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Spirited soiree: 'Dead of Winter' takes literary approach to Ellicott City's ghostly haunts

For The Baltimore Sun

The ghost of an idea began materializing at a book signing last fall for “Haunted Ellicott City,” which details the history and haunting of 31 sites in and around the old mill town.

The book’s author, Ellicott City resident Shelley Davies Wygant, had chatted in September with Cynthia Lynn, landlord of Columbia Inn at Peralynna on Route 108, about her book and another author’s book signing that had been recently held at the hotel.

Wygant was later introduced to a filmmaker and other authors with similar interests — and quickly saw an opportunity to create an expanded book signing and film event with spooky overtones.

“Dead of Winter: Haunted Pajama Party” was born.

The open-house style event – featuring three authors, two artists, a filmmaker and a photographer — will be held 4:30 p.m. to 11:59 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26, at the inn and doubles as a fundraiser. Historic Ellicott City Inc. will receive 50 percent of the proceeds from ticket sales and intends to earmark the money for flood relief on Main Street.

Tickets can be purchased for $10 on the event’s Facebook page or at etsy.com/shop/HauntedEllicottCity.

Admission is included with a discounted room reservation at the inn, which is situated across from Clark’s Elioak Farm and was converted from a private residence 22 years ago. Wine and appetizers are included in the ticket price and psychic readings will be available for an extra fee.

Wygant, who was president of the Howard County Historical Society from 2009 to 2011, said she’s been fascinated by tales of hauntings in Ellicott City since moving to the town in 1997.

“I’m interested in everything spooky and Ellicott City is haunted as heck,” she said.

She even collects mourning jewelry, which was made in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and can incorporate a lock of a deceased person’s hair or pearls to symbolize a mourner’s tears.

Wygant said she likes having a creative project in the works. Organizing this event fit the bill nicely.

“I’ve always been somebody who has some scheme cooking,” she said with a laugh.

Soon after chatting with Lynn, Wygant was contacted by writer-director Erik Kristopher Myers to set up a meeting to discuss her book, which is part of Arcadia Publishing’s “Haunted America” series.

In his 2018 faux-documentary horror film “Butterfly Kisses,” which was filmed in Ellicott City, Myers explores the legend of The Blink Man, who is said to haunt Ilchester Tunnel and is alternately known as The Peeping Tom. He contacted Wygant because she had included the supposedly haunted train tunnel on the east side of the Patapsco River in her book.

Myers wanted her to know he had concocted the legend and spread it across the internet to set the stage for his film’s October release by Gravitas Ventures.

“He said he had planted the legend of Blink Man under a pseudonym and that he thought I might be angry with him,” said Wygant, an advertising copywriter and marketing executive. “I told him I thought it was genius.”

Myers, who grew up in Columbia but now lives in Parkville, said his 91-minute film is a faux documentary inside a faux documentary inside another faux documentary.

“It’s very meta,” said Myers, who will show his movie trailer at the event and will bring along some cast members — as well as DVDs to sell, of course. “The title is a reference to eyelash kisses [on your face] and how they can drive you mad.”

Myers invited Wygant to a screening of his movie, where she met Megan Morgan, a Baltimore resident whose science fiction book, “The Altered Wake,” had been published by Clickworks Press in September. Morgan will bring books to the “Dead of Winter” event.

Michael Maloney, author of “Mile Marker Ten,” was eventually pulled into the book-signing lineup as well. The Oella Mill resident, who lived in Ellicott City for 30 years, used articles from The Baltimore Sun and other newspapers to build the plot for his historical fiction novel about a 1908 murder mystery in Ellicott City.

Maloney’s book, which the independent software developer self-published in July, revolves around a series of crimes and focuses on William Hatwood, whom a local reporter believes has been falsely accused of assaulting a Clarksville farmer.

“It’s surprising how polarized the area was at that time and the implicit racism that existed,” he said. “The threat of a lynching was very real.”

Ellicott City artist Wiley Purkey, who is the illustrator for “The Legend of the Zombie Snowmen of Ellicott City,” will also attend. The humorous book, written by Jerry Lee Harlowe, is being sold online.

Linda Schisler, a graphic artist, will exhibit and sell her photographs of “creepy, spooky views” of Ellicott City, and Rebecca Weber, former owner of the now-closed Still Life Gallery on Main Street, will sell art, accessories and vintage finds, Wygant said.

While the Facebook page for the event requests people “come in fun, funky, vintage, spooky-fabulous pajamas, nightgowns or robes,” Wygant said pajamas are optional, but would “add to the fun.”

Wygant, who also authored the 2010 book, “Images of America: Howard County,” said, “I believe in ghosts enough not to mess with them, and I believe there is an existence beyond this one.

“Old Ellicott City is relatively untouched and uncommercialized,” she said. “You can feel the past there and sense long-dead people and their connections to the town through the ages.”

janeneholzberg76@gmail.com

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