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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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?