Welcome to Halloween time and all is quiet in Mount Olivet Cemetery. Some people think that this is a big night for graveyard activity, but I can vouch for the same tranquil and peaceful atmosphere as the other days and nights throughout the year. It’s “the living creatures” that cause the mayhem and merriment—not the dead. Halloween is a contraction of All Hallows’ Evening. The word hallow is defined as a holy person or saint. The past tense, adjective means revered or respected, such as the popular expression “hallowed ground.” Battlefields and cemeteries are great examples of hallowed ground, where the living lost lives, or ground where the once living still reside.
All Hallows’ Eve is a celebration observed on October 31st in a number of countries. This marks the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows' Day, better known as All Saints Day, and also referred to as All Soul’s Day. Both days are part of a three-day period that comprises Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed. It would not be wrong to refer to this time as “Allhallowmas,” just like the widely accepted term Christmas, but seldom do.
And just like Christmas, popular culture and capitalism have claimed a greater share of attention than religious early origins and traditions such as attending church services and lighting candles on the graves of the dead. Commercial Halloween activities include “trick-or-treating,” attending costume parties, carving pumpkins, bobbing for apples, playing pranks, visiting haunted houses and corn maze attractions, telling scary stories and watching horror films. One of the most popular things to do at this time of year is “ghost hunting.”
Although traditional science doesn’t support the existence or possibility of ghosts or spirits roaming or interacting with the living, there are plenty of people that do. As a matter of fact, we are in the midst of conducting our 6th year of the Mount Olivet cemetery Candlelight History Tour. I have had the pleasure of conducting these nocturnal walks each fall. I tell participants stories of the cemetery’s history, the evolution of the funerary business and best of all, tales of just a few of the 40,000 persons that have been interred here in this beautiful “garden-style” cemetery since it opened in 1854. A few weeks back I received a very kind, and thought-provoking email from a tour participant named Tera. She had just taken to tour the night before (October 14th) and attached a photo. Here is the content of her communication to me:
I was on the walk on sat night and took this picture of you. On my I phone I took it in live mode and it comes down from the trees and surrounds you. I took many photos that night and this is the only one like this. Not sure how you feel about orbs? Anyway....Thought you would be interested. I can stop by sometime and show you on my phone so you can see how it moves. It was at our first stop on the tour. The first person buried there.”
The grave site stop was that of Mrs. Ann Crawford, the cemetery’s first interment who I have been introducing tour participants to for years. She was laid to rest May 28th, 1854 and I featured her as the subject of a “Stories in Stone” last January, and entitled The First Burial.
I don’t quite have a handle on the supernatural, as I’m just a humble historian, who occasionally loves to “mythbust.” At the same time, however, I love the challenge of proving myths true. I consulted with a few of my friends, more versed on the subject. From what I gleaned, my spirit encounter captured by Tera’s camera, seems to point to the fact that spirits are fond of me. More so they trust me, and are thankful that I’m doing these tours and writing these stories. So I’ve got that going for me.
I recently performed a diligent search of old Frederick newspapers for any published ghost stories attributed to Mount Olivet Cemetery. Unfortunately, I found none, but will continue to look. In my hunt for ghosts, I did stumble across a short feature piece from late August, 1982 in the Frederick News. It was written by Alyce T. Weinberg of Frederick. Mrs. Weinberg, and husband Dan, gave Frederick the majestic, historic downtown theater that bears the couple’s name.
Mrs. Weinberg’s evocative column featured a remembrance of Frederick resident Effie Spurrier, coming just over a week after the latter’s death at the age of 96. Mrs. Weinberg had interviewed “Miss Effie,” as she called her, a few years prior for inclusion in a book entitled Spirits of Frederick, written in 1979 and published by Studio 20 of Frederick.
Another unexplained brush with the supernatural came after Effie’s mother claimed to have heard a noise outside the house after bedtime. Young Effie ran to a window, and to her amazement, witnessed “a woman in flowing white on a white horse, and her mother told her that was a bad omen.” Supposedly a daughter died a short time later.
I looked into this and found that Effie’s older sister, Lola May Harris, died on October 30th, 1903. Ironically, this occurred on “Halloween Eve,” for those that want to look for more symbolism. Lola may was 26 years of age at the time of her death. I tried to find information on the cause, but found nothing. I did see articles in spring of 1897 where the young woman almost died of pneumonia, but made a phenomenal recovery.
Effie would marry Jessie E. Bell in December, 1905. The couple would have a daughter, and named her Lola— either after Effie’s fore-mentioned late sister, or Lola V. Bell, a sister of Jessie. That alone is eerie, as Lola is not an overly common name. The family lived in Jessie’s birthplace of Harmony Grove, a small hamlet once comprised of a slew of houses along the Old Emmitsburg Pike north of Frederick.
Nearby was the original Worman’s Mill, namesake of the large residential community that would come less than a century later. Many dwellings were lost in the 1960’s and 1970’s as the highway of US15 was dualized and designed to bypass sleepy Harmony Grove. Another interesting thing to mention here is that one of the original land patents comprising this particular area was Stephen Ramsburg's 473 -acre parcel carved from Daniel Dulany's Taskers Chance tract in 1746. Ramsburg named his property "Mortality."
Effie told Mrs. Weinberg that she lived with her husband’s family here when she first married. She inferred that the locale could have been watched over by the spirits of native Indian peoples that originally inhabited this higher ground in close proximity to the Monocacy River. The greater location has a rich Native American story with the famed Biggs Ford site to the north, and a tract named "Indian Fields" in colonial days, to the west. This latter location would become Rose Hill Manor.
Traces of ancient life have been found by farmers, archeologists and relic hunters alike. These have come in the form of spear points, pipe and bowl fragments, found regularly in the nearby fields. “We heard something go upstairs anytime, opening and closing doors. Couldn’t keep the covers on the bed in one room, and the furniture rattled and moved around by itself. We weren’t afraid if we burnt the light all night, and the covers stayed on too.”
Interestingly enough, the Bells regularly heard mysterious “bell” sounds coming from their chimney. Her husband and male relatives would regularly experience this while engrossed in playing card games. They also would see lights in the Worman’s Woods “going round and round.” Effie topped her tale by telling Mrs. Weinberg that on one particular night, “a ball of fire traveled inside the room until it found an open window.” Was there an ancient Indian burial ground here that was disturbed by later growth and development leading up to the early 1900’s?
Today, the Bell home is gone. What remains of Harmony Grove lingers in the shadow of Clemson Corner, the 37-acre shopping mecca and bookend Market Square, both conveniently located off MD route 26. When Effie lived here, it was a much quieter time, long before the modern-era defined by Wegmans, Lowes, Chipotle and a Super Wal-Mart. I venture to guess that the native spirits are beyond incensed at the sprawl here over their former tribal village site, but It’s simply much too congested for ghosts and spirits to even bother haunting today’s residents here, I suppose.
Effie and Jessie Bell split sometime between 1910 and 1919. She would eventually remarry in 1919. This was to second husband, Harvey Ray Spurrier, a Mount Airy boy and World War I veteran. Harvey would work as a custodian of the Frederick Post Office for 27 years.
The Spurriers moved into Frederick City and could be found living at 11 E. Fourth Street in the 1920 US Census. At this point in time, Effie was duly employed at the Ox Fibre Brush Company on East Church street extended (today the site of Goodwill Industries). Ten years later they would be living at 710 N. Market Street. They remained here until Harvey’s death on May 17th, 1963. He would be interred in Mount Olivet’s area AA/Lot 30. I give these addresses, as potential spots for supernatural activity, as Effie seemed to be followed throughout her days.
Effie Spurrier lived 19 more years beyond Harvey. She had been living with her daughter when she passed at the age of 96 on August 18th, 1982. The ghost expert would be laid to rest at Harvey’s side in Mount Olivet on August 21st.
Perhaps Effie is still visited by those old “haunts,” or maybe she takes her turn roaming our cemetery grounds or her past residences. Whatever the case, I hope to remain in her good graces, as it has been a pleasure getting to know a little about her through writing this article. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Mrs. Weinberg, who we lost in 1987. She wrote a great book, one of many gifts she (and her husband) gave to Frederick, Maryland. Oh yeah, and Happy Halloween to both of you!