ARE GHOSTS rattling around the Bean Hollow coffee shop in downtown Ellicott City? Is Tea on the Tiber haunted by the spirit of a woman who committed suicide there?
It might sound like Halloween hocus-pocus, but many people think the historic district is inhabited by ghosts. Now visitors can check out the haunted spots and learn about their spooky history on a new tour, "Ye Haunted History of Olde Ellicott City."
The tours, run by Howard County Tourism Inc., are an hour or longer and will be offered at 8:30 Friday and Saturday nights through next month.
Ellicott City has held ghost tours for about five years, but this year's tour is new. When Melissa Arnold, former head of the county tourism office, left the post this year, she took her ghost stories with her because they had been copyrighted in her name.
One of the first orders of business for the new executive director, Rachelina Bonacci, was launching a new ghost tour, using new stories collected by Mark Croatti, a professor of state and local politics at University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Croatti spent a good part of the summer interviewing businessmen in historic Ellicott City to learn the history of ghost activity in the town.
"I got involved with the ghost tours because I wanted to learn about the area, its legends and myths," he said. He donated the tour script to the organization and plans to update it periodically, he said.
Croatti said he's never seen a ghost, and he was surprised by the number of people who looked him in the eye and told him, with apparent sincerity, of ghostly activity they had encountered.
"These people are convinced that what they see is real," he said.
Croatti recently moved to Annapolis, but he lived in Catonsville for two years and before that in Washington for seven years. He wanted the tour to resemble similar tours he had seen in Annapolis and Gettysburg, Pa., which combined ghost tours with a large helping of local history.
Accordingly, the tour, which is led by guides in 18th-century garb, begins with a history of Ellicott City, starting with the arrival of Ellicott brothers John, Andrew and Joseph in 1772 and their work establishing the milling operation that became the focal point of the riverside community.
"We like to tell people it's really a history tour with a paranormal twist," Bonacci said.
The tour takes visitors on a walk past many haunted sites in town, including the Tiber River Tavern - where a woman reportedly was raped and murdered years ago - and the envy salon. At Tea on the Tiber, visitors are told that when the building was being renovated recently, the owners arrived one day to find that paint had been splashed on the walls and floor overnight.
"They suspected vandals, but have come to find out that a woman named Kathryn years ago hung herself on the top floor, and they think she is still here today, hiding objects and trying to make her presence known," reads the script of the tour.
Bean Hollow, the coffee shop, was once a funeral parlor. When its owner noticed that money was missing from the cash register, she set up a surveillance camera overnight to catch the culprit. The next day, she saw nothing on the film but heard a ghostly conversation "along with whispers, scratches and other creepy sounds," according to the tour script.
Reservations can be made by calling the tourism office at 410-313-1439; private tours are available for groups of 15 or more. Tickets for the tour are $8 for adults and $6 for kids and seniors.
The flip side of the admission ticket has discounts to Ellicott City businesses, including Rugs to Riches, La Palapa Mexican Cantina, Tersiguel's French Country Restaurant, Tiber River Tavern, Jordan's Steakhouse, Forget-Me-Not Factory, the Phoenix Emporium, the Ellicott Mills Brewing Company, Atlantis Fine Arts, Oriental Art Gallery, envy salon, Attic Antiques and Things, and the What's IN Store.
Don't be afraid to visit these establishments. Though they may be haunted, the spirits are benign, Bonacci said.
"We have no mean ghosts," she said. "At worst, we have some mischievous ghosts."