- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 23, 2004

Halloween is just around the corner, and for those who want a scare, the Washington area has plenty to offer in terms of haunted houses, costume parties, spooky storytelling and ghost tours such as Ghost Walks in Historic Savage Mill.

The event, which is in its first year, mixes the scary with the historic as guides tell visitors the background of the Savage, Md., mill, which operated as a textile mill from 1822 through 1947, and its — dead — employees, some of whom apparently still show up to work. …

Savage Mill now houses specialty shops, fine-art studios and restaurants.

“You can enjoy the walk whether you believe in ghosts or not,” says Mark Croatti, who compiled the ghosts stories. “We talk about local history, Civil War history and the deaths that occurred on the premises.”

One of the deaths was that of Rebecca King, a mill worker in the 1800s, who, while carrying cotton spools and other supplies, tripped and fell to her death in the mill’s tower. According to many, she now haunts the tower, Mr. Croatti says.

Another ghost is Frances Reeley, a young daughter of the mill’s last superintendent in the 1940s, Mr. Croatti says. Little Frances is referred to as a “prankster ghost.”

She runs along the creaking floor boards and laughs and skips in the halls along with other young ghosts, he says. She’s also known to trip people in staircases and give them scares by peering through windows.

Mr. Croatti, a political science professor at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County by day, put together the script for the tour by talking to merchants at Savage Mill and old neighbors of the mill.

One of the merchants who contributed to Mr. Croatti’s ghost-story compilation is Joe Axt, owner of Vibrant Artwear and Jaxt Vintage Clothes.

“Things were often misplaced in the store, and I would feel as if someone were present, but when I looked up, no one was there,” Ms. Axt says.

She finally put up a security camera to capture any presence — ghost and human alike. But nothing out of the ordinary has shown up on film, she says.

The ghost walk, which takes about an hour, does not feature any props or actors posing as ghosts.

“We tell people that if something jumps out at you, it’s the real thing, and not on our payroll,” says Rachelina Bonacci, executive director of the Howard County Tourism Council, which sponsors the walk. “Sometimes visitors say, ‘Wait a minute — I just felt something.’ We have nothing to do with that.”

Though the tour can be eerie, it’s not audiovisually scary, and the reason age minimum of 6 has been set is because the tour involves a lot of walking, Ms. Bonacci says — and talking.

Visitors learn that Savage was an important manufacturing center in the gilded era of cotton, back in the 1800s. The mill’s main product was canvas, used to make sails for clipper ships that sailed out of Baltimore’s harbor.

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