Truth, tall tales belnd with ghosts, local history

Truth, tall tales belnd with ghosts, local history

January 27, 2003|By KATE COLEMAN

Do you believe in ghosts?

Do you like history - local history?

You can find both in "Legends," a program that will premiere Saturday, Feb. 1, at 7 p.m. on Antietam Cable Television channel 65.

The 90-minute piece presents several local legends - colorful tales that have been handed down through years of Washington County history.

Dave Dull, who produced, wrote, photographed and edited "Legends," says he's always been interested in history - especially local history.

"I can't really decide if I really believe in ghosts," he smiles.

"Legends" passes on stories believed to be part of Washington County's history.

The program doesn't verify or explain. But amid the fantastic tales it tells are historical facts related by local historians and authors.


"I want people to learn about the history," Dull says.

Roger Keller, longtime area broadcaster and author of five books on local history, provides some legitimacy to the tales of downtown Hagerstown.

Other area historians do the same for the South Mountain segment of "Legends." They are Tom Clemens, professor of history and political science at Hagerstown Community College, Al Preston, assistant manager of South Mountain Recreation Area and South Mountain State Battlefield, and author Steven Stotelmyer.

Mike Harsh, a Hagerstown Community College professor, contributes the informative narration and enough slyly phrased questions to pique curiosity and uncertainty with all these spooky stories.

"Legends" begins at Jonathan Hager House, the stone house built by the man credited with founding Hagerstown.

Hager House curator John Nelson and tour guide Jen Seal talk about some of the strange things that have happened.

A corn-cob doll has been found in different places in the upstairs of the stone house, but there is no account of anyone being there to move it.

A child's rocking chair, facing one way, was later turned to face in a different direction - again without explanation.

Just this past Halloween, Nelson says there were footsteps and voices upstairs, he says. He was there.

That child's rocking chair in the master bedroom?

"It moves on its own. I've known it to move," Nelson says.

He doesn't have an explanation.

"It makes you wonder," is all he'll say.

"Legends" next travels to downtown Hagerstown.

There's a dramatization of abolitionist John Brown's 1859 visit to what was then the Washington House Hotel - now Baldwin House, soon the site of the University System of Maryland campus.

There's the story of artist John Stemple, who climbed to the top of the hardware store in the northeast corner of the square (now the Clock Building) to sketch the battle of Hagerstown in July 1863.

Stemple was shot and died. His body "rests in Rose Hill Cemetery on South Potomac Street."

"Legends" tells the tale of Union Army Capt. E.J. Pennybacker, who was wounded in the Hagerstown battle and later died.

"It's been reported from time to time, on dark nights when no moon is visible," Harsh intones, that Pennybacker's faithful horse, Monarch, can be heard trotting on North Potomac Street near the parking deck, formerly the site of the Franklin Hotel.

The program heads to another part of the county and tells stories about South Mountain, where a bloody Civil War battle preceded the better known conflict at Antietam.

Viewers will hear and see theories of Spook Hill, the place in the road to Burkittsville, Md., just over the Frederick County line, where a car in neutral appears to drift uphill.

Is it the ghosts of Confederate soldiers who tried to push their artillery up that hill?

"Legends" doesn't answer that question, but it took Dull and his crew four or five hours to get the 30-second dramatization on camera.

The "Mystery of Wise's Well," colorfully explored by Boonsboro historian Doug Bast in Antietam Cable's 1992 "Legends" program, is explored again.

"Strange occurrences" at what is now the Old South Mountain Inn in Boonsboro are related, and Dull and his crew also experienced bizarre happenings at the site.

They were unloading equipment on a brisk morning when they heard an "ungodly sound" coming off the mountain. It wasn't a cow; it wasn't a dog. They never found out what it was, Dull says.

There was another incident at the south county location that remains unexplained.

Assistant Director Jim Turner and actor Tod Williams, who plays several roles in the production, saw a 3-inch spark shoot from Dull's finger to the video camera. Dull didn't see it and felt nothing, but the lights dimmed, and there was a gap in the audio.

"It's just very strange," says Dull with a grin.

There will be a premiere party at the restaurant this week.

"We're really psyched," says Tony Heaton, general manager of Antietam Cable's regional cable network.

"Legends" fits the company's goal of want-ing projects for the local community, he says.

The three-year effort was worked around and after Dull's daily duties at the station.

He shot 24 to 25 hours of videotape for the hour-and-a-half program. The budget was low - about $3,000, Dull says.

"I didn't pay the actors," he laughs. Many are friends from college and drama projects he's been involved in at Hagerstown Community College.

Blue - that's his legal name, a friend of a friend who lives in Winchester, Va. - acts in "Legends" and created the show's musical score, electronically.

"Everybody has been wonderful - very giving," Dull says. He includes Miller House curator Jennifer Dintaman and Washington County Historical Society Executive Director Mindy Marsden in that company. Some of the scenes were filmed at Miller House, the organization's headquarters.

Marsden says she takes the ghost stories with a "lot of grains of salt," but she is excited about "Legends."

"It's a fun thing," she says. And she adds, "If it gets people interested in our history, hey - it's great."

The Herald-Mail Articles