Local folklore expert Mindy Burgoyne hosts the haunted tours of Dorchester County
It is dusk and the clock on the courthouse has just chimed 8 p.m. as we begin our Chesapeake Ghost Walk down High Street in Cambridge, leaving the shopping district and heading to Long Wharf on the Choptank River. The walk includes 18 properties along High Street, touted as the most haunted street in Maryland. According to our tour guide and the owner of Chesapeake Ghost Walks, Mindie Burgoyne, soldiers, governors, jilted women, oystermen, an eccentric cat lady, a dying daughter, slain war heroes, suicidal bankers, murderous merchants, laughing children and a one-legged sea captain are some of the spirits that hang around High Street.
As we begin our walk, the first stop is the 1854 Dorchester County Courthouse, which Burgoyne points out is a “thin” place — a veil between this world and the next world where spirits can be detected. The open land next to the Courthouse, known as “Spring Valley,” is the site of many horrible acts — hangings, executions, public humiliations, and whippings. Often, at night, sounds of a rope creaking on a branch, bloodcurdling screams, and even a crowd jeering can be heard by people who are standing on the grassy knoll. While we don’t hear any of these noises, there is a chilling stillness in the air.
As the tour progresses, Burgoyne points out the previous location of the Dorchester Center for the Arts, a building where it is said that many children may have died years ago and where the front doors are known to swing open on their own and the unexplained sounds of children laughing can be heard. She then says that in the nearby yard at 116 High Street, people have seen ghosts of deceased pets — some of which have been captured digitally by participants on the tours.
One of the participants on our tour, Margaret Marselas of Chesapeake Beach, says her father was a funeral director and she had always sensed when bad things had happened to people when they died. On the tour, as we walk past one of the historic houses which Burgoyne says could not keep its tenants due to the paranormal activity there, Marselas shivers and says she has a sense that something bad has happened in the house.
At the end of High Street stands a fake boat smoke stack to resemble the one on the boat that Franklin Delano Roosevelt took to Cambridge when he visited periodically. On April 12, the date of Roosevelt’s death, a puff of smoke has been sighted coming from the stack. As the tour nears its end, Burgoyne points out what she calls the Oyster Navy House, where the head of the Oyster Navy lived. People who have lived in the house have reported seeing random puddles of water throughout the house at different times. It was even reported that one puddle had an oyster shell in it.
Burgoyne founded Chesapeake Ghost Walks in 2013. Regular walks are scheduled from March to November for Cambridge, Easton, Crisfield, Denton, Snow Hill, Pocomoke City, Ocean City, Berlin, Marion Station, Princess Anne, St. Michaels and Salisbury.
“These are not spooky, scary walks where the guides dress up in period clothing and use theatrical techniques. This is the real deal,” Burgoyne says. “We’ve researched content and sources of every ghost story. We’ve referenced documents, books, oral commentary as well as information gained from psychic mediums and paranormal investigators. We figure the truth is scary enough.”
Each walking tour is guided by a trained storyteller who is passionate about ghostly history, haunted properties and tales of the dead.
“It’s an enchanting landscape that has remained largely unchanged since the British colonization. It is full of crazy characters,” Burgoyne said. “There’s something magical about the open landscape that opens portals into the ‘other world.’ The spirits of those characters peek through now and again. You’ll be ‘walking with some of them’ on every Chesapeake Ghost Walk.”
In addition to experiencing the history and mystery of the region, participants explore their own psychic potential in sensing ghosts. According to Burgoyne, for some, it is their openness to experiencing something.
“As we walk, we get people to use their own intuition, asking them how they feel as they come across certain properties we are showing them,” she said. “Our society doesn’t recognize the importance of intuition like the ancients did. Everything today needs to be logical.”
Burgoyne, a history buff, once owned The Pastoral Press, which published books on pastoral ministry and theological texts, and was considering adding historical fiction, based on Catholic saints and heroes. She became interested in gathering information for a book project focused on spiritual and mystical sites. After she sold the publishing house, her family moved in 2002 into a haunted house in Marion Station near Crisfield.
“When we moved to Marion Station, I had just gotten interested in this topic and was researching the thinness of the veil,” she said.
Since living in their 1892 house, every family member has experienced something paranormal. Two psychic mediums have said that there are hundreds of spirits in the house and have suggested the house may be physically located on a vortex (worm hole) between this world and the next.
According to Burgoyne, certain things can trigger paranormal events. Such activities as renovations to a home or the high ejection of emotions can reconfigure the veil between the realms and reveal things. She refers to an Ocean City property once owned by a woman whose son was abducted by British soldiers and pressed into military service. Because of her overwhelming grief for her son, she committed suicide. The inconsolable loss of that mother for her son and her suicide accelerate the haunting experience there. It is one of the “thin” places that Burgoyne refers to in her ghost walks.
“People today don’t need to be ashamed of having an intuition about these things like they did years ago, but we still often soothe ourselves out of acknowledging the experience,” Burgoyne says. “Today, however, more people are sensing paranormal things. In addition, media has made it interesting.”
In 2009, in the off-season, Chesapeake Ghost Walks began offering bus tours to outlying areas in Worcester, Somerset, Caroline, Talbot, and Dorchester counties. These tours focus on stories of farmers, slaves, merchants, waterman and ghosts of the swamps, forests and old plantations. She also offers paranormal investigations in Furnace Town and Linchester Mill where guests watch actual paranormal investigators use specialized equipment to detect communications from the spirit world.