Reporter's night in a haunted house spooky but not so ghostly

October 27, 2007|By ERIN JULIUS


It was a dark and rainy night, and the Pry House certainly looked as though it should be haunted.

As we turned off Md. 34 in the area of Antietam National Battlefield, two well-lighted houses were visible from the road, and we hoped one of those was the building where we had arranged to spend the night. But no such luck. Those were people's homes. Nice, warm, probably-not-haunted homes.

Our destination was farther down the dark lane. The Pry House was a Civil War-era home that served as a hospital during the Battle of Antietam and was rebuilt after a fire in the 1970s. Washington County firefighters reported seeing a woman in the second-floor window as they fought the blaze.

A key part of that story was that the second-floor had collapsed before those firefighters glimpsed the woman.

I sat in the car with a feeling of trepidation, cursing myself for volunteering to spend the night in a haunted house. I don't handle scary movies well. My first night alone in my own apartment was sleepless as I listened to "ghostly" footsteps in the hall and tried to sleep flat on my back so nothing could sneak up on me.


According to the "Do's and Don'ts of Ghost Investigating" provided to me by the Maryland Ghost and Spirit Association, a wimp like me is an ideal ghost hunter.

Rule No. 5: "Do not go with a skeptic's negative energy, this will affect your investigation. If you believe that there are no ghosts you will not be able to pick up their energy."

Plus, the editors decided a story written by someone who was completely freaked out would be better than a story by someone who didn't believe in things that go bump in the night.

So here I was.

We pulled over and waited for the arrival of George Wunderlich, director of the Pry House, which now is a museum of Civil War medicine. He led us past the gate and up a hill, where we parked.

The rules of ghost hunting, specifically Rule No. 12, implore you never to go on these investigations alone. I had convinced a friend that a night in a haunted house would be a great adventure. The friend, co-worker Erin Cunningham, and I briefly discussed spending the night in the car rather than inside the large, dark Pry House.

Photographer Ric Dugan arrived moments later, and George gave us a tour of the Civil War-era home that had served as a hospital during the Battle of Antietam.

Inviting a visit

Half an hour later, it was almost 10 p.m. and George was gone. Before he left, he told us which room was the one where firefighters claimed to have seen the woman. So naturally, we set up camp there.

The room now houses a long table and looks more like a simply furnished boardroom than a place where a ghost would materialize.

What I didn't know at the time, but learned later during a debriefing with George, was that General Israel Bush Richardson died in that room on Nov. 3, 1862. Popular belief, among those who believe, is that his wife, who visited him as he lay dying, was the woman seen in the window during the fire.

Throughout the night, my companions called out to Mrs. Richardson, inviting her to visit. I tried to shush them, not entirely sure I wanted to make the acquaintance of someone who died more than a century ago.

But if she did show up, I knew what to do. Ghost investigation Rule No. 17: "Remember to be respectful of the ghost."

I also briefed Ric on Rule No. 18: "Ask the spirit's permission to take their photo. Explain why you are there."

In a quest for something to photograph, we trooped outside.

We had left on every light in the house, and once we were outside, the Pry House looked like a giant jack o' lantern. With no spirits in sight, I sat on the porch posing and taking "notes" for a photograph.

Rule No. 11 of ghost-hunting: Bring a notebook so you can keep a log of your investigation.

Not having any ghostly experiences to write about, I scribbled "Ghostbusters!" multiple times in the margins of my notebook.

Back inside, we wandered around the house for a bit, mostly upstairs, until we found something in the bathroom that caused a stir. Letters addressed to "Mrs. Richardson" hung over a towel rack. The correspondence was from a Mrs. Rose, who encouraged the woman to continue her good work.

The next day, I asked about the letters, and George explained that they were left behind last year by several women from South Carolina who did a living history event at the Pry House. The museum staff loved the notes and decided to leave them up, he said.

Telling tales

George was eager to share ghostly stories about the Pry House.

His first day at the house, he was hauling out junk and had opened all of the doors in the house. Each door slammed shut, from the front to the back of the house. A breeze could have blown one of the doors shut, but couldn't have reached all of them, he said.

George opened all the doors again. Again, each door slammed shut, this time from the back of the house to the front, he said.

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