Had I never lived in Crownsville’s historic Rising Sun Inn, I’d have scoffed at folks who believed in the supernatural. But once my brother and I rented the Inn and moved in, peculiar things started that we couldn’t quite explain away.
Take the day our buddy’s girlfriend fled our housewarming party, screaming in terror.
There was something in the Inn’s kitchen that day, a practical joker perhaps, innocent of malice or ill intent. But might the spirit of a former “mistress of the house” have been expressing outrage at finding an attractive woman clattering about in her kitchen? Or were its intentions malevolent: to drive away the interloper, to traumatize her, to inflict psychological harm?
I didn’t know. But I wanted to find out.
• • • • •
My brother and I, then 20-something bachelors, were thrilled to be living in a home our family had owned. Our ancestor, Benjamin Williams Sr., purchased the property in 1843 and lived there for decades.
Even then it was old.
The property called Rising Sun was deeded to Edward Baldwin, a planter from All Hallows Parish, in 1753. Upon Edward’s death, his sons, James and Henry, inherited equal parts of the property. A sturdy farmhouse — now the Inn — was situated on Henry’s tract, while brother James built a farmhouse on his nearby land.
Both brothers settled down to the cultivation of tobacco and other produce.
Then came the Revolutionary War. While James Baldwin stayed home to manage both farms and grow tobacco for the Continental Army, brother Henry served in the Maryland Line.
Resigning his commission at the war’s end, Henry returned home and married Sarah Hall Rawlings, widow of Annapolis tavern keeper Francis Rawlings Jr. In 1785, the couple, taking advantage of their home’s location on a heavily traveled north-south road — later called Generals Highway in honor of George Washington — converted their home to a tavern. The Rising Sun Inn served as a way station for travelers and as a gathering spot for the locals. Its patrons could partake of a meal, a smoke, a draught and a bed — and perhaps a game of chance.
• • • • •
Now that the Inn was ours — at least, we thought it was — we decided to celebrate.
The party was in full swing. We were out in the Inn’s backyard, laughing with our friends. Then hysterical shrieks emanated from inside.
A female guest exploded out the back door, dripping wet, mouth agape, eyes bursting with shock. Behind her ran her agitated boyfriend. They jumped into their car and drove away.
The party continued, with everyone bandying theories about what could have caused the fuss: A lovers’ quarrel, mice in the kitchen?
“She saw a ghost?” my cousin offered, looking hopeful.
“Surely,” I said, “you can do better than that.”
Later the boyfriend called to explain. Apparently, his girlfriend had been working by the kitchen sink when its hand sprayer rose — floated — off its base. Then its head flew off and — very methodically, moving up and down — it sprayed her with water.
Once the guests had gone, I climbed to the second floor. There it stood, gazing out the window and across Generals Highway. I recognized it as an apparition; it had the look of another age.
I wasn’t afraid but rather froze in sheer amazement — at the figure, with its gangling frame, its graying hair and scruffy beard. Then, collecting my wits, I pointed at the figure and shouted, “Now you stay there! Don’t you leave!”
The apparition made no response.
I ran to fetch my brother. He lay huddled in his bed, the sheets pulled over his head. Ripping away the sheets, I exposed a mask of terror that bore some semblance to my brother’s face.
“Come on!” I roared, “You’ve got to see this!” Grabbing his arm, I tried — and failed — to yank him out of bed.
“After what just grabbed me,” he said, his voice dripping with brotherly sarcasm, “I don’t care to see anything.” He retreated into his linen fortress.
The next day, my brother announced he’d be moving out. Just then — Crash! A metal pie safe slammed to the floor in an adjacent room.
Perhaps the apparition was celebrating my brother’s departure.
• • • • •
Later, in sharing our experiences with our family, I described the apparition in detail — clear down to his yellow shirt, suspenders and brown pants.
Hearing this, my elderly Great Aunt Mary said, “Oh, that must have been Grandpa Benjamin’s son, my uncle, Randolph Williams. He was a blacksmith and he lived in the Rising Sun. He wore that same outfit every day.”
Randolph, it seems, was eccentric. A loner, he refused to dine with his family. En route to work each morning, he knocked at the kitchen window of his sister Sarah’s home. Sarah handed out his breakfast, wrapped in a towel. Dropping the bundle into his bucket, Randolph plodded off to work. After work, he collected a towel-wrapped dinner at Sarah’s window and carried it home in his bucket. There he ate in solitude.
Aunt Mary continued. “When I was a child, in the late 1800s, folks said the Inn was haunted. Papa said to cross the street before walking past.” Pausing, she added, “Uncle Randolph was alive then, living nearby, so maybe you shouldn’t blame him for all your troubles today.”
I wondered. Did the Inn perhaps have multiple ghosts?
At any rate, Randolph Williams departed this life in 1913. He lies buried behind Baldwin United Methodist Church on Generals Highway in Millersville, one mile away from the Rising Sun Inn.
• • • • •
After my brother moved out of the Inn, I called its previous renters, eager to learn if haunted history had troubled them at the Inn.
Oh, yes. Something had always pulled apart their beds and shredded books and papers.
Well, ghosts or no ghosts, I needed a roommate. Fortunately, my buddy moved in, thinking things would get better.
They did not.
Something, or someone, kept locking us out. When we entertained outdoors or went to the garage, both screen doors hooked shut — Click! We’d hear it happening. After crawling back in through basement windows got old, we began carrying knives so we could pry open the screen doors.
There was also something strange about the north bedroom. When men entered that room, they’d come flying back out as if shot from a catapult, claiming they’d been pinched.
Yes, I believed them, for it happened to me, and yes, there were more shenanigans to come.
Another young woman was soaked in the kitchen by the sink’s hand sprayer, and Uncle Randolph appeared several more times at that upstairs window.
As for Uncle Randolph, I never quite warmed up to him.
Every few weeks, we had heightened paranormal activity. Certain days started with a marked change in house temperature. Then the house stirred to life: footsteps shuffled, doors slammed and furniture moved. Time and again, the lock box fell off my roommate’s bedroom door. We always found its screws, heads down, shanks up, on the bathroom sink.
On bad days, our house alarms blasted multiple times for no apparent reason. Each blast summoned the county police and the fire departments.
After one midnight call, the county fire chief and the chief of police stormed the Inn, threatening dire consequences if they were summoned one more time. We had the Inn manager haul in a groggy-looking alarm technician. After absolving the alarm system of any malfunction and blaming the house for its disturbances, the technician disconnected the system.
As the disruptions continued, the Inn’s owners invited a paranormal studies group to visit. Their study failed because their battery-run equipment refused to operate.
Somehow, my friend and I adapted to this. Life with one human roommate and an odd assortment of preternatural scallywags can be entertaining — especially since said scallywags seemed so oddly human.
We definitely had a mother hen, a nurturer. She turned on the porch light and my bedroom lamp when I pulled into the driveway at night. Perhaps it was she who turned off our television during violent movie scenes; our friends watched movies with us just to see this happen. And, when I heard furniture sliding around in the basement, I knew investigation would reveal a touching scene of maternal bliss: a baby cradle in front of the fireplace, a rocker nearby and other chairs curved around them.
• • • • •
The Rising Sun Inn changed hands and was repurposed many times over the years. By the early 1900s, it served as a barn for grain storage.
In 1916, Richard Thomas Williams — son of the late Benjamin Sr., brother of the late Randolph — presented the property to the Ann Arundel Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. In the deed, Williams stipulated that the site be “maintained as an historical spot and structure or museum.”
Thus a dedicated group of ladies began an ongoing quest to support and preserve this gem of Anne Arundel County’s history.
• • • • •
Though I moved from the Rising Sun years ago, like the restless spirits, I’ve never let go. I keep in touch with the Chapter ladies, who report that inexplicable things still happen there.
Recently, the taproom’s door lock jammed, saving the caretaker’s cat from being trapped inside, and silverware was found strewn about the kitchen.
A while back, a furnace repairman, convinced that someone had been standing behind him while he cleaned the furnace, blanched and shook considerably when reassured he’d been alone in the basement.
Granted, the Inn has its modern mysteries, yet in my mind, the paranormal activity I experienced there decades ago was more manifest, more intense. Could my friends and I have been causing it? Were we serving as instigators, conduits perhaps, corporeal links between the living and the spirit world?
I’m tempted to revisit the Inn. Perhaps the spirits will remember me. Maybe they’ll turn on the porch light as my car enters the driveway!
Still, in the throes of a fitful sleep, I see the figure of Randolph Williams, standing at that window.
Then he steps back. Slowly, deliberately, he pivots to face me, lifting his gaze as he turns.
As our eyes meet, I search his for a flicker of recognition.
Behind them, I see only blackness and space.
• • • • •
Our storyteller has not revisited the Rising Sun Inn since moving out more than a quarter century ago. Like his brother, his roommate and friends who were drenched by the Inn’s kitchen sprayer, he declines to reveal his identity.
The Rising Sun Inn
Home to Ann Arundel Chapter of the National Daughters of the Revolution, this unique historic farmhouse, located at 1090 Generals Highway in Crownsville, serves as a museum, Chapter house and venue for special events. This fall the DAR Chapter celebrates the centennial of its ownership of the structure. For tour information and schedule of upcoming events, visit:www.friendsoftherisingsuninn.org