SNOW HILL — It was Dec. 14, 1904, and William J. Aydelotte, 22, was "suffering from nervous trouble" and "made despondent by the fear" that he would fail an exam at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in Baltimore. "Dear Papa," he began writing in his room at a downtown rooming house. "It is useless to keep me at school . . ."
The next morning, the keeper of the house "heard someone falling, accompanied by deep groans."
"Hurrying upstairs, she opened the door and beheld the young man rolling on the floor, groaning and the blood flowing from several gashes across his throat," according to a story in The Sun the following day.
"From the appearance of the room, Mr. Aydelotte had evidently cut his throat while standing in front of the bureau. He is then believed to have walked to his bed and cut his throat twice again . . ."
Mr. Aydelotte died shortly after being taken to the hospital, and ,, his body was taken back to his home in this lovely, leafy Eastern Shore town some 25 quiet miles from Ocean City.
And today, some believe, he's baaaaaaack. This time, as a ghost.
Maybe he wanders the narrow, creaky hallways wondering who these strangers are in his old blue-shuttered home on Market Street. They're not his father, certainly, the gruff town doctor who would hitch up a horse out back when summoned in the middle of the night, nor his kindly mother or younger sister.
He doesn't know, perhaps, that his boyhood home is now the Snow Hill Inn and Restaurant or that those strangers are visitors spending the night upstairs or enjoying the food, drink and companionship in the dining room and lounge downstairs.
But some of those strangers know him.
Don't mind him, that's J.J.
"Oh, that's just J. J.," innkeeper Jim Washington has taken to saying, whenever the lights flicker or smoke alarms sound in smokeless rooms or someone gets one of those funny, unearthly feelings.
"J. J." is Mr. Washington's own nickname for the ghost, two separate sightings of which have been reported in the three years that he and his wife Kathy have operated the inn. And, while the house's long history -- parts of it may date back 150 or even 200 years -- provide a whole host of possible ghosts for the present, the young Mr. Aydelotte has captured his imagination as the likely spirit.
And besides, the most recent sighting was of a "younger guy, dark-haired, pale and greenish."
That's how Margaret Mead, an attorney who lives in Towson, says her 14-year-old son Brandon described the ghost during their visit to the inn in June. Brandon was in the bathroom one morning, looking in a mirror, when he got one of those funny feelings that someone is behind you.
"He turned around and saw someone in the window, a ghost," says Ms. Mead, adding that Brandon was unaware that there had been previous ghost reportings at the inn.
More than a year before, for example, another woman, whose name the Washingtons couldn't recall, was staying at the inn. She awoke during the night to see a man walking around the bed and into the bathroom, Mr. Washington says. She thought it was her husband -- until she looked over and saw him asleep in the bed beside her.
"She came down for breakfast and said, 'You all have a ghost here,' " Mr. Washington says.
On a recent summer-in-excelsus day here, with the sky a clear blue, the nearby Pocomoke River gentle and still and the crepe myrtles abloom in brilliant pink, it's hard to get a good chill going over such ghost stories. The Snow Hill Inn seems as sweetly unthreatening as the floral prints that cover every imaginable surface in the now-standard fashion of bed-and-breakfasts from coast to coast.
"There are good vibes in the house," says Mr. Washington.
Indeed, the B & B (or, should it be B & B & G?) is hardly the haunted house of dark imaginations -- the wind doesn't whistle ++ ZTC through the rafters, there are no witchy-looking denizens from the beyond. Just the friendly proprietors, their two little daughters playing in the sun-dappled backyard and the guests, so pleased with their own good taste in opting for a B & B over a common hotel.
"Once, when I was here by myself, the smoke alarm went off for noreason," Mrs. Washington recalls. "I never minded being here alone until then."
Contractors scared away
"Some gentlemen were working on the house once, and there was a window that they couldn't open. It was painted shut or something," Mr. Washington says of a story he was told when he took over the inn. "Then, one day when they were in the room, the window suddenly flew open. After that, they wouldn't stay in the house. They had been staying here while doing the work, and said the owners would have to get them hotel rooms somewhere else. These were grown construction men."