The Eerie Tales of a Haunted Annapolis
Oct 04, 2013 10:29AM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.
Local lore has it that ghosts have held a presence in the capital city for centuries, with each haunting tracing back to a specific occurrence. In celebration of Halloween, we share two of those stories in the form of excerpts from Haunted Annapolis by Mike Carter and Julia Dray.
THE MANY GHOSTS OF THE MARYLAND INN
Sightings of ghosts from every era in Maryland’s history have been reported at the Maryland Inn, particularly in the basement, where the foundation predates the inn. Figures in ancient uniforms have been seen coming from the direction of the iron-gated old basement wine cellar, moving toward where the cozy taproom used to beckon with its promise of companionship and beer. Employees of the inn tell stories of hearing voices in the empty dining room, catching a sudden and very strong whiff of pipe tobacco, finding objects moved inexplicably out of place, or hearing footsteps in vacant guest rooms (especially those on the fourth floor).
One of the most famous ghosts on the fourth floor is known simply as “the bride.” According to local legend, the bride came to Annapolis from North Carolina in 1817 to celebrate her wedding to Navy Captain Charles Campbell, an event long-awaited and long-delayed.
After proposing to his beloved in 1805 or so, Mr. Campbell went to sea, hoping to earn enough to return within a few years to settle down with his bride and live happily ever after on a farm of their own. Skilled sailors were in high demand in the opening years of the 19th century as the American shipping industry nearly doubled in size between 1800 and 1812.
Great Britain was at war with France during much of Campbell’s early time at sea, and when British ships began stopping American vessels to search for deserters from the Royal Navy and to indict the shipment of goods to France (whose coastlines England did her best to blockade), the United States Navy began looking for more than a few good men—they started looking for a lot of them. Charles Campbell took a commission as an officer, and by the end of the war, he had risen to command of his own vessel. But such were the exigencies of war that he had no chance to come into port long enough to lead his bride to the altar. In 1817, he was released from service and wrote to his beloved, asking her to come to Annapolis to meet him. They would marry there, he said, and at last begin their life together.
According to inn lore, his bride immediately packed and left her small town to come to Annapolis, which in 1817, was a bustling and dangerous seaport, the stereotypical big city—certainly no proper place for a countrywoman on her own. But Captain Campbell had directed her in his missive to the inn; when in Annapolis, it was where he lodged, and he had written to ask the staff to take special care of his beloved. And so, under the benevolent attention of the staff, she took possession of his usual rooms on the fourth floor and settled in.
Some accounts have her waiting for weeks, others for mere days, and surely the truth lies somewhere between. Whenever Captain Campbell’s ship came in, its entrance into the harbor was noted and a message sent to the inn, where the staff gave her the news. She immediately changed into the dress she had sewn for this day, painstakingly embroidered and ornamented, asked the maids to help her with her packing and her hair and, these tasks completed, set herself to wait.
The ship came in near dawn, but the hours crept slowly past until it was the noon hour. Throughout the morning, the bride’s footsteps had tolled impatient rhythms on the wide planks of the wooden floor. Unable to settle with the anticipated moment finally so close, she paced between the door and the window that looked down on Main Street. It was spring and the air was cool, but she would throw open the window again and again to lean on the sill, looking out and down the length of the crowded street. But her eager gaze never fell upon her beloved’s lean figure. Each time, the sash came down, and she would return to her restless walk.
In the early afternoon, one of the maids brought her a small meal and stayed to talk. Most of the staff were caught up in this geriatric love story: the bride had to be at the least in her mid-30s and was probably closer to 40 in a culture where women were often married by 16 and dead before 40. That she had waited for her beloved and he for her, well…it was just too romantic. Perhaps she was relaxed by the conversation with the maid because the bride no longer looked down at the street but gazed up into the sky.
All of a sudden, there was a sudden commotion below, and the bride looked down and let out a shriek before racing from the room. The bewildered maidservant went to the window and saw that a horrible accident had occurred directly in front of the building, and lying in the middle of the street was the body of a man wearing a naval uniform. When the breathless maid emerged from the building, it was to find a silent and horrified crowd encircling the immaculately coiffed and dressed woman whose arms held the body of her beloved, breathing his last in her embrace.
Witnesses said the captain had paused on the other side of the street, looking up at the building, and it is likely that he saw his beloved looking out the fourth-floor window because he broke into a broad smile and practically leapt into the street. He did not see the horse-pulled cart that was making its way down the hill, too heavily laden for the driver to stop, and the naval officer was crushed beneath its wheels. Many in the crowd knew the story of the couple’s long separation, and men and women both reached out to raise the woman to her feet, but she spurned their help and wept silently, her tears splashing onto his unresponsive lips.
After a long moment, she lay him down on the cobbles and rose to her feet. Speaking to no one, her face white and streaked with tears, her beautiful gown stained with blood and the filth of the street, she walked slowly back into the hotel and mounted the stairs to her room.
Once there, she began to pace once again. Serving maids, on their way upstairs to see to the stricken woman, heard the patter of her footsteps as they neared her room. As they got closer to her door, they realized that the pace had grown faster; they arrived just in time to see her throw herself from the window, falling to the street beneath to land only feet from Captain Campbell’s lifeless form.
Both of the unfortunate lovers are said to haunt the inn, she pacing in her fourth-floor bedroom and he relaxing with a beer in the basement taproom, where he’d known many companionable hours. Captain Campbell also has been seen standing next to the window by the main fireplace in what is now the restaurant dining room— people walking past on Duke of Gloucester Street will glance into the window and spot a historically dressed naval gentleman enjoying a mug by a crackling fire. His lady-love, waiting impatiently in her fourth-floor bedroom, does not have time to chat with guests or staff and is not known for cheerful interaction with the living.
Guests have been checking out of that room since 1817, some leaving without explanation but others recounting a variety of phenomena. Many flee the monotonous sound of footsteps pacing from door to window or the unpredictable window that opens and closes in defiance of lock or gravity.
Some have a more direct experience of her presence, awakening in the dark hours of the night because they feel someone sit down on the edge of the bed, a chilly presence that settles beside them and taps an impatient foot on the floor. In the late 1980s, one guest came downstairs in a robe at 2:30 a.m. and demanded that management find her a room “with no dead people in it!” adding that she could take the sound of pacing feet, but she refused to share the bed.
With my lady in her upstairs chamber and the bridegroom firmly ensconced in the bar, it seems unlikely that the Maryland Inn’s Romeo and Juliet will find a happy ending to their story, but love may end up conquering all.
THE HEADLESS GHOST OF CORNHILL STREET
Many of the homes on Cornhill Street have foundations that date to the establishment of Annapolis; the street connects East Street with the downtown harbor and its historic fish markets. The neighborhood in the Colonial era was home to many watermen, and one of the homes was rented by a family of four, in which the two sons were about five years apart in age. The father was said to be a fisherman, and his two boys worked at his side.
During the heat of summer in the 1770s, fevers cooked their way through the population of many American cities. Bad water, terrible sanitation, and swarming mosquitoes were only a few of the ways one could fall ill, and many died. Smallpox made periodic incursions, killing many and disfiguring the survivors. One of those infections paid a call to Cornhill Street. All four family members fell sick, leaving the parents dead and the boys left alone with no other family in the area.
The elder brother was just old enough to stand as guardian for the younger, and the two continued to live in the house, but without their parents’ presence, the orphan boys went over to the dark side of behavior.
They squandered their inheritance on rum and beer in the taverns and brothels of Hell Point, and when the money ran out, they made more in ways the neighbors quietly speculated about. The house was the site of numerous drunken gatherings, and the parties so disturbed the neighbors that they began to complain to the landlord of the property. But before he could take action, the problems abruptly ceased and the neighbors proudly took credit.
They had endured yet another night of shouting, a night that ended in the sounds of crashing furniture and cursing as the two brothers engaged in a drunken scuffle. Quiet fell in the early hours of the morning, and the next afternoon, a delegation of neighbors rapped at the door of the house until the younger brother, bleary-eyed and clearly hung over, opened it.
The delegation made its displeasure known, sternly informing the boy that there were to be no more parties and no more disturbances in the night; their patience was exhausted, and if the brothers did not immediately change their behavior, they would be taken to court. The boy apologized and promised to reform, but the neighbors demanded to speak to the elder brother.
The argument the neighbors had heard had so upset his elder brother that he’d ridden off to Baltimore, the young man explained. And after the neighbors went home, the house stayed quiet. The younger brother came and went, but there were no parties or drunken arguments, and fights no longer punctuated the night hours. In the absence of his guardian, the boy seemed to be making good on his promises of changed behavior.
The new serenity of the block was marred by only one thing: an unpleasant odor that grew into a disgusting stench over the course of a few weeks. The smell was traced to the brothers’ house, and in the dirt-floored basement, the neighbors discovered a shallow grave containing a body they were convinced was that of the older brother—but without a head, identification could not be definitely made. After questioning, the younger brother confessed that his brother had died accidentally—the result of a fall while they had wrestled drunkenly together. But instead of taking responsibility for the accident when it happened, the young man succumbed to panic and decided to get rid of the body, which led to the next decision: where to put it?
The obvious solution was to take it out of town on a boat and weigh it down, letting the body sink into the depths of the Chesapeake Bay. Even the closer fisherman’s harbor would do, as it swarmed with crabs that would quickly devour the corpse. Even if the body was found, who was to say that the elder brother hadn’t met with mischief while he was roistering in Hell Point? But the younger brother wasn’t able to figure out a way to get the body into the water without attracting notice. No matter what direction he went, he was going to pass through some heavily trafficked areas, where someone was bound to see him.
After much thought, he hit upon a solution: he would use an axe and cut his brother’s body into manageable pieces. He began by severing the head from the corpse and wrapping it in a cloth, hiding it beneath his coat and making his way through the dark streets toward the water. With glances to every side to make sure he was unobserved, he made his way onto the wooden bridge that had been built in 1870 to connect Annapolis with the Eastport peninsula. He leaned against the railing and let the grisly package fall into the water below.
No one seemed to have noticed anything, and there were few people about as he made his way back home. Once there, he was overtaken by disgust and revulsion at the idea of completing the job of disposing of the body—no doubt he was fairly drunk—and he sat down to compose himself. He fell asleep, waking in the early afternoon to find the neighbors angrily pounding on the front door. After they’d departed, he convinced himself that it was too dangerous to try to transport the rest of the corpse because they were surely watching him. He managed to dig a shallow grave in the basement and did his best to conceal the stench of decomposition, but the humidity of Annapolis defeated his efforts. The body was discovered and the neighbors were horrified.
The younger brother was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to jail, where he later died. The house was cleaned up and a new family settled in. They experienced no issues at all, until the evening of the day that the guilty brother died in prison.
Legend has it that the family in the home was awakened that night by the sounds of heavy footsteps coming up the basement steps and into the hall, where they turned toward the front door. Rushing to confront the intruder, the man of the house discovered no one in the hallway and no sign of anyone near the front door, but the door to the basement stood open and the front door was ajar. He pulled the door open and looked out into the night, but saw no one on the street.
No one is sure which of the houses on Cornhill Street now stands above the basement in which the body was buried, but the ghost appears to spend most of its time on the streets in search of one thing: his missing appendage. Tradition holds that when you have a headless corpse, the unquiet spirit will go forth in search of its missing appendage—and the elder brother’s skull is somewhere in the Annapolis Harbor.
The headless figure has allegedly been seen in the area for generations. Some think he’s looking for a living helper to drag into the murky waters of Spa Creek and sink to the bottom, where those old bones lie. It’s a good idea to be careful on the streets of any city late at night. But if you must go walking near the Annapolis waterfront after midnight, it would be wise to wear your running shoes.
Click here to see The Eerie Tales of a Haunted Eastern Shore