Monthly Archives: January 2013

Headless Horseman of Game Preserve Road

2012-11-07_15-43-09_240Dorothy and I are frequently asked if the stories in our book are scary. By and large, we have pretty tame ghosts in Montgomery County: Lily who leaves the scent of lilacs and lip prints, Nanny who helped rock the babies, and Boo who was a playmate for the children of the house; these are just some of the friendly spirits that haunt the County. But there are a few stories that are scary. The Headless Horseman of Game Preserve Road is one such spirit.

Today, the Horseman haunts the stretch of track by the railroad bridge across Game Preserve Road. The ghost presumably predates the bridge, and the railroad, as it is attributed to a Civil War soldier who met an unfortunate end. (The Metropolitan Branch of the B & O Railroad didn’t come through Montgomery County until 1873.) He is also one of the few ghosts with a long, documented history. And so, while I won’t take the time here to tell you all the things that have happened on that unfortunate stretch of track (you can read the book for that), I will excerpt the 1876 article from the Montgomery Sentinel that first introduce me to this fearsome spirit:

2012-11-07_15-42-29_520Montgomery County Sentinel, 17 March 1876

The people in the neighborhood of Clopper’s Mill in this county have been very much excited for several weeks past by a mysterious occurrence which transpires nightly about 9½ o’clock upon the railroad bridge over Big Seneca Creek. It is reported by those who have witnessed the strange scene that about the hour named a lantern which is upon a post planted at the bridge is suddenly darkened, the light being entirely shut off and a flame like a flash of lightening shoots straight up into the air while another of a similar character flashes directly across the bridge.

We have not witnessed it as we know not whether it ‘be a spirit of health or goblin damned’ and do not care to trust yourself in the presence of such ‘questionable shapes’ but you who are not afraid of ghosts would doubtless be repaid for a visit to it. We hope that a solution of this affair will soon be discovered and a cause of terror be removed from the superstitions of that vicinity.

Postscript: Reader and local historian Jack Toomey sent more clarification regarding the viaduct seen in the picture above:

The photo used in the story is the viaduct or tunnel that allows Game Preserve Road to pass under the railroad tracks. It is not a “bridge”.

The bridge that is referred to in the Sentinel story was a long rickety wooden bridge that allowed the railroad to pass over the Seneca Creek valley. It was later replaced by a steel bridge and finally a viaduct that exists today. The foundations of the earlier bridges can be found in the woods along the creek.



Filed under Clopper, Gaithersburg

Annington Guest House

Annington Guest House_edited

Slave Quarters, ca. 1973. From the collection of the Montgomery County Historical Society.

Having devoted two posts to Annington, it is only fair to turn my attention to the Annington Guest House, the plantation house’s smaller, less distinguished outbuilding with much less illustrious, though no less important, ghosts. As the only slave quarters in ISOMG:MC, it was hard not to focus on the history of the place. Paring the story down for the book was difficult, so please excuse me if I indulge in a little historical exploration here. Yes this building is haunted, but by whom or how many? Because of its original use and subsequent life as housing for farm workers following emancipation, we may never know the answer.

The Annington Guest House is not the only extant slave quarters in Montgomery County (though there aren’t many), but it is certainly one of the nicest. It is visibly more desirable than what Josiah Henson (on whom the character Uncle Tom is based from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin) described at the Riley plantation in Bethesda:

We lodged in log huts, and on the bare ground.  Wooden floors were an unknown luxury.  In a single room were huddled, like cattle, ten or a dozen persons, men, women and children.  All ideas of refinement and decency were, of course, out of the question.  We had neither bedsteads nor furniture of any description.  Our beds were collections of straw and old rags thrown down in the corners and boxed in with boards; a single blanket the only covering.  Our favourite way of sleeping was on a plank, our heads raised on an old jacket and our feet toasting before the smouldering fire.  The wind whistled and the rain and snow blew in through the cracks, and the damp earth soaked in the moisture till the floor was miry as a pigsty.  Such were our cabins.

Originally built as what would today be called a semi-detached house, the Annington Guest House had two, one-and-half story dwellings (no attic), attached on one side, with one room up and one down. Each was probably home to an enslaved family and, later, similarly with farm workers. The 1870 census lists two families besides the Smoots (Annington’s owners at the time) living on the farm, the Peters and Grandison families. Both of these had multiple members listed in the 1867 slave census as belonging to Annington. Tracing the occupants of these buildings has been difficult and more research is needed. We know who lived at Annington, but the enslaved and the farm workers who lived at the Guest House until it received its own mailing address are hard to identify. At some point in its life, the two sides were connected and an addition for a kitchen and bathroom was attached to the back of the building.


Annington Guest House, 2011

The current occupant, and the one previous, have had many paranormal experiences in this unique home. Most have been mischievous, some disturbing, but only one seemed dangerous. Who these spirits are, the tragedies in their lives and the nature of their deaths may never be known to us. But all the spectral activity doesn’t matter to the current tenant, she says she “wouldn’t live anywhere else.”

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