It’s the Halloween season in Carroll County and for a celebration of the marriage of legends, history, imagination, and storytelling, there is no better holiday.
The annual appearance of ghoulish witches, ghosts, black cats, pumpkins, scarecrows, corn shocks, and candy corn steps off with the annual Halloween parade in Westminster. According to information recently provided by American Legion Post 31 in Westminster, this year the parade will take place on Tuesday, Oct. 29, at 7 p.m. "The parade assembles at the Masonic Temple on Monroe Street, continues left to Pennsylvania Avenue, left to Main Street, and concludes at East Middle School on Longwell Avenue…”
The local post of the American Legion, which just celebrated its 100th anniversary, was chartered on August 16, 1919 according to a recent article in the Carroll County Times that “the members originally met at the Armory building on Longwell Avenue in Westminster up until about 1940. They then met at Gehr’s Hardware Store on Liberty Street before buying … at 2 Sycamore St. The post was dedicated in 1948 after a building was constructed on the Sycamore Street site where once sat a barn …”
As with many of our customs, observances and holidays, Halloween evolved over many centuries as a combination of several non-Christian ancient harvest celebrations and rituals combined with religious celebrations. The roots of Halloween go back as far as the 5th century BC in Celtic Ireland, when October 31 was celebrated as “Samhain,” the Celtic New Year.
For the economic historian, it is widely accepted that Halloween came to America along with the significant Irish wave of immigrants as a result of the economic hardships brought on by the Irish potato famine from 1845 to 1851.
Carroll County is awash in ghost stories for your ghoulish entertainment. Among some of the old favorites in Carroll County are the Ghost of Furnace Hills; the Civil War soldier that roams around in Cockey’s; the ghost of the old Rebecca at the old jail, and the headless apparition of Marshall Buell at the old Odd Fellows Hall in Westminster.
Southwest of Westminster is the location of a large Revolutionary War era property known as Avondale which once incorporated an area of Westminster known today as Furnace Hills.
It was owned by a prominent citizen named Legh Master. It is said that when he was buried after his death at age 80, his remains refused to stay put. In the 1930s when the house at Avondale was being renovated, it is said that human remains were found behind the bricks in an oven.
According to folklore, the skeleton belonged to a slave Master had killed by tossing him alive into one of the iron furnaces. Although the story is not accepted as fact by many historians, as the story goes, the soul of Master is forever restless from the guilt of such a horrific crime and for 200 years ever since, he is said to appear walking alone in the woods or riding a black horse in the area.
The Civil War soldier who hangs out around the center staircase of the old Cockey’s Tavern is said to wander about rearranging pictures. It has been reported that folks have heard 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 1859 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 and harangue folks incessantly. Suggestions that she has recently resurfaced as a troll on local Facebook pages have yet to be substantiated, but are probably true.
Joseph Davis was also hanged at the old jail in 1874, and a 16-year-old man named Solomon Sudler was hanged in 1916 and folklore repeats stories of their restless souls haunting the area ever since.
According to Chris Week’s “The Building of Westminster,” during the Civil War there was a show there 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. Even 150 years ago, Carroll Countians took entertainment and politics seriously. Understandably, Buell’s soul did not see the humor in the crime and has roamed the area ever since.
Those who wish to participate in this year’s Halloween parade can obtain an application from American Legion Post 31 member, Robert M. Gagnon (firstname.lastname@example.org, 443-995-7027.) The American Legion Post 31 website at carrollpost31.org provides important Halloween safety advice, as well as the rules to follow for entrants.