Transcripts

‘Ghosts of Georgetown’ Chases Three Centuries Of Ghosts

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:11
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and we've finally arrived at one of our favorite weeks of the year, where we delve into the creepy, the kooky, the mysterious and spooky, as we get a head start on Halloween with a show we call…

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:26
…Haunted D.C. (laugh) And this year we have a whole new bag of tricks and treats for you.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:40
We'll visit the Eastern Shore to hear why the tiny town of Pocomoke City, Md. has developed such a ghostly reputation.

MS. MINDIE BURGOYNE

00:00:46
I don't mean to say that it's a spooky place, but it's a place that is thick with presence.

SHEIR

00:00:53
And we'll tour the homegrown Halloween spectacle that's sparking so much controversy in Silver Spring.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1

00:00:58
This whole situation has been blown way out of proportion.

SHEIR

00:01:03
Plus, we'll meet a man who makes a living writing stories designed to haunt your dreams.

MR. LLOYD WOLF

00:01:08
I was very easily scared, had a very active imagination, which I think most writers and most creative people, they have to have that.

SHEIR

00:01:25
But we begin today's Haunted D.C. show by exploring a neighborhood that some people say contains a whole bunch of spooky spirits. More than 250 years worth, actually.

SHEIR

00:01:35
Here we go. We'll have you introduce yourself, and then you'll tell us where we are, why we're here and the whole backstory.

MR. TIM KREPP

00:01:40
Well, my name is Tim Krepp. I'm a local Washington, D.C. tour guide. I'm also an author of a few books, which, conveniently enough for this time of the year, have to do with ghosts. So I had "Capitol Hill Haunts," last year. And coming out this year is "Ghosts of Georgetown."

SHEIR

00:01:52
Tim and I recently met up in Georgetown, which officially dates back to 1751, making it more than 30 years older than D.C. itself. In the spirit of Tim's new book, he led me on an afternoon ghost tour of the neighborhood. We made several stops, starting along the C&O Canal, right near 33rd Street Northwest, just south of M.

KREPP

00:02:11
And the canal is a fairly important part about the history of Georgetown. Now, the reason Georgetown exists as a town itself was that this was the highest port town that ships could get up to on the river. Past here you had rapids. To get around the rapids, they built the C&O Canal. And this was built around the mid-1800s or so. This was a seedy part of town. This was a rough part of town here. You didn't want to be caught here at night.

KREPP

00:02:33
In fact, one of the stories I have deals with the early 1890s. And it's a story of a police officer walking his beat along the Canal towpath at night. And he sees this ghostly apparition waving a bloody razor, those old razors they used to shave with. And of course he was a bit spooked by this, and who wouldn't be? It turns out that later that night, an actual assault takes place in Georgetown where a man tries to assault and kill one of his boarders in a boarding house.

SHEIR

00:02:57
With a razor?

KREPP

00:02:58
With a razor, with a straight-edge razor. So totally unconnected to the ghost and so because of this, it sparks a whole litany of ghost stories in the Washington Post about other ghosts that are seen along the C&O Canal, from fishermen who claim that ghosts prevent them from catching fish here, which perhaps may be a bit more of the dubious side of the ghosts, to policemen that refused to walk their beat. The police officers in the 7th precinct of Georgetown called it the Dead Man's Beat. So they didn't want to be walking along here at night.

SHEIR

00:03:25
So do you feel better doing this interview during the day right now? Would you be spooked if we were here at night?

KREPP

00:03:29
No. I've been looking to see a ghost for years now, and I've got nothing. I'm here, I'm willing to believe, and they won't show up for me. So that's very disappointing for me. But if anyone hears anything, let me know. I'd be interested in hearing about a current ghost along the C&O Canal.

SHEIR

00:03:42
All right. So here we are on Wisconsin.

KREPP

00:03:46
On Wisconsin, right near -- you can see the store here, The Gap. Like many other clothing stores along Wisconsin Avenue, you wouldn't think much of it. But you can see it's a slightly larger building than its neighbors. It wasn't, as you might imagine, built as a Gap. It wasn't even built as a clothing store or any store at all. At first it was built as what's called Forrest Hall. And Forrest was a…

SHEIR

00:04:06
Forrest was a very eager bus driver honking their horn. No. (laugh)

KREPP

00:04:09
Forrest was a local developer that built this, kind of on spec. He built it to house any number of things. So this was a popular, among other things, dance hall, in the antebellum, pre-war years. It progresses, the war happens. And the war totally changes the character of Georgetown. At this point it becomes an armed camp. There are thousands of soldiers marching through here. And Forrest Hall was made as a kind of receiving area for prisoners. When you were caught drunk and disorderly in the Union Army, you were stashed there until you sobered up and they came and grabbed you. Confederate prisoners were housed there.

KREPP

00:04:43
And after the war they tried to fix it back up again, but it never really had that same charm as the pre-war years. And it gradually declined. They were locking it up in 1919 and the Washington Herald did a quick story about it. And the old caretaker there insisted that he still heard, on the third floor, the all-night sounds of these ghostly balls continuing from the pre-war years, continuing on well into the evening. So I went and asked The Gap if they heard any sounds of antebellum balls or the swish of the silk skirts or the trot of the boots, but they looked at me quizzically and said no, they have no recollection of that. So I'm still waiting to hear if The Gap is still haunted or not.

KREPP

00:05:21
So as we're heading up Prospect you can see from the stream of kids going the other way, we're getting close towards Georgetown University. William Blatty, who wrote "The Exorcist," he attended here in the 1940s. And as he attended school in nearby Maryland there was an exorcism. Blatty heard the story, was kind of inspired by it, as writers do. In 1971 he published the book, "The Exorcist," which was set in Georgetown, the neighborhood. So this is the house that was haunted in the movie, or more precisely, it was the daughter of the actress was possessed by the demon. We're right near the steps here where the priest kicks the demon out of the little girl, takes the demon inside, and falls dramatically down the steps in the movie.

KREPP

00:06:04
Now, for the movie itself, they kind of created an L-shaped addition. So they needed the edge of the house to adjoin the steps. Obviously, if you fall out of the house right now you'd fall into the garden, and that wouldn't be anywhere near as dramatic. So you need to fall down the steps. They created an edge. They add a third story. If you look at the movie stills, you'd barely recognize the house. It's not, that I can tell, haunted. But the house that used to stand on the site was very much haunted. It was the home of a Mrs. Eden, E.D.E.N. -- that was her initials -- Southworth. And she was a prolific novelist in the 19th century. Married to a husband, who then abandoned her. So she was still legally married and had no other options. She wrote to make money for herself, make money for her kids. Eventually became quite wealthy doing it.

KREPP

00:06:44
Enough to afford a cottage that stood on this site. On the eve of the Civil War, the dawn of the Civil War, the Battle of Manassas took place only about 20, 30 miles away from here. So the citizens of Washington, they learned that this is a disaster. The Confederates have roundly beaten us, and the residents of Washington, the residents of Georgetown, are panicked by this. Are the Confederates going to come? Are they going to invade? Will the city be put to the torch? Who knows? And Mrs. Southworth gathers her daughter and her son in the house and says, there's only three of us here. How will we survive if the Confederates come?

KREPP

00:07:12
And a mysterious voice in the background says, there are four of you here, and you'll be fine. And when she passes away, the house goes through a few owners. It becomes an ice cream shop. And there's an Italian greengrocer that sets up his cart out front, and he's selling his goods, and so one night he sees Mrs. Southworth coming out of the garden and talks to him. He had known Mrs. Southworth when he had been here beforehand and he panics and runs away. So she stuck around until the house was torn down, I believe in the 1920s or so.

KREPP

00:07:38
This house that we see right here was built in the 1940s, '50s. So it's boringly unhaunted, but it was haunted at one point.

SHEIR

00:07:44
So no Southworth sighting since then?

KREPP

00:07:46
Not since then. No, no, no. Even when the house was an ice cream shop, it was a tourist stand, her library was kept -- she was an avid reader -- it was kept as preserved. And that's where she would be seen and heard from. So presumably when the books were taken away, she went away as well.

SHEIR

00:08:09
That was local tour guide and author Tim Krepp. His latest book, "Ghosts of Georgetown," is out now from the History Press. For more on the book and to see a photo of the so-called Exorcist steps before Hollywood gave them their dramatic makeover, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
Transcripts of WAMU programs are available for personal use. Transcripts are provided "As Is" without warranties of any kind, either express or implied. WAMU does not warrant that the transcript is error-free. For all WAMU programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version. Transcripts are owned by WAMU 88.5 American University Radio and are protected by laws in both the United States and International law. You may not sell or modify transcripts or reproduce, display, distribute, or otherwise use the transcript, in whole or in part, in any way for any public or commercial purpose without the express written permission of WAMU. All requests for uses beyond personal and noncommercial use should be referred to (202) 885-1200.