By Rachel Guzman
Ellicott City holds interesting folklores, captivating history, and importance in Maryland’s tourism industry, and although I’ve worked in this city for three-and-a-half years, I’ve never immersed myself in any of it. My eyes were fixed upon Old Mill Bakery, just outside the city’s limits and adjacent to the old flour mill, and I stood there reminiscing on a clear and crisp, yet blustery, October Sunday morning.
It’s the things you love the most that are typically taken for granted. I thought I loved Ellicott City: the folks, the holiday spirit, and the Trolley Stop, a local eatery that has everything: salads, burgers, wraps, and more. Yet there was little I actually knew about the place I loved.
Remember the time you found a piece of clothing in your closet that you never knew or forgot you had? It’s like that, only the pieces were in front of me for three-and-a-half years, and I chose to ignore them. I visited Ellicott City as a “traveler” for the first time this fall.
Now that I haven’t worked in Ellicott City in over a year and have moved to a corporate coffee house in Hunt Valley, Maryland, I have become more fascinated by the small town. A year-and-a-half ago, I saw the town as the place I worked, with a mill across the way, and Main Street filled with fine antique shops, funky boutiques, small pubs, and a puppy store. Sometimes I heard the train from behind the ringing up of mochas, lattes, and cappuccinos.
Now, I see Ellicott City, the town the Ellicott Brothers settled on near the Patapsco River in the 1700s when they left Pennsylvania and milling tobacco to mill flour.
One word describes Ellicott City in a nutshell: spirits. The city lurks with ghostly spirits; the town’s ironic liveliness exemplifies the spirits of the residents and visitors; and the bars and wines and spirits create an exciting night-life for adults.
My boyfriend, Max, is one who has yet to be introduced to life outside of Carroll County. His comfort zone includes small-town living; his family grows every vegetable imaginable, he mends our ducks, they have tractors and wheelbarrows and streams for fishing and guns and wells, and the list goes on. Ellicott City, I hoped, would surprise him.
We left Stevenson University for a Sunday morning in Historic Ellicott City. I took Max on a drive through my hometown first. We took the Frederick Road route in Catonsville where the town is most busy, and my childhood is most remembered.
“That’s Catonsville Optical, where I got my first pair of glasses,” I said. “There’s Sugar Bakers, where I get my birthday cakes.”
“Ship’s Café-I’ll take you there one day-it’s amazing!” I listed. “And there’s Jennings-my mom loves it there.”
Max pointed out Bill’s Music, a music store. He recognized the name because of the sticker on his rear window on his Le Sabre- the same as the logo on the building. My family gave Max the 2000 Buick since it sat in our driveway for five years. The car was old, but not as old as the 22-year-old Honda he was driving.
“There’s the post-office,” and I realized how excited I got over that post office. I poked fun at myself as we continued through Catonsville, reaching the end of the business area. “There’s where I got my wisdom teeth pulled, and there’s the library…where I read,” I joked.
Max interrupted, “Oh and what’s that? Please tell me what that is,” he said in sarcastic, wondrous excitement, pointing to a shed behind a one-story house near Beechwood Ave.
“That’s a shed, where all the Catonsville pot-heads get high,” I said in a smart-alec comeback.
I held my breath as we passed Sugar Mama’s on the right, which used to be named The Candy Box. My heart grew sad as one of my favorite childhood memories was with that store. The truth is I have been in the shop only a handful of times in my life. But it was the landmark that held importance, passing by before going to the mall, on my way to work, or before a long drive. The Candy Box and its candy-cane colored pole reminded me of being a kid again. The ride was quiet for a while as Catonsville of Baltimore County continued into Ellicott City of Howard County.
Before we hit the Main Street Bridge, which seemingly welcomes you to the ghost town, I nodded my head to the right towards Old Mill Bakery: “Look!” and then nodded my head to the left to the Old Flour Mill that the Ellicott Brother’s began.
I practiced my ability to give a speech on what I know, and improvised the small details I did not know at the time: “That’s the old Flour Mill, now a factory, since the Ellicott brother’s settled here from PA along the Patapsco River to mill flour. Their home and office was just across the street! It got destroyed during Hurricane Agnes 40 years ago.”
We entered Historic Old Ellicott City. I traveled Main Street up and down until I could find a decent parking space. You know you’re not a local when you avoid the many spots that would involve parallel parking. You really know you’re not a local when you finally find a spot you can pull right into, pay for parking, and a woman hurries by and states, “You don’t have to pay on Sundays.”
Max and I met up with my brother, Michael, and his girlfriend Sarah. I explained why I was in Ellicott City, to uncover the dirty history, I joked, and Sarah suggested we drive up to Hayden House. Michael lives yards away from there.
There are rumors about a ghost, perhaps once known as a chef, in the old Hayden House. The Hayden House is formally known as Oak Lawn, and is currently surrounded by buildings such as the Howard County Court House. A cooking spirit resided in the house and lurked, but never harmed, anyone. This story comes from secretaries that occupied the house when it was used by the district courts. The aromas of bacon, soup, and even coffee lingered throughout the building, yet there were no cooking appliances around.
We weaved up the winding hill and half-circled Hayden House. Two teenaged boys tripped on their baggy jeans and white t-shirts as they spotted my black Elantra and ran for their lives—perhaps their vision was hindered by their shaggy hair. They must have mistaken us for cops.
I asked Sarah if she knew anything about the cooking ghost, and she did not, although she said it sounded vaguely familiar. Since the Internet said it, I insisted it must be true.
I would have liked to formally introduce myself to the cooking ghost, and perhaps conduct a “coffee talk,” with it, like I did with my coworkers at Caribou Coffee every morning at work. Coffee talks include sniffing a cup of coffee and discussing what you smell, slurping the coffee and discussing what you taste, and then reading the small passage on its roast level, its origin, its descriptors, and its well-complimenting food items. Or, perhaps we could have a competition: who makes the best pot of coffee.
Fortunately for me, I did not have to meet the ghost to enjoy a nice cup of coffee, as I quickly discovered “The Bean Hallow,” which supposedly was my old job’s rival. It was Michael’s 25th birthday, so I treated everyone to pumpkin-cheesecake lattes, which were to die for! As the city was once named “The Hallow,” I found the shop’s title interesting. In fact, Ellicott City, originally known as “The Hollow” before dubbed “Ellicott Mills,” was founded in the 1700s by Joseph, Andrew, and John Ellicott. The town was named Ellicott Mills in 1772, which lasted nearly a hundred years before it was named Ellicott City in 1867.
Max and I found ourselves at “The Bean Hallow” multiple times during October after our first visit. Since we arrived 30 minutes early to “Ye Haunted Olde Ellicott City Ghost Tour,” we debated whether to grab ourselves another pumpkin-cheesecake latte. I regret following my mother’s advice to be 15-minutes early to anything. More so, I regret picking the coldest night of the fall to listen to her. Frozen ears, purple fingertips, and chattering teeth called for another stop at “The Bean Hollow.”
Unsurprisingly, I noticed a seasonal specialty-drink called “The Foglifter,” which guaranteed to fight off danger in the foggy streets. To play along with the superstition of the city, I ordered a “Foglifter,” made of toffee, caramel, white chocolate, espresso, and steamed milk. I found the drink necessary as I toured the haunted streets under the full moon and its surrounding chilly air. Was it the night temperature or the chill of ghosts lurking?
We ambled towards the Visitor’s Center where the tour would begin. Fifteen minutes until show time, the tourists began to gather. Max and I took a seat on one of the two parallel benches adjacent to the building. Grasping our cold hands onto our hot coffee, we had a grown-up conversation for the first time in a long time.
“I think I could live here,” Max began. I thought this was strange as he has been to Ellicott City twice and for a total of three hours. “The town is so quirky. Do you think we could live here?” We, I wondered?
We sat there in silence for a minute. I could see Max in thought. I wondered what he was thinking. I wondered if he wondered what I was thinking.
“But where would we keep your husky? We need a big yard,” he said. We always daydream about my puppy that he promises to get me some day: a Siberian husky named Snow. Snow is the only name Max and I agreed on, but I like Lilly.
Our ghost tour began, and I took my boyfriend’s hand. Not because I am afraid of ghosts, but I needed as much warmth as possible. Our tour guide was old and chipper, dressed in layers from top to bottom and a hat, like the bird lady in “Home Alone.” The voice was that of a storyteller’s, in which her lines started soft and slow and rose to a threatening thunder as she began the walking tour through the town. It was the teenaged interruptions of the public who honked and screamed during the stories that broke the fourth wall, as our tour guide fought them off with a loud burst of nonsense that sounded like a Raven’s caw. The hilarity of the sound of the gibberish helped me warm up as I could not help but laugh.
We started at the top of the hill of Main Street and made our way down all the way to the Baltimore-Ohio Railroad Museum, America’s longest standing railroad station, which is adjacent to the Main Street/Patapsco Bridge. Markings on the bridge represent the town’s largest floods, in which destroyed the town on two occasions. Hurricane Agnes ripped through the city, causing over 14 feet of flooding and billions of dollars in damage. A bigger storm in 1868 flooded the lower part of Main Street and rose to 21.5 feet. I looked behind me and saw the black-and-white city fighting the intense waters. I snapped back into reality when our tour guide mentioned Charlie, the B & O Railroad ghost.
I met an old friend, Lauren, at the Ellicott Mills Brewery for lunch as we caught up on each other’s lives. Surprisingly, as a college student I am not a beer fan—I actually hate it. But, a true traveler puts her food and beverage preferences aside and tries things she normally would not. We sat down at the four-seater near the bar and behind us was Jay, the head brewer. Our waiter, Brian, greeted Lauren since she is a regular. I ordered water, for I first needed expert advice on the beer. Since Lauren is a regular, I trusted her recommendations. I ordered what most locals crave: a Munkel (a mixture of Marzen, a smooth, sweet Oktoberfest, and Dunkel, smooth, malt, and caramel).
“Sixteen or 24 ounce?” Brian asked. The hard-ass in me wanted to say 24, but I decided on the 16. He brought the in-store crafted beverage, and I took the first sip. My taste buds begged me to stop. Eventually, my lunch finally arrived to wash it down: a mouth-watering pulled-BBQ-chicken sandwich with a slab of coleslaw.
As two coffee lovers, Lauren suggested we go to a small coffee shop on Tongue Row named “Little French Market.” I agreed. Our friendship began in a coffee shop, and will continue there. Lauren picked up the bill at the brewery, so I tipped and insisted I pay for the coffee. It was a deal. We rose from our seats. “Oh!” She picked up the un-empty glass of beer that I tried to avoid, and she chugged the remainder.
Tongue Row is a mini Ellicott City inside Ellicott City. It’s a narrow street with pubs, hookah bars, and Sunday markets. “A madam lived here long ago…she entertained the mill workers, if you know what I mean,” Lauren insisted as we walked towards “Little French Market.” It actually was little since the café could fit Lauren, me, and perhaps three more adults. We ordered coffee and sat outside on the small black tables under the umbrella. Lauren’s double espresso was gone before I could finish stirring cream and two sugars into my pumpkin flavored coffee.
There I sat, taking in the city, which has been ranked one of the best places to live in the USA according to CNN Money. A friend once suggested, “If Maryland is ‘America in Miniature,’ then Ellicott City is Maryland in miniature.” The growth of the city is tremendous. Could I be part of the history of the town’s growth?
I could live here; although, I would have to perform ghost exercises to scare them away. Lauren told me the people who see ghosts are the ones who believe, and she had not.
As I left to coach field hockey practice, I took a good look up and down Main Street. In previous years, I heard the loud roar and felt the old town shake, but never caught a glimpse of the train passing by. I admired the city for another quick second since I was running late and turned to walk towards my car. I dropped my coffee then was disrupted by the loud roar behind me. I took a few extra quick-seconds; for the first time, I got to see that train from pilot to rear. And, for the first time, I experienced Ellicott City, my practical back yard, as a true traveler. After all, travel opportunities are everywhere, even in your back yard!