In the heat of a Baltimore summer, when the city seems to be wrapped in a depressingly endless gray haze, the mercury seldom falls below 90 and thunderstorms rumble over Cockeysville, a package arrives from Ed Okonowicz offering some relief, if only in my mind.
Okonowicz, the Elkton author who has more than 20 books to his credit on regional folklore, oral history and ghost stories, has sent us his latest, which immediately reminds me of cool autumn days, fields filled with pumpkins turning orange, swirling leaves doing a macabre dance and crisp air filled with the scent of wind-borne pungent wood smoke.
Even though Okonowicz' book, Annapolis Ghosts: History, Mystery, Legends and Lore, puts me in the frame of mind for Halloween, it would make for a dandy read at the beach, around a lonely campfire on a mountain trail or at home on the back porch.
Because Annapolis retains much of its Colonial past in its structures, winding streets and lanes, and general physical layout, Okonowicz writes, "some believe Annapolis, one of America's oldest towns, also to be one of the country's most haunted locations."
He also reports that paranormal experts agree that Annapolis is a hotbed of ghostly activity and has been for hundreds of years.
The State House, completed in 1779, is said to be the spiritual home of Thomas Dance, a plasterer who fell 100 feet to his death on Feb. 23, 1793, while working in the dome.
"Over the years, there have been reports sporadically of a mysterious figure roaming the capitol grounds, areas within the building and, of course, at sites near the interior and exterior of the building dome -- where Dance had been working when he died suddenly,' Okonowicz writes.
While Dance's ectoplasm hasn't been recorded on film, workers responsible for flying the building's flags have experienced a "presence" near exterior walkways beside the dome.
I'm sure anything that happens in the State House, including the inability to pass legislation legalizing slots, has been blamed on the unfortunate plasterer.
Okonowicz agrees: "And as the years pass, any sudden noise, gusty breeze, abrupt chill, mysterious shadow and unexplained event" have been attributed to Dance.
One tale that got my skin slightly crawling was about "Joe Morgue," the eccentric gravedigger whose real name was Joseph Simmons.
His haunt in death, as it was in life, is historic St. Anne's Episcopal Church on Church Circle, a place I know a bit, having attended services there several times through the years. So I guess that's why the skin on my neck tensed a bit.
In addition to digging graves in the surrounding churchyard, Simmons did maintenance work and rang the steeple bell.
Simmons, who died in 1836, has been spotted leaning on the shovel he used to dig the final resting places of many Annapolitans, and he has also been seen wandering among the weathered headstones, Okonowicz writes.
But even ghosts must get chilled to the bone at times, and so Simmons, it has been reported, is sometimes spotted in the back pew of St. Anne's.
"There have been tales of occasional sightings of an old man in workman's clothing, sitting silently in the rear of the church," Okonowicz writes. "When people have approached the long-bearded stranger, he has slowly gotten up and walked out (and sometimes through) the entrance doors, disappearing from sight."
St. John's College, which traces its origins to 1696, is home to several strange goings-on, including "The Whistler," whose eerie tunes arising from parts of the campus have turned security guards and students weak-kneed.
Guards have noticed blinds being raised in an upper floor of vacant McDowell Hall, the tower bell ringing off schedule, lights flicking on and off, doors slamming, and the sound of furniture being dragged across the floor.
At 4 a.m., a security guard paused to rest for a moment in the vacant and locked Greenfield Library when suddenly he heard the elevator machinery spring to life. It halted on his floor, and the door opened to reveal no one, human or spirit, inside.
The startled guard, writes Okonowicz, told Becky Wilson, then the college's communications director, that "I will now go through the library to check it. But I won't sit there."
If you like this sampling of creepy tales, there are many more. There is the Brice House, Annapolis' "most haunted" house, Okonowicz says, with the story of the murder of Col. James Brice, who returns looking for the murderer, the missing butler, who may be buried in the cellar with a hefty treasure.
And then there's the Governor's Bridge across the Patuxent River just west of Annapolis.
Better known as the "haunted bridge," it's a place one should avoid, if you believe Okonowicz, when the hands of the clock are standing at midnight -- otherwise, you might have a supernatural encounter with a woman in a flowing white gown waiting for a ride.
But when the car door is opened, the lady vanishes, and she fails to appear in the rear mirror as the nervous motorist puts the pedal to the metal.
Others report hearing a baby endlessly crying from the swirling waters below the bridge, where it had been thrown by its deranged mother.
If Okonowicz is to be believed, this is one active site.
He writes of purported tales of "murderers and mentally deranged hermits roaming the woods along the river. There also are stories of bands of devil worshipers seeking animals to sacrifice during secret rituals."
I think I'll keep out of Anne Arundel County for the immediate future.
Find previous columns at baltimoresun.com/backstory.