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Spooky Baltimore

Baltimore can be a pretty creepy town.

Neighborhoods like Fells Point and Mt. Vernon have hundreds of years of colorful history ripe for ghosts and other apparitions. Edgar Allan Poe gathered inspiration for his morbid tales from these streets. And the remnants of the city’s once-bustling industrial core have been left to decay and descend into eeriness.

With Halloween just around the corner, we profile eight of the spookiest places in our spooky town. Explore them . . . if you dare.

Westminster Hall

The 19th-century Presbyterian church, located on the corner of West Fayette and Greene Streets, boasts the burial place of one of Baltimore’s most famous—and scary—residents: Edgar Allan Poe.

The poet’s headstone, situated near the back of the 200-year-old graveyard, has become the church’s claim to fame. A pillar, bearing a carving of Poe’s face, collects pennies, roses, bottles of cognac, and other gifts throughout the year. But while Poe may be the most famous resident, he is not alone. Just feet away from Poe’s resting place are the catacombs that lie beneath the church and were created more than 60 years after the cemetery’s founding.

When the church was built in 1852, grave robbers roamed the streets in search of cadavers they could sell to the nearby University of Maryland Medical School. To deter desecrators, the church was built above part of the graveyard, fortified by stone arches. And it is here that things turn truly spooky.

With little light and low ceilings, a dusty dirt path weaves through the headstones and tombs situated beneath Westminster Hall. Lu Ann Marshall, a Poe historian and tour guide who has worked at the site for more than 30 years, says she has had her fair share of horror-movie moments. Generations of psychics have picked up on the same spirit of a man in uniform yelling at them to “go away.” Visitors hear children playing peekaboo, and many spy a man in a gray vest roaming the catacombs.

Marshall is accustomed to the unexplained. While she claims to never have seen anything herself, she has felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up and her hands go numb in one particular room of the catacombs. Although Poe may finally be resting in peace, it seems others at Westminster Hall are not.

The Horse You Came In On Saloon

The Fells Point watering hole is the oldest bar in Baltimore and, as it boasts on the menu, the oldest continually operated saloon in America. Located on Thames Street, it claims to have been a drinking spot of Edgar Allan Poe, and is, perhaps, where he had his last drink before his death in October 1849.

Today, the old saloon has a Wild West feel to it with a dark wood interior filled with western memorabilia and red accent lighting. A common hangout for younger Baltimoreans, it often hosts live music. But the modern tunes that echo throughout the bar shouldn’t fool you. Regulars and those that work there claim to have seen a much older patron they call “Edgar.” Some claim cash registers open mysteriously on their own. Others that the door to a safe on the premises slams shut by itself. Occasionally, the bartenders leave out a glass of whiskey for Edgar after close, though he has yet to drink one. Whatever is going on in The Horse You Came In On, it is a bar rich with history—and perhaps something else.

Hell House

Just minutes from the quaint streets of historic Ellicott City lie the ruins of St. Mary’s College. Perched atop a hill deep in the forests that border Patapsco Valley State Park and Ilchester Road, the abandoned seminary bustled for more than a century with young men entering the priesthood. But since it closed in 1972 due to dropping enrollment, legend has engulfed what remains of the campus. The ruins continue to terrify local thrill seekers, who have given it the name “Hell House.”

Although many of the buildings have been torn down, the creepiness of the property persists. As you travel up the hillside, among overgrown pathways and crumbling staircases that lead to nowhere, the sounds of the road below fade out. The trees thicken and the sky above becomes obscured. Many of the original buildings lie in piles of rubble except for one: the remains of an old cemetery. Commonly mistaken for a chapel, the headstones are gone and the outer wall is crumbling. But centered atop a series of stairs is a decaying shrine. Its altar is tagged with graffiti, but a giant metal crucifix remains, jutting toward a columned covering.

It is here where many of the legends have emerged, including the nickname “Hell House.” One story claims a priest murdered several students and placed their bodies in the shape of a pentagram as a sacrifice to the devil before killing himself. Another maintains that a deranged caretaker roams the property toting a shotgun. Although such stories have long been disproved, the remains of Hell House are no less frightening, perhaps not for what is said to have occurred there, but for the deterioration and reclamation by Mother Nature herself.

Patapsco Female Institute

Not far from Hell House stand the ruins of another Ellicott City school: the Patapsco Female Institute. What was once an all-girls’ boarding school is now operated by Howard County as a park, used for everything from weddings to theater productions. The interior of the building has been gutted and cleaned up to allow for tours, but the hollow shell that remains still sends chills up one’s spine.

The school, which looks over Ellicott City, was operational from 1837 to 1891 and, under the direction of Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps, grew to be a leader in female education, teaching not just those subjects common to finishing schools but academic courses as well. With the advent of public education, the school eventually closed, later becoming a hotel, veterans hospital, theater, and private residence before being abandoned for many years.

The Greek Revival structure, with its large white columns and granite walls, has been the setting for a variety of stories over the years. One repeated sighting is that of a girl named Annie Van Derlot, who is said to have hated her “incarceration” there but died of pneumonia shortly before her parents arrived to bring her home. Today, a barbed-wire fence and the county’s oversight have saved the school from the party location it was in the 1980s, and, on a bright autumn day, the ruins seem anything but frightening. But as the sun sets and darkness floods the grounds, the hollow rooms leave one wondering what’s around the next corner.

Jericho Covered Bridge

Nestled in the woods surrounding the Little Gunpowder Falls and connecting Baltimore and Harford Counties, the Jericho Covered Bridge sits in a sleepy bend of the narrow road that bears the same name. Originally constructed in 1865, the covered bridge is one of the last of its kind in the state. But to locals, it is well-known for other reasons.

The 88-foot-long bridge, with faded dark red paint, sneaks up out of the woods to travelers. As one drives across, the boards creek and crisscrossing rafters loom in the darkness above. The musty smell of old wood is unmistakable. But as nightfall engulfs the bridge and surrounding forest, travelers should beware. Some people driving across the bridge at night swear they see the shadows of lynched runaway slaves dangling from the rafters in their rearview mirrors. Others hear the screams of a little girl who burned to death in a wagon accident. And while many may experience no such thing, this aging bridge is a reminder of a time that is no more.

Rosewood Center

Abandoned or not, few places fascinate and terrify more than asylums. In Owings Mills, the decrepit buildings that once made up Rosewood Center speak not only to a disturbing era in American medicine but to the fragile nature of the human mind.

Originally established in 1888 as the Asylum and Training School for the Feeble Minded, Rosewood did not officially close until June of 2009. But through the years, a series of incidents, from reports of malpractice and abuse to deteriorating conditions and a case of suspected arson that burned the main building in 2006, led the state to first close the institution’s original buildings and later the entire facility.

After Rosewood’s original (and eeriest) buildings were closed in the late 1980s, those looking for a scare (primarily teenagers) began to venture into the vacated hospital. They found rooms with peeling paint filled with beds and wheelchairs as well as the remnants of the lives of thousands of patients. Ghost hunters, too, began to make the journey, reporting spooky noises and moving shadows. However, those wishing to experience the same thrill today are left to deal with blocked roads and a visible security force in response to years of vandalism. But seen from Rosewood Lane off of Reisterstown Road, the crumbling stone buildings on the hill are as ominous as ever.

Hampton Mansion

When the massive Georgian Hampton Mansion was completed in 1790, it was the largest private home in the United States. Owned by seven generations of the Ridgely family, Hampton Mansion’s lush gardens, ornate exterior, and Victorian interiors have attracted thousands of tourists since it was opened to the public in 1949 as a National Historic Site. Now operated by the National Park Service, they insist that no ghosts roam the home just outside of Towson. But many disagree.

One common story is that of a haunted chandelier that can be heard crashing in the house, signaling the imminent death of one of the home’s residents. When one goes to check, no chandelier has fallen. Another is of the ghost of Priscilla Ridgely roaming the mansion in a gown, which can be heard sweeping across the floor. And perhaps most disturbing is the story of a sick young girl named Cygnet Swann who died in the 1800s shortly after dreaming that a man with a scythe was chasing her through a wheat field, shouting that he was going to kill her one way or another.

Although the National Park Service has downplayed such stories in recent years, that has not stopped the sightings nor the legends that persist throughout the halls of Hampton Mansion.

Black Aggie

No ghost tour of Baltimore would be complete without Black Aggie. For generations, this monster of a statue terrified and petrified visitors.

The bronze figure of a seated woman in grief, draped in a shroud, sat in the Druid Ridge Cemetery on the Agnus family plot from 1925 to 1967. During her time there, Black Aggie became Baltimore’s most legendary terror. The common dare would be to sit in her lap late at night. Legend has it you could hear her heartbeat, and if you disrespected her, her arms would wrap around and crush you to death. Others said staring into her eyes would make one blind. She become a prime destination for fraternity hazing.

After years of such antics, the Agnus family and the cemetery finally had enough. Black Aggie was chipped away from her perch and donated to the Smithsonian Institution. For years, her whereabouts were unknown, leading some to believe the bronze monster was roaming freely. Today, however, the shrouded statue that terrified a city for more than 60 years sits in the courtyard of the Dolley Madison House in Washington, D.C. Few seem to fear her in her new home. In fact, many pass her by without a clue of her reputation. But back in Baltimore, Druid Ridge Cemetery still receives visitors looking for Black Aggie. All that remains is the granite slab she gazed from, and the almost 100-year-old stain where she once sat.

Originally published in Baltimore magazine.

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