Beneath the statehouse dome and from the banks of the Severn River, the ghosts of Annapolis rise to roam the red-bricked streets of the old city. The capital of Maryland since 1694, the city hosts the restless dead who never left the narrow alleys, taverns and homes where they met their ends. Come dine with Mary Reynolds at the tavern she's been keeping since the 1760s, stand vigil at the sarcophagus of Admiral John Paul Jones and search for the figure of Thomas Dance, who plummeted from the heights of the statehouse dome in 1793. From headless men and ghostly soldiers to unlucky bootleggers and ominous gravediggers, Annapolis Ghost Tour founder Mike Carter and tour guide Julia Dray narrate the eerie tales of these and other supernatural residents of Annapolis.
About the Author
Mike Carter is the Founder & President of Annapolis Ghost Tours, which have been in operation since 2002. He received his B.A. from the University of Maryland, College Park. Julia Dray is a professional musician, writer and performer who's lived in Annapolis since 1983. After attending St John's College, she worked as a restaurant manager, technical writer, magazine editor and pianist before joining Annapolis Ghost Tours in 2007; locals and visitors alike know her as "the ghost tour lady".
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The Maryland State House
THE AGGRIEVED GHOST OF THOMAS DANCE
Annapolis is a city that rises from the waters of the Severn River and Spa Creek in a clutter of houses and streets, and capping the landscape is the Maryland State House. Built upon the highest point in town, the capitol building has an eighteenth-century heart and a modern digestive system; the historic chambers of the 1772 building grew too small to handle the growing number of state senators and delegates, and new chambers were added to the western side of the building in the early twentieth century. Seen from the east, however, the building appears entirely of the late eighteenth century, with a severe Georgian red-brick facade, a portico of marble blocks and Corinthian columns and symmetrical windows. When it was designed in the 1760s, this statehouse was to demonstrate that Maryland was a colony of civilized men, and it was filled with touches that spoke of culture and an understanding of classical design. They were even supposed to have used mysterious ratios and proportions in measuring the rooms and placing doorways, and there have always been rumors of secret chambers and storage spaces that were placed in the building for reasons conspiracy theorists can only imagine.
The building is actually the third capitol to stand above Annapolis; the first lasted less than a decade before it burned to the ground in 1704, and the second was a dilapidated mess by the middle of the 1760s. Construction on the new capitol began in 1772 but was interrupted by the outbreak of the American Revolution. The designer, Joseph Horatio Anderson, topped his statehouse with a cupola when it was finally finished in 1779.
The cupola looked unimpressive on top of the massive structure, and the large roof developed numerous leaks; those working in the building suffered through the rest of the war, waiting for peace to come so they could afford to repair the problem.
A new architect, Joseph Clark, designed a soaring wooden dome to crown the building, but construction on the ambitious project was delayed for eighteen months after the end of the Revolutionary War while the Maryland State House served as the first peacetime capitol of the United States of America. The structure is the only state capitol that ever functioned as the nation's capitol, and legislative sessions have continued uninterrupted since the building was opened in 1772. Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris, which ended the war and recognized the United States as a sovereign nation, here in January 1784. George Washington tendered his resignation as commander in chief and delivered his emotional farewell address from the Senate chamber just before Christmas 1783.
Once the national capital had formally moved to New York City, preparations began for the construction of the dome. To their dismay, the builders realized that the cost for building the dome was going to be much larger than expected, due to the high cost for the nails they'd been planning to use in its construction.
Manufactured goods like nails and pins were imported from England, but prices were high and their one-time overlord levied export tariffs on goods. There was great reluctance on the part of the Maryland legislature to appropriate money that would line the pockets of English manufacturers, and there was no domestic company that could make them in the quantity needed. It seemed that there were only two choices possible: build the dome and absorb the cost of the nails or delay the project until a cheaper supplier could be found.
The architect and builders came up with an even better solution: they devised a way of building the dome without using a single nail. Held together with a variety of wood joins, wooden pegs and iron bands, the dome (which is actually two wooden cups nested together) was completed in 1794. Two hundred years and two major earthquakes later, the dome is a masterpiece of engineering that flexes in the wind, expands and contracts as the temperature and humidity fluctuate and has never required structural repair.
The ghost who haunts the statehouse is that of a man who died while working on the dome. Thomas Dance, a skilled plasterer, was on a scaffolding eighty-seven feet above the floor when he plunged to a horrible death on the marble tiles below. No one knows if he overbalanced or if his equipment failed or if there was a push administered by a fellow worker, but eighty-seven feet onto a marble floor is an accident no one survives and his spirit haunts the building to this day.
Mr. Dance is a ghost with a grudge. Following his accident, his widow and children were forcibly deported from Annapolis to England and cruelly deprived of any pension that might support them once there. The perpetrator of these acts is said to have been the contractor on the building project, for reasons that are lost to history. Thomas Dance lingers in the shadowy corners of the historic rooms and hallways, hoping to make his grievances known.
Over the decades, there have been many sightings of a man in attire from the late eighteenth century who appears to favor the dome gallery and exterior balcony, although he has also been seen elsewhere in the building. Security guards report frequent false alarms that send them running from one end of the building to the other. Tourists often approach guards and staff to inquire about the identity of the man they had spotted up in the dome gallery wearing historic garb, many indignantly reporting that the man was shamelessly breaking the law by smoking a pipe.
The statehouse is subject to sudden drafts of ice-cold air that blow loose papers or lightweight objects from desks, and there have been many reports of footsteps echoing in empty hallways, doors opening or unlocking and objects moving or being observed to float and more than a few people who merely say, "I know I was not alone." Legislative staffers and volunteers have also had many stories to relate — from altered tallies on the voting boards to ringing phones and pitchers of water that suddenly fall over and play dead. For those who have worked in the building, the phrase "It's just Thomas" is one of reassurance — it's not an armed intruder, it's just the ghost!
Thomas Dance appears to feel a connection to the dome itself, perhaps because he died applying the finishing touches to the beautiful plasterwork that adorns its interior, and he has reacted dramatically to those who say or do something that angers him. Most of those stories include mention of someone intentionally causing damage to or speaking disparagingly of the dome, which is the point at which Mr. Dance makes his presence known.
In July 1997, a group of tourists on a historical tour of the building paused inside beneath the dome to listen to their guide. One of the gentlemen on the tour was less than impressed at what he saw above him and made a comment to that effect. The response from the ghost came a second later: a blast of freezing wind rattled the window embrasures, sent loose debris flying and slammed open the wooden doors at both ends of the main hallway, sending papers out onto the lawn and staircase. One of the security guards on duty timed the incident at about ten seconds in duration, though some of the shaken tourists claimed it lasted much longer. When the gust of air subsided, they found the opinionated gentleman facedown on the floor. Several approached him, thinking he had fainted, but before they could reach him, the man leapt to his feet and bolted out the door, leaving behind a spreading puddle on the marble tiles and a cautionary tale to any who would disrespect Mr. Dance's plasterwork!
Visitors need not enter the statehouse to get a glimpse of its resident spirit: Mr. Dance has frequently been spotted on the balcony that circles the crown of the dome. He is often described as leaning on the railing of the easternfacing side, his head topped by a cocked hat and what appears to be a long-stemmed pipe in his hand.
On an autumn evening in 2007, a tourist approached the Ghosts of Annapolis tour kiosk to ask a question about the statehouse. He'd visited it earlier that day, and the guide who had led his group through the building had told him that the interior dome gallery and exterior balcony were not open to the public. But later that day, when he was walking past at 8:00 p.m., he'd glanced up to see a gentleman strolling the circuit of the balcony while enjoying a pipe and the evening sunset; the figure was dressed in eighteenth-century garb, with a cocked hat and a long queue of hair dangling down his back. He'd fumbled for his camera, wanting to take a picture of this historic gentleman atop the historic building, but by the time he'd gotten it out, the man was gone.
The tourist wanted to know if he'd been misinformed by his statehouse tour guide; Mike Carter, the owner of Ghosts of Annapolis, told him that the dome was definitely closed to tourists and casual visitors ... and that what he'd probably seen was the ghost of a man dead more than two hundred years. After hearing the story of Thomas Dance, the tourist went sadly away, lamenting his lost photo opportunity.
Before the last tour departed on that evening, Mike suggested to the guide and group that they take extra photographs of the dome and keep a sharp eye out for anything unusual; the group looked up at the statehouse from State Circle and caught sight of the same man described by the earlier tourist, even capturing a blurry photograph of a man in a tricorn hat leaning on the balcony railing. On the next night, a different guide and a different group saw the exact same thing. Carter went to interview the security staff at the State House to see if they could identify the figure — after all, if there was a historical reenactor in the building, that could explain everything!
The General Services Police supervisor said that the last time anyone had been out onto the balcony was a few weeks earlier, when they'd raised the flag back from half-staff (it had been lowered following President Ronald Reagan's death) and that it was impossible for anyone to have been out there, because no one on the night staff had access to the keys.
Since that night, Carter says, he has been unable to walk past the dome without looking up, hoping to catch his own glimpse of old Thomas Dance, smoking his pipe and pondering new ways to make his grievances known.CHAPTER 2
REVERDY JOHNSON TRIES HIS LAST CASE
Situated between the wheels of Church and State Circles, the grounds of the mansion that is the official residence of Maryland's governors are outlined by a black iron fence topped with imposing spikes. Built in the 1870s in a Victorian style with a mansard roof, Government House was substantially remodeled in the 1930s into a Georgian mansion and has played host to countless prominent figures throughout the years. One of them apparently enjoyed the hospitality so much that he remains to this day.
Born in Annapolis on State Circle and educated at St. John's College, Reverdy Johnson was a lawyer and conservative Democrat best known as the counsel for the defense in the famous 1857 case Dred Scott v. Sandford, in which he represented the slave-owning defendant. He also served as attorney general for the United States in the administration of Zachary Taylor. Personally opposed to slavery, Johnson played a key role in keeping Maryland on the Union side during the American Civil War and later was elected to the state's House of Delegates (1861–62). He took a seat in the United States Senate in 1863 and, while a senator, defended Mary Surratt before a military tribunal on charges of plotting and aiding in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The trial ended in her execution.
In 1868, President Johnson (no relation) appointed him minister to the United Kingdom, where he served until Ulysses S Grant became president. Mr. Johnson came home and resumed his legal practice, at one point prosecuting cases against the Ku Klux Klan.
In February 1876, Reverdy Johnson was in Annapolis to argue a case (Baker v. Frick) before the Court of Appeals and stayed at the mansion at the invitation of the newly inaugurated Democratic governor, John Lee Carroll. On February 10, Carroll hosted a reception for the legislature's members, their ladies and the assorted luminaries of Annapolis at which Johnson was the honored guest. As the evening progressed from dinner to dancing, the reception rooms became stuffy and many of the guests spilled out onto the grounds of the mansion for a breath of cold winter air. The Maryland Gazette reported:
On the evening of February 10th, 1876, when in his 80th year, with a mind yet undimmed by mental incapacity, and a body that gave promise of many years of usefulness, he [Reverdy Johnson] met with a fatal accident at Annapolis. He was at a social gathering at the Executive Mansion, John Lee Carroll being then Governor and host. Mr. Johnson started to go out the main doorway. He was offered assistance but refused it. Passing down the granite steps of the front porch, he turned to the left of the entrance and fell into a paved area, five feet below, where he was found shortly afterward in an unconscious state. He expired soon after being discovered. He died almost within a stone's throw of the house in which he was born, and well nigh under the shadow of his alma mater.
News of the accident swept through the party, and music and laughter gave way to disbelief and sadness. The body was carefully removed. Reverdy Johnson was at Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore two weeks later, with a crowd of distinguished mourners about his grave.
Governor Carroll was one of those who attended the funeral, and when he returned to Government House, he was to hear accounts from staff and visitors about strange noises and ghostly encounters with the recently deceased legislator. People spoke of seeing a man in fancy dress clothes on the lawns near the building, of hearing music and voices within the reception rooms and of strange lights and aromas in empty rooms. The sightings continue into the present day.
The anniversary of his death appears to have some special significance for Mr. Johnson, and February tenth is frequently punctuated by bizarre and unexplained events, so much so that the staff at Government House have a superstition about hosting parties or receptions on that date. Rumors and whispers from the late nineteenth century hint at the disappearance of folk whose last known location was on the grounds of the mansion on that date (although research has failed to uncover any actual disappearances), and it is certain that Johnson's ghost is more active in the weeks around the date of his death.
General Services Policemen (GSP) regularly experience moments when the guard dogs that patrol and protect the property will balk at entering the rooms in which the party was held. If forced in against their will, the dogs will whimper or bark until they are allowed to leave. An animal psychic who was visiting the mansion improbably claimed that the dogs were merely being tactful, not wanting to invade a party to which they were not invited — when anyone who has ever owned a dog knows they don't need an invitation! Whether they are being polite or are simply nervous, there are some days when the dogs just don't want to go into those rooms.
Residents and visitors in the house have heard chamber music, voices in animated conversation, the clink of cutlery on china and the quick whisper of laughter in an empty room. A young man staying overnight at the mansion in the 1990s reported passing a closed door late in the evening when he heard sounds of music and laughter from behind it. Convinced he was overhearing a movie soundtrack, he opened the door and looked into the room to find it dark and untenanted. Confused at the sudden silence, he stepped back from the open door and went into the kitchen for a snack; on his return to his bedroom, the door was once again closed and the sound of music and voices came faintly into the hall. Hastening his steps, he went back to his guest room and locked the door.
Perhaps the best story comes from a member of the housekeeping staff who had just returned from a vacation when she had an experience that made her wish for another. She came to work one evening and was walking past the doors to the reception rooms when she heard the sounds of music and laughter on the other side. She was surprised to find a party taking place — no one had told her about it — and decided to poke her head into the room to see how large the group was and what sort of cleanup would be required. To her great amazement, the room was filled with men and women in elaborate historical dress who were dancing and talking, the air was filled with the fragrance of wine and roast meat, hot candle wax and crushed flowers, but the aroma that most caught her attention was that of sweaty human bodies, a scent modern Americans don't encounter very often. At first thinking that she was interrupting a special event (the governor hosts several events throughout the year that feature people in historic dress), the housekeeper pulled the door shut and started down the hall. As she was walking toward the kitchen, she realized that there was none of the bustle she'd expect in the hallway if a party were taking place, and she returned to the room to find someone who could explain what was going on. But when she opened the doors a second time, the room beyond was silent and utterly empty.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Haunted Annapolis"
Copyright © 2012 Mike Carter and Julia Dray.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A Brief History of Annapolis 15
1 The Maryland State House 21
2 Government House 28
3 St. Anne's Church 33
4 Reynolds Tavern 40
5 Rams Head Tavern 45
6 The Historic Inns of Annapolis 50
7 St. John's College 59
8 Shiplap House 66
9 The Headless Ghost of Cornhill Street 72
10 Hell Point 78
11 The James Brice House 86
12 The Brooksby-Shaw House 93
13 The John Brice II House 97
14 136 Dock Street 100
15 GalwayBay 102
16 Thirsty Roland, the Unfortunate Mr. Hastings and the Soldiers of Pinckney Street 106
Appendix: Exploring Haunted Annapolis 113
About the Authors 125