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Ghostly history

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.

At its productivity peak in 1941, the mill employed 325 people and produced 400,000 pounds of cotton duck a month. Throughout the mill structure, now full of shops, are remnants and reminders of those bygone days -- original mill machinery is on display, and pictures of what it used to look like are posted in several wall exhibits.

Mr. Croatti has also weaved into the script information about the Civil War, for whose armies the mill produced tents, cannon covers and other supplies.

This three-pronged offering of economic and Civil War history and ghost stories makes for an enjoyable evening for people of all ages -- except the very youngest, Ms. Bonacci says.

"Basically, for the price of a movie ticket, you'll learn some history and get some goose bumps, too."

When you go:

Location: 8600 Foundry St., Savage, Md.

Directions: Take Route 295 toward Baltimore; merge onto state Route 32 west toward Columbia. Stay on Route 32 for about two miles, and then merge onto U.S. Route 1 south toward Laurel. Make a right onto Gorman Road and then another quick right onto Foundry Street. Hours: 8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 27.

Parking: Parking is available.

Admission: $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and $6 for children 7 to 11. The tour is not recommended for children 6 and younger.

Information:800/288-8747 or www.savagemill.com

Miscellaneous: Savage Mill is a historic mill building with shops and restaurants, including Ram's Head Tavern.

Other spooky events:

• Boo at the Zoo, Smithsonian's National Zoological Park, 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW. Children ages 2 to 12 are welcome to celebrate Halloween and go trick-or-treating at the National Zoo during Boo at the Zoo today. Fee: $13 for members, $23 for nonmembers. All children 2 and older require tickets. Appropriate for all ages. Tick-ets can be ordered online at www.nationalzoo.si.edu. Information: 202/673-4613.

• Markoff's Haunted Forest, Camp Calleva, Martinsburg Road off White's Ferry Road, Poolesville. The event will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursdays and 7 to 10:30 p.m. Saturdays through Oct. 31. Admission: $15 to $20. The forest includes a haunted trail, hayrides and bonfires. Appropriate for all ages. If the hike through the forest is too scary, hayrides can be a good, nonspooky option. Information: 301/216-1248 or www.calleva.org.

• Halloween in Georgetown, Grace Church, 1041 Wisconsin Ave. NW. Actors from the Georgetown Theatre Company will read from the works of Edgar Allan Poe at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Donation of $5 is recommended. Information: 703/271-7770.

• Enter the Darkness, District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW. Join the Washington Storytellers Theatre for an evening of extreme horror starting at 10 p.m. Saturday. The storytellers will present the five scariest stories from the scary-story contest. Fee: $10 per person; $8 with costume. The event is appropriate for teenagers and adults. Information: 301/891-1129 or www.washingtonstorytellers.org.

• Ghost Train, Walkersville Southern Railroad, 34 W. Pennsylvania Ave., Walkersville, Md. Take a spooky ride on the Ghost Train, which departs at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday. Admission: $8 per person, free for children 5 and younger. The event is aimed at children of all ages. There will also be a Halloween Train at 1 and 3 p.m. today. Information: 877/363-9777 or www.wsrr.org.

• Night of Lost Souls, Gadsby's Tavern, 134 N. Royal St., Alexandria. Visitors are invited to investigate unexplained occurrences, peculiar tales and strange legends surrounding Alexandria's popular attractions from 7 and 10 p.m. Saturday. Attractions, aside from Gadsby's Tavern, include the Carlyle House. Fee: $10 for adults, $5 for children 12 and younger. This event is not recommended for children 6 and younger. Each ticket holder will receive a goodie bag and Halloween treats. Information: 703/838-4242 or www.historicalexandria.org.

• Poe in Alexandria, The Lyceum, 201 S. Washington St., Alexandria. Guests are invited to an evening highlighting the texts of the master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe, at 8 p.m. Saturday and Oct. 31. Actor David Keltz will recreate Edgar Allan Poe's visit to Virginia in 1849, shortly before the writer's death. The performance will include recitations from such works as "The Raven," "Annabel Lee," and "The Tell-Tale Heart." The event is appropriate for children 12 and older. Make reservations early, as the event likely will sell out, organizers advise. Admission: $12 per person. Information: 703/838-4994.

• 17th Annual Mall-O-Ween, Fair Oaks Shopping Center, 11750 Fair Oaks, Fairfax. Thousands of young ghosts, goblins, clowns and other costumed children are expected to parade through Fair Oaks mall from 4 to 6 p.m. Oct. 31. Children and parents are invited to trick-or-treat throughout the mall at participating retailers. Appropriate for all ages. Free. Information: 703/359-8302 or www.shopfairoaksmall.com.

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