This is the fifth entry of my Encounter Countdown to Halloween. All Hallows Eve is tomorrow!
US-1 through the Florida Keys
I had planned to do an entry on my Encounter Countdown to Halloween everyday throughout the month of October. As this is the fifth entry and Halloween is tomorrow, you can obviously see how that went. I think this story is especially prescient for me during this wild month.
When you walk through a storm, Hold your head up high And don’t be afraid of the dark.
At the end of the storm is a golden sky And the sweet, silver song of a lark.
Walk on through the wind, Walk on through the rain, Though your dreams may be tossed and blown.
Walk on with hope in your heart, And you’ll never walk alone.
–Oscar Hammerstein II, from the musical Carousel (1945)
US-1 is the only road through the Florida Keys and much of it occupies the former roadbed of the Florida East Coast Railroad, the culmination of Henry Flagler’s dream, built in 1912. When much of it was wrecked during the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, the railroad was unable to makes repairs and the right of way was sold to the state to develop a highway.
In 2017, the Florida portion of US-1 was deemed the “deadliest highway in America.” As the main highway through the Keys, the road is notorious for gridlock, accidents, and wildlife in the road. Add to these traffic fatalities the many deaths that occurred here during the building of the original railroad and the 1935 hurricane, this could very well be one of the most haunted roads in the country.
In his 2003 Haunted Key West, David L. Sloan tells the story of a woman driving from Miami to Key West on US-1. Driving a rental car, this frazzled young mother encountered a fierce rainstorm which reduced her vision to nothing. The defrost did nothing to clear the windshield and the wipers weren’t doing their job, even at their highest setting. As she drove, she became frightened of pulling off the road as she couldn’t see the side.
Suddenly, the sight of red taillights in the distance brought a bit of comfort. She began following the comforting glow and the storm’s intensity began to lessen. As the rain slowed to a light sprinkle, the driver looked down to readjust her wipers and radio and she refocused her eyes on the road ahead.
The comforting taillights were no longer glowing up ahead, in fact, the road was open and free of cars. The lonely road was devoid of any other cars. What happened to the car? The woman wondered what had helped her through the storm for some time.
Years later, she met a couple in Key West who had experienced the same thing. They had been driving on the Overseas Highway when a storm erupted and severely cut their visibility. As they drove, they encountered a comforting pair of headlights up ahead and they followed that car through the storm. Once they regained their visibility, the car vanished into thin air.
The couple pulled into a small bait shop alongside the highway. When they explained to the owner what they had just experienced, the man suggested that they had just gotten help from the ghost of US-1.
Elfrink, Tim. “Florida’s U.S. 1 the deadliest highway in America, study shows.” Miami New Times. 18 April 2017.
Stretching from Key West, the southernmost point in the country to the Canadian border at the St. John River in Fort Kent, Maine, US-1 connects the East Coast. In the South it links together important cities from Miami to Jacksonville, Florida; Augusta, Georgia; Columbia, South Carolina; Raleigh, North Carolina; Richmond and Arlington, Virginia; Washington, D. C.; to Baltimore, Maryland before entering into Yankee territory. It also links historic and haunted cities like St. Augustine, Florida; Aiken and Camden, South Carolina; Petersburg, Fredericksburg, and Alexandria, Virginia before it solemnly passes The Pentagon, with Arlington National Cemetery beyond it, before crossing the Potomac into Washington.
US-1 may be considered among the most haunted roads in the country. Not only does it directly pass a number of haunted places, but many more can be found within a short drive of this legendary road. This tour samples just a few of the legendary spots found alongside or near this legendary road.
Pig Woman Legend Cecil County
As US-1 dips south out of Pennsylvania into the countryside of Maryland, it enters Cecil County, the domain of the Pig Woman. According to local folklorist, Ed Okonowicz, the Pig Woman stalks the northern counties of the state as well as the marshes of the Eastern Shore, though the primary setting is usually in Cecil County. Okonowicz’s version of the tale begins near the town of North East where a farmhouse caught fire in the 19th century. The lady of the house was horribly burned in the fire and witnesses watched her flee into the nearby woods. She usually confronts drivers near a certain old bridge and causes cars to stall. The drivers see the specter of the Pig Woman who scratches and beats on the car. Terrified drivers who flee their vehicles are never seen again, though those who stay in their cars are left with horrible memories and odd scratches as well as dents on their vehicles.
This tale has been told around Cecil County for decades with hotspots for Pig Woman encounters being reported around North East, Elkton, and, in the 1960s, near Rising Sun, through which US-1 passes. Matt Lake, author of Weird Maryland, associates this tale with tales from Europe that tell of a woman with a pig-like face, particularly stories that ran rampant in early 19th century London. Despite deep European roots, the Pig Woman Legend remains fairly unique among Southern ghostlore.
Lake, Matt. Weird Maryland. NYC: Sterling Publishing, 2005.
Okonowicz, Ed. The Big Book of Maryland Ghost Stories. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2010.
Wormuth, Laura. “Decoding the Pig Lady of Elkton legend.” 31 October 2013.
Susquehanna River At the Conowingo Dam Between Cecil and Harford Counties
The Conowingo Dam, built between 1926 and 1928, carries US-1 over the Susquehanna River. Only five miles from the Pennsylvania border, this area was rife with activity when the Underground Railroad was in operation before the Civil War. Slaves seeking freedom in Pennsylvania would ply the river at night looking for red lanterns on the riverbanks that marked the safe houses. Slave catchers also used red lanterns to capture contraband slaves only a scant few miles from freedom in order to return them to their owners. Flimsy rafts were often employed here that led to the drowning deaths of some.
Along the river, the red lights are supposed to bob and dance on the riverbanks even today while the moans of slaves and even spectral bodies floating in the water are encountered by hikers, campers, and fishermen in the area.
Ricksecker, Mike. Ghosts of Maryland. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2010.
Peddler’s Run Flowing parallel to Glen Cove Road and MD-440 Near Dublin
On the western side of the river, one of the tributaries offering up its waters to the Susquehanna is named for a ghost; it’s called Peddler’s Run. As the legend states, in 1763 a poor peddler on the Dublin-Stafford Road (now MD-440) was found decapitated near John Bryarley’s Mill on Rocky Run. Locals buried the body near the creek where it was discovered. Not long after the peddler’s burial, his specter was seen walking along the creek without his head. In 1843 a skull was found by another local farmer. Presuming it to be that of the now legendary peddler, the skull was buried with the traveler’s remains. The peddler’s spirit was not seen again, though his name still graces the creek.
Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC: Penguin Press, 1995.
Varhola, Michael J. and Michael H. Varhola. Ghosthunting Maryland. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2009.
Tudor Hall 17 Tudor Lane Bel Air
As it hurries towards Baltimore, US-1 passes through the county seat of Harford County, Bel Air. Northeast of downtown is Tudor Hall, the former home of the famous and infamous Booth family. Junius Brutus Booth, one of the greatest American Shakespearian actors of the first half of the 19th century, built this Gothic-style home for his family. In this fine home, Booth’s family were immersed in the family occupation of acting. The halls rang with snippets of Sheridan and Etheredge while family members are supposed to have performed the balcony scene from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet using the balcony on the side of the house. Some of the elder Booth’s children would achieve their own celebrity including his sons Edwin, Junius Brutus Jr., and his daughter, Asia. Booth’s son, John Wilkes, who inherited his father’s fiery personality, would achieve notoriety after he assassinated President Lincoln after the end of the Civil War heaping infamy of Shakespearean proportions on the family name.
As word of Lincoln’s assassination spread, troops began to seek out members of the Booth family. Troops searched Tudor Hall which was still owned by the Booths but being rented to another family. The house passed out of family hands a few years later and has been owned by a host of individuals. Now owned by Harford County, the house is home to the Center for the Arts and is open a few times a month for tours.
The Booth’s legacy has extended from the theatrical realm into the spiritual. The spirits of several Booth family members have been reported throughout the South including John Wilkes Booth’s spirit which may still stalk Ford’s Theatre in Washington and Dr. Mudd’s farm in Waldorf, Maryland, where he was treated for a broken leg after his dastardly deed at the theatre. Legend holds (wrongly so) that Edwin’s dramatic spirit still appears on the stage of Columbus, Georgia’s Springer Opera House where he appeared in the early 1870s as well as in the halls of the Players’ Club in New York City where he died. Junius Brutus Booth’s fiery spirit may still roam the halls of Charleston, South Carolina’s Dock Street Theatre, formerly the Planter Hotel, where he stayed in the 1850s. Appropriately the building was transformed into a theatre in the 1930s.
Of course, the family’s seat in Bel Air may also be haunted by members of the spirited family. One couple who owned the house told the Washington Post in 1980 that they once were greeted by small brown and white pony. The curious creature looked into the couple’s car and then peeked into the house through a rear window. Moments later the creature vanished. The couple believed the animal was the spirit of Junius Booth’s favorite pony, Peacock. The same couple had a dinner party interrupted by spectral antics when a guest asked for seconds. The hosts and their guests were astonished as the top of a cake lifted up and landed at the place of that guest. People who have lived and worked in the house continue to tell stories of unexplained footsteps, voices, and things moving on their own accord with this storied house.
Allen, Bob. “In Maryland, a couple preserves the estate of the ill-starred Booth family.” The Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA). 21 December 1986.
Meyer, Eugene L. “House Booth built is slightly spooky.” Washington Post. 10 January 1980.
Perry Hall Mansion 3930 Perry Hall Road Perry Hall
It is arguable that the namesake of this Baltimore suburb is actually haunted. This grand colonial mansion sat derelict for many years and acquired a reputation of being haunted. The legend that has persisted about this house states that builder of this home and his wife both died on Halloween night in the late 18th century and that in the time since, some 50 other people have died here under mysterious circumstances some of whom still haunt the house. Though, according to the mansion’s website, none of this is true.
Baltimore businessman Harry Dorsey Gough acquired this vast estate in the 1770s and constructed this mansion which he named for his family’s ancestral home in Britain. Gough lived the life of a colonial playboy for a while after Perry Hall was constructed but after a visit to a Methodist meeting in Baltimore, he converted to the new Christian denomination. After distinguishing himself as a planter, businessman and politician, Gough passed away here in May of 1808 (not Halloween as the legend states). The estate remained in the family until 1852 when it began its long journey in the hands of others. Baltimore County acquired the derelict house recently and will be used as a museum and events facility.
In a 2011 article for the Perry Hall Patch Jeffrey Smith, then president of the Friends of Perry Hall Mansion debunked some of the legends around Perry Hall. Using the version of the legend in Matt Lake’s 2006 book, Weird Maryland, Smith breaks down the points of the legend. While there have likely been deaths in the house, the 50 deaths under mysterious circumstances that the legend purports are absurd. Smith notes that the house is hooked up to electricity and lights seen inside may have simply been left on by a previous visitor. Where the legend states that visitors have been unable to capture video of the house is also preposterous. While this house has reasons to be haunted on account of its history, there are no stories to support that assertion.
Coffin, Nelson. “Perry Hall Mansion shuttered while updates considered.” Baltimore Sun. 1 March 2016.
Lake, Matt. Weird Maryland. NYC: Sterling Publishing, 2004.
Smith, Jeffery. “Perry Hall’s most renowned and mistaken ghost story.” 31 October 2011.
Green Mount Cemetery 1501 Greenmount Avenue Baltimore
As US-1 bypasses downtown Baltimore it forms a northern border for this venerated cemetery. After visiting Boston’s Mount Auburn Cemetery, the first “garden cemetery” in the country, Samuel Walker, a Baltimore merchant, began to draw up plans for a similar cemetery to occupy a former estate called Green Mount. Hiring Benjamin Latrobe, architect for the U.S. Capitol Building, to design this park-like cemetery which opened in 1838. In the decades since, the cemetery has become the resting place for famed statesmen, artists, writers, and military figures, as well as the infamous including John Wilkes Booth who is buried with his family.
While numerous articles state that Green Mount is haunted, none of them connect specific stories with this august resting place. However, the cemetery has one very interesting connection to the paranormal, the grave of Elijah Bond, the creator of the Ouija Board. It was not until recently that Bond’s grave was marked, appropriately with a stone engraved with his Ouija board design.
“Baltimore headstones, horrors for a hair-raising, haunted Halloween.” The Towerlight (Towson University). 27 October 2013.
“History.” Green Mount Cemetery. Accessed 23 September 2016.
Hilton Mansion Campus of the Community College of Baltimore County Catonsville
As US-1 leaves Baltimore it swings by the suburb of Catonsville. According to a 2004 lecture given on the haunts of Catonsville, community college faculty held contests to select a member to attempt to spend the night in this haunted mansion. Some encountered the sword-wielding Confederate soldier who is supposed to guard the home’s main staircase. Author Tom Ogden notes that the apparition of a woman wearing a nightgown and holding a candle has also been encountered here. The house dates to the early 19th century, though the interior was completely replaced in the early 20th century. The home now serves as the college’s Center for Global Education.
Hagner-Salava, Melodie. “’Spirited’ talk evokes ghosts of Catonsville’s past.” Catonsville Times. 4 March 2004.
Ogden, Tom. Haunted Colleges and Universities: Creepy Campuses Scary Scholars and Deadly Dorms. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2014.
Historic Savage Mill 8600 Foundry Street Savage
Located between Baltimore and Laurel, Savage, Maryland is a quiet, unincorporated community on the banks of the Little Patuxent River. Downtown Savage lies between busy I-95 and slightly less busy US-1. The community was created as a mill town providing employees for the Savage Manufacturing Company’s textile mill which was constructed in the 1820s. The mill was in operation for more than a hundred years before it closed just after World War II. The old mill complex was used for the manufacture of Christmas ornaments for a few years before it was purchased for use as a warehouse. In 1985, the mill was reopened as a venue for boutiques, restaurants, and antiques dealers.
The mill has since become one of the driving forces for tourism to the area drawing more than a million people in 2010, but not all those people are attracted by shopping and attractions at the mill, some are brought because of the ghosts. The owners of the mill started ghost tours in the mid-2000s to capitalize on the ghost stories surrounding the mill complex.
Throughout the mill complex, spirits of former millworkers still linger. Merchants and patrons of the mill have heard their names called, been tripped by the puckish little girl’s spirit on the steps of the New Weave Building, seen faces at the windows, or perhaps encountered the spirit of Rebecca King who fell down the steps in the mill’s tower.
Alexander, Sandy. “Using the supernatural to sell Howard County.” Baltimore Sun. 4 October 2004.
“Ghostly history.” Washington Times. 23 October 2004.
Hoo, Winyan Soo. “At Maryland’s Savage Mill, history and commerce converge.” Washington Post. 28 April 2016.
St. John’s Episcopal Church 11040 Baltimore Avenue Beltsville
Like a moralizing parent looking over wild children, St. John’s Episcopal Church presides over the sprawl of US-1 (known as Baltimore Avenue here) as it passes through Beltsville. During the Civil War this commanding site featured a Federal artillery battery. The wife of a rector here in the 1970s recorded a number of experiences with spirits both in the church and in the churchyard. One evening while the wife and her children picked flowers in the churchyard they were startled to hear the sounds of a service coming from the church. After intently listening, the family entered the sanctuary to find it darkened and empty.
Carter, Dennis. “Hunting for haunts.” The Gazette. 25 October 2007.
Tawes Fine Arts Building Campus of the University of Maryland College Park
Moving south out of Beltsville, US-1 passes through College Park and the University of Maryland Campus. Though no longer home to the Department of Theatre, the Tawes Fine Arts Building retains its theatre and recital hall. The current home to the university’s English department, the building may still also retain its resident spook. Not long after the building’s opening in 1965, students began noticing the sound of footsteps in the empty theatre and would occasionally have mischievous jokes played on them, seemingly from beyond.
With quite a population of resident ghosts on campus, the university archivists have started documenting the stories. According to one of the archivists quoted in Michael J. and Michael H. Varhola’s Ghosthunting Maryland, Mortimer, Tawes’ ghost, may actually be a dog rather than a human spirit. According to campus lore, Mortimer was brought into the theatre during its construction and would frolic on the stage. The theatre’s seats had yet to be completely installed and the house was filled with metal frames the seats would be attached to. The frolicsome canine jumped from the stage into the house and impaled himself on one of the frames. Supposedly, he was buried in the building’s basement.
Okonowicz, Ed. The Big Book of Maryland Ghost Stories. Mechanicsburg, PA, Stackpole, 2010.
Tawes Theatre. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 5 April 2013.
Varhola, Michael J. and Michael H. Ghosthunting Maryland. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2009.
Bladensburg Dueling Ground Bladensburg Road and 38th Street Colmar Manor
When Washington outlawed dueling within the limits of the district, the hotheaded politicians and gentlemen of the district needed a place to “defend their honor.” They chose a little spot of land just outside the district in what is now Colmar Manor, Maryland. The activities at the dueling ground provided the name for the nearby waterway, Dueling Creek or Blood Run, now blandly called Eastern Branch. When the city of Colmar Manor was established in 1927, the city used dueling imagery on its town crest including a blood red background, a pair of dueling pistols and crossed swords.
Senators, legislators and military heroes are among the hundred or so men who dueled at this place in some fifty duels that are known and countless others that took place at this spot. Commodore Stephen Decatur was killed here in a duel with Commodore James Barron in 1820 and Representative John Cilley of Maine, who knew little of firearms, died here after combat in 1838 with Representative William Graves of Kentucky. The spirit of Stephen Decatur has been seen here along with other dark, shadowlike spirits that still stalk the old dueling grounds. The bloody grounds are now a park that stands silently amid the roaring sprawl of suburbia.
Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC: Penguin, 2002.
Taylor, Troy. “The Bladensburg Dueling Grounds, Bladensburg, Maryland.” Ghosts of the Prairie. 1998.
Varhola, Michael J. and Michael H. Varhola. Ghosthunting Maryland. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2009.