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In Annapolis, spirits move Halloween revelers through city's history

Annapolis is a town rich in history, and its reputed ghosts are certainly part of the state capital's lore.

There's the spirit of Reverdy Johnson, a politician and lawyer who died at the governor's mansion in 1876; and plasterer Thomas Dance, who plummeted to his death while working on the State House dome in 1793.

And there is the capital city's most famous soul: John Paul Jones, father of the U.S. Navy, entombed at the Naval Academy's chapel. The ghost of Jones, who died in Paris and whose body was later moved to Annapolis, is rumored to still whisper: "Where am I?"

They're far from the only spirits who are believed to make their presence known in Annapolis.

With Halloween approaching, ghost tours in Annapolis are a popular activity, with guides telling tales of spirits who have been haunting the capital since Colonial times.

Mike Carter, owner of Annapolis Tours & Crawls, said talking about ghosts is one way people can seek some understanding of death and what it means. Though ghost tours are a big part of his business, Carter isn't sold on the idea that ghosts are real.

"I can't say definitively, 'ghosts are real' or 'ghosts are not real.' But I think that a lot of people believe," Carter said.

But the stories behind the supposed ghosts of Annapolis are real — most of them were people who lived and died in town.

Carter said he's gone on ghost tours in other cities where supposed spirits have vague identities and poorly detailed stories about what happened to them. Not so in Annapolis.

"Every one of our stories has been documented," Carter said. "The people we're talking about did exist."

At Annapolis Tours by Watermark, all the stories on the company's popular ghost tours have been verified, often through old newspaper archives, said Heather Skipper, the company's director of land operations.

"We didn't pull these stories out of thin air," she said. "We found these all published."

Both companies are offering tours over the next week as Halloween approaches (details are available on their respective websites).

Skipper is reluctant to give away too many ghost stories relayed on the Watermark tour but did say that "they're based on a real-life person who spent time in Annapolis and is traceable."

Watermark's ghost tours have a special twist in October, as guides take guests into the Historic Annapolis Foundation's William Paca House on Prince George Street.

The house is named for its most famous occupant, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The Paca House segment of the tour takes guests to the mansion's sickroom, where Paca's wife's young niece, Henny, died — and where people have reported hearing doors slam and seeing objects move, Skipper said.

The Watermark tour also goes to the cemetery at St. Anne's Parish in the center of Church Circle. Tour guides remind guests that the boundaries of the cemetery likely have changed over the centuries, so "you never know what you might be walking over on Church Circle."

The ghosts of Annapolis often tend to come from Colonial times, perhaps because it was the city's most important historical period. Frederick and Gettysburg, by comparison, tend to have Civil War ghosts, Skipper said.

Annapolis at night makes for a creepy and dramatic backdrop for ghost tours. Carter, who also offers haunted pub crawls, prefers quiet nights with a bit of rain.

"It's spooky. It's creepy," he said. "Annapolis gets that mistiness over it in a rainstorm. It's quiet and people aren't out, and you can feel the spirit."

Skipper's guides take advantage of downtown's many unknown alleys and nooks to tell their tales, which "adds to the thrill."

"You're surrounded by shadows," she said. "And usually, there's a black cat running around."

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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