Where the ghost stories come out to play

From this stairwell window, it’s likely several hangings were viewed in the jail yard below.

With its colonial history and old brick streets, it’s no surprise that the town of Elkton, Maryland, at the top of Chesapeake Bay, is wickedly haunted. And on an October night flecked with stars, we wanted to see if the ghosts would come out and play.

We weren’t disappointed.

Around sixty people took to the streets for this Ghost Walk sponsored by the Cecil County Arts Council and the Historical Society of Cecil County. Some came with devices  to measure electromagnetic fields, or if nothing else, digital cameras to detect the auras or orbs left behind by a spiritual presence. Wandering the streets at night, one almost felt just like a ghost because the downtown was mostly deserted.

One of the more spooky destinations was the Old Jail. Built in the 1870s, this substantial granite-walled structure on North Street housed prisoners until the new detention center on Landing Lane opened in the 1980s. The county-owned building is now empty, so that the ghosts pretty much have the place to themselves.

CURIOSITY OF THE DAY: Ghost hunting equipment.

As the group stood in what was once the jail’s exercise yard, local historian Mike Dixon noted that at least five hangings had taken place there. The last was in 1905, when a man guilty of murder climbed the scaffold for a date with a noose. In those days, Dixon explained, it was the county sheriff’s job to carry out the hangings. It was a spectacle that attracted a crowd of hundreds, if not thousands, to the county seat.

Such gruesome punishments resulted in more than a few ghost tales. Allegedly, inmates in more recent years sometimes heard inexplicable sounds of hammering and sawing … echoing the noise of gallows being built.

Accompanying the group were members of Cecil and Beyond Paranormal … a group of local ghost hunters. At least one member reported seeing a “dark figure” approach in the cellar of the Old Jail, along with a feeling of “angst” or sadness. When you think of all the broken lives that ended up in the County Jail, it’s no surprise that a spirit or two may linger, still imprisoned in the empty, vaulted cellar after all these years.

The creepy jail cellar that once held cells for the worst prisoners.

Time to ‘fess up here … I’ve never seen a ghost, nor do I particularly believe in them. I do like the historical side of the ghost stories and the storytelling involved, and that’s where it ends for me. But at that jail, I felt chills. There was definitely something in the air—call it an atmosphere or an energy. It felt sad and creepy all at once, and I was glad to leave. Some poor souls must still linger in the confines of the old granite walls.

Another stop on the Ghost Tour of Elkton was the Howard House, built in about 1844. The owner reported inexplicable noises and a sense of “not being alone.”

And then there was the Mitchell House on Main Street, where Dr. Mitchell treated wounded soldiers during the Revolutionary War. Some were Redcoats and some were Colonials. Those who didn’t survive were likely buried in unmarked graves on the grounds. It’s no wonder that the Mitchell House has its share of ghostie stories. It’s just one of many spooky locales in downtown Elkton, a town that has accumulated its share of ghosts and ghost stories in the past 250 years.

The last hanging at the county jail in 1905. The sheriff gave out tickets.

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