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Having a disastrous time, wish you were here

ArsonWeather ReportsDeathBaltimore Weather

Everyone loves a good scare. Witness the success of the horror movie genre, wild amusement park rides, and the increasing popularity of adventure sports. While these thrills provide a good adrenaline rush, not all scares have a happy ending.

In just the past few months, we've witnessed massacres in the Balkans, murderous hate crimes in Wyoming, and devastating hurricanes in the Atlantic. Over the years, Baltimore, too, has seen its share of tragedy and disaster. Below are 10 incidents of real-life horror that left parts of Mobtown and Maryland covered with twisted wreckage and lost souls.

Burning down the house

The Great Fire, Feb. 7-8, 1904
Although Mrs. O'Leary's cow (she kicked over a bucket that knocked over a lamp that set the barn on fire and started the Great Chicago Fire) was nowhere in sight, there was a fire horse named Goliath who became a local hero after being singed in an explosion at the first flaming building. Starting in the John E. Hurst & Co. building between Hopkins Place and Liberty, the fire quickly spread to more than 1,500 downtown buildings. The first alarm went off Sunday at 10:48 a.m. By 5 p.m., most of the area between Fayette and German (now Redwood) streets was burned. In some areas the temperature reached 2,500 degrees. As if that wasn't bad enough, by 11 p.m. the wind shifted and the fire spread to the waterfront and the Jones Falls. It took 37 fire engines and 70 million gallons of water until 5 p.m. Monday to contain "The Great Fire."

Pier 9 Fire, Oct. 30, 1967
Speaking of Fright Night, fire broke out on that mischievous date at the Baltimore & Ohio's Pier 9 at Locust Point, recalling an incident in 1907 when the same pier, still under construction then, collapsed, causing a tidal wave and killing hundreds. The fire in 1967 burned everything near the pier, including the old immigration building and a British steamer tied to the dock. Total loss came to $5 million and 10 stevedores never to be seen again.

Clipper Mill Fire, Sept. 16, 1995
You've heard of five-alarm chili? Well, Clipper Mill Industrial Park raised the ante to nine alarms when an arsonist set it on fire at 9:40 p.m. The complex, which housed artist studios full of propane and aerosols and oil-soaked wood floors, went up like a stack of banned books. When firefighters decided to enter the building for an interior attack, they instantly regretted it. By 10:06 p.m., the fire was completely out of control. As a handful of firefighters approached, one metal door buckled and then exploded off its hinges. When the door went, the concrete wall around it followed,injuring several firefighters and instantly killing 25-year-old Eric Schaefer.

Come hell or high water

Black Friday/The Great Baltimore Flood of 1868, July 24, 1868
Squealing rats sought dry ground when the Baltimore Street Bridge gave way and the Jones Falls rose above its walls. The Holiday Street Theater was turned into a dock area as semi-nude revelers caught stray objects floating in their direction. But it wasn't all fun and games. Others were stuck on the top floors of their homes with water up to their necksand rising, a la "Hard Rain." One woman and her six children tried to avoid drowning by hopping from rooftop to rooftop. The seventh house they landed on toppled over and they all died. Altogether, 50 people were killed, 3,000-4,000 lost their jobs, and 2,000 homes were flooded.

The Worst Flood in Half a Century/The Cumberland Flood, March 17, 1936
Five square miles of Cumberland were submerged when the Potomac River and Wills Creek overflowed following 24 hours of incessant rain. Hundreds of office workers -- minus the naked backstrokers -- were marooned in buildings. Forty-nine homes were destroyed, one person died,and 8,000 people were left homeless.

Tropical Storm Agnes, June 21, 1972
A year before this reckless wench hit the Patapsco River, severe thunderstorms caused 13 drownings in Essex when the Big Gunpowder River rose high enough to hijack cars from Pulaski Highway. This time around,a bridge was washed out and downtown Ellicott City became a lake. Twenty-five people were killed, 15,000 Marylanders were evacuated (mostly from Howard County), and Agnes left behind a bill for $55 million in damages.

Let it snow

The Storm of the Century/Blizzard of '96, Jan. 7-12, 1996
Jack Frost nipped hard when a total of 32.6 inches of snow blanketed Maryland in three separate storms. People couldn't even figure out where they had put their cars to start digging them out. Even government shutdown, along with most of the East Coast. Some poor souls were trapped at their in-laws' homes for a week. What could be scarier? Six Marylanders perished in the storm and 100 died on the East Coast. Nationwide, the storm caused $2 billion in damage.

Bang, bam, boom

Train collision, Feb. 16, 1996
A MARC commuter train collided head-on with an Amtrak train in Silver Spring, Md., as dozens of teen-aged Job Corps trainees traveled home for a holiday weekend. Apparently the MARC train conductor ran a red light, resulting in the death of nine passengers and the three MARC crewmembers. Passengers were trapped in burning cars tilted at a 45-degree angle while 200 rescue workers fought freshly fallen snow, billowing smoke and twisted wreckage.

The Sonja Henie Ice Review, March 7, 1952
Ice-skating fans gathered at the Fifth Regiment Armory hit the ground hard, but it wasn't because their skates were loose. When sections K through P of the grandstands collapsed five minutes before show time, 270 people were injured. Lawsuits against Henie totaled $5 million. Most suits were settled, but not before the case was dragged out in localcourtrooms for months.

The riots

Race Riots, April 6, 1968
While rioting erupted in Chicago and Washington, D.C., literally within hours of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, it took until 5:30 p.m. Saturday, two days later, for Baltimoreans to start throwing rocks and looting stores belonging to white owners. Gov. Spiro Agnew called out the National Guard and enforced a 4 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew. The sale of inflammable materials was banned, along with firearms and alcohoic beverages. The violence finally subsided three days later on April 9. In four days, there were 1,200 fire alarms, six deaths, 700 injuries, 5,500 arrests, and about $10 million in damage.


All of this disaster and sudden death inevitably leads to claims of ghosts walking the streets of Baltimore or the pubs of Ellicott City.Click here for a guide by the Shadow Lord on how to ghost hunt, if you dare, and explore some of the sites described above.

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