Spare us that line about how those squeaking floorboards are nothing more than old wood in need of a few well-placed nails. That whistling sound? Don't try to explain it away as wind blowing thorough a crack in the window frame. Those flickering lights? Bud, electricity has nothing to do with them.
Every year at Halloween, ghosts seem to come out of the woodwork. Some are evil, restless spirits one would best avoid. Some are good, protecting their living friends from earthly dangers. Some are mischievous, more an annoyance than anything else. And some are simply there.
But they're out there, in that old cemetery out past the church, or that abandoned house set deep in the woods (ever hear of a little film called "The Blair Witch Project"). Sure, some people dismiss them as silly superstitions with no greater purpose than scaring children.
Right. These are the same people who keep insisting Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are just make-believe. Hey, who do you think it is who slips that dollar under the pillow when your tooth falls out? It ain't your folks, you can bet on that.
Want proof? Buddy, you've come to the right season. Now, you only have to go to the right place. Might we suggest an old building or two? Baltimore and its environs are filled with old homes, war-ravaged forts and buildings that have stood the test of time. Many have their resident ghosts; here are a few you might want to check out. Not all publicize their ghosts, but with an open mind (and a little imagination), you should have no trouble finding them.
Poe House, 203 N. Amity St., Baltimore; 410-396-7932
Baltimore's favorite ghost, that of Edgar Allan Poe himself, is said to live here. In fact, he's supposed to have helped protect the building during the riots of 1968. There's also a female spirit and, down the road apiece at Poe's grave at Westminster churchyard (Fayette and Greene streets), the mysterious figure who, every year on Poe's birthday, leaves three red roses and a bottle of cognac on the author's grave.
And, of course, there's that famous talking raven.
No place in Baltimore celebrates its ghosts more properly than the Poe House. Again this year, visitors of a mind to be frightened can watch as Poe himself (looking not bad for a man dead 150 years) reads from "The Tell-Tale Heart" -- a performance, the folks at the Poe House warn, "not recommended for the squeamish or faint of heart."
The readings are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 12:30, 1:15, 2:15 and 3:15. Tickets for the 30-minute performance are $4, $3 for kids 12-and-under.
Then, on Halloween night, the ghosts of Poe, Gen. John Stricker (of Battle of Baltimore fame) and Frank the Body Snatcher will be on hand to greet visitors to Westminster churchyard from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Hampton Mansion, 535 Hampton Lane, Towson; 410-823-1309
The folks at Hampton insist there are no ghosts calling the 200-year-old Georgian mansion home. "We don't tell ghost stories here, nor do we promote them, because we don't know of any that can be substantiated," says curator Lynne Dakin Hastings. "It's hard to give a tour in 45 minutes as it is."
But Hampton's gift shop says otherwise; for just 75 cents, you can buy a copy of "The Ghosts of Hampton" and read all about the spirits that haunt this Towson landmark. (A preface/disclaimer insists all these stories are the work of the author's imagination.)
There's Cygnet, the daughter of a Maryland governor, who died here at Hampton while combing her long golden hair; her ghost is said to still roam Hampton's halls, still combing her hair. There's the ghost of Charles Ridgely, one of the owners of the mansion, who was said to return here in a stagecoach hours after Ridgely himself had died.
And there's the great chandelier downstairs, which legend has it would fall to the floor in a resounding crash when the lady of the house died. Only thing is, no broken glass was ever found; the chandelier always looked as if nothing had happened.
The subject of ghosts "is something that comes up in tours," Hastings says, "and usually what we tell people is that we haven't seen any, but that all houses have traditions, and if they'd like to read more about it, they can purchase the book."
Mount Clare Mansion, in Carroll Park off Washington Boulevard, Baltimore; 410-837-3262
Sure, there may be a ghost or two at Mount Clare, home to one of Maryland's founding families. Like maybe the ghost of the man who built the central part of the house almost 240 years ago.
"The children in the area sometimes say that the Barrister comes back to haunt the house," says Joan Feldman, director of the 18th-century mansion started by Charles Carroll, Barrister (a distant cousin of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence). "That's the sort of legend we hear in the schools.
"Sometimes, school groups will be in the building, and the wind starts whistling through the doors," she says. "Sometimes they seem a little scared. It would probably be easy for us to make them scared, but we don't try to do that."
Of course, a good ghost story doesn't need a tour guide to help scare people.
Judge's Bench Saloon, 8385 Main St., Ellicott City; 410-465-3497
"Oh, you mean Mary," says owner Buzz Suter, who knows a Halloween bonanza when he's haunted by one. "Everybody knows about the ghost here."
That would be the mischievous ghost that flushes the toilet when no one's in the bathroom, moves bar stools around, pushes bottles off the rack and otherwise does a lot of good-natured spooking.
"Yeah, a lot of silly things happen around here," says Suter, who's owned the Judge's Bench for 17 years. "Never anything harmful, though."
Although he hasn't been able to document Mary's origins, legend has it Mary was the daughter of a couple who ran a grocery store in the building back in the 1880s. Mary apparently hanged herself, and her spirit has haunted the house-turned-saloon ever since.
"One time, I had a bartender/night manager and a waitress, Mac and Laurie, who were closing up around 2 a.m.," Suter says. "There's a ladies' room at the end of the bar, and Laurie heard paper towels cranking, the toilet flushing, that sort of thing. She opened the door and there was no one in there, but there were towels on the floor and the toilet had just stopped flushing.
"That scared the heck out of her," Suter says with a laugh. "She got out of here real quick."
Fort McHenry, East Fort Avenue, Baltimore; 410-962-4290
"None," a woman answering the phones at Fort McHenry answers when asked if Baltimore's famed arsenal of freedom is home to any War-of 1812-era ghosts. "We don't have any."
But what of the soldiers still said to roam the grounds? Surely, the site of so momentous a battle must have a few restless spirits running around? Sure, the supposed ghost that was profiled on local TV a few years back turned out to be nothing more than a reflection, but surely, so old and historic a fortress must come with its share of ghost stories.
"We don't perpetuate them, because there's no truth in them," she says, coldly and analytically.
Ah, what does she know? With a little imagination, visitors to Fort McHenry can find all sorts of ghosts wandering about, if not Francis Scott Key or Major Armistead himself, then perhaps some of the Confederate soldiers imprisoned here during the Civil War.
Of course there are ghosts at Fort McHenry. You'll just have to find them yourself.
"Bedlam in the 'Boro." Haunted hay rides Oct. 28-30 from the Lineboro Volunteer Fire Department, 4224 Main St., Lineboro. Hours are 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. $7; $3 ages 8 and under. Call 410-239-4467.
Bel Air costume parade. Eleventh annual costume parade and contest, Oct. 30, 11 a.m., registration begins at 10:30 a.m., the Festival at Bel Air. Free. Call 410-893-1700.
Candy carnival. Halloween games and candy, Oct. 27, 3:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m., Mora Crossman Recreation Center, 701 S. Rappolla St. Free. Call 410-396-9222.
Fall family fun day. Pumpkins, nature hikes, hayrides and a costume contest, Oct. 31, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Mount Aventine, off Route 210. Free. Call 301-743-7613.
"Fright Fest." Haunted train rides, trick-or-treating, costume contests, Halloween stories and more, through October at Six Flags America, 13710 Central Ave., Largo. Open nightly through Oct. 31. Hours are 4 p.m.-10 p.m. weekdays and noon-10 p.m. weekends. "Fright Fest" is included in park admission: $31.99; $15.99 children. Call 301-249-1500.
Ghosts of the Patapsco Female Institute. Ghost tour of the once-famous girls' school, Oct. 29-30; 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m., Mount Ida, 3691 Sarah's Lane, Ellicott City. $4. Call 410-465-8500.
"Hallomarine." Costume contest, spooky stories and songs, ghostly scavenger hunt, treats and tours of the exhibit "Venom: Striking Beauties," 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 30 and 31 at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, 501 E. Pratt St. $14; $10.50 seniors; $7.50 ages 3-11; free for ages under 3. Call 410-576-3800.
Halloween celebration. Magic shows, games, trick-or-treating, more, 2 p.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 30 at Mondawmin Mall, Gwynns Falls Parkway and Liberty Heights Avenue. Call 410-523-1534.
Halloween at Cider Mill Farm. Costume contest, pumpkin patch, scarecrow-making, more, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Oct. 30 and 31 at Cider Mill Farm, 5012 Landing Road, Elkridge. Call 410-788-9595.
"Halloween Classics for Homecoming" concert. Lan Shui leads the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra in a free Halloween concert at 8 p.m. Oct. 29 at Tawes Theatre, University of Maryland, College Park. Call 301-405-7847.
Halloween concert. Scary music from the BSO for children 3 and up, Oct. 30, 2 p.m., Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. $15; $20 box seats. Call 410-783-8000.
Halloween dance. Dance and song contests for children ages 7-14, Oct. 29, 7 p.m.-9:30 p.m., Ella Bailey Recreation Center, 100 E. Heath St. $2. Call 410-396-0755.
Halloween events. Trick-or-treating, costume contest, more, at the Reisters-town Road Plaza, 6654 Reisterstown Road, 1 p.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 30. Call 410-764-3222.
Halloween at the Fire Museum. Fire safety goodie bags, junior fire fighter membership for kids, more, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 30 at Fire Museum of Maryland, 1301 York Road in Lutherville. Call 410-321-7500.
Halloween fun. Costume parade, hay rides, games, food, more, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Oct. 30 at St. Paul's School for Girls, Falls Road and Seminary Avenue. Call 410-823-5575.
Halloween fun and games day. Games, relays, prizes, food, costume parade, more, Oct. 29, 3:30 p.m.-6 p.m., Barclay Recreation Center, 300 E. 29th St. $2. Call 410-396-6073.
"Halloween Hunt." Children ages 10 and under, accompanied by an adult, can collect treats from each store at the Westview Mall, 5748 Baltimore National Pike, 2 p.m.-6:30 p.m. Oct. 30. Call 410-744-5650.
Halloween Kinderkonzert. Free classical music performance, audience participation, Oct. 30, 11 a.m., Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church, 611 Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd., Severna Park. Free. Call 410-263-2664.
Halloween parade. Free candy for costumed children beginning at 5 p.m. Oct. 29 at the Shops at Kenilworth, Kenilworth Drive. Call 410-321-1909.
Halloween party. Costume parade, games, more, 3 p.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 31 at Jerusalem Lutheran Church, 717 Wheeler School Road, Whiteford. Call 410-452-8774.
Halloween party. Games, costume parade and contest, Oct. 31, 3 p.m.-5 p.m., Jerusalem Lutheran Church, 717 Wheeler School Road, Whiteford. Call 410-452-8774.
Halloween at the Poe House. Edgar Allan Poe impersonator David Keltz portrays the ghost of Poe in performances of "The Tell-Tale Heart," at 12:30 p.m., 1:15 p.m., 2:15 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. Oct. 30-31 at the Poe House, 203 N. Amity St. $4; $3 ages 12 and under. Call 410-396-7932.
Halloween tea. Tea, treats, autumn leaves and a tour of the Belair Mansion, Oct. 30, 4 p.m., Belair Mansion, 12207 Tulip Grove Drive, Bowie. Call 301-809-3089.
Halloween tour. See theatrical presentations of Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Cask of Amontillado," tour Westminster Hall and Burying Ground, Fayette and Greene streets, see Frank the Body Snatcher and more, 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Oct. 31. $5; $3 ages 12 and under. Call 410-706-7228.
"Hallowscream" trips. Various trips to Six Flags America in Largo; admission to each is $15:
Oct. 28, 4 p.m.-9 p.m., Easterwood Recreation Center, 1530 Bentalou St. Call 410-396-0655.
Oct. 29, 5 p.m.-10 p.m., Woodhome Recreation Center, 7310 Moyer Ave. Call 410-396-6703.
Oct. 29, 4 p.m.-10 p.m., Furley Recreation Center, 4633 Furley Ave. Call 410-396-9329.
Harvest festival. Family-oriented Halloween games and goodie bags, Oct. 29, 3 p.m.-5 p.m., Morrell Park Recreation Center, 2601 Tolley St. $1. Call 410-396-5825.
Haunted barn. Open Oct. 28-31 off Route 140 in Taneytown. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.; 7 p.m. Halloween night. Presented by the Taneytown Jaycees. $6. Call 410-756-4575.
Haunted barn and hayride. Open 7 p.m.-10 p.m., Oct. 29-31 at the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds, Route 178 in Crownsville. $8; free for ages 6 and under. Call 410-923-3400.
Haunted factory. Terrorizing tour of the Baltimore Museum of Industry, 1415 Key Highway, 7:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Oct. 29 and 30. $7; $4 ages 6-12. Not recommended for children under 6. Call 410-727-4808.
"Haunted Graveyard of Charlesmont." Open through Nov. 2 at 3413 Wallford Drive, Dundalk. Runs from dusk until 10 p.m. Sunday and weekdays and from dusk until 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Free. Canned food donations requested. Call 410-282-3635.
Haunted hay rides. The haunted rides run Oct. 28-30 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Brave Venture Farm, 1925 Strawberry Drive, Finksburg. $5; $2 ages 6 and under. Call 410-795-0695.
Haunted house. Games, food, more, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Oct. 30 at the White Oak School, 8401 Leefield Road. Free. Call 410-887-5378.
Haunted house and dance. Enjoy tricks and treats, Oct. 29, 6:30 p.m., Curtis Bay Recreation Center, 4416 Filbert St. $2. Call 410-396-1811.
Haunted ship. Tours of the USS Constellation, Pier One, Inner Harbor, Oct. 29 and 30 from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Oct. 31 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Call 410-539-1797.
Hauntings of Ellicott Mills. Ghost stories and ghost hunters, through November, Saturday nights, Ellicott City. $7; $5 children and seniors. Call 410-313-1900.
Historical Halloween traditions. Trick-or-treat at "Pumpkin Pastimes: An Old-Fashioned Harvest Festival," Oct. 30, 1 p.m.-4 p.m., Maryland Historical Society, 201 W. Monument St. $5; $4 members of the MHS. Call 410-685-3750, Ext. 372.
Humane Society Halloween celebration. Witch-screaming contest, dog-howling contest, games, food, more, for people and their well-behaved companion animals, 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Oct. 30 at the Humane Society of Baltimore County, 1601 Nicodemus Road, Reisterstown. $5; free for ages under 12 with a donation of food or supplies for the shelter's animals. Call 410-833-8848.
Intergenerational Fun Festival. Costume contest and parade, games, treats and door prizes, Oct. 31, 2 p.m.-4 p.m., Pikesville Senior Center, 1301 Reisters-town Road. Free. Call 410-887-1245.
Jason's Woods. Haunted hayrides, horror shows, $2,500 costume contest, this weekend; Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m.-10 p.m. and Sunday, 7 p.m.-9 p.m., at 99 Stehman Road, Lancaster, Pa. $7-$10. Call 717-872-5768.
Kim's Krypt. Haunted house and adventure, through October, 7 p.m.-10:30 p.m., 1202 Berkwood Road, Rosedale. $4. Call 410-391-7726.
Mall trick-or-treating. Trick-or-treat at the Owings Mills Mall, Oct. 31, 4 p.m., Owings Mills, 10300 Mill Run Circle. Call 410-363-7000, Ext. 7047.
Markoff's Haunted Forest. Open through Oct. 31 at Martinsburg Road between Poolesville and Dickinson. Open from dusk until 9 p.m. weeknights and dusk until 10:30 p.m. weekends. Prices from $1 to $15. Call 301-216-1248.
"Planet Halloween." Crafts, pumpkin-decorating, more, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Oct. 31 at the Maryland Science Center, 601 Light St. $10.50; $9 for seniors; $7.50 for ages 4-12; free for ages 3 and under. Discounts for costumed children under 12 with paying adult. Call 410-685-5225.
Poe's last meal. Celebrate the 150th anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe's death with historic food and ghost stories, Oct. 30, noon-4 p.m., the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, 844 E. Pratt St. $5; $4 seniors; $3 children. Call 410-837-1793.
Pumpkin-decorating. Pumpkins for sale, kids' decorating of pumpkins, more, 8 a.m.-noon Oct. 31 at the Baltimore Farmers' Market, under the Jones Falls Expressway, Holliday and Saratoga streets. Call 410-837-4636.
"Pumpkin Junction." Children ages 4-11 choose pumpkins to decorate, Oct. 30-31, noon-4 p.m., Baltimore Streetcar Museum, 1901 Falls Road. $5; $2.50 ages 4-11, 65 and over. Call 410-547-0264.
Pumpkin party. Pumpkin stories, songs and crafts at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Joppa Branch of the Harford County Public Library. Call 410-612-1660 to register.
"Pumpkin Pastimes: An Old-Fashioned Harvest Festival." Wear your costume for a Colonial harvest fair, 20th-century trick-or-treating, ghost stories, creepy crafts, more, 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 30 at the Maryland Historical Society, 201 W. Monument St. $5; $4 members. Call 410-685-3750, Ext. 372.
Roller-skating Halloween party. Games, roller-skating and a costume contest, Oct. 29, 7 p.m.-9:15 p.m., Roosevelt Recreation Center, 1221 W. 36th St. $3. Call 410-396-9329.
Safe Halloween party. Costume contest, games, candy and Bibelot gift certificates for children up to 17, Oct. 30, 2 p.m.-5 p.m., Bibelot, 2400 Boston St., Canton. Call 410-276-1162.
Scarecrow-making. Build scarecrows from hay and old clothes, Oct. 28, 4 p.m., Carroll F. Cook Recreation Center, 5061 E. Eager St. Free. Open to center participants only. Call 410-396-9089.
Silver Scream. Campy horror show from JamO Alternutive Theatre, not suitable for children under 13, Oct. 29-30 and Nov. 5-6, 8 p.m., St. John's United Methodist Church, St. Paul and 27th streets. $12; $13 "bloodline seats." Call 800-318-9707.
Spirit Theatre. Witness a turn-of-the-century-style seance, Oct. 29-31, Friday and Sunday, 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. and Saturday, 9:30 and midnight, Ellicott Square, 8167 Main Street, Historic Ellicott City. $30. Call 800-235-8087.
"Tales for a Haunted Trail." Songs, stories and food, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 30 at Annmarie Garden, Dowell Road, Solomons. Free. Call 410-326-4640.
Trail of Terror. Hay rides run Oct. 28-30. Rides begin at dusk with the last ride departing at 11:45 p.m., from Padonia Park Club, 12006 Jenifer Road, Cockeysville. Tickets go on sale at 7 p.m. each night. $9; $7 ages 8 and under. Call 410-252-2046.
Trails of Terror. Runs Oct. 29-30 at Severn Danza Park, Route 170 and Donaldson Avenue in Severn. Hours are 7 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m.-midnight Oct. 30. $6. Call 410-551-7843.
Transylvania Train Station. Haunted storytelling, rides on the "Frightliner" (at 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.), trick-or-treating, costume contest (at 2 p.m.), more, Oct. 31 at the B&O; Railroad Museum, 901 W. Pratt St. Museum hours 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Train ride is $2 with paid admission: $7; $6 seniors; $5 ages 3-12; free for ages 2 and under and members. Call 410-752-2388.
White Oak School haunted house. Games, food, plant sale, haunted house, more, Oct. 30, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., White Oak School, 8401 Leefield Road. Free. Call 410-887-5378.
Zoo BOOO! Trick-or-treating, games and a costume contest, Oct. 30-31, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., the Baltimore Zoo, Druid Hill Park. $9; $5.50 children and seniors; ages under 2 free. Call 410-366-LION.