Do you know the difference between a cemetery and a graveyard? Do you know why the living were originally warned never to step on graves in either one?
If you’ve ever taken one of Mindie Burgoyne’s Chesapeake Ghost Tours, chances are you do.
But if you’ve never taken one of Burgoyne’s 11 available haunted walking tours across Maryland’s Eastern Shore, you probably don’t have a ghost of a chance of knowing the answer to those or many other eerily fascinating questions.
“I like to have the perfect balance of both history and mystery in my tours,” says Burgoyne, a resident of Marion Station, Md., who began her ghost walks in 2013 after writing “Haunted Eastern Shore,” a book that sold 50,000 copies.
The inspiration for the book came from firsthand encounters Burgoyne experienced in the Vance Miles House, which she and her husband purchased as their residence. Soon after moving in, Burgoyne and her family suspected they might not be the only ones residing there.
Plates would suddenly fly and crash into the walls, she says, while mirrors would inexplicably break into thousands of pieces. Chandeliers would begin shaking and swinging for no logical reason, and apparitions of original owner Vance Miles would mysteriously appear and then suddenly vanish. “I’m very empathic and extremely sensitive to emotional energy,” she says.
Burgoyne began investigating other supernatural accounts in surrounding Eastern Shore areas and discovered that they were numerous and, in some cases, possibly connected.
“What I discovered was that while Col. Oswald Tilghman is said to haunt the Talbot Courthouse in Easton; his aunt likely haunts his old house, Foxley Hall, also in Easton; and his sister is likely haunting the Plim Plaza in Ocean City. His great-great-grandfather, Tench Tilghman, is also probably haunting the bridge near St. Paul’s Church in Chestertown,” she says matter of factly.
CREATING THE TOURS
Burgoyne wrote her book after compiling dozens of separate, but seemingly linked accounts, corroborated by residents from different towns who did not know one another. She has since written several more on the subject.
“Not long after my first book came out, people started asking me if I would do tours,” Burgoyne says. She started bus tours in conjunction with a local community college, but Hurricane Sandy hit, and the ensuing damage made getting around by bus impossible.
So Burgoyne started to offer walking tours.
Chesapeake Ghost Tours on Maryland’s Eastern Shore is now the largest cluster of heritage walks in America. It consists of 11 nighttime walks, from St. Michaels to Denton to Berlin and Ocean City to the Great Pocomoke Forest, which is also said to be haunted.
Scattered over 100 linear miles on the Delmarva peninsula, the tours offer guests a storytelling session about the history and mysteries of the Eastern Shore. All stories are based on historical research, and Burgoyne says many of the 150-plus sites on these tours still have paranormal activity today.
For those who like a more “inter-active” look at spirits and paranormal activity, Chesapeake Ghost Tours also offers paranormal investigations, where guests can watch paranormal investigators detect communications from the spirit world.
Guests can bring their own equipment and enjoy a nighttime walk led by an investigator through the haunted swamps and forests as well as an “inside” experience in a historic building, mansion or church, depending on the host property.
Burgoyne says the ghost walks are not “ghost hunts;” ghost sightings or paranormal experiences are not guaranteed. “We do, however, believe that the hauntings are real and that the highly intuitive may be able to sense beings from the eternal world,” she says.
Each tour features a nighttime walk through an old graveyard (except in Ocean City because of reasons available on the tour). A trained storyteller serves as a guide, passionately explaining the stories and the strange energies and events that happen in this wide-open landscape that is still one of the most rural, undeveloped parts of the eastern United States.
WHY THE EASTERN SHORE?
The Eastern Shore landscape is flat and open with big skies and a shoreline is never far away. It’s an enchanting region that has remained largely unchanged since British colonization.
Tucked into this landmass are small towns that grew up with the seafood, farming and shipbuilding trades. Throughout the centuries, colorful characters populated the land. Burgoyne says there’s something magical about the open landscape that perhaps opens portals into the “other world” where the spirits of those historical characters peek through now and again.
“They may meet you on the stairs of your hotel or in a museum full of artifacts, on a nighttime walk through town, in your campsite, on an Ocean City carousel ride or in your guest room at a historic inn,” she says. “You might just be walking with some of them on a Chesapeake ghost walk.”
If meeting up with Chesapeake spirits isn’t reason enough to try one of these walks, consider that most of the featured towns are designated Maryland Main Streets or Arts and Entertainment Districts. All have distinct historic architecture, amazing food, shops, cultural venues and recreational opportunities. There’s certainly enough to do to fill a weekend.
Each ghost walk is a storytelling event where guests stop at seven to 12 properties with a haunted history. Most are said to still have paranormal activity.
The designated storyteller talks about the history, the paranormal activity or haunting associated with each respective site, and what people say today about the haunted activity. Generally, the properties are not entered, but there can be special exceptions.
Such was the case on a recent ghost walk in Princess Anne, where Burgoyne led her group into the Washington Hotel, originally constructed in the 1700s as a roadside tavern, and in which George Washington once slept. Inside the hotel are two original 18th century staircases, built side by side and separated by a wall. “Back then, men and women did not use the same staircases in public places if it could be helped,” Burgoyne says. She goes on to say that sometimes late at night, hotel staff still claim to hear the voices of both men and women coming from the stairwells, but when they go to look, no one is there. The Princess Anne Firehouse is on the same block. The downtown building in which it is housed is also very old and has sleeping quarters for firefighters on the second floor. “Not long ago, a fireman claimed to see a very frail woman in those quarters, carrying a serving tray in the dark,” Burgoyne says. “He wondered what she was doing there and turned on a light. No one was there. It wasn’t until much later that someone told me that a woman who worked in a nearby bakery used to regularly bring the town firemen some of her pastries, nearly 100 years ago. Is there a connection there? Everyone is left to make their own conclusions. We just tell the stories.”
The following night in Ocean City, Md., storyteller Karen Moschini met a tour group, including me and my dog, at the Life-Saving Station Museum on the boardwalk. The museum houses many old artifacts that have their own ghost stories, such as a lifeboat in which apparitions of drowned fishermen have been reported. “Laughing Sally,” the giant electronic doll that once sat in front of the Jester’s Funhouse in the 1940s is also housed in the museum. She used to scare visitors by laughing as they approached. Today, Moschini says, Sally still laughs occasionally, usually at closing time — except that now Sally is unplugged. From there, Moschini took the group to the boardwalk’s Haunted House, which she says truly is haunted, likely because it is a former burial ground. The boardwalk’s carousel, in place since 1912, is also said to be haunted by the ghost of a woman named Joanne, who loved to ride a particular wooden carousel horse that was adorned in a turquoise sash and red roses. A plaque on the horse reads “Forever Joanne.” There are numerous reports of employees seeing a visage of Joanne riding her favorite wooden horse at odd hours. The next stop, however, gave everyone in the group chills. The Tarry-a-While Guest House was built in 1897 as a rooming house. On Aug. 22, 1908, it was the scene of a suicide. A 21-year-old man named Calvin died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after a young lady rejected his marriage proposal. Although the current-day structure was supposedly empty, as soon as Moschini said Calvin’s name, my dog got up from a laying position and suddenly stood up, concentrating intently on the front door. His head cocked, as if he heard something moving inside, and the fur along his back bristled as the entire group took notice. Some even took photos of him doing this as it occurred. “There you have it,” says Moschini, “If your mind is open and you pay attention, you actually can experience paranormal activity on this tour.”
For more information, visit chesapeakeghosts.com.