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Kevin Dayhoff: Costumes, ghost stories and the annual parade — it’s Halloween in Westminster

As Halloween approaches, thoughts of costumes, trick-or-treating, and the annual Westminster Halloween parade come to mind.

For more than 60 years, Westminster’s Carroll Post #31 of the American Legion has sponsored the Halloween parade. This year’s parade will take place Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. The parade assembles on Monroe Street, travels east on Pennsylvania Avenue to Main Street, and concludes at East Middle School on Longwell Avenue.

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The Halloween parade makes its way down Main Street in 2014.
The Halloween parade makes its way down Main Street in 2014. (Kevin Dayhoff)

At the Oct.11 City Council meeting, Mayor Mona Becker said that Halloween trick-or-treating is scheduled to take place in Westminster on Oct. 31 from dusk to 8 p.m. Motorists are asked to take particular care with so many children walking around city streets.

Another Halloween tradition is the telling of ghost stories. Carroll County is awash in ghost stories. Among some of the old favorites are the ghost of Furnace Hills; the Civil War soldier who roams around in the former Cockey’s Tavern; the ghost of old Rebecca at the historic jail; and the headless apparition of Marshall Buell at the old Odd Fellows Hall in Westminster.

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Following tradition, the Westminster Municipal Band leads the Halloween parade in 2019.
Following tradition, the Westminster Municipal Band leads the Halloween parade in 2019. (Kevin Dayhoff)

The Civil War soldier is said to hang out around the center staircase of the old Cockey’s Tavern and wander about rearranging pictures. Folks have reported hearing his footsteps as he toils away.

Rebecca McCormack was convicted in 1859 of stabbing a 13-year-old boy with a pitchfork. In June of that year she became the first person hanged in Carroll County and the only woman executed. She was hanged just outside the old jail in Westminster and her restless soul is reported to roam the area and upon occasion attend public meetings, where she harangues folks incessantly.

According to Chris Weeks’ “The Building of Westminster,” during the Civil War there was a show at the Odd Fellows Hall featuring derogatory impressions of Lincoln, Grant and other national leaders by Marshall Buell. The next morning, the decapitated body of the entertainer was found in a rear stable. Back then, county residents took entertainment and politics seriously. Understandably, Buell’s soul did not see the humor in his killing and he has reportedly roamed the area ever since.

No story could stoke more fear than one involving being buried alive. In November 1993, local historians Jay Graybeal and Joe Getty published research for the Historical Society of Carroll County in which they reported on an account by Ruth Gist Pickens, who described how one of Carroll County’s most prominent citizens in the 1700s, Col. Joshua Gist, dealt with his fear of being buried alive.

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It seems that Col. Gist maintained a coffin in a portion of his bedroom for the last two years of his life “into which he would have his personal servant lay him out and then call the family to comment on his appearance. Each time he would ask them to promise not to bury him until the third day after his death.”

Pickens recounted that Col. Gist “feared being buried alive because his brother, General Mordecai Gist, was thought to be dead in the 1780s” and would have been buried alive were it not for the fact that the family waited three days for his dearest friend, Gen. Nathanael Greene to arrive.

After Gen. Greene arrived, he spent what he thought would be some final moments with his old friend, during which he noticed that Col. Gist moved one eyelid. Col. Gist was revived and lived years longer, married a third time, and had another son.

For the next three weekends, beginning Oct. 16, the Historical Society of Carroll County will present “A ‘Death’ in the Sherman Family.”
For the next three weekends, beginning Oct. 16, the Historical Society of Carroll County will present “A ‘Death’ in the Sherman Family.” (Kevin Dayhoff)

Just in time for the Halloween season, the historical society will feature an exhibit focused on wakes, funerals, and mourning rituals in Carroll County. For the next three weekends, beginning Oct. 16, the society will present, “A ‘Death’ in the Sherman Family.” According to the society’s website, the exhibit will feature “a wake for the Sherman family in the early 1800s at the Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House on the HSCC Campus. [The HSCC] will be recreating a wake and visitors will be able to hear Elizabeth’s story of being a widow in Westminster from the 1820s until her death in 1842. In addition there will be a small temporary exhibit concerning funeral practices in the Kimmey House. Items on display will be from the Shermans, on up to more recent, death jewelry.

“Wakes, funerals, and mourning rituals were very different from the traditional funerals that we think of today. This is before Victorian times with tons of black crepe and fancy dress. [The HSCC] will tell the story of simple, rural, 1820s to 1840s funeral practices accurately as an educational teaching opportunity. …”

The historical society is at 210 E. Main St., Westminster. For more information about this Halloween event, go to the society’s website at https://hsccmd.org/event/a-death-in-the-sherman-family/

Halloween and the tradition of storytelling in Carroll County, especially cops, courts, crimes, murder and mayhem, are some of my favorite topics. Versions of these yarns have been published in the past.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com

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