Mary Hayes Chynoweth

Who was San Jose’s most famous lady? Could it have been a woman with magical powers to heal and locate rich iron mines, who believed that optimistic thinking and a sound diet were the keys to good health?

If so, then it had to be Mary Folsom Hayes Chynoweth, a healer, teacher, spiritualist, minister, hard worker, mother of two important San Joseans, political advisor and holder of “The Power.” As a youngster, Mary Folsom lived in the small town of Cuba, New York, in a family of Free-Will Baptists. By age twelve, she was helping to support the family by washing clothes, sewing and weaving. She became a teacher at 18 and taught school after the family moved to Wisconsin.

One day while teaching, she was stricken with the “Force,” driving her to her knees where she received “The Power” to heal and to have spiritual insight. Soon she was called upon to heal a man who had deeply cut his hand with a saw. As she passed her hands over his, he quickly recovered. Over her lifetime, more than 7,000 people claim that she had cured them of various maladies.

She married Anson Hayes, a widower with a five year old daughter. Mary bore him three sons: Everis, Jay Orley and Charles Carroll. Young Charles died when he was only four, but the other sons and their families continued to live close to Mary all her life, most often with all their families in a single large mansion divided into three living quarters. The sons invested in iron mines in Wisconsin, but were unable to locate the rich veins of ore beneath the surface. Mary used her miraculous power to pinpoint the exact location of rich ore.

In 1872, the family decided to vacation in California for the winter at a place then known as “Haywards,” and, while there, she was invited to lecture on temperance. The family ventured a few miles south to San Jose and loved the area so much they made an offer to buy the John Tennant farm just south of town. It was not for sale so they purchased 168 acres just south of the Tennant farm and, before returning to Wisconsin, they made a second offer to Tennant that was later accepted.

In 1873, Mary’s husband died of a heart attack and sixteen years later she married Thomas Chynoweth, an epileptic who was 21 years younger than she was. He died just two years later. It is curious that the great healer was unable to heal either of her two husbands or her young son.

Great financial success in the Wisconsin mines allowed the family to return to San Jose, where the first great mansion, designed by architect George Page, was built. Here Mary constructed her True Life Church, acting as the spiritual guide for its congregation. Her sons purchased the San Jose Herald newspaper in 1900 and the San Jose Mercury in 1901, intent on upsetting San Jose’s political boss of the time, Johnny McKenzie, and the corrupt political arm of the Southern Pacific Railroad. The purchase of the two papers created the San Jose Mercury Herald, giving them a public forum for their reform campaign.

In 1905, Mary Hayes Chynoweth died at age 80. Her last words were: “I have never wronged anyone.” It is curious how similar this was to “Mountain” Charlie McKiernan’s motto of the same era, now the motto for the local E Clampus Vitus chapter: “Right Wrongs Nobody.”

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