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The ghostly history of Annapolis

Leonard and Pat Greco and their three children thought they were going to tour haunted houses and see ghosts roaming through Annapolis on a recent Saturday evening. They were disappointed.

The New Jersey family trekked 10 blocks around the city's historic district on an hourlong Annapolis Ghost Tour, which they said was more of a history lesson than a frightening experience.

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"It was informative, but I felt like she was reading a script," Mrs. Greco said.

Her younger daughter, Christy, 18, said she "wanted to see more ghosts."

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"I did see two people walking through the alley," she said. "That scared me more than the tour."

Betty Aronson, who runs the tour, said it is is not meant to scare people, but to give an interesting, historical view of the city. "Most of Annapolis' ghosts are friendly romantic characters," she said. "The stories I tell give them enough of a history of the place."

The Grecos recently had been on a witch tour in Salem, Mass., and were comparing that to hers, she said.

Mrs. Aronson, who started the tours last year, said she averaged 15 people on each one.

Dressed in a black hooded cape, black shoes and carrying a lantern, Mrs. Aronson starts the tour at St. Anne's Episcopal Church on Church Circle, where Maryland's last Colonial governor, Robert Eden, and Annapolis' first mayor, Amos Garrett, are buried.

She tells the tale of Jeffrey Jig, who in the early 1800s was known to go through stages of being comatose and almost was buried alive twice. The third time, John Morgue was lowering Mr. Jig's coffin into the ground in the church's other cemetery a few blocks away at Northwest and Cathedral streets when bystanders heard a knocking from inside the coffin and begged Mr. Morgue to stop.

"He has to die sometime, and if he's not dead now he ought to be," Mr. Morgue reportedly said. To this day, Mrs. Aronson tells tourists, people sometimes can hear knocking from inside Mr. Jig's coffin.

Mrs. Aronson's commercial tour is the first of its kind in Annapolis, according to officials at the Maryland Department of Tourism and Economic Development.

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During the Halloween season, park officials at Point Lookout in St. Mary's County give tours of a lighthouse said to be haunted and a carriage company in Frederick offers haunted tours. And Frederick's tourism council sponsors walking tours in which ghost stories sometimes are mentioned.

Mindy Schneeberger, a marketing director for the state tourism department, is researching haunted sites in the state. She said people are interested in ghost tours and visiting haunted houses because they are "just naturally kind of nosy."

'You'd think people would be intimidated or scared by ghosts," Ms. Schneeberger said. "But it's actually very intriguing for them as long as it's a safe ghost."

Mrs. Aronson's tour stops at 15 sites in Annapolis' historic district, including Reynolds Tavern on Church Circle and the Brice House on East Street, supposedly one of the most haunted houses in Annapolis.

One legend says that when a mother who once lived in the Brice house could not find a servant to give her crying baby a bottle of milk, a ghostly nurse's maid came to the rescue.

The tour ends at the State House, where the ghost of Reverdy Johnson, a former legislator and member of President Zachary Taylor's Cabinet, is said to have haunted legislators in a dining room at the turn of the century.

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Mr. Johnson was thought to have gone to a parlor to rest after a dinner one evening in 1876. But a servant found him later, dead in the State House carriageway. Mr. Johnson, who had vertigo, apparently fell and hit his head on a granite base on the wall around the carriageway.

Known as a humorous ghost, Mr. Johnson's spirit walks around the dining room blowing out candles, according to legend. State House officials deny that it happens today.

Mrs. Aronson, a secretary and mother of three, began her tour after going on similar tours in Alexandria, Va., and Gettysburg, Pa. She spent a year researching old newspapers and history books and listening to Annapolis's elderly residents tell legends.

"My son and I have always been interested in ghost stories," she said. "We collect ghost books from local stores when we travel."

Mrs. Aronson, who moved to Annapolis from Virginia two years ago, said many of the locals were unreceptive when she first asked about ghosts in their town. But many of those who didn't want to talk to her took the tour during its first season, Mrs. Aronson said.

She tells of a headless ghost that roams Duke of Gloucester and Green streets and Market Place, apparently the victim of a fire in 1883 that destroyed 12 houses in that area.

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At the height of the fire, Charles Legg is said to have run into one of the houses at the corner of Main and Green streets to save his aunt, but he was killed when a floor collapsed. Rescue workers found the headless bodies of Mr. Legg and his aunt after the blaze was extinguished.

The Annapolis Ghost Tours, which began its season April 1, gives four tours every weekend -- two Friday and two Saturday until November. Tickets cost $5.


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