Poe's Baltimore house, at 203 Amity St., is where in the 1830s he wrote his first horror story, "Berenice," a tale of premature burial and grave desecration. The uproar from readers was so great he subsequently had to pen a public apology. (The house is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. A guided Halloween tour of the gravesite and the catacombs of Westminister Church is scheduled from 6-9 p.m. today, 301-528-7214.)
Petersburg, Va., site of a major Civil War siege, has a decidedly unghostly haunt, the Trapezium House on North Market Street, an oddity the city is currently restoring. As the legend goes, the townhouse was built in 1816 by Charles O'Hara, an eccentric bachelor whose West Indian servant persuaded him that evil spirits dwelt in right angles. So he insisted his residence be contructed in the form of a trapezium, with no parallel sides and no right angles. At the moment, visitors can view the outside and peek through the windows.
An optical illusion of sorts has created "Spook Hill" in Maryland's western Frederick County. Drive your car out of Burkittsville on Gapland Road toward Gathland State Park. When the downhill roadway levels out, park the car and put it in neutral. "If you have lots of imagination," says Kay Morrow of the county's tourism office, the car will move slowly back uphill.
Some local people say the ghosts of Confederate soldiers are responsible for the phenomenon. Many of them died on Spook Hill when Union troops attacked the Confederate forces, who were trying in vain to push their heavy cannons up the roadway to gain strategic advantage.
If dining while a ghost perhaps wanders overhead doesn't disturb you, consider lunch or dinner at South Mountain Inn at the top of Turner's Gap (on Alternate U.S. 40) near the Antietam Battlefield in western Maryland. A huge stone building, it was built about 1732 as a wagon and stagecoach stop. In the late 19th century, an owner turned it into a summer residence, and it is her spirit who supposedly has never left.
"A bartender swears she grabbed him on the third floor," says the most recent proprietor, Russell Schwartz. "I think it's all b.s., but some things happen here I can't explain, like tapping on the windows."
Like Schwartz, most of the owners, curators or managers of haunted houses have not seen any apparitions themselves. They are passing along stories told to them.
For six years, Jeanne Milton has lived as resident manager of Abram's Delight, a limestone home with walls 2 1/2 feet thick and set in a boxwood garden. Built in 1754, it is the oldest house in Winchester, Va., taking its name from Abraham Hollingsworth, father of the builder, who found the Winchester area "a delight to behold."
Throughout the years, people have claimed to see the 6-foot-tall Abraham climbing the front steps and entering and leaving through the locked door. An early owner thought she heard a male voice singing along as she played the piano, and one more-recent resident was startled by a trembling lampshade.
But the most Milton can come up with, she acknowledges, is a misplaced quilt rack that turned up in a different room from where she remembers placing it. But visitors who "feel they are sensitive to such things say they can hear vibrations."
In 1978, the staff of Decatur House, just across from the White House, held a "ghost watch" on the eve of the anniversary of Stephen Decatur's death, who was killed in a duel on March 22, 1820. Every year, on March 21, a brooding figure is supposed to appear at a second-story window of the brick home where the naval hero lived. Says assistant director Vicki Sopher: "Nothing happened that night."
Still, not every custodian of a legend is so certain that apparitions are nothing but hot air.
At Belle Grove Plantation in Middletown, Va., a limestone mansion built when George Washington was president, a slave is believed to have slain Hettie Cooley, the bride of the owner. Tried and convicted, the slave escaped while being transported to jail in Richmond. Her murder unavenged, Hettie Cooley is said to roam the house in the clothing she wore as its mistress.
"I was here alone one weekend," says Julie Gochenour of the plantation staff. "Upstairs I heard somebody walking through the rooms. I'm sure it was our Hettie."
"She's not particularly scary, she's just around. When something goes wrong -- once all the flowers fell down off the mantelpiece during a wedding -- we just say, 'Oh, Hettie did it.' "