Urban legends tend to be typically harmless rituals that people perform for a thrill or a challenge. Every now and then, however, there are legends that make a person’s life miserable, and sometimes even downright dangerous. Such was the case with the Witch of Parley’s Hollow also referred to as Crazy Mary or Bloody Mary.
Kids from the 1930’s – 1950’s were warned to stay away from Crazy Mary’s house. So it naturally turned into a challenge to see if they could spot the Witch of Parley’s Hollow. She was a recluse, and from what stories I could find she had very eccentric behavior. One lady told a story of going to her house at midnight and watching her wildly playing her piano. It seems as if the goal of this legend was just simply to spot her.
Because so little was known about who this woman was, the rumors of her being crazy, or a witch began to grow. So who was Crazy Mary? And how did this legend surrounding her grow?
Back in 1864 where the current Parley’s Historic Nature Park is today sat the Dudler Family homestead. The family included Joseph Dudler, his wife Elizabeth (who went by her middle name, Susan), and his 7 children. Joseph was a carpenter by trade with a talent for brewing beer.
He built a two-story home with a stone foundation and framed upper floor. By 1870 Joseph had extended the house into the hillside behind it, which included a brewery. The lower floor contained a stone “wine cellar” that served to keep things cool. This cellar along with pieces of the original foundation can still be seen today.
Mr. Dudler’s beer business quickly took off and by 1892 he owned one or two saloons in Salt Lake City as well as a The Philadelphia Brewery Saloon in Park City. The homestead was also used as an inn for travelers passing through Parley’s Canyon, and by the early 1900’s it too was used as a saloon.
Death & The Dudler Family
Joseph Dudler died suddenly on the 21st of October, 1897. The responsibility of running the brewery and maintaining Dudler’s Inn fell on his wife and children. It seems they were a feisty bunch and were definitely up to the challenge. In 1898, the Salt Lake County Sheriff arrived at the property in the middle of the night in order to shut off access to a canal the Dudler’s had built to supply their brewery with water.
Mrs. Dudler was not having it and along with her sons and Loretta, kept the canal open and the Sheriff left embarrassed. It turned into a major legal battle where Mrs. Dudler was sued by Salt Lake City for taking water, the suit described, to which she was not entitled. Mrs. Dudler repelled the suit successfully and was able to maintain her claim to water rights of the canal. Just a few years later on December 26th, 1904, Mrs. Dudler succumbed to pneumonia and died at the family homestead.
Joseph and Susan Dudler had three daughters: Amelia, Louisa, and Loretta. Louisa was the only one who appears to have had a “normal” life. She got married, moved away from Parley’s Hollow and started a family of her own. Amelia Dudler was a popular girl in her teenage years. She along with Loretta spent a lot of time in Park City, and both attended St. Mary’s Academy in Park City. Loretta was an accomplished musician and won awards for both her skill at playing the piano and organ and her beautiful singing voice.
Amelia Dudler got married and eventually became addicted to morphine and cocaine. Most of her adult life was spent in and out of jail and prison. She was frequently mentioned in the newspaper for various fights to which she had been a party, as well as arrests for drug use and disturbing the peace. In 1906 she was even a suspect in a murder case. She died on October 30th, 1907. The death certificate lists her death as natural, and specifically states she “was morphine and cocaine fiend.”
And then, there was Loretta. Loretta also called Retta or Mary moved back to the homestead after she finished school. Starting when she was 16 she began suffering from anxiety and severe depressive episodes. She met her husband, Harold Schaer while living in Park City, and they married in July 1907. Harold was a miner by trade, but after marrying Loretta he began work at the family brewery. In May 1908 their first child, Harold was born. Life, at this point, seemed to be going pretty well for Loretta.
A year later, Loretta lost another loved one, when her sister Louisa died at the age of 49. And three years after that, on July 26, 1912, her favorite brother Frank died from kidney disease. In a span of just a few years, she lost her mother and three siblings. This would have been hard for anyone, but in Loretta’s case, it was compounded by her depression and anxiety.
In March 1911 Loretta and Harold’s second son, Charles was born, but things were not going to stay relatively normal for Loretta for much longer. On October 18, 1912, Charles Schaer died at the age of 19 months from convulsions at the Dudler homestead. Loretta was devastated, and from all accounts, she was never the same after his death.
By 1930, Loretta’s husband had moved to Los Angeles leaving Loretta and Harold Jr at Parley’s Hollow. By this point, Harold Jr. was 21 years old. He had inherited his mother’s musical abilities and his profession was listed as a musician. In February 1933 Harold Jr. was married and moved to California where he worked as a studio musician for Paramount Pictures for many years. Loretta was now living alone at Parley’s Hollow. This is when the legend of The Witch of Parley’s Hollow got its start.
Loretta didn’t leave the house much, and no one really came to visit her. By 1940 the house was in severe disrepair which only helped the rumors that surrounded her to grow. I’m sure many of the local people remembered the stories of her drug-addicted sister and the mother’s fight with the city over water. Many of the local people at that time did not believe the Dudler’s had any right to the water they were taking. Parents would warn their children not to go near her house, and the talk amongst the kids was that this strange lady was a witch.
The Abandoned House
By the mid-1940’s Loretta was living in a nursing home near 2nd North and 5th West. Her house sat abandoned, and her son left all of the antique furniture, including Loretta’s beloved piano inside. On the evening of October 18th, 1952, the 40th anniversary of her son’s death, Loretta’s house went up in flames.
The fire was determined to have been caused by vandals. In the years it sat empty the house of legend had turned into a party spot for local teens. The house wasn’t completely destroyed, but all of the antique furniture, including the piano was a loss. The house was now more derelict and creepy than ever.
Death of A Legend
Early in the morning of March 22nd, 1959 an elderly woman who had lived a long yet difficult life died at the nursing home in which she had been living for years. Her siblings and estranged husband had all died before her, and her only living son lived in Las Vegas. Loretta Dudler Schaer lived to be 88 years old. Her obituary was very simple, and she is buried in an unmarked grave in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. Was she estranged from her son as well? It seems so but has been impossible to fully determine given what little information is available so far.
In 1963, Salt Lake County set the Dudler house on fire and demolished it. They needed the land for the new freeway (I-80) that was going in. If you ever get a chance to visit the Parley’s Historic Nature Park, walk over to the old Dudler wine cellar and pay your respects to a terribly misunderstood woman.