It is not the Amityville Horror that's haunting Tudor Hall, its owners say. The blithe spirit that comes and goes is more like Casper the Friendly Ghost.
Howard and Dorothy Fox, a middle-aged couple, claim to have heard unexplained footsteps, voices in the night and crashing glass since moving a dozen years ago into the house that Junius Brutus Booth -- father of Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth -- had built in 1852.
Just the other week, the Foxes and their friends watched the top layer of a cake inexplicably flip over on their dining table, landing in front of a young guest who had requested a second helping.
"There was no doubt it was some kind of spirit or spook because eight of us were sitting here staring at it," said Howard. "Everybody's mouth flew open," said Andrew Schmidt, an eyewitness from Ady, Md.
Then, just before Christmas, a mirror catapulted from the wall above a cabinet, missing fragile holiday decorations and landing face up on the floor. "It was like someone had lifted it off the wall and put it there," said Howard.
"When these things happen, after a while you get used to them," shrugged Dorothy Fox who said she had no previous experience with the supernatural before moving into Tudor Hall, located approximately 65 miles north of Washington.
The 11-room Gothic Revival home sits at the end of a rutted, tree-lined driveway. Starkly outlined against the Hartford County countryside, it resembles a haunted house in a Charles Addams cartoon.
The Foxes live here, on 8.3 acres with a spring-fed pond, five ducks, seven geese, three horses and two dogs, the sixth owners of record of the house that the temperamental Booth built.
"We didn't know all that much about the Booth family," said Howard, a Baltimore housing renovator. "Christ, they were all goofy."
"In those days, they were probably thought of as kooky, but we're probably just as kooky as they were," said Dorothy, a former official of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
But the Foxes are not crazy, Howard and Dorothy insisted as they related events they could not explain in a house with a checkered -- if not always a haunted -- past.
As they told the tales, it grew darker outside and the dining room lights flickered, a phenomenon caused by the electric spring pump on the same circuit, Howard said. Then there was a banging noise toward the front of the house. It was the coal heater, Dorothy said.
Although a visiting reporter found no signs of the supernatural, the Foxes are convinced the house is haunted.
One day in 1968, they were greeted by a small brown and white pony which wandered over to their car peeked into the house through a rear window and then disappeared. No neighbor within miles owned it but they later learned it resembled the elder Booth's favorite animal, a pie-bald pony named Peacock.
Shortly aferwards, said Howard, "we could hear heavy boot steps up above, so plain in fact that I went up. Of course, there wasn't anything up there."
"People who've slept in the back room upstairs swear they hear voices in the front sitting room," said Dorothy. "Then, after my mother died in 1970, Howard said he heard a woman yelling 'Help me' from upstairs.
"A few days later, we were in the kitchen, and I heard my name called three times," Dorothy said. "Cold chills just went through me because it was so clear. I didn't move."
Dorothy and Howard said they have also heard crystal breaking. "It's a loud sound like a chandelier crashing," said Howard. "It sounded like Fibber McGee opening his closet," recalled Andrew Schmidt, who was present during one such incident.
Dorothy said she used to "smell perfume in the front room and in (John Wilkes') room upstairs every once in a while. It would be a whiff, like someone had walked past."
John Brennan, a leading Lincoln assassination buff who has visited the house many times, doesn't believe in ghosts but said, "Dorothy is a truthful woman. They wouldn't elaborate. What they said they believed to be true."
Tudor Hall is not exactly a national shrine, although it finally achieved historical register status in 1973.
Junius Brutus Booth, a moody, eccentric Englishman renowned for his stage portrayals of Richard III, emigrated to America in 1821 and acquired 156 acres of Hartford County land three years later.
The actor and his family lived first in a log cabin, then moved to a larger house. He had planned to spend his declining years surrounded by family in Tudor Hall but died on a road trip before its completion.
John Wilkes Booth's initials are etched in elaborate 19th century script in a front window pane, adjoining a room where the Foxes have hung two Lincoln portraits.
The Booth family never occupied the house after the Civil War, and Mary Ann Booth, Junius widow, sold it in 1978 for $3,500 to Samuel A. Kyle, according to county land records. Kyle's widow, Ella V. Mahoney, turned the front window into a museum with the costumes and playbills the Booths left behind.
Mrs. Mahoney narrowly escaped injury if not death one day, she later wrote, when an apparent twister uprooted a tree under which she had been sitting minutes before. Then, her daughter fell down the steps and broke her nose the day President McKinley was assassinated. And, legend has it, a man was crushed to death loading a piano onto a Model T Ford truck from the front porch.
After Mrs. Mahoney died in 1948, Tudor Hall was sold to John E. Clark, a Bel Air attorney who lived there for six years without any apparent supernatural boarders.
"During my ownership, people would ask me about the ghosts," said Clark, from his office on Office Street across from the old county courthouse where Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth, John Wilkes' brother, performed. "You could hear all sorts of things about people walking around, babies crying, things like that. It's awfully easy to build up a lot of things around an old house. Any old house, don't you know, has the same damn thing."
In 1954, Clark sold the property to Richard and Betty Worthington, who own the Aegis, a local weekly newspaper. Worthington subdivided part of the property and took down the historical marker out on Route 22, "for the simple reason people would not leave you alone."
"There's not a damn spook in that old house," he said. "But it makes a good story."
The Worthingtons moved in 1961. Tudor Hall was next owned by a Havre de Grace rubber company executive who "lived here with her chauffeur and always kept guns at the door and a big iron chain across the road," Howard Fox said.
The wealthy rubber baroness moved to Mexico and nearly lost the property in a tax sale before it was sold to its present owners.
"There's been a lot of tragedy in this house, but no more," Howard Fox said. Ghosts and all, he said, "This is a happy house."