The Rev. John Nichols may have died in 1896, but his headstone still gets around.

The slab of marble made it all the way to Bel Air and back to Odenton, helping a church historical group dig up an elderly relative of the pastor along the way.

The story starts with a theft about a year ago from the Nichols-Bethel cemetery on Route 175 in Odenton. Nichols founded the Bethel Methodist Episcopal Church South in 1890, on Rock Avenue in what is now Fort Meade.

Gordon Phelps, a longtime Odenton resident, said he got a call about a year ago from a farmer he knew in Bel Air who had found the tombstone in his field while walking with his dogs.

"I don't know how it got there," Phelps said.

He said he searched through phone books and called the first Nichols he found.

"I called this man, he lived in Bladensburg, and he said the stone belonged to his ancestor. He came, fixed it up and put it back in the cemetery."

Phelps said he did not remember exactly how he was related to the ancestor.

But the story doesn't stop there. Francis Bingen, chairman of a historical committee for Nichols-Bethel United Methodist Church, was trying to do research on the church and the original cemetery, located on Fort Meade. The church's 100th anniversary is coming up.

Through the tombstone incident, Bingen said she was able to contact several more relatives of Nichols.

Was it just luck that the wayward tombstone helped Bingen and her committee find relatives of their church's founder? Or did something else, something out of the supernatural, play a role?

If we're talking about Odenton, and old Fort Meade graves in particular, it probably was just luck. There just doesn't seem to be any ghosts, even on Halloween, here.

"As for a ghost story, I've got zero for you," said Bob Johnson, curator of the Fort Meade museum.

"I've been here four years and I haven't heard of any," he said. "I'm sure there may be some old-timers who have heard something."


People who work at the Odenton library drew a blank. The president of the Odenton Improvement Association couldn't help. Even George Murray, who lives in Odenton's oldest home, didn't have a scary tale to tell.

The 19 cemeteries at Fort Meade, filled with the dead for more than 100 years, lie still. Johnson said old family grave sites are found all the time. There are rumors of an Indian burial site and at the Post Cemetery, the Fort's military burial ground, where soldiers from both sides of the world wars lie side by side.

But no one stirs.

And so the case of the missing tombstone remains a mystery, and Fort Meade's and Odenton's only semiweird story for this Halloween.

"I've talked to people in the past who say they have seen ghosts at Fort Meade," Phelps said. "People have told me that, but I don't believe half of those things."

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