doesn’t matter how bad it is. It doesn’t matter how awful it is. Just pick up the pieces and carry on as best you can. If you don’t, and you let that shit take you over, you’ll be lost forever, screaming into the wind until you become the basis of a made for TV movie that wastes the talents of both Justin Theroux and Mark Boone Jr., and no one deserves that.


Okay, Mark Boone Jr. was actually really good in it, but still...

Well, that got dark, but thanks for reading! If you want to keep up with all of the latest Slightly Odd posts, all you have to do is like it on Facebook @slightlyoddfitchburg or click the subscribe button at the top of the page! I promise it won’t be such a bummer next time!


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