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Mike Carter is the founder of the Annapolis Ghost Tour, which he's been running for ten years now. He says tour-goers often fall into one of two camps: eager paranormal enthusiasts, or outright skeptics of anything supernatural.
"First and foremost, I think it's extremely relevant — I am a skeptic," Carter says. "That's I think what makes our tour so great — I view it through a skeptic's eye."
But Carter also says there are also a few potential customers who fall into another category — those that are simply scared. Carter remembers one man seriously concerned that a ghost would follow him home.
"And this is a big man. Had to be 6 feet 4 inches to 6 feet 5 inches, maybe 300 pounds, and was terrified of the idea of a ghost following him home," Carter says. But he also wouldn't give the man a guarantee against it happening. "We make no promises or guarantees of any kind when it comes to the paranormal."
With that feeble reassurance out of the way, my 5'8", 175-pound self asked Carter and Julia Dray, one of his tour guides and his co-author on the new book "Haunted Annapolis: Ghosts of the Capital City," about the ghost of Mary Reynolds, a well-known 18th century hostess who is said to still haunt the Reynolds Tavern on Church Circle.
Through several different incarnations over the past few centuries, the tavern building has served as a boarding house, a bank, and then a public library.
"In the 1980s they renovated it, reopened it as a tavern, and then they got themselves an invisible assistant manager along with the deal," Dray says. "She's to this day involved in running the business. She'll expose employees who are stealing; one guy had a backpack strap break, and it hit the floor, and when it burst open, all the frozen filet mignons he'd hidden in there went flying around the room."
And it's not just employees that Reynolds' ghost is watching.
"She keeps an eye on the visiting guests as well," says Dray. "If you get drunk and disorderly, she'll shut you down any number of ways by spilling your drink in your lap, to knocking other people's food on you, to locking you in the bathroom."
The tour moves from the Reynolds Tavern over to the Maryland State House, famous for having the largest wooden dome built without nails in the country.
It's a dome that played a role in bringing Annapolis the ghost of Thomas Dance. Dance was a plasterer who worked on a dome, but suffered a fatal fall 87 feet to the marble floor below in 1793.
"He's said to haunt the building not because he died here — and we don't know whether he slipped, was pushed or the scaffolding collapsed — but because the contractor in charge of the building project took advantage of his family, denying the widow and children the payment of pension and outstanding salary, and confiscating his working tools, which meant his sons had no profession," she says.
Dray says Dance's ghost is blamed for lights flashing on and off, doors opening and closing, and, every once in a while, blasts of cold air strong enough to knock a person down. Dance is also the most often spotted ghost in Annapolis, sometimes seen walking on top of the statehouse at night, and even at times inside the building.
"People usually assume that he's a tour guide, or a re-enactor, or a living history person, and they'll go to the security desk and say, 'Hey, how to I get in the tour?' or 'Where's the living history event?' or 'Do you know there's a re-enactor in the dome who's smoking a pipe?'" Dray explains.
And with just two tales of haunted Annapolis history, Carter and Dray had piqued my interest. And Carters says that's what his ghost tour aims to do: make history come alive - or at least undead.
With just two tales of haunted Annapolis history, Carter says that's what his ghost tour aims to do: make history come alive, or at least undead.
"To me I believe that the paranormal side of it humanizes the history," Carter says. "Because we're talking about real people who have in a way became immortal."
[Music: "Dark Shadows Theme" by Various Artists from Dark Shadows - The 30th Anniversary Collection]
Photos: Haunted Annapolis