In an Annapolis tavern, hunting the paranormal

Ghost: A group's members look for Mary Reynolds in a restaurant.

February 22, 2004|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

The shrill chorus of the ghost-detecting devices began sometime in the middle of dinner Thursday night at Reynolds Tavern, punctuating the clink of forks on china.

Nothing could be seen, but according to many in the crowd of more than 30 self-described ghost investigators gathered to search for the spirit of Mary Reynolds, something could be felt.

"We're getting some really high readings in this corner," said Beverly Litsinger, head of the Maryland Ghost & Spirit Association, thrusting a black temperature gauge, a device the size of a small tape recorder, into the air, her eyes bulging with excitement.

A sudden spike or drop in temperature, Litsinger said, signals the presence of the paranormal. And with her device registering 101 degrees in the far left corner of the Reynolds dining room - directly above a table filled with attendees enjoying their $65 dinners - Litsinger said she detected "a very upset ghost."

The temperature, recorded on a ghost-hunting gauge Litsinger sells on her Web site, was enough to propel most of the diners out of their chairs and into the corner, where they pointed their ghost detectors in every direction.

As head of the 4,000-member group that tracks "ghostly paranormal phenomenon," Litsinger has organized several such investigations over the past two years of what the group believes are haunted sites in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia.

"I've always had the ability to communicate with and see ghosts," said Litsinger, a consultant for nonprofit groups when she is not pursuing ghosts. "I don't think of them as scary but just as people in another life form."

For Litsinger, who lives in Randallstown, the state's capital is fertile ground. Tour groups have long been conducting "ghost walks" through the historic city, where legend has it that the ghosts of colonial figures lurk.

One of the most talked-about local legends is the butcher of Big Brice House on East Street, who was murdered in the late 1800s. According to neighbors, his spirit has been spotted roaming the street outside the house.

Several months ago, Litsinger contacted the owners of Reynolds, Jill and Andrew Petit, when she heard about some bizarre activity at the tavern.

According to the Petits, who bought the old mansion in 2002, a spiral notebook inexplicably moved from one part of their office to another. Waiters at the tavern came to the Petits with stories of kitchen items moving without explanation. One of them said he heard a woman's voice singing Christmas carols from an empty room upstairs.

To explain the mysterious happenings, the Petits came up with a culprit: the ghost of Mary Reynolds.

Mary Reynolds inherited the Georgian home from her husband, William, who died in 1777. Mary lived until 1785, turning the inn over to his daughter and son-in-law.

Although the circumstances of Mary's death are unknown, the Petits are convinced that her spirit walks the old wooden floors of their tavern. To find out, they invited Litsinger and her group for an evening of dining and investigating.

For Kim Hollenczer, who once saw an old woman in a mirror at her home in Catonsville, the event was an opportunity to socialize with other people who say they've seen ghosts.

"Not everyone sees or feels these things," she said. "It's nice to know other people see this stuff and that it's not just that I'm crazy."

At one dining table, four women sifted through Litsinger's collection of photographs. One was an image of what appeared to be hooded monks walking in Dundalk Cemetery. Another showed spiraling, vaporous shapes hovering over a grave at Gettysburg.

The women had their cameras on hand, hoping to catch Mary's image on film. One of them, Penny Tipton, began believing in ghosts when she took a photo in the basement of her Essex home that she said showed a cloudlike shape in its center when developed.

"At first I thought it was just something with the light," Tipton said.

It was not until she talked to her sister-in-law, Jeri Tipton - who had recently heard Litsinger on a radio show - that she began to sense that it was something more. At Thursday's investigation, Litsinger identified the shape as an ectoplasm, ghost-speak for the image of a nascent specter.

"I'm not going in my basement alone anymore," Tipton said with a shudder.

Halfway through dinner, Litsinger came tearing into the dining room waving her camera and shouting, "The kitchen is off-the-walls - the ghost broke a dish."

Plates were abandoned as the investigators rushed into the kitchen, snapping photographs of the room. When asked about the dish, Jill Petit said, "It just came off the shelf and broke."

By the end of the evening, Litsinger said she had enough evidence to confirm that Reynolds is haunted. Not by just one ghost, she said, but five.

"I hated to tell the Petits this, but they've got more than just Mary there," said Litsinger, who said she saw several specters - including Mary - over the course of the evening.

Mary, she said, was lying in bed in her old room on the tavern's second floor.

"When I saw Mary, I just stood there dumfounded," she said. "She was a tiny woman - very thin - and she was lying on the bed, where I saw the covers move by themselves."

Tipton said that she missed Mary but that she was satisfied with the experience.

"When we were upstairs, our meters kept going crazy," Tipton said. "I definitely felt something."

Next week, Jeri and Penny Tipton are heading to Dundalk Cemetery with friend Maryanne Swontek, where they hope to take photos of orbs - yellowish globes of light that Litsinger said signal a traveling ghost.

As she builds on her ghost-hunting experience, Penny Tipton said she hopes to develop Litsinger's knack for spotting specters.

"Beverly just has that sense," she said. "I wish I had it."

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