Monthly Archives: November 2013

Haunting Celebrations

As we prepare for Thanksgiving, I thought it would be fun to look at some of the spots in ISOMG:MC where the resident ghosts decided to pave their own party. We don’t always know the reason for the celebration, but unseen merriment has definitely been reported as taking place while the homeowner could only stand by frustrated in not being part of the festivities.

Montanverde

Montanverde, ca. 1970s. Courtesy Montgomery County Historical Society..

Usually it is impossible to know exactly what is being celebrated, but such was not the case at Montanverde. That venerated house (see more on the history of Montanverde in this previous post) was home to Major George Peter, antebellum Montgomery County’s political boss, and he still likes to celebrate his electoral wins in perpetuity. In 1948, the Harman Family reported hearing great carrying on in the house. Raucous laughter and the sound of glasses clinking and breaking (a celebratory habit the Major indulged in with regularity) could clearly be heard. The date coincided with the 100th anniversary of the election of Zachary Taylor, our 12th president and a personal friend of Major Peter. The Major helped orchestrate his victory in Maryland. Obviously his pride in accomplishing this extends in death as it did in his lifetime.

AnningtonAnother party seems to be taking place at Annington, an historic house which has had much column length in this blog (see Colonel Baker and Annington, The Annnington Guest House, and The Battle of Ball’s Bluff) The house has a long history dating back to 1812 and the Trundle Family. Over the years it has had many owners. By the 1950s the house was owned by Drew Pearson,  muckracking journalist and author of Washington Merry-Go-Round. Pearson lived nearby on another farm, Merry-Go-Round Farm. When Annington was put up for sale, he decided to buy it as an investment, which he did. He first had the old slave quarters renovated, which he leased to the John Normans. One night the Normans saw and heard something amazing at the old house. The house was lit up and the shadows of dancers could be seen through the windows. They could hear people laughing and music playing. There was definitely a big soiree going on in what was supposed to be an empty house. Mr. Norman went over to investigate only to find the house locked tight and when he went inside, all was dark, quiet and gloomy.

Ballroom, National Park Seminary. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Ballroom, National Park Seminary. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Our third story is a dance, another kind of party. This takes place at the National Park Seminary, that wonderful school campus in Forest Glen that eventually became the Walter Reed Annex and is now a condominium community. Our story takes place in the 1960s when the property was still actively used for wounded soldiers’ rehabilitation. Dances were routinely held by the Army in the great ballroom, as they had been when it was still a school, and later during World War II when the USO regularly planned them for the servicemen and patients who were based at the facility. A soldier was there attending one of the dances. At one point he looked up to the balconies that overlooked the ballroom. There he saw soldiers looking down on the festivities. They looked sad, as if they wished they could join the dance. He realized they were not dressed in the current style of Army uniforms, but closer to that worn by GIs during the War. He then realized they were also NOT SOLID. He then understood he was looking at the apparitions of soldiers who were no more, there in spirit if not in body.

Dentzel Carousel, Glen Echo Park

Dentzel Carousel, Glen Echo Park

Our final story is, again, a different sort of celebration. In Glen Echo Park crowds of African Americans have been seen riding the carousel. What’s so strange about that you might ask. It’s the when and the how that give us a clue. They were witnessed late at night when the park is closed. At that time, crowds of men, women, and children dressed in their Sunday best have been seen enjoying a carousel ride – when the park is closed – when the carousel isn’t running. And the clothes they were wearing were not from the 1960s, as they ought to have been, but more like the 1930s or ’40s. At that time, Glen Echo was a segregated, whites only, amusement park. The good people seen late at night would not have been allowed in at any time to ride the carousel. Clearly, their spirits have organized after death to have an experience they must have longed to do in life.

As you celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday, I suggest you give a toast to the essence of the holiday. One that has seen many generations of people celebrating for the same reason, if not always at the same time as we do today. The spirits of past feasts may join you in that toast. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

 

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Filed under Forest Glen, Glen Echo, Poolesville, Seneca, Silver Spring, White's Ferry

The Philomena Connection

Judi Dench and Steve Coogan star in Philomena. From http://www.bbc.co.uk

Why would this Montgomery County and paranormal related blog be interested in the movie Philomena? The movie, which opens today, has an unexpected county connection – it was filmed on location at two historic sites in Montgomery County.  Philomena is about an Irish woman who goes in search of her son who was taken from her at birth and sent to the United States for adoption.

St. Paul’s Community Church. From http://www.sugarlandethnohistoryproject.org

The first location was St. Paul’s Community Church in the African American community of Sugarland Forest. Sugarland Forest was founded by former slaves following the Civil War. For these former slaves, building a community centered around church and school was critical. More often than not, freedom didn’t provide a significant change in their daily lives. Most continued to work the farms where they had been enslaved, and without education, which had been denied them as slaves, they didn’t have much hope of advancement. However, being able to build a community without threat of reprisal made their lives better and created hope for the future.

The life of Montgomery County’s African Americans is one of courage and tenacity. It is also something for which there are few visual reminders in our historic landscape. Sugarland Forest was one of many communities created by former slaves, most of which have been absorbed into the surrounding communities and whose churches and schools have been lost. I could go on about this fascinating chapter of county history, but I know you are wondering what the paranormal connection is and I won’t keep you wondering for long.

Tresspassers WThe second filming location was at Trespassers W in Potomac, one of the homes that was included in ISOMG:MC. Trespassers W, named for Piglet’s home in Winnie the Pooh, is built on the foundations of a house that was built in 1820. It burned in 1873 and Captain John MacDonald, the owner at the time, built a new house on the old foundation. From 1949 to 1972 the house was owned by Newbold Noyes, editor of the Evening Star (he also gave the house its name and is the man for whom the Noyes Library for Young Children in Kensington is named).

This house has been well haunted for many years. Not only have the current owners seen inexplicable activity, but previous owners as well. The lights frequently flicker on and off in the house. That’s not necessarily indicative of a ghost, you might think, but when you can see the light switches flipping up and down on their own, that’s a different story! One particularly haunting incident happened to the current owner. He was working late at night in his study, the house was quiet and he was the only one up. He suddenly heard a harmonica playing. The sound seemed to be coming from the center of the room; the stereo wasn’t on and there had been no sound before the harmonica started playing. The unseen musician finished his tune before the music ended.

Who could the musical specter be? In our research we found several possibilities, but here I will suggest just one, Thomas Marshall Offutt.  Thomas Marshall Offutt ran a general store in present-day Potomac and was rather hot-headed.  When a rival store opened across the street, he tried to kill the owner, but only succeeded in putting a hole through his hat.  He was sent to prison, but escaped and was at large for two years with a $300 bounty on his head.  He was finally captured and died in jail.

This is just one story we could tell about this well haunted house which is most likely home to multiple ghosts. ISOMG:MC tells the whole story.

 

 

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Filed under African American history, Poolesville, Potomac

A Different Kind of Halloween Treat

Recently, a reporter from the Sentinel asked me if we debunked many of the ghost stories we heard. For us, because sharing history came first, debunking was not really our goal. Dorothy and I wanted to use the ghosts to tell a story about Montgomery County’s past. It was a bit of a juggling act trying to find the right stories to tell. There had to be a good paranormal experience to make the story, but we wanted to have the history behind it. (Although sometimes we just told the ghost story, no history needed. We thought you would forgive a story with a ghost and no history, but one with history and no ghost would be unforgivable.) To that end, we spent a lot of time trying to uncover possible causes to the hauntings resulting in many a “might be” or “could have.” Without an actual sighting, it is nearly impossible to accurately attribute an identity for the ghost.

As we worked on the book, we accumulated orphan stories – some had great history, but the haunting was flimsy; others had a great haunting, but it was too little history or beyond verification or just not long enough. What I give you this Halloween are five of the, shall we call them, undeveloped stories. A few I hope will eventually grow into full-fledged, put in a book, stories. Others are what they are, just a little bit of a story. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I do ask you, my loyal readers, if you have a story with any substance about any one of these sites, please email immediately! I am counting on you!

West Old Baltimore Road

West Old Baltimore Road

West Old Baltimore Road and the Tale of Old Man Stottlemyer

Occasionally when you’re driving through Montgomery County, particularly in the Agricultural Reserve, you suddenly find paved surface has turned into dirt and gravel and you feel liked you have stepped back in time (well, driven really). That is because in 1996, the county in what truly was a wise decision, decided to protect those roads that still retained their rural nature and created the Rustic Roads Advisory Committee who have been charged with identifying roads worth protecting and promoting public awareness of the program.

And so, it is not surprising that a road like West Old Baltimore Road, a stretch of which is one of those protected roads, might give the impression that ghosts are present. Around 100 years ago, as Old Man Stottlemyer (and I have been unable to narrow it down as there were many male Stottlemyers and I presume most of them lived to become old men) drove his steam tractor down West Old Baltimore Road. As he did, he saw almost the same landscape that we see today. Unexpectedly, his tractor developed a problem near Pyles Mill. (For those of you who have never seen one, a steam tractor is a massive piece of equipment. It runs by the same principles as a steam locomotive and is nearly as big!) Being as he was stuck, Stottlemeyer got off the tractor to see what the problem was. Then, without warning, the tractor began to go backwards, pinning Stottlemyer to a tree and cutting him in half. It is said that on foggy nights you can see the upper torso, half the man, of that unfortunate farmer.

Old Angler’s Inn

One of the most scenic places to eat in Montgomery County is the Old Angler’s Inn. Regularly rated as one of the area’s most romantic settings, the restaurant is in Potomac overlooking the C & O Canal. While not the original restaurant building, that stood across the street until it burned in 1945, the building is still over 100 years old. It became successful in the 19th century thanks to the many gold miners that worked for the Maryland Mine and the travelers on the Canal. For such a romantic place, it seems incongruous that it is also home to a spirit that likes to scare the staff by dragging phantom chains across the floor creating a most unwanted sound. The screech of the chains is like nails on a chalkboard. It certainly doesn’t help that the sound is heard late in the night as the tired staff is trying to get home.

PorterWardHouse

Porter Ward House. Image courtesy Montgomery County Historical Society

Porter Ward House

[Let me confess before I start this story, that it has not been researched or verified in any way. This is gratuitous story-telling at its worst, or best, depending on your point of view.]

It is hard to think that this lovely old Victorian house in Rockville is also the location of a story that, if it actually happened, would be truly reprehensible. The building was built in 1893 on the site of an older home by Julia Anderson. It was lived in by several different doctors and Mr. Porter Ward over time and eventually became what it is today, a law office. The building has a lovely tower, but the tower room is not used by anyone, in fact, it has been bricked up so no entry is possible!

It is said that one of those doctors that had lived in the Porter Ward House had a daughter. Unfortunately, she became pregnant out of wedlock. In those days, this was a complete disgrace, especially for the daughter of a well respected physician. To put her out of his mind, and life, this doctor did not take the old method of disowning her; he went a step further, down a very dark hole. He locked his daughter in that attic room and left her there to die. Then he bricked up the doorway.

Many people have seen the sad face of a young lady looking out that window. Look up and you may too!

Wadsworth Park in Washington Grove, MD

Wadsworth Park in Washington Grove, MD

Wadsworth Park

In lovely, old Washington Grove is an equally lovely park. Wadsworth Park has a charming gazebo and the park is used for community events and private affairs.

And so it made sense that the brother of a Grove resident thought of this as a good place to have his wedding. His sister offered to take photographs of the park and send them to him so he and his bride-to-be could decide. She took her camera and went to take pictures, but as soon as she started to shoot, the camera died. She had been sure the battery was fully charged and couldn’t understand how that happened.

The next day she came back again to take pictures. This time she made sure that she had a fully charged battery in her camera. But again, as soon as she started to look through the lens, the camera died.

Not to be discouraged, she came back that evening to try again. As she put her eye up to the viewer, she saw a white figure running towards the camera. And then it died.

As far as I know, Wadsworth Park has only been the site of happy events, and the home to one very camera shy ghost.

Chestnut Lodge. Image courtesy of the Montgomery County Historical Society

Chestnut Lodge. Image courtesy of the Montgomery County Historical Society

Chestnut Lodge

I have saved the best for last. Chestnut Lodge is a place that we are frequently asked about, and one we really wanted to include in the book. But up until recently, all we had to work with were some mentions of people seeing faces in the windows after it had closed.

Chestnut Lodge was a psychiatric hospital, housed in a building that was once a summer resort, the Woodlawn Hotel, built in 1889. In 1910 , Chestnut Lodge opened and became well known for, what was at the time, innovative ways of helping the mentally ill. Dr. Ernest Bullard, owner and medical director, eschewed pills and shock therapy for psychotherapy and the wet-sheet treatment (a method of calming a patient by wrapping them tightly in damp sheets.) Not today’s three day evaluation for any patient who went to Chestnut Lodge, most were there months, if not years. It also achieved some notoriety as the setting, and inspiration, for the movie, Lilith. It was also central to the book I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, a semi-autobiographical novel by Joanne Greenberg (and 1977 movie) who describes the wet-sheet treatment in detail.

A mental hospital! You couldn’t ask for a more perfect setting for a ghost or two, and yet, we struck out time and time again, asking Rockville history experts if they had heard any stories. However, last spring at one of our talks someone came forward with this tantalizing little tale.

A woman who used to work the switchboard and mailroom during the night shift was in our audience that day. She described how quiet and creepy the place could be at night. There was some kind of barrier between her work space and the building lobby with a slot for people to pass mail through. Frequently, and only at night, a hand with black fingernails (I believe she meant dirt and not nail polish) would come through the slot, as if searching for the mail. But, she said, there was never a body there to match. There had been a patient who had blackened fingers. She used to come down at night to get her mail. The only problem was, this woman was no longer around! Without her body, how could there be a hand?

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Filed under Potomac, Rockville, Washington Grove