Leanna Foglia believes in ghosts. She says she feels their presence often. That's why she's perfect for this gig.
On a recent drizzly night in Fells Point, Foglia, 35, wearing a campy black outfit and black eyeliner that she describes as a "pirate-y Goth-girl look," leads a small group on the 7 p.m. Baltimore Ghost Tour.
She's hoping to scare up a few spirits as the tour spends the next 75 minutes traipsing around various landmarks where ghost-sightings have been reported.
But first she goes over the ground rules.
"This isn't the type of tour where people jump out at you dressed like Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger," she says.
Instead, she urges the group to pay attention to any otherworldly "apparitions, orbs and shadows" that they might encounter.
Oh, and drunks, too.
"There are 127 bars in this five-block area," she says. And depending on how hammered they are, drunks can be just as scary as any ghost.
One of the first stops is a spooky-looking alley off Aliceanna Street, a designated area for brothels in the 18th century, when the Fells Point docks teemed with lonely seamen with money in their pockets.
"A side alley, private, dark, quiet," Foglia intones. "... A perfect place for making whoopee with a sailor."
To this day, Foglia whispers, neighbors in these apartments report hearing the ghostly cries of women in the throes of passion.
The breeze picks up suddenly. The shadows dance. A woman at the front of the group shivers and looks around nervously.
By the time the tour stops at the Fell family crypt on Shakespeare Street, the woman has a death-grip on her boyfriend's arm.
And the drunks aren't even out yet.
Baltimore Ghost Tours is the brainchild of partners Amy Lynwander and Melissa Rowell. They started it as Fells Point Ghost Tours on Halloween 2001.
It was not a great time to sell the idea of going off looking for spirits. A month earlier, madmen had flown planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a muddy field in Shanksville, Pa., and people were terrified enough.
But Lynwander, 39, had noticed ghost tours were thriving in a number of other cities she'd visited.
And she felt historic Fells Point, with its waterfront setting, funky bars and quirky characters, was a natural for a ghost tour.
Soon she was scouring the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Maryland Historical Society and The Baltimore Sun's microfilm for any mention of ghost-sightings or haunted buildings in the neighborhood.
Despite the emotional fallout from the Sept. 11 attacks, the first ghost tour sold out. Each year, the tours grow in popularity. Now they regularly attract 30 people each weekend night; sometimes a second tour is added to handle the overflow. Following up on that success, the two women launched the Mount Vernon Ghostwalk and Fells Point Haunted PubWalk last year.
Lynwander and Rowell say they're true believers in the spirit world, and the ghost tours are an extension of that belief.
Lynwander, whose day job is in the engineering innovation program at the Johns Hopkins University, says she had a memorable brush with a ghost one day when she was an exhausted new mother.
"My older daughter was a baby, and she was in a crib, crying. I went to comfort her, and I saw a flash of a woman in a long dress come out of the bedroom and lean over the crib. I thought: 'OK, you get her,' " she says.
"My husband said I was sleep-deprived. And I was," adds Lynwander with a laugh.
Rowell, 37, a research associate at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, says she's had her own run-ins with ghosts.
Walking up Shakespeare Street one night on her way home, she watched with growing alarm as the interior light winked on in each parked car she passed.
Then she passed a streetlight that suddenly went out.
"Now I'm running," she said. "I'm scared. I get into my house, open and shut the door. And the Christmas frog starts going 'Ribbit, ribbit.' "
To the tune of "Jingle Bells," no less. Who wouldn't be unhinged?
"I collapsed in a heap and screamed, 'Leave me alone! Go away!' " she continued. "I needed a shot of Wild Turkey at that point."
Lynwander and Rowell used to give the ghost tours themselves. But these days, they rely on a staff of 10, which includes senior tour guides Foglia and Brandon Welch.
Foglia, a clinical social worker, has a background in community theater. Welch, 41, who's pursuing a master's degree in addiction counseling, has a master's of fine art in theater. He gives the Haunted PubWalk tours, a trickier tour because of the various effects alcohol can have on people.
The PubWalk tour typically visits four or five bars. Before it begins, Welch good-naturedly lays down the law: "Don't start a fight - I won't back you up"; "Keep your [clothes] on, at least until 9:30"; and "No vomiting. If you vomit in terror, I might be able to handle that."
But, like Foglia, he appears to love his work. And aside from the entertainment factor, he thinks the tours help his clients on an emotional level as well.
"Ghost stories [are] a way to talk about death without having to deal with the immediacy of death," he says.
Welch said his interest in spirits was piqued when he started giving ghost tours five years ago, although he has a skeptical side.
"I believe paranormal events happen," he says. "But I'm not a true believer who throws common sense out the window."
Still, two years ago, in preparation for the launch of the Mount Vernon Ghostwalk, he spent the night with "a bunch of ghost-hunting people" in the Garrett-Jacobs Mansion on Mount Vernon Place, where strange goings-on had been reported for years.
His conclusion? "That place is haunted as all get-out."
He stayed up all night with nine others roaming the mansion and investigating weird occurrences.
"There were a lot of electro-magnetic fields moving around," he says. "There were faucets turning on by themselves. Showers turning on by themselves. There was the strong scent of perfume."
But all in all, he says, "it wasn't mind-altering terrifying stuff like Poltergeist."
Or like the bars emptying in Fells Point at 2 a.m.
Back in Fells Point Square, Leanna Foglia wraps up her tour with a cheerful tale of hundreds of bodies that might be buried under the red streets, the result of a yellow fever epidemic in the late 1700s.
Here, the night is about over. Among the highlights: a stop outside Duda's Tavern, said to be haunted by the spirit of a man named Doc who loved polka music, and The Horse You Came In On Saloon, where troubled Edgar Allan Poe once drank. There was also a stop outside the Wharf Rat on South Ann Street, where a tavern owner named John Rickowski was murdered in 1907 by a customer who complained about his playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
No one in the group admits to having seen any ghosts, but no one seems unhappy about that, either. And the woman who had a death-grip on her boyfriend's arm still looks jumpy.
"If you're feeling a little skeptical," Foglia says with a smile, "I don't care. You've already paid."
Everybody laughs. No one asks for a refund. And with that, she bows theatrically and heads off into the misty rain.
The streets belong to the party crowd again.
That should make even the ghosts nervous.
IF YOU GO
Ghost Tours are offered every Friday and Saturday through November. The cost is $13 in advance and $15 at the door for those ages 21 and older. Groups meet at 7 p.m. outside Max's Sidebar, 731 S. Broadway. If the tour sells out, a second tour will leave about 7:15. The tour lasts about 90 minutes. Call 410-522-7400 or go to baltimoreghosttours.com.