A Haunting in Maryland: My Search to Find a Real Ghost

By Frankie Reynolds

Air vents in Fort McHenry bomb shelters Photo credit: Frankie Reynolds

Air vents in Fort McHenry bomb shelters
Photo credit: Frankie Reynolds

I’ve always been interested in ghosts. I’ve always wanted to see one. I love getting scared, but to be scared on that level would be such a dramatic experience. I’ve imagined that seeing a spirit would lead to that queasy feeling one gets while twisting through a roller coaster, or possibly like the sweaty feeling of anxiety that is forced upon a person when they are caught in a lie.

Maryland has been known for its abundance of haunted areas that people can visit for little to no cost. Disturbing stories have been told over the years from places that are located frighteningly close to Maryland residents’ homes. After an extensive amount of research, I found a few of these real-life haunted places that I could visit to quench my thirst for true horror.

FORT MCHENRY

Fort McHenry is known as the birthplace of the national anthem. This historic landmark holds a lot of history from multiple wars, but it is also supposedly one of the most haunted places in the state of Maryland. Reports of ghost sightings have been frequent over the years, especially that of Lt. Levi Clagett, who perished after a direct hit on the Fort while he was standing guard at Gun Bastion #3, and William Williams, a runaway slave from the 1800’s who died in a nearby hospital after his leg was blown off by a cannon. These are just a few of the figures that have been seen roaming the grounds, so I figured I’d check the place out.

As I stepped out of the car, the first thing I noticed was the colossal American flag blowing with each autumn breeze from side to side in an elegant fashion. The fact that so many famous memories were made at Fort McHenry was overwhelming, but that was not the reason I was there. I was there to see a ghost.

After watching a video that showcased American pride and spirit, I was ready to make my way towards the spot where Levi Clagett died. My sense of direction was clouded in this unfamiliar place, so I asked one of the rangers how to find it. He pointed me in the right direction, but before I left I asked him about some of the other haunted areas at Fort McHenry. His confused stare threw me off, which led me to question his knowledge on ghost-sightings at the historic shrine.

“I’ve heard of strange things before, like lights flickering at times where there is no other electrical disturbance on the property, but nothing too serious,” he said.

The ranger apologized for the lack of information, but I understood. I was sure that most people visiting the Fort weren’t there to see ghosts, so I made my way over to the bomb shelters, supposedly one of the most haunted areas at Fort McHenry.

Bomb shelter at Fort McHenry Photo credit: Frankie Reynolds

Bomb shelter at Fort McHenry
Photo credit: Frankie Reynolds

The shelters of the fort were creepy, even in the daytime. The crusted, moldy floors seemed to crack with every step I took towards the corners of the barren room. The semi-cylinder shaped dungeon was lit with a single rectangular light, illuminating the darkness to display areas of heavily coated mold and dirt. The walls were coarse and bumpy. The windows weren’t true windows; these water-drainage holes were placed throughout the room in parallel lines that give the space more of a prison-like look than that of an old basement.

The dank air coughed a bitter chill that breezed past my arm, making the hair frantically stand up straight. How was there is an intense breeze in a room like that? An aberrant feeling coursed through my body as I tried to make sense of the situation. My meditation was cut short, however, but the sound of children running into the room with their parents. One of the children bumped into me and immediately said “excuse me” as more of a formality than a sincere regret. I smiled and give the child a pass as he ran to catch up with his other brothers and sisters. Soon after, the mother walked up to me and apologized before she noticed the book I was writing notes in.

“Are you here for school?” she asked, intrigued.

“Yes, but not to learn about the history of Fort McHenry,” I replied before explaining to her my search to find a haunted spirit. Immediately the woman laughed, and this surprised me. She was a younger woman, in her mid-forties, although she looked about the age of 35. Standing at about 5’6”, the top of her delicately combed brunette hair reached the middle of my chin. I looked down and asked the woman what was so funny and she shook her head, still grinning.

“Ghosts are a bunch of bull.”

I quickly laughed back, telling her that there is plenty of evidence that suggests otherwise. Her reaction was nonchalant, as she shrugged her shoulders, and said, “if ghosts were real, they would show their faces more often.”

I told her that while a bit distorted, I could understand this line of thinking. I introduced myself, and she did the same. Her name was Pam. As she said her name, her husband walked over and said that the kids were getting anxious. She nodded, telling the children that it’s time to go. She looked back up at me before leaving and wished me luck.

“Have you ever seen a ghost?” she asked on her way out, interested. I shook my head no. She followed with another question. “Well, do you want to?”

This question got me thinking. I’d always believed that I wanted to, but never had been asked that question. Eventually, I nodded my head. “Well then, Frankie, I hope you find what you’re looking for.” She smiled as she walked away with her family.

I looked back at the bomb shelter. I really did want to see a ghost. The rush I got when I thought I saw one before was nearly unexplainable, and to have that sensation taken away after learning the truth felt almost unfair. I hoped that I would find what I was looking for, too. While I didn’t see a ghost at Fort McHenry, I was feeling good about my chances. They say that ghosts are willing to show themselves to open spirits. I was open. I may not have seen a ghost at stop number one, but the journey had just begun.

ROSEWOOD STATE HOSPITAL

Rosewood Center Photo Credit: www.baltimoremagazine.net

Rosewood Center
Photo credit: http://www.baltimoremagazine.net

As I stepped onto the government-owned property of Rosewood State Hospital, I could feel my blood pressure begin to rise. This hospital had been closed down ever since the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene deemed it unsafe on June 30, 2009. There have been multiple buildings burned down due to arson over the years, contributing to the creepy and haunting atmosphere that Rosewood spews.

Ever since it closed there have been reported ghost sightings. People have claimed to hear voices in some of the buildings and have even seen objects, such as wheelchairs, move on their own.

Visiting these buildings is illegal; trespassing on these lands can lead to a hefty fine or even, in some cases, jail time. This is why one must be extremely careful while visiting Rosewood. Maybe this was why my heart raced as I walked from the parking lot next door onto the property. Maybe it was because I was scared. Either way, I could feel my hand shaking and I could not control it. It was October 30, 2013. My friend Kristen was with me. She’s a tan, fit, and brunette sophomore at Stevenson University. As an avid horror fan, she was very eager to step foot into one of these buildings.

“This place reminds me of ‘Session 9’,” said Kristen as we walk towards the buildings. Immediately, I was uncomfortable. “Session 9” is a psychological horror film about a group of asbestos cleaners whose job is to rid an abandoned asylum of the dangerous mineral within a week. Over the course of that week, the workers go insane and one of them is possessed. He ends up murdering his co-workers and his family. Seeing as how there have been reports of asbestos exposure at Rosewood, I hated this reference. Nevertheless, we continued to make our way onto the property.

The grass surrounding the buildings was lifeless, dried up like a prune. The air I breathed into my lungs was getting colder by the minute. A breeze blew by and the branches on the trees rattled violently. There was definitely a Halloween-type feel in the atmosphere.

Suddenly, the breeze stopped. I could hear myself breathe. Kristen and I hadn’t spoken in a few minutes; we were standing still.

“I wonder if this place is really haunted,” Kristen whispered as we headed towards the first building. I acknowledged her by simply nodding my head.

When we finally chose a building to enter, a chill ran down my spine. Was it the wind? Fear? I didn’t know, but I could feel my senses culminating towards this climactic entrance that I’d been waiting forever since I’d decided to go there. I stopped and looked forward. This building was one of the ones that was victim to arson, evident by its dusty and dark tint. I tried to move forward, but gravity planted my legs into the ground.

The sun was gone, and I couldn’t see inside of the coal colored structure. I scanned the area once again for security, thinking twice about my decision to enter. All of the what-if’s started to race through my mind. I took a deep breath and looked at Kristen.

“Let’s do this,” I remembered saying with a grave tone.

I pulled my feet from the ground and start to move forward once again. We were now mere yards from the entrance, and I started to run. I could hear Kristen running too, and then she suddenly stopped. I was so close to the doors, and while the sound of gravel scraping beneath my shoes was loud, the sound of Kristen grunting was louder. I turned around. She had fallen.

Blood oozed from a deep cut in her left knee; gravel stones had penetrated the skin. She tried to stand, but needed assistance. I helped her up. We both realized what needed to be done: we had to go back to campus to get this gash cleaned out before we determined if she needed to go to the doctor’s for stitches.

Seeing a ghost didn’t seem so important with my friend in pain. We began to limp back towards the car when I turned around, looking back at the building. Was this fate? Was there a reason we weren’t supposed to enter that building?

I placed Kristen in the passenger’s seat and started to drive. I sighed in disappointment. Kristen, a few stitches later, was okay, but we dared not take our chances avoiding security again with another visit. The good news was that this was a much creepier trip than Fort McHenry. The bad news was that I was 0-for-2 in my hunt to find a ghost with only one more stop on the list.

BURKITTSVILLE

Burkittsville, Maryland, is home to the story of the “Blair Witch Project.” While this box-office success from 1999 was a fictional story, the movie is based on true events that have happened in the past. The “Blair Witch” ghost was based on the Irish-born Elly Kedward, who was banished to the woods in the late 1700s after being accused of witchcraft. Over the next year, many of her accusers and their children vanished. This led to the entire town fleeing Burkittsville, and for the next 40 years it remained vacated.

The town remained quiet, even when people started moving back towards the area, until 1940 when a man name Rustin Parr began spending time in the woods. Children began to disappear, leaving the police baffled, until the day when Parr came back to the town from the woods, exclaiming the words “I am finally finished.” He took police to a shack in the woods that displayed horrible acts of torture, and the grisly homicide of seven innocent children. Parr was hung, but before his death he told the authorities that it was a woman’s voice in the woods that told him to do it. Many assumed this to be the voice of Elly Kedward, but to this day there is no proof that there was ever any voice at all. Be that as it may, I was eager to explore this town, and possibly the woods, to try to uncover the truth of this subject matter, and possibly get to see a ghost.

The murky sky promised thunderstorms in the near future as I entered the quiet town of Burkittsville. I was exhausted from the hour-and-a-half-long drive in from Owings Mills, but at the same time I was excited. Was today the day I would finally get to see a ghost?

The first thing I saw when I came into town was a large cemetery, adding to the overall troubling vibe that this town presents. Before entering the town, I decided to take a tour of the famous graveyard where there are not only famous Civil War soldiers buried, but where there have also been ghost sightings over the years.

Burkittsville graveyard Photo credit: Frankie Reynolds

Burkittsville graveyard
Photo credit: Frankie Reynolds

The graveyard is really old. It is so old, in fact, that some of the grainy and chipped gravestones don’t even have writing on them; they are simply small squares the size of a computer screen. The graves themselves are sharp and uneven, just like the road that streams throughout the cemetery. The path is no wider than a golf cart, and is in much need of new pavement. I tried not to trip over the staggering road as I made my way towards the gates that allowed me to leave that decrepit place. While I saw no ghosts at the graveyard, the mysterious, atmospheric vibe that it gives off offered promise for what the rest of the town could bring.

I walked from the graveyard entrance towards the main street heading through the town. The sidewalks are dangerous, seeing how they are a mixture of stone, concrete and flimsy steel. The uneven walkway made it hard for me to keep my balance as I moved towards Parr’s old house, which is now the site of P.J. Gilligam-Dry Goods & Mercantile Co. The building was in serious need of a paint job, and finally I began to realize that this town needed a lot of work in general.

The town of Burkittsville had an uncanny similarity to that of Haddenfield in the movie “Halloween.” There’s one road that runs through the town, that’s all, and there was a sense of a close-knit community even before I parked. I continued walking towards the Burkittsville U.S. Post Office to try and get some tips on how to get to the woods. I knew that it was supposed to be just outside of Burkittsville, but where exactly was unclear.

I entered the building and heard a bell ring as the doors opened. A short, blonde woman in her mid-forties was standing there in a neon green fleece and dark blue jeans. Immediately after asking her about the “Blair Witch Project,” I saw her shaking her head.

“It’s all a hoax.”

She elaborated by saying that “all [“The Blair Witch Project”] has done is brought this town’s reputation down.” Seeing as how she was not happy to talk to me, I moved on to the man working in the post office and decide to talk to him. Before I could speak, he was telling me the same thing that the woman was, but in a nicer tone.

“You know the movie wasn’t even filmed here right? It was filmed in Seneca Creek State Park,” he said. I’d heard that this was the “black woods” that I was looking for, and asked him where they are in relation to Burkittsville. His eyes widen as he tried to think about how far away they were.

“Oh wow. Um, over an hour, that’s for sure,” he said.

The news was disheartening, and I could feel my stomach drop. I knew that the “black woods” weren’t exactly in Burkittsville, but there was no evidence to suggest that it was over an hour away the opposite direction from where I came. I sighed and thanked the man as I made my way outside, sitting on the stone steps leading into the post office. I wondered what to do next. My trip was over. I didn’t find a ghost, and this anticlimactic finish had me shaking my head before I noticed the man walking outside. He took a seat next to me. I was surprised and didn’t know what to say.

“People have been coming here for a while, ever since 1999.” He told me before extending a hand and introducing himself as Ben. I shook it and listened to him as he continued to speak.

Ben, a 60-year-old clean shaven and graying man, told me about the buzz that this town received when the movie came out, before telling me that it got old quickly. I nodded before asking this question: “I know that the film was faked, but what about Elly Kedward, or Rustin Parr?”

The man nodded and looked up. “That’s in the past. This town has moved on, it’s just a shame that society outside of here hasn’t,” he said.

This quote resonated with me and still gets me thinking today. I continued to talk with Ben about the town, but I couldn’t shake what he said about society not letting go of the past. Heck, ghosts are from the past. What was the true reason I was looking for a ghost? Why was I chasing something that may not even exist? I mean, I understood why; I love horror movies and wanted to experience that kind of tension for myself, but, honestly, if I ever saw a ghost I’d be terrified.

I thanked Ben for talking to me and asked him if there were any good places to eat. Ben simply smiled and said not really, but to come back some time to visit “after I’ve eaten, and not as a blair-witch groupie.” I laughed and nodded.

As writer Andrew McCarthy once said, the kindness of strangers can do wonders to a visit. I went from such a disappointing low to an intriguing high. Instead of ghost hunting, I decided to walk around the town for a bit just to experience it for what it is: a group of people’s home.

While there, I saw an absolutely gorgeous pond the size of a football field, many historic churches that acted as hospitals for soldiers during the Civil War and houses with families playing outside, laughing. When outside one of the churches, I saw a kid around my age sitting there on his phone. His name was Tom, and I asked him if he lived in Burkittsville.

“Yeah, I live here,” he said. This led me to ask him if he liked it there, to which he responded yes. However, when I asked why he had a much tougher time answering. “It’s not much, but it’s my home, you know?”

This place is someone’s home. People live here, and yet outsiders only see Burkittsville as a place where the fictional events of “The Blair Witch Project” happened. Fort McHenry is where soldiers gave their lives for our country, and yet I didn’t even pay attention to that history. I merely looked for a ghost and didn’t take the time to appreciate what was really important. The history at Rosewood is more ghost-oriented, yes, but I let my curiosity get the better of me and inevitably broke the law in the hopes of seeing a spirit. Try telling that to a court of law.

Sometimes, travels aren’t about the endpoint. I believed I’d have a chance at seeing a ghost and writing about it. I didn’t, but that’s okay. Sometimes it’s okay that we don’t end up where we think we will in travel because the journey itself ends up becoming the destination. Even though I didn’t find “my ghost,” these trips led to some really neat things. I got to see one of the most historical landmarks on the east coast. My friend Kristen and I lived through a moment at Rosewood that we’ll look back on one day and laugh at. I also got to see Burkittsville, a place that made history not because of a few murders, but because of its contributions to the north during the Civil War.

I didn’t find a ghost. So what? I may never see one. Looking back, I learned to appreciate the little things, like trips to Fort McHenry, Rosewood, and Burkittsville. I may never visit these places ever again, but I got to at least once. I can say that I’ve been there. In my opinion, that’s pretty cool.

References:

Ocker, J. W. (2007, September 20). Burkittsville, md. Retrieved from http://www.oddthingsiveseen.com/2007/09/burkittsville-md.html

William williams. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.nps.gov/fomc/historyculture/william-williams.htm

Merkey, L. (2009, November 10). The ghost of levi clagett at fort mchenry. Retrieved from http://www.examiner.com/article/the-ghost-of-levi-clagett-at-fort-mchenry

Rosewood state hospital. (2013, September 18). Retrieved from http://www.asylumprojects.org/index.php?title=Rosewood_State_Hospital

Webster, R. (2010, October 19). Harford co. task force takes down fallston meth lab. Retrieved from http://www.examiner.com/article/harford-co-task-force-takes-down-fallston-meth-lab

The blair witch. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://blair_witch_facts.tripod.com/

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