Be afraid…Be very afraid. Ellicott City is considered one of the spookiest places in America. Is it the granite? The water? The electricity? The old buildings? Or the history? Maybe it’s just the ghosts. The vampires. The bats.
But whatever it is, the historic town alongside the Patapsco River attracts those who love ghost stories — especially in the days (and nights) around Halloween.
This October, things are about to get a little spookier. Three versions of the town’s ghost tours take visitors on an other-worldly walk: the original tour now marking its 13th year, a pub crawl called “the Spirits of Ellicott City” offered once a month yearround, and a Double Dare Tour with even more ghost stories. This town is so spooked, there’s talk of a fourth ghost tour.
While the mortals are feeling their spine tingling as they hear spooky stories down on Main Street, above them Count Dracula is taking over the ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute.
In addition, all the spooky stuff in this old mill town has attracted the attention of writers. You know, the ones who write about ghosts, vampires, and other-worldly beings. They will descend upon Ellicott City Oct. 25-27 for HallowRead, a weekend conference for writers and readers of paranormal fiction.
Ghost experts have confirmed that Ellicott City is the kind of place ghosts like. Roll your eyes (I did) but here is a place they apparently feel at home.
“Ellicott City has all of those — with sprinkles on top,” said Rachelina Bonacci, chief executive officer of Howard County Tourism and Promotion. “There’s a reputation now.”
And Bonacci, who leads ghost tours herself, says the town does have a certain eerie vibe on a cool night when the moon is bright and the spider webs glisten. Maybe she was a skeptic. But now — since she heard someone walking above her office on a quiet Sunday when no one was there — she gets it.
And so do all the people who huddle around sites all over town hearing stories about spooks and paranormal activity.
Ye Haunted History of Olde Ellicott City Ghost Tour, with 13 ghost stories, is offered two nights a week from April through November.
Ye Haunted History of Olde Ellicott City Ghost Tour-Part II tells even more tales of ghostly experiences around town.
Once a month throughout the year, the Spirits of Ellicott City tour spins the yarns at local pubs. While the other two tours stay on the streets of town, these venture inside — and perhaps purchase a glass of some spirit. The stops are fewer — and the stories are more detailed. (Here’s where to get a $5 discount for your “Spirits” tour.)
Even history fans like the ghost tours, which offer a light-hearted look at the old town, according to Bonacci. While your hair is standing on end, you might learn about Ellicott City during the Civil War perhaps or the role of the railroad in town. After all, lots of history has happened here.
Meanwhile, high above the old town, in the ruins of an old school the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company will bring “Dracula” back to life Oct. 4-31.
“I don’t think there’s been anything more suited to that space at this time of year than Dracula,” said Michael Sullivan, who plays the vampire.
He quotes one of his own lines from the play, “the battlements are broken and the shadows are many,” and says, “It’s very true of the space we’re performing in.” The company produces a “movable” show every fall — requiring the audience to walk around the space during the play, which uses the old ruins to their best advantage.
Even the director Scott Alan Small says the site is kind of creepy at night. The old walls, deep shadows and bats swooping down produce their own kind of chills. Small said the show will draw on the environment — with a few added tricks — to make “Dracula” blood curdling as it should be.
This is an “old-school” production — with an traditional Dracula that “Twilight” fans should like, said Ian Gallanar, CSC’s artistic director. “It’s Count Dracula.”
Those who love to read or write about spooky things will converge on Ellicott City the weekend of Oct. 25-27 for “HallowRead,” gathering at local restaurants for panel discussions and joining in one of the ghost tours and a performance of “Dracula.”
Local writer Rachel Rawlings decided this region needed its own horror convention while she was attending similar gatherings in New York.
“We don’t really have anything like this,” said Rawlings, who is at work on her fourth “slightly dark and action packed” novel. HallowRead will offer an intimate and spooky setting that will enable readers and authors to rub elbows and enjoy all the horror, paranormal romance, Steam Punk and urban fantasy they can get.
Some 28 writers and two artists, some local and the rest from around the country, will be on hand for panel discussions and all the other goings-on. The owner of Fangoria, a New York-based horror fan magazine, is also expected to participate in a panel discussion.
“I do love the town,” Rawlings said. “The town becomes itself a feature of the convention.”
And it ought to with all those ghosts (and people who love them) hanging about.
© Text and photos of Ellicott City by Mary K. Tilghman
Photo of Dracula by Teresa Castracane
HallowRead logo and photo of Rachel Rawlings courtesy of the author
I also wrote about these events for an article in The Howard County Times.