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Ghost tours attract visitors to Ellicott City

A tour group follows their guide down Main Street during a ghost tour in Ellicott City on Saturday, July 16. Ellicott City - perhaps because of its many antique shops, some speculate - is a particularly haunted town.
A tour group follows their guide down Main Street during a ghost tour in Ellicott City on Saturday, July 16. Ellicott City - perhaps because of its many antique shops, some speculate - is a particularly haunted town. (Staff photo by Brian Krista, Patuxent Publishing)

Shawn Lane doesn't need a ghost tour to convince her that spooky things happen in Ellicott City. She "absolutely" believes in ghosts, she said and is certain that the ghost of her grandmother, who died in 1976, haunts her Ellicott City home. "Every once in a while, things move," she said.

Still, she waited with about 20 other people for the start of a "ghost tour" in Ellicott City on a recent summer evening. "I want to see if they can tell me something I don't already know," she said before the tour began.

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The ghost tours, started by the Howard County Tourism Office about seven years ago, take participants past the most haunted and historic buildings in Ellicott City, pointing out places where bottles smash without explanation, doors open when nobody is there, mirrors levitate, pens fly across rooms and Union soldiers disappear into the mist.

The tours are based on eyewitness accounts that are shared with the county Tourism Office, said Edward Lilley, manager of the Welcome Center. Some come from residents, others from owners or employees of shops and restaurants.

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The tours are offered on weekend nights, April through November. They are especially popular around Halloween, when there is a full moon and on Fridays that fall on the 13th of the month, Lilley said. About 2,000 people a year take part, he said. The cost is $10 per person, $8 for children and seniors.

Another tour, Spirits of Ellicott City, takes place the second Thursday of each month and is more like a pub crawl, with participants stopping for drinks at various haunted watering holes as they hear stories about the ghosts that reside there. And a ghost tour of Savage Mills is offered in October and November, Lilley said.

A couple of years ago, a second Ellicott City ghost tour, called Part II, was added, with an entirely new batch of stories, Lilley said.

That second tour was the one Lane took part in on a recent Saturday night. It was led by Terri Trembeth, who lives in one of the possibly haunted residences on Main Street and has been conducting ghost tours for three years.

A haunted town

Dressed to evoke the 19th century in a long skirt and a hat with flowers, Trembeth carried a lantern with a lit candle and built suspense for each story, though, she also sprinkled in jokes and more than a few puns.

"Sometimes, I believe the stories," she later admitted, but mostly, Trembeth, who is a computer programmer, took the job as a "fun way to get out and meet people."

Her tour took approximately 90 minutes; and included stops in front of the Judge's Bench, Wine Bin, B&O Railroad Museum, and the Cacao Lane restaurant.

Trembeth started the tour by noting Ellicott City is considered a particularly haunted town. "What exactly is causing the dead to show so many signs of life here?" she asked. She offered several theories, including one that the antique stores in town carry items that may attract the spirits of previous owners.

Her stories offered a rich tour of Ellicott City history, including the Civil War, the deadly flood of 1868 and the Great Depression.

Standing outside the Judge's Bench, she said the bar was once home to Berger's Grocery. The Berger family lived upstairs and had a daughter named Mary, who fell in love with a local boy. When her parents refused to let her date him, she hung herself. "It was 1962, and she was 19," said Trembeth.

Her ghost has been seen ever since, said Trembeth, adding that any patron of the Judge's Bench who attempts to get to know her better "doesn't stand a ghost of a chance."

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Tales of the weird

Near the B&O Railroad Museum, Trembeth told of a group of modern Civil War enactors. One man dressed as a Union soldier went outside and struck up a conversation with another man in Union uniform. The second man then walked into the mist, and though he was never seen again, nobody was missing from the enactment group.

In another story, a woman who worked in Ellicott City was puzzled by the strange behavior of her car. The headlights flashed on and off when the car was not running, and every time she locked the doors, they automatically unlocked, Trembeth said.

The woman decided she had accidentally taken home some ghosts from Ellicott City, probably children. She drove back, opened the door and told the ghosts they could leave. Her car problems stopped.

Another story featured a strange man who haunts the Antique Depot, dressed like the character on Quaker Oats containers, she said, and often pushing a wheelbarrow or looking tired. "If you ever see this man, never ever look into his eyes," said Trembeth. One man who did so "fell into the worst depression of his life," she said.

Lane wasn't the only participant with a ghost story of her own.

Lisa Sweeney said she was standing in her kitchen on Old Frederick Road one evening when she heard a woman's voice say her name. Nobody was there. That experience inspired her to go on the ghost tour.

Nancy Giannopoulos, who lives in Ellicott City, was taking the tour with her mother, Georgia Quailey; and cousin, Patrick Moore, who were both visiting from Pittsburgh. Quailey said her husband's father had encountered a ghost while visiting his brother, a priest. "He felt a presence," she said.

Giannopoulos said she had taken the same relatives on Part I of the ghost tour during a previous visit, and they liked it so much they came back for Part II. Asked if she thought the evening's stories were true, she said, "I think it's possible."

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