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Haunted Places in Baltimore

To many people Baltimore is the place with Cal Ripken and steamed crabs. The National Aquarium and ethnic festivals. But Baltimore also boasts a treasure trove of history, much of which is pretty darn spooky.

So if you're in the mood to counteract the hot weather with a little chill (down your spine, that is) you can cool off at any one of a number of haunted sites in Baltimore.

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Haunted Places in Baltimore
by Jane Sellman

Your first stop should be none other than the home of Edgar Allen Poe, father of the horror genre.

Veiled in myth and melancholy, Poe's life and death has held a fascination for many us in Baltimore, where he experienced his first success and where he died of "congestion of the brain" in 1849. He lived here with his cousin, Virginia, and his aunt, Maria, from 1832 to 1835. While living in Baltimore, he wrote one of his first horror stories, "Berenice," as well as "MS Found in a Bottle," which he submitted to the Baltimore Saturday Visitor, winning a $50 prize. He spent most of his time here at 203 Amity Street, which is open to the public for limited periods on the weekends.

The house stands next to the Edgar Allen Poe Homes, the first public housing project in Baltimore, and stories abound about the spirit of "Mr. Eddie," who watches over the house and nearby neighborhood. Some have even reported seeing a woman's ghost in the house. You can call for information on visiting times at 410-396-7932. Amity Street is a small street that runs between West Saratoga and West Fayette Streets.

Poe was buried in Westminster Church Cemetery at Fayette and Green, a short walk from the Amity Street house. Fans and friends of Poe erected a proper monument in 1875 - the original stone was destroyed in a freak train accident - with money raised by Western Female High School schoolteacher Sarah Sigourney Rice and local school children (assisted by a generous donation from a local citizen).

You can visit the grave between dawn and dusk - Virginia and Mrs. Clemm are also buried there. Every year a mysterious person brings a bottle of cognac and a single red rose. On Halloween fans gather for an evening of readings, complete with tours of the catacombs under the church. Both the house and cemetery are located in the western side of downtown Baltimore, an area easily accessible by bus. (For information on the graveyard, call 410-706-2072).

Traditionally, visitors leave a few coins on the grave. You might want to take along a package of Tender Vittles to feed the number of cats that have taken it upon themselves to watch over the cemetery. Among them is a young black cat that sometimes suns himself on the grass.

Other prominent Baltimoreans are buried at the graveyard as well. Among them is General Samuel Smith, who helped organize the defense of Baltimore in the War of 1812, and the Secretary of War under George Washington and John Adams, Colonel James McHenry, after whom Fort McHenry was named (more on that in a minute).

Down at the Inner Harbor, you can feast your eyes on Harborplace, have a snack, cool off by the water, and indulge in a bit of ghosthunting. The USS Constellation, which saw service from 1854 through the Civil War and until World War II, has been restored and is open again to the public for tours. While you're walking around this magnificent ship, which helped to break up the slave trade and transported food to help famine victims in Ireland, keep a lookout for apparitions.

Back in 1955, a photograph, taken by a Naval lieutenant commander and published in Baltimore's local newspaper, The Sun, seems to show a figure standing on the deck - perhaps the spirit of a young Naval officer or seaman who lost his life in service to his country. Those who've followed the Constellation's history tell a story of a priest who went on the ship by himself and was guided around by an older man with a great knowledge of the ship. He later found out that no such person worked as a guide.

Other folks have reported hearing "strange noises" and seeing "strange shapes." Two great scholars of the supernatural, Hans Holzer, ghosthunter, and Sybil Leek, self-proclaimed witch, both visited the ship to commune with the spirits. You can do the same or just enjoy walking the deck of this ship, which has survived pitch battles and the ravages of time. Bring your camera and see if you can catch a glimpse of the spirits on film. The Inner Harbor is accessible by bus and close to a stop on the Metro Subway. For information on touring the USS Constellation, call 410-539-1797.

Perhaps no landmark is more precious to Baltimoreans than Fort McHenry, where a battle that marked a turning point not only in Maryland's history, but in America's history, took place. At Fort McHenry the ill-equipped, overmatched American forces held out against the British Army and Navy and saved the new young nation in the War of 1812.

Everyone knows the story of the young lawyer, Francis Scott Key, who, while detained aboard a treaty ship in the harbor, saw that the flag still flew over the embattled fort and wrote the song that would later become our national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Not many know about young Lieutenant Levi Claggett, one of the casualties of the battle - killed, with several of his men, during the shelling of his gun emplacement. He could be one of the spirits haunting the old fort.

During the Civil War many people were detained in the dungeons, which are open today for viewing. One is reported to have killed himself while there. He may be another unquiet spirit.

Rangers at the Fort report hearing footsteps, windows being opened and closed, doors slamming. They've allegedly seen lights turned back on after they've turned them off. No one speaks officially about the haunting, but many people believe that spirits reside there. Even if all the reports can be explained away logically, they still give one pause. Fort McHenry can be wonderfully eerie, especially when you look into the cells or the quarters and see the places where people resided for long periods.

You can get to the fort, located southeast of downtown, but take the Watertaxi instead. When you approach the fort by water, you experience a little of the thrill that Francis Scott Key must have felt when the smoke of rockets and cannons cleared away and he saw that "the flag was still there."

For information on visiting Fort McHenry, call 410-962-4290.

Of course, can there be any place more eerie than a cemetery? Wayne Schaumburg leads tours of Greenmount Cemetery, located at North and Greenmount Avenues, a good bit to the Northeast of the downtown area. He has a wealth of information on the famous and the infamous interred there. John Wilkes Booth rests at Greenmount, but his grave is not marked.

"He's in the family plot," Schaumburg says, "No pun intended."

The Greenmount Cemetery has its share of strange phenomena, both confirmed and unconfirmed. For instance, Allen Dulles, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency, is buried there.

"I always say the grave is bugged," claims Schaumburg.

In addition, Jacques Kelly, a local historian and writer, is rumored to have once been locked in at the Greenmount Cemetery, which is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (The entrance is actually at Greenmount Avenue and Oliver Street). The cemetery is a short bus ride from downtown Baltimore.

You can contact Schaumburg at 410-256-2180 for tour information. He'll be happy to share stories of the cemetery with you as well.

If you need to unwind after all that hunting, you might want to look for spirits of another kind. Head for Fells Point, a neighborhood to the east of downtown Baltimore (accessible by bus), which has become known as the location of the police station in the TV show "Homicide." Good food and charming shops are among the attractions. While you're there, say hello to the ghost that is said to inhabit the Whistling Oyster at 807 South Broadway. He or she has a penchant for running up and down a flight of stairs that no longer exists.

Ghosts are also rumored to walk the streets of Fells Point. One is either Edward or William Fell, namesakes and founders of the area. One of the brothers has been spotted, according to neighborhood legend, roaming Shakespeare Street after last call.

[For information on getting around in Baltimore by public transportation, call the Mass Transit Administration at 410-539-5000. While in Baltimore, you might want to pay a visit to the Maryland Room at the Enoch Pratt Free Library where the friendly and knowledgeable staff can help you search out more ghosts and more Baltimore history. The library can be reached at 410-396-5430. Please note that it is closed on Fridays.]

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