A 22-year-old waiter at an elegant tidewater B&B at the tip of Maryland's Western Shore washes up on a sharp October night.
"I'm going home," he says to the late-shift dishwasher. "You'll be OK?"
There were no guests at the B&B that night, and she would be cleaning the house alone.
"Si," she says. "But no alone. Me. Y dos ninas."
The waiter pauses, remembering the stories. "Phantasmas?"
"Oh no, no!" the dishwasher says, laughing. "Las ninas esta muy bonita."
I know that story because, four years ago, I was the waiter. Our dishwasher swore that two little girls haunted the upper floor of the building, and I've never doubted her. Because the house, like Maryland itself, is weighted with a creeping, skin-pricking age, the kind of years that well up in an old room and creep across your neck.
There are plenty of good reasons to visit Maryland in the fall. The changing leaves are fantastic, and the crisp air is invigorating. And in time for Halloween, Maryland's long dead - and those who believe in them - creep out of their holes.
Down rural Route 5 in Scotland, where the Potomac River meets the Chesapeake Bay, sits arguably the most haunted park in America. The entrance to Point Lookout State Park is marked by a misty obelisk, a mute memorial to the Confederate War dead who were imprisoned on this swampy peninsula.
Long, low stands of loblolly pine assemble in dark rows, serrated by a forest floor of sucking marsh soil and sharp gum-seed pods. In two years, several thousand Confederate soldiers perished here amid harsh, chaotic conditions. Today, phantom Confederates are frequently seen and heard wandering the forests and roads of southern Maryland.
The Point Lookout Lighthouse has been called the most haunted on the Chesapeake. In the 1980s, researchers left out recorders that captured 24 distinct voices in a building that had no tenants. Today, the lighthouse is automated and run by the Navy.
Over a shot and a beer in a bar 10 minutes from Point Lookout, a local sailor told me about an equipment check he ran in the lighthouse basement last year.
A voice whispered to him, "What are you doing here?" He dismissed the incident - until his colleagues, working in other parts of the building, all claimed to hear the same soft question hiss out of nowhere.
Cities can stake spooky claims, too. In the capital, Annapolis, the knot of aged cobblestone streets gives off an intense eeriness at night. Grab a local brew at the Rams Head Tavern, notable for hosting smoking live music and a dead, permanent guest: the apparition of a girl named Amy.
Ghosts of Annapolis Tours will take you by lantern through the historic district and share the tales of such spirited residents as Joe Morgue, the enthusiastic grave-digger; Thomas Dance, a poor soul who died building the State House dome; and the Headless Man.
Baltimore has its own colorful characters, violent history and pathos that make for good ghost stories. This, after all, was the home of Edgar Allan Poe, father of the modern horror story, whose grave is visited every Jan. 19 by a black-cloaked man in a wide-brimmed hat. He leaves three flowers and a bottle of cognac as a macabre birthday present for the author.
On the cobbled streets of Fells Point - the waterfront-turned-entertainment district - Baltimore feels like the smuggling port that is her birthright: a rain-slicked, gas-lit haven for sailors, drunks, and people of the night, all prowling with a complement of beloved local spirits. Baltimore Ghost Tours conducts walks highlighting the supernatural past.
Finally, far and away down the Eastern Shore, near the manicured village of Snow Hill, are the ruins of Furnace Town. Once an iron-smelting foundry, Furnace Town was abandoned in the 19th century, and tended in a wilderness of thick marshes and red-barked pines by its last inhabitant, an ex-slave named Sampson Hart, who lived to 106. Supposedly, Hart still wanders this muddy relic, now a living-history museum still under the shadow, like so much of Maryland, of the restless dead.
Maryland's Scary Side
Point Lookout State Park
11175 Point Lookout Rd., Scotland
Rams Head Tavern
33 West St., Annapolis
Ghost Tours of Annapolis
Tours meet at the Maryland Inn on
Haunted Ghost Tours
Annapolis City Dock
410-268-7601 (ext. 107)
Baltimore Ghost Tours
731 South Broadway,
Edgar Allan Poe House
203 North Amity St., Baltimore
Grave in nearby Westminster Cemetery
Living Heritage Museum
Old Furnace Road off Route 12, Snow Hill
Closed Nov. 1-March 31, except for special events