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Montpelier Mansion's Dearly Departed highlights local spooky encounters

The spirit of fun may not be the only presence wandering the halls of the historic 18th-century Montpelier Mansion in South Laurel this Halloween.

On Oct. 24, the house museum, built by the Snowden family and today operated by Prince George's County Parks and Recreation for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, hosted its second annual Tales of the Dearly Departed tour with tarot card readings and ghost stories, winding up to a spooky candle-lit stroll through the mansion.

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Tour guide Don Graham and museum educators Edna Graham, his wife, and Mary Jurkiewicz donned period-style clothing for the event. Edna Graham said she and Jurkiewicz had planned the tour to be "more in theater style" than last year's.

Montpelier Mansion hosted its first Tales of the Dearly Departed tour in 2013, inviting author Mike Ricksecker to read from "Ghosts of Maryland."

This year, the museum educators invited Trish Hoffman, of Westminster, to read from her book "Ghosts and Haunted Houses of Maryland," 25 supernatural tales presented from a historical perspective. Two of her stories document haunted places in Laurel. About 30 visitors gathered to hear Hoffman read excerpts titled "Laurel's Most Haunted House" and "The Friendly Ghost."

"Laurel's Most Haunted House" is said to be Oaklands, a privately owned mansion, also built by the Snowden family, located not far from Montpelier Mansion.

Five ghosts were believed to reside at Oaklands in 1987 when Hoffman interviewed its owners Pam Pecor Unger and John Pecor, siblings who lived there with their family.

Both had frightening and curious stories to tell.

Pecor reported being beckoned to a specific spot across the lawn in the early 1980s by a woman in a long white dress; she then pointed toward the ground and disappeared. He said he found a gold jewelry chain on the exact spot, and the material and workmanship were later determined to be hundreds of years old.

Linda and John Armstrong purchased their century-old farmhouse on Whiskey Bottom Road in Howard County in 1979; their house is featured in "The Friendly Ghost."

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Frightening bumps in the night once caused Linda Armstrong to call the police, who found no intruders to explain the phenomena. The "ghost" has since been said to approve of the fastidious restorations that the Armstrongs have made to the house, and Linda Armstrong currently operates her beauty shop, Tresses and Shears, there without incident.

Most unsettling in Hoffman's talk was her story about the "The Nanny Ghost" from Smithfield. One night as Theresa Bachtell returned to her pre-Civil War home, Hoffman writes, she said she saw her young sister-in-law holding her infant son through a second-story window and patting his back.

She rushed through the house to see what was wrong and passed her sister-in-law sleeping on the first floor. Bachtell found the baby awake in his crib, his blankets neatly tucked in and a slight smile on his face. Bachtell also reported that the rocking chair in the baby's room often rocked on its own.

Ghostly guide

In pale makeup, Don Graham made a ghostly guide on the candle-lit tour that made its way through the dark and drafty mansion Friday night. Chill spots and an eerie aura in one of the bedrooms convinced some of the visitors that Montpelier Mansion is haunted.

One woman whispered that something pushed her on the stairway.

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Graham, who lived at the mansion from 1985-1992, said he has never encountered a spirit there, but that others have told him they have. He said that, of course, people have died on the premises: Montpelier Mansion precedes the building of hospitals and medical facilities in Laurel.

Office manager Ann Wagner said she has never encountered a ghost or felt uneasy at the mansion. But she remembers Parks and Recreation employee Cleaven Woods, who worked at the mansion for 30 years, told her that he had seen a ghost in the early 1980s.

Woods said he'd seen a woman dressed in 18th-century clothing on at least two occasions, once in a downstairs bedroom and again in a passageway.

"He told everyone who would listen," Wagner said.

Earlier in the evening, Main Street's Crystal Fox shop, along with Tracy Clare, Michelle Arsenault and Julie Susalla offered crystals and handmade jewelry for sale, and life coach and author Paula Keehfus, of Sacred Vessel Healing Arts in Severn, performed tarot card readings.

Last summer, spirit hunters from Pasadena Paranormal Investigators investigated the Laurel Museum on Main Street and determined there is paranormal activity at the 1840s millhouse. Marlene Frazier, a Laurel Historical Society volunteer who was present for the investigation in July, said she knows of no more recent developments.

"We live in a historic building that makes many sounds at all times of the day," museum Director Lindsey Baker said. "Sometimes when I am alone in here at night I am a little more jumpy when I hear things, but I just turn the music up and get my work done."

Jared Tracey, a PPI investigator, said he's heard that Savage Mill is highly active, as well as Laurel's Oaklands mansion. He believes there's a lot of subtle paranormal activity in the older houses on Main Street, like the Laurel Museum.

"We'd like to do a revisit of the Laurel Museum to try to touch base with whoever may be there using names we uncovered on our last visit," Tracey said.

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