Here's another spooky tale from Halloween past

October 27, 2001|By JACQUES KELLY

SOMETIME tonight I'll stop the pendulum on an old clock and set it ticking again tomorrow to reflect the hour we've theoretically gained. We're into deep fall now, with night arriving not so long after lunch and dry, crunchy fallen leaves underfoot.

I'll admit that I've decorated the dining room and kitchen in cardboard black cats. I'm ready to declare the long, pleasant summer of 2001 over, and I'll get out the flannel pajamas. In this, during one of my favorite mini-seasons, that of All Hallows Eve, All Saints and All Souls days, I luxuriate in candy corn and some stories as ripe as the apples and pears now on sale at the local market.

For years, I've written of the haunted houses in the old neighborhood or the spooky shadows of my neighborhood's alleys and back streets. Why pay admission to a horror movie when you can be terrified by the rats that nocturnally jitterbug in the garbage pails and remains of last Sunday's supper?

I thought I'd heard every family story about the end of October until I printed one at this time last year. In summary, I told of the fall afternoon of decades ago when my mother and her best friend, Harriet Cullison, took in a matinee of actor Lon Chaney's Phantom of the Opera at the Waverly Theatre on Greenmount Avenue. With its scenes of the Paris Opera and the sewers of that city, it must have been delightful Halloween fare.

As my mother recounted the story - on numerous occasions - they exited the silent film, properly terrified, and dared each other to walk through the graveyard of St. John's Episcopal Church at Greenmount Avenue and Old York Road, as proper a Gothic site as Baltimore possesses.

And while I consider its countrified church yard a delightful resting place for Waverly's finest, I don't know that I would like to take the long way home through there at night. My mother and Harriet did - and lived to talk about it.

About a year ago, after resurrecting my late mother's version of the story, Harriet called me to say that I'd only gotten Act One right. Or rather, she didn't recall the church yard tour, but she did know what happened when she returned to her Guilford Avenue home, just across the street from my mother's.

Her parents had gone out for the evening, leaving her grandmother in charge. Grandmother said Harriet could sleep in the front bedroom - the big room with the bay window overlooking Guilford Avenue - the exact same model of room duplicated in our own house, where my four sisters roomed for so many years.

The trouble began when the lights went out. Her mother had placed a large brimmed hat on a sidelight - a type of wall sconce typical of these 1915-era homes. As automobiles came up Guilford Avenue, their headlamps cast a ray of light into the bay window, which projected out over the front porch. The light pattern hit the hat and the mirror on a chest of drawers, which in turn produced a moving shadow much like Lon Chaney's in The Phantom of the Opera.

She was terrified, turned to stone and yanked up the covers. The sinister moving shadows of Guilford Avenue departed only when morning dawned.

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