Westminster tour seeks apparitions CARROLL COUNTY DIVERSIONS


October 30, 1992|By Fred Rasmussen and Ellie Baublitz | Fred Rasmussen and Ellie Baublitz,Contributing Writers

The wind blew the leaves up and down Westminster's streets and lanes as ancient trees swayed to and fro, etching the autumn night sky with bony limbs.

Shadows of houses and buildings cast an eerie countenance, altering perceptions of what they really were.

It was a a perfect night to go in search of the more notorious among Westminster's ghostly apparitions, which are said to haunt the area this time of the year.

So ghost-searching was just what 40 adults and children did on a recent evening during the Westminster public library's annual "Ghost Walk."

The city's ghosts and unexplained legends abound, Blair Reid of the library explained before setting out on the actual search for them.

"Some ghost stories are legends that have been handed down through the years," Ms. Reid said, as she showed a slide presentation of some of the more well-known sites. "Sometimes we have wonderful conversations with older residents of the community who have heard things in their old houses."

In Westminster's panoply of ghostly hangers-on, Big Tom Parkes is an exalted member.

Parkes, a Tennessee native, wandered into Carroll County around 1840 and immediately set himself up as a desperado who didn't mind stealing, beating women or acting in a blasphemous manner.

It was this kind of conduct that landed Big Tom in the Westminster hoosegow on North Court Street on Christmas Eve of 1844.

He had been disturbing the peace and a complaint was placed against him.

"He was a big guy," said Barb Rabideau, another library leader on the ghost hunt.

"It took the sheriff, two deputies and a gun straight in his face to get him in his cell."

The sheriff's plan to transfer him to the penitentiary in Baltimore so displeased Big Tom that he slit his throat Christmas night with a clasp knife and bled to death.

Dr. Zollickhoffer, a Carroll Countian who was into phrenology, a form of character analysis done by studying the bumps on a person's head, performed the coroner's examination.

"He wanted Tom's head and the sheriff let him have it," Ms. Rabideau said.

Outside, on the wall of the old jail, blood stains still cling to the gray stone where Dr. Zollickhoffer is supposed to have cut Tom's head off.

Big Tom's body was buried, but what Dr. Zollickhoffer did with his head remains unsolved.

Reports over the years claim that Big Tom's ghost can be seen wandering around the jail site, looking for his lost head.

"They've tried everything to get the stains off the wall, but nothing works," Ms. Rabideau said, inviting walkers to touch the red marks.

Is it really Big Tom's blood?

"It scared me, that part about the blood," said Caroline Koenig, 12, of Westminster. "But I'm not sure it was his blood."

"Oooooh, I liked the blood spot on the wall," crooned 12-year-old Meghan Clishman, who went on the walk with Mary Ellen Beser of Westminster.

Jimmy Miller, 9, is among the true Doubting Thomases of the county.

"It looks like blood, but it just didn't feel like it," he insisted. "I just don't buy that blood thing. I think it's just chalk."

His mother, however, is more of a believer in the spiritual side of life.

"I know some people who live in old houses, and they've seen things, and I believe them," said Anne Miller of Frizzellburg.

Rachel Oakes, an 11-year-old West Middle School student, and her friend, Angela Keslin, 10, a student at Friendship Valley Elementary school also believe in ghosts.

"Sure, they're real," chorused both girls.

But Ms. Beser, who emphatically denied being a believer in ghosts, was of the opinion that the ghost walk "was a great history lesson mixed with some fun."

The crowd, which had eagerly set forth hoping to see a ghost, gave a collective sigh of relief when they actually didn't see one.

Well, kind of.

Then again, what was that odd shadow over there by the jail? Could it be Big Tom roaming the grounds looking for his head?

No, it was simply a straggler. Seeing a ghost would have to wait for next time.

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