First Published in Recreation News
It was as dark as a tax collector’s heart. Faint echoes of ominous-sounding voices drifted along streets as empty as a politician’s promises – perhaps the specters of Jack Kent Cook and Robert Irsay trading notes?
Then they appeared, the source of the noise. A gaggle of small beings running and shoving their way along the sidewalk, their faces hidden as they approached and cried in unison, “Trick or Treat!”
Yep, it’s Halloween, the season that’s more frightening than a driver with diplomatic plates on the Capital Beltway. After several years tainted with scares about razor blades and poison in the goodies, Halloween is popular again. Candy isn’t the only thing that’s sweet about it, either. Local companies are finding that ghosts are good for business. Ghost tours are one of the most popular seasonal activities in the metro area.
The tour operators are serious about their spirits, too. While they may have started out telling tales that were as creative as a candidate’s resume, the operators now swear that every story is thoroughly researched and documented. And if those stories are really as insubstantial as fog creeping along the Potomac, who can tell? And who cares?
Here are some of the tours available in the area. Most of them require reservations, and they all fill quickly.
Lantern Light Ghost Tours, Old Town Alexandria
Stella Michals promises “legends, folklore, trivia, and twisted tales of death and murder” on her hour-long strolls through Old Town. The guides are dressed in Colonial costumes and lead the way with candle-lit lanterns. “We pass many historical buildings and relate the oddities in the area and within the site.”
There are two routes. Both start at the Visitors Center on King & Fairfax, but end at two different places – both cemeteries.
Tours are offered every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with extra tours on October 30th and 31st. Ticket sales for the night of the tour only begin at 6:30 PM, with tours on Friday and Saturday starting at 7:30 and 9:00, so those who really dig their graveyard tales can take both tours. On Sunday, only the 7:30 tour is available. Tickets are $6 for adults, $4 for children 7-12. There is no charge for children under 7, but Michals says the tour is not suitable for children that young. 703-548-0100
Frederick Tour and Carriage Company
Here’s another candlelight tour, this one along the cobblestone streets and alleys of Frederick’s historic district. Tour operator Tiffany Wilms and Ron Angleberger, a local researcher in the paranormal, used factual events and eyewitness encounters to develop their tour.
It’s a ninety minute foray into the world of “maverick entities, misguided souls, and lost spirits which inhabit Frederick City and the surrounding communities,” promises Wilms.
The tours are offered on weekends from October 13th through November 4th, with additional tours planned for mid-October. Tours leave at 7:00 PM and 9:00 PM. Tickets are $6.50 for adults; $3.50 for children 6 through 12. The walks begin in front of Brewer’s Alley, 124 North Market Street. Call 301-694-7433 for specific date and time availability. Beginning next year, the ghost tours will run from May through October.
Ghosts of Ellicott City
Wedged into the narrow ravine along the Patapsco River, Ellicott City has seen more than its share of disasters. Floods and fires have washed and singed the town many times, leaving behind a lot of good stories along with mud and debris.
The Howard County Tourism Office offers ghost tours once a month during the year, but from September through December, tours are held every Friday and Saturday.
The 75-minute trip recounts 16 different ghastly sagas of ghosts or other mysterious happenings. With a dedication to documentation that would make Woodward and Bernstein proud, all of the old stories must have come from at least two different sources, while at least two people needed to confirm newer events or sightings.
On November 24-25 and December 8-9, Halloween meets Father Christmas. The tours on those dates include references to Charles Dickens and his visit to Ellicott City. Scrooge appears – which fits in with the ghostly theme. This tour ends with a holiday dinner.
The cost for the regular tour is $7 for adults, $5 for “under 12 or over 65.” The cost for the “Dickens of a Tour” are $30 per person, which includes the dinner. Reservations are required for all tours. Contact the Howard County Tourism Office, 410-313-1900.
Ghosts and Disasters of Point Lookout
Peaceful, beautiful Point Lookout State Park, at the very tip of St. Mary’s County, is known for great fishing and beautiful scenery. But the shadows in the piney woods don’t all come from the high trees. The Point and its environs are as full of hauntings as a trick or treat bag is with candy. It’s on the list of popular spots for parapsychologists who collect photos and recordings that document specters lounging under trees and in buildings or ordering visitors to go away.
During the Civil War, Point Lookout was the site of a prison camp for Confederate soldiers, with a reputation as notorious as Andersonville’s. Local residents and park rangers swear to ghostly happenings in and around the parts of the park that once housed the camp.
The Ghost Walk at Point Lookout is elaborate and interactive. Walkers leave the ranger station and step along the ‘Road from Hell,” which is what the path to the prison camp was called. Along the way, re-enactors stage events that actually occurred. There’s a trial of a prisoner who falls dramatically into a waiting coffin when he’s found guilty and shot. Prisoners try to hide among the walkers to escape the camp when the tour leaves the stockade.
After the walk, a hayride to the Point rumbles past “The Disasters of Point Lookout.” There’s a car wreck that actually happened when teenagers playing ‘chicken’ lost control. A mortician practices his trade at one site, asking for volunteers – and usually having some little boy offer his kid sister. The lighthouse itself is reputedly haunted and the lighthouse keepers have lots of stories to tell. The county’s most famous semi-former resident is the “Lady in White,” Lucy Taylor. She’s familiar to locals who spot her wandering through the county looking for her family’s gravestones. This weekend, she searches at Point Lookout.
The Ghost Walk at Point Lookout is set for October 27-28. Gates open at 6:30. Tickets Re $4 per person. They must be pre-bought and are given for a specific time. For more information, call the park office 301-872-5688.
Tour of Greenmount Cemetery
Baltimore’s Greenmount Cemetery doesn’t claim many ghostly sightings, but it has an illustrious roster of permanent residents. Johns Hopkins, Enoch Pratt, and Betsy Patterson Bonaparte all have subterranean condos there. The most notorious denizen is Johns Wilkes Booth, who lies under an unmarked marble stone in a corner of the family plot.
Every Saturday in October, Wayne Schaumberg, a local historian and teacher, leads a two-hour walking tour of the cemetery. But he stresses that it’s not a ghost tour.
“It’s a historical tour that takes two hours to cover the cemetery. It’s a fascinating look at the famous people who are buried here.”
Schaumberg says all sorts of people take his tour, from those who grew up in Baltimore and are curious about the place, those who have family members buried there and want to see if they can find Aunt Petunia among the celebrities, those who are doing research on 19th century customs, art lovers interested in the elaborate monuments, and some folks who are just cemetery junkies.
Tickets for the Greenmount tours are $10, with reservations required. The tours start at 9:30 AM at the cemetery. For reservations, contact Schaumberg at 410-256-2180.