May 15, 2017
I am a self-proclaimed scaredy cat. Scary movies, scary TV shows, scary clowns–you name it; I can’t handle anything remotely horrific, creepy, or ghoulish. As a point of reference, I couldn’t get through the first ten seconds of Stranger Things without screaming, and I still have nightmares about trailer for The Purge, which I only accidentally watched in 2013 (thanks, unskippable Youtube ads). Naturally, when it came time for the Fish Out of Water segment, I picked the scariest thing on a list–a ghost tour.
The website advertised a walking tour of Ellicott City, which is supposedly “one of the oldest and most haunted locales in America.” It promised tales of a lady in white and a Civil War soldier who stalked Main Street. I was sufficiently spooked. We arrived minutes before the start of the tour and were greeted by a nice old man from the Howard County Historical Society. Nothing seemed too scary, until our guide showed up. She was a middle-aged woman dressed in flowing black garments head to toe, sporting a dark headpiece with tulle. She appeared as though she was on her way to a funeral in the 19th century.
The tour guide introduced herself in a hushed raspy voice and told us a bit about the founding of her town. Someone asked how long she had been doing ghost tours. We never got an answer, other than a vague “too long.” Perhaps she wanted to maintain her mystical air as she relayed stories to us about her personal experiences with aged ghosts.
We began our tour down Main Street past dark narrow alleyways and corridors. Our guide first stopped in the courtyard that houses what is now the ice cream parlor Scoopahhhdeedoo. Apparently, some ghosts live there. She recalled the story of a couple who had recently bought the building to open a shop. The couple had come into contact with Cecelia, a tall, wispy thin woman in a long black skirt who haunted the third floor. Tired of all the commotion from the shop, Cecelia appeared on the stairs one day and terrorized the man telling him to get out of her house. I’ll be honest, this was the only time on the tour where I was actually spooked. Her stories devolved into minor coincidental anecdotes after this: some little footprints on a newly redone floor, some household objects being moved around or misplaced, and other trivial friendly ghost deeds. More Casper, less axe murderer-with-a-vengeance.
Quite possibly the best part of going on a ghost tour is the people watching. One man on the tour was a ghost tour junkie. He had been to ghost tours all over the U.S., including in Georgia, Florida, and Oregon. He showed up in hiking boots, a baseball cap, and a fanny pack, prepared with a Star Wars notebook, in which he took copious notes throughout the tour. Another ghost hunter–a man in his mid 20s–arrived in a kitten graphic tee with an oversized scarf and khakis. His perpetually glazed over face, wide eyes, and loopy smile scared me more than any of the actual ghost stories.
It ended up being mostly a nice walk around town, intermixed with some historical tidbits about Old Ellicott City. The worst part came after the tour, when we were walking back to our car. If you’ve been to Main Street recently, you know that the city has virtually no nightlife–all the stores and restaurants are dark by 10:00pm. The streets were quiet, and we were having a nice chat with our guide. Then we made the enlightened decision, as three teenage girls with ghosts on the brain, to take a shortcut across a dark alley. In a moment that could have been ripped from a Pretty Little Liars scene, we turned the corner and ran straight into a car facing us with its headlights on. I screamed. Loudly. We sprinted back onto the main road, and thankfully, lived to tell the tale.