Like a lot of small, historic towns, Ellicott City has its share of tales.
But have you heard the one about the guardian angel that saved a sentimental painting from being lost in a fire? Or the friendly Southern gentleman who regaled young boys with fascinating stories -- several hours after he had died?
These stories of the supernatural are retold on the new, guided Ghost Tours that take place each month along Ellicott City's Main Street. The Howard County Tourism Council started the events May 2 after curious visitors began suggesting a tour similar to those in places such as Gettysburg, Harpers Ferry and Frederick.
"We met the demand," said Melissa Arnold, manager of the Tourism Council's visitor information center. "We started out just asking questions of the locals, asking if there were any experiences. Anybody can make up stories, but we wanted the real McCoy."
It didn't take long for the stories to begin pouring in. Arnold has been so inundated that she has compiled them into a self-published book, "The Hauntings of Ellicott Mills," which is available at the Tourism Council office. The tour has caught the interest of true believers, the merely curious and thrill seekers, she said.
"It seems to cut across all different categories of people," Arnold said. "Even those who don't believe will find that the stories are fascinating."
Arnold said the tour drew patrons on the first night even though it rained. It also has caught the attention of the Pennsylvania Ghost Hunters Society, whose members take ghost stories seriously. They said their initial investigation appeared to confirm the local lore.
"There wasn't a place we went to where we didn't find something," said David Ketchersid of Towson, who is affiliated with the group.
Some of the stories are more spiritual than spooky. Right after Bill and Carole Sachs opened their Spring House Design floral and gift shop on Main Street on Valentine's Day about eight years ago, Bill Sachs presented his wife with a guardian angel plaque to hang in the building. Also in the small shop was a painting he had done of a tin watering can, similar to the one his mother used to water her plants.
While Bill Sachs was away on business, the shop was devastated in an arson fire. But nothing from the angel plaque forward -- including the painting -- burned, inspiring the couple to rename their corporation Guardian Angel Inc.
At the Vintage Rose on Main Street, Pam Sehorn said she often heard stairs creaking inside the three-story shop whenever she was on the second floor.
"It sounded like someone running up the last three steps and running into the back room," said Sehorn, owner of the vintage clothing store. "Another person had a feeling that someone was standing there watching them."
After a long day at work, Sehorn decided to spend the night in the third-floor apartment. That night, she said, a young man wearing two heavy coats appeared briefly in the open doorway before turning around and disappearing on his way down the stairs.
"I could say it was like a dream, except I was awake," Sehorn said.
Later, Sehorn learned that a young Confederate soldier was shot and killed in the building -- once part of the old Railroad Hotel -- while trying to hide out.
Then there is the story of Mr. Clark, who is supposed to have spent an afternoon telling stories to a group of children on the back porch of the old Howard House Hotel, though he had reportedly been dead for hours. The ghost of John Wilkes Booth is said to frequent the old Opera House on Main Street, where he once performed.
Last month, Ketchersid and several other professional "spirit hunters" brought their thermal scanners, hand-held tape recorders and specialized cameras to investigate sites on the tour for evidence of ghosts. The results were positive in several locations, including at the Patapsco Female Institute and the Vintage Rose, Ketchersid said.
"After doing some local research, we found that the valley happened to be a mecca for the occult in the '60s and '70s," Ketchersid said. "So it tends to make Ellicott City a magnet for the paranormal."
The Howard County Tourism Council offers guided Ghost Tours of Main Street Ellicott City on the first Saturday evening of each month. Tours begin at 8: 30 p.m. from the Visitor Center at the side entrance of the old post office, 8267 Main St. Tours last about an hour and 15 minutes and cost $7. Special times and dates can be arranged for private group tours. Information: 410-313-1905.
Pub Date: 5/20/98