A woman and her lovers are quarreling on the mezzanine of the Lord Baltimore Hotel. In the ballroom, a couple whirls under the chandeliers, growing perturbed if interrupted. And a little girl named Molly is bouncing a red ball down the carpeted corridors, seeking to play forever … and ever … and ever.
These are some of the souls said to flit through the hallways of the 95-year-old Lord Baltimore, the city’s oldest continually operating hotel. “Mediums … often state the hotel is crowded,” said Lee Johnson-Lowe, the hotel’s sales director. “There are a lot of spirits here.”
“Mediums … often state the hotel is crowded. There are a lot of spirits here.”— Lee Johnson-Lowe, the hotel’s sales director
That is why a team of paranormal investigators plan to descend on the hotel for National Ghost Hunting Day on Sept. 30, wielding voice recorders, electricity monitors, thermal imagery cameras and a cat ball (more on that later). Rob Stachowicz, founder of a company called Get Haunted, will lead participants through a “ghost-hunting boot camp,” before sending them off to seek the hotel’s permanent residents.
Stachowicz, a former engineer, got into the ghost-hunting business in 2008 after the death of his father. His daughter, then a toddler, would periodically greet her deceased grandfather, then chat and play with him. Stachowicz began researching ghosts, honing his powers of perception and visiting haunted houses, eventually turning his passion for the paranormal into a career and a business. Stachowicz and the 28 ghosts hunters on his team are slated to host events at 32 sites this year, he said.
“Ghosts are always there, but this is the time of year that people start thinking of them,” said Stachowicz. “I believe there are other dimensions and we thin that veil somehow.”
The veil must be quite diaphanous at the Lord Baltimore, because guests (the flesh-and-blood kind) frequently report encounters with unearthly beings, Johnson-Lowe said.
“I have indeed had guests ask me, ‘What is the deal with the red ball?’” Johnson-Lowe said. “They don’t know anything about the story, but they see a red ball in the hallway.”
Other guests report hearing a pair of children playing in the hallway or a woman, her husband and her lover — a love triangle of the long-dead — quarreling on the mezzanine level. There’s also an odd indentation or handprint in a penthouse room that no paint or wallpaper can obscure, Johnson-Lowe said.
In some cases, it’s only after guests leave and talk with others that they realize they had an odd experience — such as repeatedly feeling their elbow nudged off a table — while at the hotel, he said. (Although Johnson-Lowe describes himself as “not a believer,” he acknowledges that he has “been in the presence of activity that is not normal” in the hotel.)
When the Lord Baltimore opened in December 1928, more than 800 people paraded into a lobby filled with “palms, ferns and cut flowers,” to be serenaded by an orchestra and a soprano, The Baltimore Sun reported at the time. Photos from the era show crowds of women in flapper gowns and long strings of pearls and men in three-piece suits, calling to mind the black-and-white party photo from the movie “The Shining,” which was set at the fictional Overlook Hotel.
Less than a year after the Lord Baltimore opened, the stock market crashed, touching off the Great Depression and perhaps leading to the arrival of the hotel’s first ghosts.
The hotel was the tallest building in Maryland at the time and several despondent businessmen leaped from its roof, Johnson-Lowe said. Indeed, Molly is believed to be the daughter of a couple who lost their fortune in the market. According to the legend, she was clutching a red ball when her parents brought her to the hotel. After the family— both parents and Molly — plunged to their deaths, Molly still wanted to play.
While a search of historical newspapers does not reveal accounts of such an incident, there are several articles about people committing suicide at the hotel. Gertrude Merriken, a divorcee and secretary, shot herself in the room of her former boss after he refused to marry her, according to a November 1931 Baltimore Sun article. Railroad passenger agent Guy P. Clifton drunkenly jumped out the window of his 12th story room after his wife complained about his excessive drinking, The Evening Sun reported in January 1933.
Luminaries including Amelia Earhart, Babe Ruth and Martin Luther King Jr. have passed through the red-brick, French Renaissance-style hotel over the decades. Built on the site of a smaller hotel, The Lord Baltimore has changed hands several times and undergone a few major renovations. The Rubell family, art aficionados who purchased the Lord Baltimore in 2013, have worked to restore many of the hotel’s historic details, including the gilded floral fresco ceiling above the lobby.
Regardless of the provenance of the ghosts, numerous mediums and paranormal investigators have attested to their presence, Johnson-Lowe said. Several have detected the ghostly dancers in the ballroom; they seem to grow angry when disturbed. A speakeasy — a secret bar hidden behind a mirrored wall in the Versailles room — is the home of the spirit of a madam who was running a brothel out of the hotel.
Longtime employees said they have grown accustomed to strange happenings. Deborah Davis, who has worked in food and beverage at the hotel for 39 years, said she often feels a warm and protective presence around her at the hotel, which she credits with keeping her safe as she travels home, by bus and on foot, late at night. A few times, she has felt a mysterious tap on her shoulder alerting her to a threat.
“You’ll walk down the hall and things fall down. You hear a knock, knock, knock. I say, ‘Molly, I’m not playing today. I’m not in the mood for this.’”— Deborah Davis, who has worked in food and beverage at the hotel for 39 years
But sometimes the spirit seems intent on making mischief, Davis said. “You’ll walk down the hall and things fall down. You hear a knock, knock, knock,” she said. “I say, ‘Molly, I’m not playing today. I’m not in the mood for this.’”
At other times, the elevator will unexpectedly take her to the 19th floor, reportedly the epicenter of paranormal activity, Davis said.
At the ghost hunting event, Stachowicz and an assistant will demonstrate how to use several pieces of equipment that detect sounds, electrical waves and heat. He said he often tosses out a lightweight ball for cats, which some ghosts — perhaps of the feline variety — appear to manipulate.
“But you don’t need all the equipment,” Stachowicz said. “Your body is the most important piece of equipment, the hair standing up on your neck.”
The hotel ghosts did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
A caption for a photo from 1929 has been updated to correctly identify the subjects. They are attendees of an annual banquet for the University of Maryland Nurses Alumni Association.