Volume 12, Issue 44 ~ October 28- November 3, 2004
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Between the Covers

Read up a Good Fright with the Chesapeake’s Ghosts, Vampires and Mysteries
Reviewed by Sara E. Leeland

Do you know about the gray-veiled Quaker lady who haunts the gardens of the Maidstone estate in Calvert County? Have you met the ghosts of an entire black family on land that was once a Howard county plantation? Chesapeake country is home to strange visitors who drop by in the depths of the night, and this is the time of the year to catch up on their stories.
Ghosts and Haunted Houses of Maryland, the classic regional ghost book by Trish Gallagher, describes 25 famous apparitions. Few haunted homes are open to the public, so book-visits are the only way in. Outdoor ghosts are included, however. The suffering spirits of Confederate soldiers live still at the Point Lookout site of a Civil War prison camp, and one unburied soldier still taps the shoulders of students on the campus of Mount Saint Mary’s College near Gettysburg. A strange horseman gallops night roads near St. Michaels, joined by the headless ghost of a loyalist British sympathizer who intended to lead British ships to the port during the Revolutionary War.

Do you know why Chesapeake watermen don’t paint their boats blue? According to University of Delaware’s Ed Okonowicz in Terrifying Tales of the Beaches and Bays, the superstition is rooted in the American Indian belief that the color belonged to the water gods. Use it on your boat, and spirit-inspired trouble will follow! Are you a drummer or witch who’d like more work? Chesapeake legend holds that ship owners would hire one or the other to drum or spell up a wind if the natural ones failed.

Okonowicz includes the riveting story of a Chesapeake oysterman who went out in a January thaw, returning home with his body frozen to his boat and arms locked in ice to his oars. In pulling him loose, his rescuers broke his shoulders from the arms and hands, which remained fixed to the boat. The fisherman died. But the boat, arms and hands intact, is still seen some January days, warning watermen away from ‘that one last haul.’

Okonowicz’s 2004 offering is Baltimore Ghosts, a trek through Edgar Allen Poe sites, the grave of John Wilkes Booth in Green Mount Cemetery, the haunted sites at Fort McHenry and Fells Point, and a mysterious musician who plays in a Baltimore theater. Sound good? Check his web-site (sidebar) for his 2004-2005 schedule of talks and cemetery-walks.

Mary Surratt’s ghost at Fort McNair gets its own book in a who-did-it story for kids seven and onward. It begins with the ghost.

Army personnel at the fort have heard a woman’s voice calling “Oh, help me!” Children and adults have both described being comforted by a lady dressed in black. In The Mystery of Mary Surratt, Washington, D.C. author Rebecca Jones lays out the facts, including contemporary photographs and drawings.

Surratt’s son John was a friend of John Wilkes Booth, an actor and Confederate sympathizer who hated Abraham Lincoln and dreamed of killing him in a theater. After Booth’s shooting of Lincoln, evidence was given that seemed to link Mary Surratt to the murder plot. Public opinion ran high against her. Early in the summer of 1865, a military panel of judges sentenced her to death by hanging. A photograph taken moments before her death shows her being sheltered by umbrellas from the hot Washington sun. She died — and her ghost lives.

Was she really part of the plot? Jones asks the reader. It’s a cogitator’s ghost story good for adults as well as children.

Mystery and horror mix in a new story by Calvert County writer Barbara Ferrenz. Here vampire-story author Theodora Zed (whose real identity is housewife and mother-of-two Mary Kate Flaherty) turns detective after a series of murders at successive horror conventions. Twin pricks in the necks of victims lead the media to name the murderer the Vampire Killer. It takes a woman to sleuth out a woman-turned-killer who, at the book’s close, attacks Flaherty at home, in the bedroom of her own two sons. The writer survives, leaves her marriage and finds a promising romance with her detective partner Connor.

What’s really going on here is a feminizing of the horror genre. The detective is basically a suburban woman in her 30s who enjoys dressing in vampire-character at out-of-town meetings. This book’s writing is partly on the wavelength of True Romance (“she relaxed into the silken protection of his arms”), yet its mission is curiously feminist. Ferrenz is helping women see that they can take charge of their lives, create interesting work for themselves and out-guess male professionals — even while mostly staying at home with their children. Her heroines relate to men as partners, a shift from the usual victim-women of most male-written horror stories.

Traditional ghosts? Romantic feminine horror stories? Mysteries to solve with your kids? It’s all in libraries and bookstores.
Ghosts and Haunted Houses of Maryland, Trish Gallagher:
Tidewater Publishers, Centreville, 1988; and still in fresh print:
$8.95 softcover.
Terrifying Tales of the Beaches and Bays,
Ed Okonowicz: Myst and Lace Publishers, Elkton, 2001;
$9.95 softcover.

Baltimore Ghosts, Ed Okonowicz:
Myst and Lace Publishers;

The Mystery of Mary Surratt,
Rebecca C. Jones:
Tidewater Publishers, 2004:
$9.95 softcover.
Worse Than Death,
Barbara J. Ferrenz: Five Star Press, Waterville;
$25.95 hardcover.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.