Shades of history


Ghosts: There is more than meets the eye at some of the area's historic sites.

October 28, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,Sun Staff

Spare us that line about how those squeaking floorboards are nothing more than old wood in need of a few well-placed nails. That whistling sound? Don't try to explain it away as wind blowing thorough a crack in the window frame. Those flickering lights? Bud, electricity has nothing to do with them.

Every year at Halloween, ghosts seem to come out of the woodwork. Some are evil, restless spirits one would best avoid. Some are good, protecting their living friends from earthly dangers. Some are mischievous, more an annoyance than anything else. And some are simply there.

But they're out there, in that old cemetery out past the church, or that abandoned house set deep in the woods (ever hear of a little film called "The Blair Witch Project"). Sure, some people dismiss them as silly superstitions with no greater purpose than scaring children.

Right. These are the same people who keep insisting Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are just make-believe. Hey, who do you think it is who slips that dollar under the pillow when your tooth falls out? It ain't your folks, you can bet on that.

Want proof? Buddy, you've come to the right season. Now, you only have to go to the right place. Might we suggest an old building or two? Baltimore and its environs are filled with old homes, war-ravaged forts and buildings that have stood the test of time. Many have their resident ghosts; here are a few you might want to check out. Not all publicize their ghosts, but with an open mind (and a little imagination), you should have no trouble finding them.

Poe House, 203 N. Amity St., Baltimore; 410-396-7932

Baltimore's favorite ghost, that of Edgar Allan Poe himself, is said to live here. In fact, he's supposed to have helped protect the building during the riots of 1968. There's also a female spirit and, down the road apiece at Poe's grave at Westminster churchyard (Fayette and Greene streets), the mysterious figure who, every year on Poe's birthday, leaves three red roses and a bottle of cognac on the author's grave.

And, of course, there's that famous talking raven.

No place in Baltimore celebrates its ghosts more properly than the Poe House. Again this year, visitors of a mind to be frightened can watch as Poe himself (looking not bad for a man dead 150 years) reads from "The Tell-Tale Heart" -- a performance, the folks at the Poe House warn, "not recommended for the squeamish or faint of heart."

The readings are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 12:30, 1:15, 2:15 and 3:15. Tickets for the 30-minute performance are $4, $3 for kids 12-and-under.

Then, on Halloween night, the ghosts of Poe, Gen. John Stricker (of Battle of Baltimore fame) and Frank the Body Snatcher will be on hand to greet visitors to Westminster churchyard from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Hampton Mansion, 535 Hampton Lane, Towson; 410-823-1309

The folks at Hampton insist there are no ghosts calling the 200-year-old Georgian mansion home. "We don't tell ghost stories here, nor do we promote them, because we don't know of any that can be substantiated," says curator Lynne Dakin Hastings. "It's hard to give a tour in 45 minutes as it is."

But Hampton's gift shop says otherwise; for just 75 cents, you can buy a copy of "The Ghosts of Hampton" and read all about the spirits that haunt this Towson landmark. (A preface/disclaimer insists all these stories are the work of the author's imagination.)

There's Cygnet, the daughter of a Maryland governor, who died here at Hampton while combing her long golden hair; her ghost is said to still roam Hampton's halls, still combing her hair. There's the ghost of Charles Ridgely, one of the owners of the mansion, who was said to return here in a stagecoach hours after Ridgely himself had died.

And there's the great chandelier downstairs, which legend has it would fall to the floor in a resounding crash when the lady of the house died. Only thing is, no broken glass was ever found; the chandelier always looked as if nothing had happened.

The subject of ghosts "is something that comes up in tours," Hastings says, "and usually what we tell people is that we haven't seen any, but that all houses have traditions, and if they'd like to read more about it, they can purchase the book."

Mount Clare Mansion, in Carroll Park off Washington Boulevard, Baltimore; 410-837-3262

Sure, there may be a ghost or two at Mount Clare, home to one of Maryland's founding families. Like maybe the ghost of the man who built the central part of the house almost 240 years ago.

"The children in the area sometimes say that the Barrister comes back to haunt the house," says Joan Feldman, director of the 18th-century mansion started by Charles Carroll, Barrister (a distant cousin of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence). "That's the sort of legend we hear in the schools.

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