Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Pennies for Poe at the Westminster Burying Ground

You can often learn who's important in a region by going to an historic city cemetery, and no where is this more true than at the Westminster Burying Ground in Baltimore. Established in 1787, a who's who of Maryland and Baltimore are, or at least, WERE (several seem to be missing) buried there. For 60 years, the graveyard became the final resting place for many important or influential merchants, politicians, statesmen, Revolutionary War and War of 1812 officers and soldiers.

There you can find James McHenry, names for Fort McHenry and a signer of the U.S. Constitution; James Calhouns (last mayor of Baltimore Town and first mayor of the City of Baltimore), as well as several other U.S. Congressional representatives, senators, and Baltimore mayors. But no matter how notable they were in their lifetimes, they are all overshadowed by the cemetery's most famous resident: Edgar Allan Poe, who has not one, but TWO graves in the burying ground: his original grave, in the back of the burial ground, and a monument added in 1875.

The Poe family owned a plot in the cemetery; Poe's original grave is marked by a headstone with an engraved raven. Poe's grandfather, General David Poe Sr., and his brother, Henry Leanard Poe, are still buried there.

In July 1852, Westminster Presbyterian Church was erected over the graveyard, its brick piers straddling gravestones and burial vaults to create what later Baltimoreans referred to as the "catacombs."

The Burying Ground offers three distinct styles of grave stones and markers, roughly correlating to three periods. The Early Years (1788-1800) is distinguished by gravestones with scalloped or square tops, straightforward expressions of the austerity and simplicity valued by the 18th century Presbyterians originally buried there.

Elaborate vaults mark the Golden Age (1800 - 1840) of the cemetery, reflecting the worldly success of the church members and their embrace of public displays of wealth.

By the 1840s, however, monumental displays disappear as the wealthiest church members opt to bury their dead in the new, "rural" Victorian garden cemeteries such as Greenmount and Loudon Park. Many families even remove their members' remains. Those still choosing Westminster for their eternal rest tend to have plain ground slabs and raised tablets.

In 1875, a local school teacher started "Pennies for Poe," to raise money for the monument, where his wife, Virginia Clemm Poe, his aunt/mother-in-law Maria Clemm are also buried. To this day, it is traditional to leave a penny on Poe's grave.

Although no longer an active cemetery (i.e., one that's accepting new interments), the Westminster Burying Ground welcomes visitors with interpretive signs discussing the history of the graveyard, mourning ritual, architecture, and biographical information about the "residents" -- tombstone tourism at its best! The church building is now owned and maintained by the University of Maryland Law School, which occupies the rest of the city block. The church building was renovated for secular use and is now known as Westminster Hall.

Getting there: 519 West Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD

Hours: Dawn to dusk.

Website: https://www.law.umaryland.edu/Westminster/Tours-and-History/

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Saturday, October 13, 2018

Beach Town, Off-season Fun in Lewes, DE

My favorite time to visit a beach town is AFTER the summer hordes have departed. And what I've discovered is that off-season is the best time to visit some beach towns! There is so much to do in Lewes, DE, a quaint beach town that sits at the entrance of Delaware Bay along the Atlantic seaboard.

Lewes (pronounced Lew-is) was the site of the first European settlement in Delaware, a whaling and trading post that Dutch settlers founded on June 3, 1631. In the 1800s and early 1900s, its population lived off of the resources of the Delaware River, the Delaware Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean. The treacherous waters of the Delaware Bay provided jobs as river and bay ship pilots. It's a town with a rich history and plenty to do, on and off the beach.

What To Do

During the day, off-season and cooler weather is the perfect time to check out the beauty of the beach, which you can now see, because the estimated 50 thousand summertime visitors to Lewes have largely departed until next May.

Hike up and down the almost deserted beach, play in the waves if the weather's right, look for dolphins, enjoy the beauty of the dunes and the wind, sun and sand.

But don't forget to rent a bike at the Cape Henlopen State Park (or bring your own) to explore the park by bike. There are several amazing biking paths that will reveal some incredible scenery.

Start with the Gordons Pond Trail, a scant 3-mile long trail that leads you to close to Rehoboth Beach. Bike back and check out the Bike Loop Trail through the state park, taking time to park the bikes to explore the foot-only spur trails or climb one of the WWII observation towers.

The water plays a prominent part of all there is to see and do there, of course. While good weather holds, there's kayaking options. Quest Adventures/Kayak Shack is adjacent the Beacon Hotel, along Savannah Road, an easy walk from downtown Lewes. There are a number of kayak tours to chose from, but my choice would be an excursion along the canal and then into the salt marshes.

Photo courtesy Quest Fitness and Kayak

If you have more time, consider one of Cape Water Tours longer tours, such as the Broadkill River Tour, the East End Lighthouse Tour, Dolphin Tours, or its Eco Tour.

Photo courtesy Cape Water Tours

If you visit in the fall, you'll discover that Lewes has ghosts aplenty. Get a taste of haunted Lewes by checking out the Legends of Lewes tour, which introduces you to the many strange happenings in the town of Lewes. For more about the haunts of Lewes, check out this article!

If you're lucky and ghost hunting is your thing, you may be able to catch a paranormal investigation, co-sponsored by the Lewes Historical Society, Cape Water Tours, and the Intuitive Paranormal Investigations at the East End Breakwater Lighthouse or the Cape May - Lewes Ferry Terminal, which was partly built over a cemetery of unknown sailors and drowning victims.

No quaint town is truly a quaint town if it doesn't have some boutiques to browse. The good news is, Lewes is a really neat, quaint town! We shopped, and loved, Blooming Boutique. If you go there, say hello to the friendly greeter, Maggie, and make sure you rub her belly!

There's also P.U.P.S., everything you'd need for your favorite pooch (and Maggie); the Antique Mall, with a variety of antiques, collectibles, and upcycled items for your home; Deannas, a clothing boutique with some exquisite clothing; and many others.

All this hiking, biking, and shopping has surely created an appetite. Whether breakfast, lunch or dinner, or simply an afternoon coffee and snack, there's a place (or two or four) worth trying. Although I recommend the restaurants below, because I've been there and tried them, there are others to choose from as well, and it's clear that yes, I'll have to go back for another weekend to try them!

The Blue Sea Cafe offers a nifty breakfast menu that will help get your day started. The coffee is good, and the prices are reasonable. We liked it so much that in our recent visit, we went twice, enticed by offerings such as the Silver Dollar Pumpkin Pancakes and Lahmajun (ground beef, tomato sauce, herbs and spices embedded in a flat pita dough and rolled and covered with red onions, feta cheese and a squeeze of lemon). Knotting Hill Bakery and Coffee Shop also offers a a good cup of coffee, as well as baked treats to start your day or power it along in the afternoon.

Fresh-made guacamole is a perfect start to a meal at Agave.

There are multiple options for lunch, but consider, again, the Blue Sea Cafe, or try an upscale Mexican cuisine at the stylish Agave, both located along Second Avenue. Good, solid sandwiches and soups at reasonable prices can be found at Arenas Cafe (where, shockingly, my friend and I also purchased coffee!). For dinner, Agave might be a good choice, but for some interesting seafood and new American, a visit to Striper Bites is a must (located at Second Avenue and Savannah).

Seared tuna with siracha on homemade tortilla chips at Striper Bites.

Where To Stay

Generally I'm not a fan of beach hotels, but the Beacon Hotel -- a beach hotel if there ever was one -- is an excellent choice for its convenient location to downtown, plenty of parking, and proximity to the beaches and Cape Henlopen State Park (which is an easy 2-mile bike ride away). And it was both quiet and comfortable, important when you've got an active day of daytripping planned! I'd definitely go back to this hotel!

For additional information about Lewes and other southern Delaware daytrip destinations, www.VisitSouthernDelaware.com.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Ghost Hunt at PennHurst Home for the Feebleminded

This is a visitor's first view of Pennhurst. I'm inclined to think the orb-like object
is a raindrop, rather than an orb, since it was raining when I took this particular photo.

Pennhurst State School and Home for the Feebleminded still haunts Spring City, PA. The facility began its service to Pennsylvania in 1908 as an institution for mentally and physically disabled individuals. It closed its doors in the 1980s, only re-opening in 2010 as a museum and seasonal Halloween attraction.

Looking out a window in the Mayflower building onto another wing of the building.

Several ghost hunting shows have filmed episodes at Pennhurst; but you don't need to be on a TV show or sign up with one of the commercial ghost hunting organizations to go ghost hunting there. Pennhurst periodically sponsors its own ghost hunts.

The ghost hunt, which ran 7:30 p.m. - 3:30 a.m., began with a tour of the grounds. Although the ghost hunt focused on the Mayflower building and several tunnels, we walked by the Administration building to the ruins of the old hospital, caving in on itself and slated for additional demolition. We walked between the schoolhouse and the old hospital, then took the catwalks around the campus to see the other buildings. Only a few of the buildings are actually safe enough to enter.

Eerie really doesn't begin to describe what it's like to wander around in the shadows of these crumbling ruins, as the sun sinks into night. It's not hard to imagine encountering the spirits of former inmates or a ghostly figure peering down at you from a window.

The older buildings, designed by Phillip H. Johnson, were two-storied, and made of red brick, terra cotta and granite trimmings. They were connected by fire-proof tunnels with walkways -- the catwalks -- on top of the tunnels for transporting residents.

The old hospital was in such bad state that the facility
deliberately caved it in to prevent trespassers from being harmed.

In 1913, the legislature appointed a Commission for the Care of the Feeble-Minded which recommended a program of custodial care because individuals with mental or physical disabilities were "unfit for citizenship and posed a menace to the peace." Eugenics reared its ugly head: the Commission's real goal was to prevent the intermixing of the genes of those held at Pennhurst with the general population. Pennhurst was built to be a pleasant prison for folks who didn't fit in.

Whether its beginnings were ever rooted in concern for the well-being of inmates is debatable. Conditions at Pennhurst rapidly became unsanitary, inhumane and dangerous for its residents, many of whom were children. Finally, when a family visited its daughter, a resident of the facility in the late 1970s, they saw bruises on the child's body and filed a lawsuit; the court found that conditions there violated the 14th Amendment and that an institution must be closed based on a constitutional right to community services. The case became an important rule of law known as the Pennhurst Doctrine, which has been cited by state Attorneys General as binding precedent under U.S. constitutional law.

Everything is overgrown. The weeds in the courtyard are at least waist high.

The facility closed shortly afterward and was largely abandoned, although a veterans home was placed on part of the campus.

The deteriorating playground is a lasting reminder that many of the inmates
who suffered the inhumane conditions at Pennhurst were children.

Although there are no stories pointing to specific ghosts, ghost hunters have experienced poltergeist-like and demonic activity. Spirits supposedly have touched and shoved ghost hunters, and thrown objects at the research team. An entity supposedly even scratched a ghost hunter during one of the more active evenings, possibly indicating demonic activity or a specter manifestation. Armed with this foreknowledge, we were a bit apprehensive about what we would find.

A possible giant orb in one of the tunnels that run below Pennhurst.

After the tour of the campus, our guides primed us with stories of what previous groups have found, and told us about King, who apparently lives in the basement of  the Mayflower building; Emily, a child who lurks on the first floor; a nurse who haunts the third floor; and the third floor bathroom that weirds out group after group.

This photo was taken the night before and shared with us by the Pennhurst Staff.

We then broke up into smaller groups, ending up with three amazing (slightly) older women who totally embraced the fun and atmosphere of a ghost hunt. They were enthusiastic believers in the paranormal, and that made it really fun.

During the ghost hunt, we found eerie silence, the occasional bangs and footsteps echoing down the halls (in fact, as we were waiting for the ghost hunt to even start, we hung out in the hallway of the first floor of Mayflower Building; having arrived early, there were on three of us in the hallway, and we were rewarded with an echoing bang from the nether-regions of an upper floor).

We brought an EMF reader and dowsing rods as well as a variety of cameras. Pennhurst allowed us to borrow some ghost hunting equipment for the duration of the ghost hunt, so we also snagged a temperature reader and a spirit-box, which cycles through radio-frequencies occasionally spitting out words, supposedly in response to questions we ask. Our EMF readers periodically flashed, seemingly in response to questioning. Our dowsing rods, likewise, seemed to indicate some unexpected reactions to the spirits with whom we though we were chatting with.

You are likely capture ghostly activities like orbs, hot spots, cold spots, EMF surges and EVPs. Members of our group reporting tingling and bad sensations, although usually the feeling was not negative. We spent a lot of time on the third floor and basement of the Mayflower.

Like other groups, we got freaked out in the third floor bathroom. But on the second floor, we enjoyed a lengthy session with a spirit named Gertrude who preferred NOT to be called Gertie, although she said that was her nickname. Although at first we thought she might have been a child spirit, that became unclear later in the session. Research on our way home indicated that several residents named Gertrude were at the facility over the years, in the for-what-it's-worth category.

Like other previous ghost hunts we've been on, this one only created an appetite for others. Stay tuned!

Getting there: 1205 Commonwealth Dr, Spring City, PA 19475

Hours: Check the website for dates and times of tours and ghost hunts.

Website: https://pennhurstasylum.com/

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Saturday, October 6, 2018

Have a Hauntingly Great Time in Lewes DE!

Lewes, DE is rich with historic happenings, legends, and tall-tales, many of them involving a touch of the paranormal. From the founding of Lewes in 1631 and the massacre of its settlement the following year, to the unknown sailors’ cemetery at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, some residents never seem to depart. Lewes is more than a beach resort town, and more than "just" a pleasant, quaint town (although it is that!) to visit in the off-season. It's a town with a rich history of shipwrecks, souls and forgotten cemeteries.

In the day's fading light, the Cape May - Lewes Ferry reminds
us of the ferry on the River Styx, taking its passengers to the Other World.

Lewes (pronounced Lew-is) was the site of the first European settlement in Delaware, a whaling and trading post that Dutch settlers founded on June 3, 1631 and named Zwaanendael (Swan Valley). Sounds like a delightful place, yes? It is, but it has a darker side. The colony existed only briefly, as a local tribe of Lenape Native Americans wiped out the settlers in 1632. That was the beginning of the many, individual ends that have occurred in Lewes...

Find out about the murder and mayhem, the ships and shipwrecks, shoals and souls of Lewes by exploring Haunted Lewes!

Legends of Lewes Tour

This hour-plus walking tour introduces you to the many strange happenings in the town of Lewes. During it you'll visit the Ryves Holt House to learn how one Lewes citizen gained his inheritance of a bustling tavern, and enter one of the most haunted places in the region: the Cannonball House.

The Ryves Holt House is the oldest extant house in Delaware. There isn't a plum wall or 90-degree angle anywhere in the house and it is appropriately haunted. Learn about the mystery of the murder hole and why one set of stairs may have solved a 200-year-old murder mystery.

Cannonball House -- so named because in the War of 1812, the British fired upon Lewes (then an important shipping town and a strategic location at the mouth of the Delaware Bay), lodging a cannonball in the side of the house -- is where, according to Lewes Historical Society’s Director of Education Marcos Salaverria, a woman named Susan got her dress caught in the fireplace March 24, 1917, and burned to death. Or did she? Her spirit seems to indicate otherwise...

The walk will take you to other key locations in Lewes, where you'll learn about the legends that still haunt Lewes.

Where: The Ryves Holt House is located at 2nd and Mulberry Streets
When: Wednesdays through October 24, 6:30 p.m.
Website: https://www.historiclewes.org/

Visit Saint Peters Churchyard

You can visit many of these legends mentioned in the Legends of Lewes Tour right in Saint Peters Episcopal Church burial ground.

The iconography of the graveyard reflects the importance of the sea and sailing to the town, as well as the primary industry of serving as pilots for ships trying to traverse these dangerous waters. Several graves have ships or other nautical images etched onto them. But Henry McCracken took the nautical theme a step further. He was a pilot of the Delaware Bay and River. He requested that his anchor be buried with him in 1868; the fluke may still be seen protruding from the ground.

One unusual stone in the churchyard is the "February 30th Stone."
The inscription reads "In memory of Elizabeth H. Cullen,
born February 30th, 1760 and departed this life September 30th, A.D. 1830.
Aged 78 years & 7 months. She stretched out her hands to the poor,
Yea, she reached forth her hands to the needy. Prov. 31st Chap. & Vers."

Where: 660 Pilottown Rd (Corner of Pilottown Road and Second Street)
Website: http://stpeterslewes.org/about/churchyard

Spooky Lighthouse Tour

Join Cape Water Tours and the Lewes Historical Society for a tour through history at the haunted and very spooky East End Lighthouse. Spirits visited throughout the evening, telling their stories and bringing the often tragic passings of former lighthouse residents and visitors through the eras to life.

When: Check the Cape Water Tours website for upcoming tours.
Where: Meet at the finger dock behind the Lewes Ferry Terminal or as indicated in confirmation emails.
Website: https://www.capewatertaxi.com/

Paranormal Investigation of East End Lighthouse

East End Lighthouse, standing forlornly on the breakwater just outside of Lewes, has guarded the entrance to Lewes since 1885. Witness to multiple shipwrecks, the lighthouse seems to light the way for spirits to find their way back to Lewes. Learn about the ghosts of the lightkeepers, William Landry of the doomed Mary Rogers, and other haunts during a three-hour ghost hunt. You will also learn how to use paranormal investigation equipment and explore the haunted secrets of this most haunted lighthouse.

When: Check the Cape Water Tours website for upcoming tours.
Where: Meet at the finger dock behind the Lewes Ferry Terminal or as indicated in confirmation emails.
Website: https://www.capewatertaxi.com/

Paranormal Investigation of Cape May - Lewes Ferry Terminal

It's no wonder this is the most haunted ferry terminal in the United States. It's near the grounds of the old quarantine station, where sickly immigrants from foreign ships were culled from ships coming into Philadelphia. It's been said that once you entered the quarantine station, you never left. The terminal is also partly built over a sailors cemetery, believed to hold the remains of more than 800 nameless, forgotten sailors. During a two-hour ghost hunt, you learn how to use paranormal investigation equipment and explore the haunted secrets of this most haunted ferry terminal.

When: Check the Lewes Historic Society website for upcoming tours.
Where: Lewes Ferry Terminal at 43 Cape Henlopen Drive
Website: https://www.historiclewes.org/

Cape Henlopen State Park

Even this fantastic park, the site of former Fort Miles, just a few minutes from downtown Lewes, has its own ghosts. There is a rather creepy tale associated with one of the WWII observation towers, which you'll see scattered throughout the park. A phantom soldier remains on duty behind Tower 12.

They say that those who venture too close to his post, which is located in a bunker underneath what appears to be a dune near the campground bicycle trail next to Spotting Tower 12, will hear growling or be yelled at by a disembodied voice. Are you brave enough to approach the haunted bunker?

So stay your respectful distance, but take photos, since the soldier's face has frequently appeared in photographs!

Where: 15099 Cape Henlopen Dr
Website: https://destateparks.com/Beaches/CapeHenlopen

For additional information about Lewes and other southern Delaware daytrip destinations, www.VisitSouthernDelaware.com.

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