Some people will pay good money to be scared out of their wits. They go for the adrenaline jolt, the endorphin rush, the high of success that comes from being terrified and surviving it. Generally not a zombie seeker, I threw caution to the wind and tried the latest Special Historic Hauntings tour offered by Watermark in Annapolis. It was really fun, and I lived to tell about it.
Okay, so maybe this tour is more about history than hatchets and axe murderers. But just creep around inside a decaying 300 year old house in a 300 year old town, and at some point you’re bound to see a ghost. Maybe a lot of ghosts. This year’s Special Historic Hauntings tour doesn’t disappoint.
Our costumed “spirit guide” had us traipsing through the town’s brick back streets and alleys, which can be just a little eerie on a smoky October evening. Our tour group stuck close to the guide’s swinging lantern, as her colorful character persona spun chilling stories in colonial jargon about the places we passed—the former site of the original Annapolis jail, the centuries-old Maryland Inn, and the St. Anne’s Church graveyard, to name a few.
For the first time ever, this season’s tour offers a candlelit look inside the historic Sands House. Historians believe the wood frame house was constructed around 1680-1700, making it the oldest standing frame structure in Annapolis. The building stands perched on the sidewalk near the foot of Prince George Street. The site was originally much closer to the waterfront before the narrow street end was filled and bulkheaded when the Naval Academy expanded years ago.
The home was purchased in 1771 by colonist John Sands, and it was passed down and occupied as a residence by seven generations of his descendants. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the structure was recently purchased from the Sands descendants and generously gifted to Historic Annapolis by the Chambliss family.
Growth rings in the structure’s hand-hewn cypress beams suggest that parts of the house date to the 1680s. That’s pretty old, considering that the original Annapolis town plan wasn’t drawn until 1695. Other parts of the home’s now crumbling woodwork and roof were constructed later in the 1730s.
Photo credit: Webster Wright
Archaeological digs have revealed artifacts suggesting a Native American structure existed on the home site around 1,600 years ago. Artifacts found here include pipe stems, thimbles, pins, a flintlock, a coin, a toothbrush and bits of ancient Native American pottery. Some of these are referenced in the ghost stories told on the Historic Hauntings tour.
History buffs and ghost hunters alike will be entertained by Watermark’s interpreters and their eerie ghost stories during this trek around Annapolis. The Sands House adds to the creepiness with its crumbling fireplaces, peeling paint, mysterious artwork, and rambling maize of empty decaying rooms and dark passageways. The odd door slamming, weird noise, or glowing ghostly image should not surprise you.
The Special Historic Hauntings tour is offered through October 28th on Fridays and Saturdays. The tour departs at 7:30 pm and 8:00 pm from the Historic Annapolis Museum at 99 Main Street, Annapolis. Tickets are $22 for adults, $14 for children ages 3-11, and free for younger children. Reservations are recommended. Purchase tickets in advance at AnnapolisTours.com and in person at the Museum Store.
Having stepped onto the thrill-seeker bandwagon for this tour and survived the “fright,” I can recommend this peek into the ghoulish secrets of historic Annapolis. Knowing that some of the ghost stories are actually true might even send chills down your spine and make your hair stand on end.
Photos courtesy of Watermark and Webster Wright