Author of Anatomy of a Ghost: A Guide to Analyzing the Dead
"But it was five years later that I just started having this gnawing feeling that I just had to get there.”
Overlooking historic Ellicott City, Maryland is the stately Lilburn Mansion. Already notorious for its haunts, the aging mansion built in the likeness of a castle has a tragic past of loss and sadness. Enter a young, impressionable woman with a love of history and you have a recipe for a ghostly obsession that lasted years.
In my collection of interviews I came across a case where a person became an unwitting mouth piece for an entity. This case doesn’t appear to be a case of the more sinister form of possession, but a case of spiritual obsession. Obsession by a spirit is somewhat different from possession. In this case a living person can become obsessed, or fixated on an idea or behavior that is obviously out of character and sometimes self-destructive. They can be urged to do compulsive acts, but they don’t lose sight of themselves. In other words they may feel the need to do something, but they don’t black out or lose control. They realize what they’re doing, and understand that the compulsion comes from without and not within themselves. In Judy’s case she remained aware of what she was doing, and understood that the compulsions she was experiencing were not of her own choosing.
Now retired and living near the beach in Maryland, Judy had been a hardworking career woman all her life. She ran a restaurant and a catering service for many years before giving up the long days and nights in the kitchen for semi-retirement as a book keeper. She recounted for me an episode in her life in which she seemed to be obsessed by the tragic spirit of a woman and the stately remains of an edifice of tragedy.
In an interview I conducted with her, Judy recounted how it began. “I was between eighteen and twenty-five at the time when this happened, and it was really what started my interest in the paranormal. But you know you grow up, you raise kids, you have a job and you just don’t have the time to pursue it. I know this is going to sound weird, maybe not to you because you deal with this, but it certainly sounded weird to all my friends at the time. I used to live in Clarksville at my brother’s. I used to love to walk in Ellicott City. There used to be a place called the Phoenix which was right on the corner of Cranberry Avenue and Market Street. My girlfriends and I used to go down there and have lunch all the time. One day we just decided to go riding around and seeing what the houses were like. So we drove up there and that’s when it started. This house looked like a Castle, it was up on Cranberry Avenue, up where the railroad used to be. You’d have to go up a hill to get there.”
“We were up there and I thought, wow, what a cool house. At the time it wasn’t inhabited but there were no trespassing signs everywhere. And we thought, we can’t go in here. So we took a couple of pictures of the outside of the house which is really cool. Around six months later we saw an ad in the paper that the house was for sale. They were asking a million –three at that time and that was 1980 to 1982 maybe. I certainly didn’t have that. Not too long after that it sold to a person, I don’t remember who but I have it on my timeline. Then after that it sold to the doctor who owned it for a long time. So we took a couple pictures of it, as I said, and then we drove back down to Ellicott City, and I said I want to go back to the Phoenix and ask about that house.”
And I did, and they said, 'Ooh. That’s the haunted house in Ellicott City. So I asked, ‘well what happened up there?’ They said, ‘oh, well there’s someone up in the tower. There was a fire there and children had died, and it’s had many owners. But everyone stays away from that house because it’s supposedly haunted.’”
So captivated by the house did Judy become, that over the course of the next couple of years she would research the property extensively. The following are from the notes that she made and kept all these years later.
The building is not a house in actuality, but a mansion of some 7000 square feet. Built in the 9th century Gothic and Romanesque Revival style with stone and granite, it boasts twenty rooms, a four story medieval style tower, twelve foot ceilings and seven fireplaces with marble mantels and surrounds. The property also boasts a three-story carriage house and the only three-story smoke house ever built in Howard County.
It was built in 1857 by Henry Richard Hazelhurst. Originally from Abington, Berkshire England, who moved to Ellicott City after making a fortune in iron works. Henry had lost his first wife in 1848, but remarried a second time to Elizabeth Virginia McKim. The family moved to the area around 1857 with their two children, Maria and George. Soon after the mansion was finished a third child, Catherine, was born. Soon after Catherine’s birth, however, tragedy struck the family. Maria, aged three years, died of a childhood illness. Throughout the course of the next five years Elizabeth delivered three more daughters, Margaret, Julia and Elizabeth.
During the Civil War the Hazelhurst’s allowed the mansion to be used as a hospital for wounded soldiers. Following the war, the family’s financial interests may have taken a down-turn, as Henry apparently was forced to sell off several acres of land surrounding the mansion, which was distressing to the family. The original plot of land was 2500 acres, eventually it was whittled down to eight.
Elizabeth reportedly suffered bouts of depression for twenty some years. Judy’s notes suggested that the depression was brought on by the loss of daughter Maria. The loss of a child is a tragedy beyond words, even in an era when such losses were common. The birth of later children apparently did nothing to assuage the loss. Elizabeth passed away in 1887. She was fifty-nine years old when she died of an unspecified illness.
Her daughters would be even less fortunate. Indeed, none of Elizabeth’s daughters would live to reach the age of forty.
Catherine the third child, and the first to be born in the mansion, was reportedly very close to her mother. She died only four years after her mother’s death. She was thirty-three when she passed in 1891.
Only two years into her marriage, Julia died in childbirth in 1893, at the age of thirty-one. She was laboring in the tower of the mansion trying to deliver her first and only child when she died.
Not much is known about Margaret, only that she died in 1895 at the age of thirty-six. Henry, who was losing his family one by one is quoted as saying that the mansion was “A place of tragic memories.” Still Henry lived to old age. Accounts vary, but he either died in 1890 or 1900, either at the age of seventy-five or eighty five. He was laid to rest at St John’s Cemetery of Howard County next to wife Elizabeth. The last and final daughter, Elizabeth, followed her father to the grave five years later in 1905.
The first born, and only surviving child, George sold the mansion in 1906. He moved to Catonsville, Maryland and died in 1919.
A waspish man by the name of Wells bought the mansion next, and inhabited the mansion with his family into the early 1920’s. Apparently a bit of a character, Wells earned a reputation with the town’s folk for his petulant demeanor. He was known to snap at anyone that attempted to speak with him. One who valued his privacy, Wells had a seven foot hedge planted around the front of the property. The Wells family stayed mainly in the house, emerging only on Sunday mornings to attend church. Wells was found dead one day in the mansion’s library.
John McGinnis and family were in residence in the mansion by 1923, when a devastating fire destroyed much of the interior. The family managed to escape the blaze, but were forced to rebuild. During the renovation they added the medieval style battlements to the roof of the tower, replacing the steeple gothic roof that had been the original design.
Apparently the mansion earned its haunted reputation with the town around that time. According to Judy’s research, activity in the mansion included the sounds of a small child crying in an upstairs bedroom, and an apparition of a young girl wearing a chiffon dress who was reported as playing in several rooms of the mansion. There were also reports of an apparition of a man and a small child walking hand-in-hand down the hallway. A male apparition was also reported standing in a doorway. The aroma of cigar smoke, a habit not uncommon in Hazelhurst’s era, was smelled and sometimes witnessed in the library, a curling cloud of smoke wafting toward the ceiling in an otherwise empty room. The chandelier in the dining room was said to swing with vigor at times, once during a family gathering. Footsteps, sometimes heavy footsteps, were at times heard around the building, and on the tower stairs. And once, a vase full of flowers was said to elevate off its stand, pouring water and flowers out onto the floor.
Windows in the manse appeared to be uncooperative, refusing to stay closed. This was especially true in the tower. One owner attempted to tie the errant windows down with rope. By the time he got outside to inspect his handiwork, however, the windows of the tower were open again, the ropes lying on the floor beneath.
Judy commenced her story, upon learning that the mansion was up for sale. “Right then I thought I want to buy that house. But I couldn’t.” The one-million dollar asking price was inconceivable to a woman who waited tables. Her dream mansion was such that, she had to concede, just a dream.
“And then years later, I think it was five years later when I lived with my brother, that’s when that started happening to me. I had taken other friends around and we would look at it and just ride around the streets. But it was five years later that I just started having this gnawing feeling that I just had to get there.”
“I thought at the time, this is weird, but I’ve got to go [to the house]. And I would go, and I would sit and I would bawl my eyes out.” She admitted that she had no idea why she was crying, but that she was simply overwhelmed with, “complete sadness.”
In her research she had found accounts of tragedies, any one of which she might be tapping into. The house had burned down. A lady that had lived in the house had lost three children. Owners of the property had come and gone with great regularity. For all its grandeur it hadn’t been a house of joy for its inhabitants.
“I’ve got loads of stuff, I went to Ellicott City, the historical society and I gathered so much information. I always wanted to explore this home. Years ago in the early 2000’s a couple were trying to make the house into a bed and breakfast, but Ellicott City wouldn’t allow them to do that. But it’s still, it’s lived in, but there are many, many stories about it.”
“For some reason I connected with a woman in the house, who was very, very sad. I could be at my brother’s and it could be any time. Every two or three months, it could be three o’clock in the morning or it could be noon. If I was asleep I would wake up and I’d have this insatiable desire, I had to get to the house. I’m surprised no one ever called the cops on me. Because I’d go and I’d sit outside the house in my little car and I’d bawl my eyes out for an hour. And then it was done, and I went home. But it was reoccurring and it would happen every two or three months with regularity for three years, and then it absolutely stopped.” Judy admitted that she probably repeated the ritual a dozen times over the three year period while she shared a grief so terrible with an unknown woman that it communicated beyond the veil.
“I did, I thought I was cracking up, but the feeling was just so strong in me, and I went, and I would have this experience and I would go home, and then I was so relieved. And then it wouldn’t happen again until a couple of months later. It was weird, but it was cool. So I decided that I needed to find out more about this house, and the owners, and the timeline. The stack of papers [she accumulated] is probably this thick [around two inches] and I wrote down a timeline of when the fire was, who owned it, who built it, how many acres it was. That was so interesting for me to go and do that kind of research.”
“So that was why I did so much research on the home. I don’t even recall now the name of the woman that lost the three children, but I always felt a connection that maybe she was the one that did that. I don’t know.”
“I knocked on the door one day, there was a doctor living there, a lady, and I kind of introduced myself and I told her my story and I asked her if I could come in. But she didn’t know me, and I don’t blame her for saying no. It was just so fascinating.”
“My brother thought I was crazy, my friends thought I was crazy. So I really didn’t [share it with anyone] because it was personal to me. It felt very personal that someone was reaching out to do that. I just went with it. When it stopped, I was kind of sad that it stopped. I realized it had been six months or so and I realized, wow, I haven’t been to that house in a long time. And it never happened again.”
What is fascinating to me about this account is the fact that Judy never actually entered the dwelling, and had no knowledge of its history at the onset. She apparently made an immediate connection to the property, though, obvious by the fact that she took pictures of it on the first encounter and went downtown to inquire about it immediately.
Why was she the one of the whole band of friends that was affected in this way? Can we assume that she was the only one with the empathic ability to tap into the tragic energy? I wonder also if the energy, the sadness she apparently was in tune with, was actually a consciousness or just a type of residual sadness that lingered about the property.
The episodes Judy underwent certainly didn’t seem to have had any purpose beyond the sheer expression of pain. This energy appeared to require nothing but expression. The expression of sadness, expiation, all those years after. The death of a child, three children, a woman in childbirth…Judy would go on to become a mother herself. Did the spirit sense a bond? Was it Elizabeth still mourning the loss of Maria? Was it one of the later residents who also experienced tragedy in the mansion? We will never know, beyond the fact that death and loss left an imprint on a place that transcended the passage of time.