Ghosts of Annapolis
Have you ever felt that someone was looking over your shoulder, though you were certain no one was there? Have you ever seen something move that could not have moved on its own, or felt an icy chill in 90-degree heat? Have you ever found your personal objects misplaced in odd ways, or rearranged, though no man or beast could have touched them? Have you heard noises, bumps and voices in the night? You are not alone. And, if you live in the historic district of downtown Annapolis, you may not be alone right now.
With a rich history that goes back centuries and many buildings that date from the 1700s, it’s no wonder that Annapolis has a fair share of legendary hauntings. Nearly every notable building in the historic district has a ghost story, and many of these stories come from the current inhabitants as well as from legend. Recently, the Maryland Ghost and Spirit Organization conducted an investigation at Reynold’s Tavern, where a spirit named Mary is said to cause mischief.
If you want to learn about all the spirits that haunt our town, the man to see is Mike Carter, owner, with his wife Wendie, of Ghosts of Annapolis Tours and the Alchemy Tea and Trading Co. at 92 Maryland Ave. Mike is not shy about describing himself as “probably the most knowledgeable person in the world on ghosts and hauntings in Annapolis.”
Mike was born in Washington, D.C., and moved to England with his family as a young boy, finally settling later in Columbia. When his family lived in England, he once spent the night at a friend’s house, where he encountered his first ghost. “I was around seven at the time. We had all gone to bed and I had to get up to go to the bathroom.” As the young boy wandered around the dark house, he saw a figure on the stairs, “what I can only describe as the Gorton’s Fisherman.” The strange figure, dressed in the foul weather gear of the fishermen who once worked the wharfs of the town where Mike lived, quietly went down the stairs and disappeared. The next morning, he reported what he had seen to his friend’s family. “They all said, ‘Oh, that’s our ghost! He likes to play with the kids shoes.’ ” No one was the least bit surprised that a strange man in a mac and wellies was wandering about the house at night.
Mike doesn’t describe this as a defining moment, merely as his own personal experience with the paranormal. He was, and is, a voracious reader—a trait passed on to him by his mother. “She used to subscribe to those kid’s magazines for us, the ones with all the short stories. The Halloween issues were always full of ghost stories. I couldn’t get enough.” He also remembers being fascinated by PBS shows about Sasquatch and the Loch Ness monster. His love of reading (he was an English major in college), of history, and what he calls a “skeptical belief” in the supernatural all contributed to his fascination with Annapolis ghosts and his desire to share their stories. That, and a little serendipity.
He and his wife Wendie were vacationing in Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga., in the summer of 2001 when he became inspired to start a ghost tour company of his own. They were sitting in a little bagel shop in Charleston, and his wife picked up some tourist brochures that another traveller had left behind. One advertised a ghost tour of Charleston. “Doesn’t that sound fun?” she said. “No,” Mike replied. “It sounds stupid.”
With a little cajoling, Wendie convinced him to go. “I loved it. It was incredible. It was more about the history of the haunted places and less of the ‘Boo!’-type thing I was expecting.” When they went on to Savannah, they took another tour, as well as a haunted pub crawl. When they returned home to Annapolis, Mike began to look into similar tours here in Annapolis. “There were none! A few people were doing them periodically, mainly around Halloween, but nobody was giving tours on a regular basis.”
Mike began to do intensive research on all the legends of ghosts and spirits in the historic district, determined to start his own ghost tours. He delved into archives and birth records to find corroborating evidence of names and dates, until he had a thick folder and an extensive knowledge of hauntings in Annapolis. “But then 9/11 happened. And everything was in turmoil, and I just couldn’t start a tourist-based business when things were so crazy.” He put his folder away, until one day in November of 2003, when a small report on CNN about the ghost hunt at Reynold’s Tavern gave him the kick he needed. “I took it as a sign. I got my folder back out.” Ghosts of Annapolis Tours was open for business by January of 2004.
The business has been incredibly successful, and continues to grow. Mike and Wendie opened Alchemy Tea and Trading Co. in March of this year, and plan to add investigations into hauntings to their roster of ghostly services this fall. “We’ll get EMF (electromagnetic field) detectors, thermal scanners. We’ve just had so many requests for us to come out an investigate that it’s time to expand.” Mike says, “I am the quintessential skeptic. And as a skeptic/believer, I’m probably in a better position than a lot of paranormal investigators.” Mike says that the believers who investigate ghosts are too eager to believe, and that pure skeptics are never open to the possibility of paranormal activity. Mike hopes to bring some balance into the world of paranormal investigations.
There are two tours offered by Ghosts of Annapolis, the guided walking tour and the haunted pub crawl. The 90-minute walking tour includes, time permitting, State Circle, the Shaw House, the Governor’s Mansion, St. Anne’s and Church Circle, Reynold’s Tavern, Ram’s Head Tavern, the Maryland Inn, Cornhill St., City Dock, Shiplap House, the Barracks on Pinkney St., the Naval Academy, the Paca House and the Brice House. The pub crawl lasts two hours and visits four pubs, usually a different mix on each tour.
One of the stops you’re likely to make on the pub crawl is Ram’s Head Tavern on West St. The various buildings which make up today’s Ram’s Head were all taverns at one time or another, including the Crown and Dial at 27 West St. and the Sign of the Green Tree at 31-33 West St. in 1794. Historical records have also noted the Sign of the Green Tree as a “house of entertainment.” Apparently, one evening, a lonesome sailor decided to visit this particular entertainment venue. He had been at sea a very long time, and was ready for some female company. He selected a young woman named Amy (who, in some versions of the story, was the madam’s daughter) to be his companion for the evening and they retired to one of the rooms above what is now the downstairs bar. Their subsequent activities were so enthusiastic that the rafters shook and the chandeliers swayed in the bar beneath them. Soon, however, shaking chandeliers became creaking floorboards and suddenly Amy, the sailor and the bed came crashing through the ceiling of the bar to the floor below. Amy was killed in the fall and her spirit still haunts the Ram’s Head to this day. And, if you should have an opportunity to visit the downstairs bar, take a look at the ceiling above the bar itself—you can still see Amy’s bedpost stuck in the ceiling.
One of the stops on the walking tour is the Shiplap House on Pinkney St., now home to the Historic Annapolis Foundation. The house dates from 1715, and is one of the oldest buildings in Annapolis. The term “shiplap” refers to the siding at the rear of the house which is a type normally used in shipbuilding. Its first occupant was Edward Smith, a sawyer who also ran a tavern there. After he died, his wife Mary kept the tavern going until 1724. There was also a tavern called the Harp and Crown on the site, run by John Humphrey in the late 1780s.
One of the ghosts which haunts this house is Adrianne, believed to be a working girl who was employed in the one of the taverns. Her dead body was found behind the house one evening, presumably left there by a customer who was also her murderer. Adrianne has a long history of jealousy towards any female occupants of the house. When the painter Francis Blackwell Mayer lived there, he was lying in bed one evening in the dark and heard the sound of his wife’s footsteps coming up the stairs. He listened as she walked through the hall and into the bedroom, but she carried no lantern, so he couldn’t see her in the dark. She turned down the covers and silently slid into bed next to him. Mayer was shocked at how cold his wife’s body was. He also smelled a new perfume, a rose scent he couldn’t remember her wearing before. He asked her if it was new, and she said nothing. Perturbed, he asked her again, finally shouting, “Why won’t you answer me?” His wife’s voice finally came not from beside him, but from downstairs, asking “Who are you talking to?” Mayer lunged for his lantern, and threw back the covers. There was no one there but the impression of a woman’s body still visible in the mattress.
Years later, in the 1980s, when the house was owned by a lawyer and his wife, Adrianne made her presence known in a more forceful way. After a dinner party during which the couple hid tape players and broadcast spooky noises to the delight of the guests, Adrienne climbed in bed with the wife and kicked her right onto the floor. The couple left the house shortly thereafter.
Whether you are a skeptic or a believer—or a combination of the two—you can still enjoy a good ghost story or two this fall. If you’d like to go on one of the tours, be sure to call ahead for reservations—the tours fill up fast during the Halloween season. Call 410-216-6005 for reservations, or visit their website at www.GhostsofAnnapolis.com for more information.