Tour stakes out spots with spooky legends

Westminster ghost walk a popular Halloween thrill


Backed up against her father outside the old jail in Westminster, Katie Jackson listened intently to the story about how the ghost of a prisoner called Big Tom Parks haunts the building.

According to the legend, after Parks killed himself inside the jail, his head was removed by the town doctor for scientific study, and Parks still roams the halls looking for the missing part.

Katie, 10, acknowledged that she was scared listening to the stories. She said she almost backed out earlier that day, but decided at the last minute to come along on the walk to the five haunted locations on Westminster's ghost tour.

Katie and her father gathered with about 35 other people at the Carroll County Public Library for the ghost tour, which is offered to residents on several nights in October.

Pat Hahn, a librarian associate and one of two guides, said school groups and Scout troops often schedule tours, which have been given for more than 20 years.

The ghost walk features several reportedly haunted locations on Main Street and Court Street, including the old Opera House.

While standing in an alley beside the Opera House, tour members learned how the ghost of Marshall Buell has supposedly been seen there. Buell was an out-of-town comedian murdered in the mid-1800s after angering a pro-Union audience at the Opera House with his jokes.

Before the walking tour, participants watched a slide show that highlights some of Carroll County's legends. The stories are compiled in a book called Ghosts and Legends of Carroll County.

Mark Jackson, Katie's father, said his family has lived in Westminster for a long time and has heard about the stories told on the tour.

"[The stories] have been handed down for years and years," Jackson said. "They could be true."

According to the legends, more than one ghost haunts a few of the buildings.

Hahn said there are several ghostly inhabitants of the old jail, according to employees of Junction Inc., whose office is there.

Hahn said employees said one ghost likes to play practical jokes, and they think he is the spirit of the last man publicly executed on the jail lawn.

The ghost of a longtime patron of Cockey's Tavern on Main Street is said to have knocked paintings off the walls, and others claim to have seen the spirit of a Union solider who was killed in a skirmish on Main Street.

The ghost tours draw people of all ages - from those interested in the history behind the legends to those just looking to get scared, Hahn said.

But the stories can be frightening to younger children, as Hahn found out while telling stories about Cockey's Tavern during a daytime tour.

"This little boy burst into tears, and I didn't know whether to feel good because I scared someone or bad because I made him cry," Hahn said.

David Parsons Jr., 17, of Westminster took the tour with his sister and parents.

"I was hoping we could actually go inside some places," Parsons said. While none of the buildings were open, some tour members peered inside the lower windows of the old jail looking for ghostly figures.

Kevin Wright, 25, of Westminster brought along his camera to take pictures, hoping to catch "something" on film.

Wright was accompanied by two other ghost-believers, Sherri Stroup, 21, and Mike Hughes, 23, both of Westminster. The three shared tales of their own experiences with ghosts in the old houses where they live.

Outside of the Ascension Church on Court Street, Alexander Young, 12, listened to a ghost story about a man named Leigh Master.

Young, a believer in ghosts, came from Baltimore for the tour with his father, who said he also has an "open mind" about the existence of spirits.

Walking to the side of the church, tour members stood around the heavily cracked tomb of Master, who was buried there after his casket kept rising from its original location on his plantation near Furnace Hills, outside Westminster.

Hahn said a little girl on one tour told her the cracks can be scientifically explained - when water gets in small crevices it freezes, expands and makes the cracks larger.

"But I like my version better. He's still trying to get out," Hahn said.

Westminster's ghost tour was not the first for some participants, as they had been on other walks in Ellicott City, Fells Point and Gettysburg, Pa.

Hahn said people are drawn to ghost tours because they know they can come and have a good time, and there's no fee for Westminster's tour.

"Plus, there's the historical aspect, and it's just that time of year," Hahn said. "People want to go and do something on the spooky side."

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