Pauline is a part-time, amateur, and somewhat lazy ghost hunter who sometimes also publishes a webcomic about adorable ghosts called Grim Fuzzy.
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There is something about historic Ellicott City, Maryland that makes its residents want to stick around after they die.
Walking past the granite buildings lining Main Street, it’s easy to imagine the city’s history because it feels like you’ve stepped into the past. Purchased by the Ellicott Brothers in 1772, the area was at one point rife with wheat- and tobacco-growing land and various successful mills. In 1830, a train station was built here as the original terminus of the B&O railroad — a route that would be guarded by President Lincoln’s troops during the Civil War. By the time prohibition rolled around in the 1920s, Ellicott City boasted several bars, bootleggers, and flophouses and developed quite a rowdy reputation. The small town has seen several massive, devastating floods and fires which have not only destroyed homes and businesses, but lives as well.
Needless to say, some serious shit has gone down in this town.
Maryland itself has an undeniably intriguing past, being situated somewhere between the Yankees and the Confederates of the eastern United States. And its historical significance piles up the more you look into it. Maryland is home to both the first site of bloodshed in the Civil War and Francis Scott Key, writer of the Star Spangled Banner. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. See: the internet for more info.
From ocean to farm to mountain, Maryland is like a state with an identity crisis. I spent my childhood traversing its dense, historically-charged and somewhat unwelcoming woods and rivers, relishing the inherent creepiness of the trees. Have you seen The Blair Witch Project? Yeah, I’m talking about those trees. Those trees have witnessed all the sordid things that have happened on this land since the beginning of time. You know it because you can feel it.
I’ve lived in several other US states and there is no place that feels as creepy as Maryland. Main Street Ellicott City takes this spookiness to the next level and when night falls on the weekend, the ghost tours come out.
Historic Ellicott City is often called “the most haunted town on the East Coast.” I didn’t know that until I moved back here earlier this year. The buildings that remain, old and beautiful in Georgian architecture, have housed tortured and not-so-tortured souls that just don’t seem to want to leave.
The Ellicott City Ghost Tour is hosted by several different people but luckily our tour guide was Paula. In her black hat, dress, and cape and wielding an old-timey lantern, Paula walked us through the streets of town in the dark, describing for us stories of ghost sightings and postulating whose bodies the ghosts once belonged to.
She’s an incredible story-teller — theatrical with pointed,deliberate language accompanied by a distinct lack of melodrama — and her stories range from unexplained voices, apparitions, and objects being broken or disturbed by unseen hands, to kid-sized handprints on windows that seem impossible to reach. Many buildings are reportedly haunted by not one but several presences, often a mixture of male and female entities. While a few sounded potentially dangerous, many seemed to be fairly minor nuisances that could be compromised with to establish a peaceful co-habitation. That’s not to say many businesses and tenants haven’t moved out due to fear… because they have. It takes a strong stomach to live in Ellicott City.
Paula is a self-described history lover and has spent her life in the area. She seems to know everyone in town and her tales are sourced from the witnesses/victims themselves, creating an air of authenticity and timeliness.
The most surprising piece of the tour was discovering what some of Main Street’s buildings used to house. A certain popular establishment near the bottom of the hill used to be an extensive and successful undertaking business. This business’s name is still inscribed in stone on the front of the building, and the horse-drawn hearse-carriage they used remains in a nearby antique store. HOLY CRAP.
Another building served as a leeching establishment. Yes, as in leeches. As in, “Oh you’re sick. Let us just drain all of your blood out using leeches; that’ll surely cure you.” It’s no wonder this place feels so weird!
Still another building was once a hotel serving weary travelers that came into town by train. Now apartments, there have been plenty of reports of doorknobs being rattled in the night, for no apparent reason. The stories don’t end there, of course. I encourage you to take this tour yourself.
I can see why people who die in this town want to stay. It’s so quaint, being surrounded by trees, hills, and rivers, and it has more than enough historical memorabilia and people to keep any apparition from any era occupied for centuries. I left the tour wanting more and happily discovered there is a “Part Two” wherein you tour the town again, hearing a whole other set of ghostly tales of past and present inhabitants.
As for the rest of Maryland, well, I’ll be back to tell you about the other ghost tours and haunted sites around the state. So hold on to your corsets and grab your smelling salts because dammit, I will see a ghost one of these days.
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Many thanks to Chris Judge for the photography.