Baltimore’s Fell’s Point is the perfect place to live for someone who enjoys the bustle of city life but at the same time wants to be surrounded by history, quirky shops, and mouth-watering eateries, all topped off with beautiful waterfront views.
All that, and maybe … just maybe … a ghost or two.
When I finished college, my then-fiance and I wanted a taste of city life. So when the lease on the suburban townhouse we were renting was up, we moved to Upper Fell’s Point.
Living at The Point isn’t cheap. Renting or buying one of the old townhomes nearer to the waterfront costs more than I could afford even now. The area we were able to afford as new college graduates was older and run-down. Instead of being surrounded by quaint thrift stores and cheerful pubs, we were smack-dab in the middle of crime and drugs. We had to take on a roommate – another friend from college – to even be able to swing that.
The three of us had many scary tales to tell from that time of the non-ghostly variety. We would often find used needles in the curb along our street. The blue-and-red lights of a police car flashing in our windows as a cop raced by in some chase was so commonplace we started ignoring it. Once, my roomie found a creepy stranger sleeping in his car. I wouldn’t walk the streets without my fiance, my roomie, or my dog by my side.
For putting up with all that, we were just a few blocks walk from the heart of Fell’s Point, where more disturbing sights gave way to cobblestone streets, colorful shops, hopping pubs and boats on the water. Music of all types drifted out of the bars, and the smells of seafood wafted from the restaurants and mingled with those of fresh-baked bread coming from the nearby bakeries. I worked in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, and got there each morning in the spring, summer and fall by water taxi – a boat that carried me across the harbor. To this day, that was still the best commute of my life.
The house we lived in was an old, 3 story home with dark wooden floors and a winding staircase. It was full of old nooks and crannies and furniture left behind by previous renters. The first floor was a living room, spare room, kitchen and half-bath that we all shared. The kitchen opened up into a tiny courtyard, the living room into the street. The second floor was two bedrooms, a bathroom and a long hallway. My fiance Chris and I took one of the bedrooms, and we used the second as a spare for guests. That spare room opened up onto a small balcony that overlooked the courtyard. The third floor was a tiny, low-ceilinged space that our roomie Greg chose to claim for his own rather than taking the second-floor bedroom.
We brightened the place as best we could with our limited budget, but we were all either still in or freshly out of college and didn’t have two nickles to rub together between us. With its dark flooring and shadowy spaces, the place always looked a bit eerie. On one side of us was a small abandoned warehouse. On the other side lived a disabled waterman, his wife and son.
In spite of the dreariness of our residence, our place was the hot spot for our friends. We were just a short walk from some of the best bars in Baltimore, and no one had to worry about driving home. We had friends staying over almost every weekend.
One of them was Shan, one of my best college girlfriends who had moved back home to Western Maryland and couldn’t wait to get to the city on the weekends. She was there so often we started thinking of the spare bedroom as “hers.”
She came down one weekend and we headed down to the Point for our usual night of food, music and beer. Chris and Greg were both working, so it was a girl’s night out. Greg met us at a pub when he got off, and we killed the evening listening to a favorite band and drinking to our heart’s content. We left the Point at about 1 am, and stumbled home giggling in the oblivious way that only the young and still invincible can.
Chris was already snoozing in our bed. I joined him as Shan went to “her room” and Greg tottered up the stairs to his cubby. I was soon sleeping the sleep of the happily drunk.
Sometime later – not more than an hour or two at most – I was woken out of my sleep by a loud banging noise. It was a sharp, crisp, loud sound that seemed to rattle my bones and vibrate in my head in my sleep. I bolted upright in bed, too startled to breathe for a moment. Beside me, Chris slept contentedly, not even stirring a bit.
My first thought was “How in the hell could he sleep through THAT?” My second was “maybe I was dreaming.”
Still, I got up and padded to my bedroom window, which looked out on the street. For once, all was still. My legs were trembling.
“Nightmare,” I told myself, but I was trembling. Then I heard movement in the hallway. My heart stopped again, until I heard Shan whispering my name outside my bedroom door.
I opened it and stepped out into the hallway with her. She was pale and her eyes were huge saucers. I’m sure I looked much the same.
“Did you hear that?” she said. And then I knew I hadn’t been dreaming.
We stood in the hallway whispering. Like me, she’d been sure she’d dreamed the loud, banging sound that had startled her awake. To her, it had sounded like it had happened on the balcony just outside her bedroom. She’d been too scared to check it out alone.
Gripping each other’s hands, we turned and looked down the hallway to her room. She’d left the door open when she fled, and through the dim light of the hallway we could see her bed, the dresser, and the bolted door that led out to the balcony.
“What should we do?” we wondered aloud.
Then, we heard a low rattling sound. The knob on the doorway to the balcony began to rattle and shake, as if someone outside was trying to get in.
The next few seconds are still a blur. I can tell you Shan and I screamed like banshees, and woke Chris. I can tell you I grabbed our portable phone (this was all pre-everyone-has-a-cell-phone days) and we ran out the front door, intending to call the police. I can tell you we were terrified of leaving Greg up on the 3rd floor but were thinking the best thing to do was call the cops as quickly as possible.
When we got outside, our neighbor John, the disabled waterman, was sitting on his front steps. He slept at odd hours and was often up all night. He was a kind guy and a self-appointed neighborhood watchman, and his being there always made me feel better about our troubled area.
He looked surprised when the three of us tumbled out of the house, all bed-headed and in our sleep clothes and me clutching a phone.
“Didn’t you hear that?” one of us asked him. He looked at us like we each had three heads.
So we explained the banging noise, and the rattling balcony door. John looked alarmed then.
Like him, his wife and son kept odd hours and were often up into the wee hours of the morning. At that moment, they were sitting out in their own little courtyard playing cards. They would have been just a few feet from whatever was going on.
We followed John into his house, through his living room and kitchen and to his back door. Light flooded his little courtyard. There at a picnic table, his wife and son were, as he’d said, chatting quietly and playing cards. The son was dealing a new hand. The mom was munching on potato chips and drinking a Coke. All seemed right with their world.
John opened the door and we stepped outside. We’d all sat out front and talked before, and we’d been in their living room a time or two, but I had never been in their courtyard. It was separated from ours by a low wall.
But it had a perfect view of our second floor balcony. Our houses were adjoining. From the little porch leading the few steps to the picnic table where John’s wife and son sat contentedly playing their game, I could have walked to the corner and touched my house. In their well-lit little yard, it was impossible NOT see our balcony in stark, plain view, even though we were separated by it from the little wall.
So there was no way John’s wife and son could NOT have seen some intruder there, if there had been one. We all just stood there, looking up with dumbfounded expressions. Especially Shan and I, since we were the ones who heard and seen it. Chris had believed something was happening only because the two of us were in such a frenzy, He had heard nothing, and had slept through it all until our squealing woke him up.
We asked the boy and woman if they’d seen anything, and they looked at us with expressions as befuddled as John’s had been a few moments earlier.
Just to be sure, John came back with us and we all searched the house together. There was nothing.
Shan slept in our room with us the rest of the night, if you could call us huddling and staring at the ceiling and talking “sleeping.”
I will never know what happened that night. Shan and I are both sure we heard something, and saw that door rattling. If it had just been one of us, we’d have chalked the bang up to a bad dream and the rattling doorknob to the wind (although there was none) and a trick of the eye. But what is the liklihood of us both experiencing the same weirdness, two closed doors and a long hallway apart for the “bang” part of it? I am admittedly drawn to the weird, and make no bones about the fact that I’d LOVE to have proof that there are things out there we don’t understand. My imagination is fueled by scary stories and I”m susceptible to believing in the spooky.
But Shan? She’s the ultimate Grounded-In-Reality Girl. All our lives, she has come at things from a perspective that is as fact-based as mine is fantastical. Whether you’re talking the magic of falling in love or the possibility of life beyond the grave, she looks first to science and experience. She won’t watch horror flicks and never reads scary stories. But that night still freaks her out too.
The neighbors in the courtyard saw and heard nothing from what would have been a birds-eye view of any activity on that balcony. The noise that was so loud to Shannon and I was nothing to Chris or Greg, who slept through it, or to John who was sitting out front.
So, would I swear it was a ghost? No. Would I swear it was some strange energy in the house replaying something that had happened at another point in time? No.
But I have no other explanation, so I would never say that it wasn’t one of those things, either. The idea that someone could have climbed up our balcony without a ladder, made a lot of noise, rattled the door and then scuttled away like Spiderman while our neighbors right below him never saw a thing is even more absurd.
Chris and I moved a few months later. Nothing else weird happened in between. Greg got another roomie and stayed there a little longer, and to the best of my knowledge nothing weird happened to them, either.
They say that sometimes certain people can experience these things while those around them see and hear nothing. Could that have been what happened to me and Shan that night?
We’ll never know, but we still talk about it 16 years later.
I searched the internet for stories about that house, and never found a thing. But given the ghostly history of Fell’s Point, you never know.
If you’re in the area and want to hear more spooky Fell’s Point lore, check out the Fells Point Ghost Walk. You won’t find that old rental townhouse on the jaunt, since it is off the beaten and more tourist-friendly track. But you’ll hear plenty other area ghostlore, and when there’s that much spookitude going on in a neighborhood, what’s one more?