Category Archives: Seneca

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

Major Peter Is Rolling Over in His Grave

DSC00110_back_panorama_editPreservation Maryland has recently released their 2013 list of Maryland’s most endangered historic sites. One of the ten sites listed is our own Montanverde. The house is considered one of Montgomery County’s great manor houses, having been built for Major George Peter around 1810.DSC00115_front_edit Montgomery County was sparsely populated when Montanverde was built. It was intended to be a summer retreat for Peter and an income producing property as well. There was good farmland, and the red Seneca sandstone which Peter quarried was used for many important buildings in Washington, D.C. including the Smithsonian Castle. He purchased the land on the recommendation of George Washington, an old family friend.

DSC00114With our modern vantage point, it’s hard to think of Montanverde as a grand manor house. From this side view you can see that it was a narrow house, only one room wide. The main block of the house has two rooms flanking a central hall; the second floor the same. Each wing is one room, although I could see through the window that one of the wings had been broken up for what looked like a closet. Six rooms in all! (You wouldn’t have guessed from the size of the house that the Major fathered 16 children. Talk about having to share a room!)

The house is reached by a steep driveway, worn away over the years with high side walls and a ravine running down the middle. Needless to say we walked.

DSC00117_edit

Looking in through one of the windows. Unfortunately it was a bright day and I couldn’t avoid the reflections on the glass.

The value of Montanverde, historically, is its association with the Peter family. George Peter, who built the house, lived there from 1810 to 1861. He may have been the County’s first political boss, having served in Congress himself as well as directing the political careers of others. He was also a war hero, having commanded the only militia that rallied to hold back the British in Bladensburg. The Battle of Bladensburg (or the Bladensburg Races as it is disparagingly referred to) did little to stop the British from invading the nation’s capital.

Major Peter lived large in life and, apparently in death as well. He was fond of celebrating by tossing his glass into the fireplace when finished. The sound of breaking glass was still evident many years later. His spirit was also in the habit of moving furniture to a more agreeable location. The sight of a stately gentleman has also been seen in the east bedroom, his room in death as it was in life.

Looking down the long, steep drive

What will happen to Montanverde now? The house has been empty for some time and even though the roof looked in reasonable shape (no gaping holes), a house of this age can deteriorate quickly if left empty too long. The property has 13 acres, a very attractive prospect for any developer. Let’s hope the attention brought about by its listing as an endangered site will help get it the protection it deserves.

 

A rusting plow gives testament to Montanverde's agricultural past. The house can be seen beyond the trees.

A rusting plow gives testament to Montanverde’s agricultural past. The house can be seen beyond the trees.

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