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History after dark in a town with a cold grip on the past

Revolutionary and Civil War stories in Frederick provide plenty of fodder for tales of strange phenomena. Just follow the guy with the lantern.

August 17, 2003|Beverly Beyette | Times Staff Writer

Frederick, Md.

By day, Ron Angleberger is a mild-mannered 41-year-old computer software marketer. But when darkness envelops Frederick, he slips into frock coat and top hat and, lantern held high, leads ghost seekers in search of things that go bump in the night.

Frederick "is the most haunted city in the state," says Angleberger, a lifelong resident who founded Candlelight Ghost Tours of Frederick four years ago. That suits him just fine. "I've always been fascinated by ghosts and paranormal activity," he says.

His favorite haunted site? The National Museum of Civil War Medicine on East Patrick Street, which, he says, has "an endless supply of spirits."

Angleberger once conducted a "crossing," the opposite of a seance, at the museum to "help those spirits already there to cross over into the light."

"Some strange things happened that night," he says. "We heard thumping in the walls and saw orbs of light as large as grapefruits darting from room to room."

Those who take the 90-minute, 1.2-mile walking tour, conducted by Angleberger, his partner Tiffany Whilms and two other guides, see "eight authentic haunted sites." Authentic? "I have talked to either the owners or people who worked there or people who stayed overnight," he says.

The house at 118 E. Church St., now Gaslight Antiques, once was a boardinghouse. An unwed woman in her 40s gave birth to a baby there. The baby died, and the woman hanged herself from a balcony. Angleberger tells of strange happenings at the house: pots and pans moving, loud crashes. "We think it's the mother venting her frustration," he says.

Steffan Gates, one of the current residents, says he has not seen or heard anything odd, "but my father's previous wife claimed that she had." As for the ghost tours, Gates says, "It's funny to have a whole crowd standing in front of our house pointing and looking."

One of Frederick's legendary sites is the Tyler-Spite House, now a bed-and-breakfast. In 1814, Dr. John Tyler, learning that a city crew was coming the next day to extend a road through his property, hired a crew to work through the night digging a foundation for the house, "a house built out of spite."

When the official crew arrived, Angleberger says, "they found Dr. Tyler defiantly sitting in his rocking chair in the middle of the newly dug foundation." He suggests that Tyler's spirit may still be around, noting that a woman who once lived in the house reported seeing a white haze that morphed into an old man who would hover by her bed and "poke her in the side with his long, bony finger."

He can't really explain why Frederick seems to be so ghostly, beyond its role in the American Revolution and the Civil War. "The best story we have," he says, is of a sighting on the site of a Revolutionary jail (now a brick office building) "where three crown sympathizers were drawn and quartered." A woman walking her dog reported that the dog stopped and started growling. "Then she saw a man all in black, limping. He walked straight through the brick wall. We tell people it could have been the dreaded executioner."

Angleberger, a Civil War reenactor, has had some of his most memorable personal sightings at Antietam and Gettsyburg, both near Frederick. Frederick has such good hauntings, Angleberger says, that he doesn't have to embellish much. "Just set the scene: It was a cold, dark, dreary night ...."

Candlelight Ghost Tours of Frederick leave from Brewer's Alley, 124 N. Market St., at 9 p.m. Saturdays through Sept. 27; at 8 p.m. Fridays and at 7 and 9 p.m. Saturdays from Oct. 10 through Nov. 8. Adult tickets cost $8, children 6 to 12, $4. (301) 845-7001 or (301) 668-8922.

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