It isn't that I didn't believe in ghosts. I just never really thought much about them one way or the other. Whatever strange occurrences I'd had in my life up to that point were more along the lines of intuitive hunches, dreams, and visions. Plus, when I was 13, a good friend with CP died. When I was 14, the first boy who ever kissed me was killed. If I hadn't seen them, well, I pretty much assumed I'd go through life without ever seeing a ghost I'd never met!
When I met Excy, he was living just outside of Baltimore in Stevenson, MD, in a 17,000 sq. ft. house his family had owned since they built it in 1861 as a summer home, to get them out of the hot confines of the city. Eventually they moved to Burnside full-time, and in 1893 they gradually added even more land and started a working diary farm. They had established their fortune running a courier service -- sort of a precursor to federal express -- and were friends with U.S presidents Grant (a frequent guest at the house), Hayes, and Garfield. They were progressive, and there were many 'firsts' -- they developed stanchions for use for dairy production, still used today, and did a lot of research into certified milk, which evolved into the idea of pasteurization. They developed a trolley line to carry the milk to the stone dairy, and were among the first to acknowledge the importance of using covered milking buckets. (duh!). In 1904 the dairy was operating so well, Shoemaker II, the son of the first Samuel M. Shoemaker, explored other interests and became concerned with bettering the state's roads, researching the field to the extent of creating the Shoemaker Road Law, put into effect in 1906 and in operation today, and building a road from the dairy to the front gates of the house that was so well built it was resurfaced only once since it was laid. He helped in agriculture research. He helped develop AA. Burnside's Big House had the first telephone in Baltimore County, the first paved road, the first electricity and indoor plumbing, the first plate warmer, and they were making ice cream on the property when it was in the experimental stages elsewhere. Mr Birdseye, of the frozen food fame, was a friend and gave Excy's grandmother a freezer. Excy remembers being on the knee of Lon Chaney. Eleanor Roosevelt was also a friend of his grandmom's, who was Chairman of Maryland's Victory garden progams during WW II. In short, an interesting and varied family. When I met them at a family reunion, they reminded me of the cast of characters straight out of the movie You Can't Take It With You. If you couldn't roll with the punches and tease right back, you'd be toast. They were bonafide true eccentrics.
By the time Excy and I moved in together, Burnside's Big House and much of the 49 buildings on its property were owned by Samuel M. Shoemaker III's widow. Her daughter, Sally, Excy's cousin, lived in the Big House with her husband. Excy and I lived on one end of the house, Court and Sally the other, and we shared the front parlors, old dining room, and old kitchen and laundry facilities. Family lived on the property in former tenant and converted farm buildings, like the trunk house, stone dairy, bowling alley, laundry, tool shed, etc. A few unrelated families were scattered here and there on the property and had become as close as family. It was like living in a quite special commune.
It was easy to be transported back through time, because when we walked out of our apartment, an area of the house that had been converted for James the butler who had lived there and overseen the family for 60 years, everything was like a time capsule into the 1800s. Court and Sally at that time were in their 60s and both worked in Baltimore. I had quit working for ARCHITECTURE magazine in DC, and after driving Excy into Baltimore every morning to take the train to work in DC, I usually wrote at home all day, alone in the house. Occasionally a house keeper would be there, or Barb, Sally's daughter in law, would come by and deliver the mail or something. Sally had laughingly mentioned ghosts, and their Irish house keeper swore she had seen them and had run-ins with James, but I didn't think much about it. Since Burnside had been in the family 132 years, if there were any ghosts around, they would be family. Not that I honestly thought I'd ever see any.
One afternoon a few weeks after I had moved in, I walked out our apartment into the landing of the second floor and opened the door into the doorway to the 'old' part of the second floor hallway. Down this hall was the 'pink' bedroom, the 'green' bedroom, the 'blue' bedroom, the nursery, and Court and Sally's bedroom. I was taking this shortcut to go down the front stairs to the laundry. It was about 3 p.m. I was two yards from the more formal 'green' bedroom when I stopped short. Right before me a woman had floated silently through the closed door of the 'green' bedroom. She stopped. We stared at each other. She was white from top to torso, and dark below with a black full skirt. She had no features. I could see right through her. I don't know how long we stared at each other, I guess about 10 minutes, and then she just.....apparitated....It was such an extraordinary phenomenon I sat down on the front stairs to catch my breath. It was eery, but I wasn't scared. I couldn't believe my eyes. I was flummoxed. Nervous. Jumpy. When Sally got home a few hours later, I told her what had happened. Sally is a no-nonsense Episcopalian, and rather formidable when she wants to be, and I had no idea what to expect. "So you met the spinster Aunt," she replied. She told me this ghost had been seen before, apparently only hangs about that particular room, (Sally said she must be a snob!) and no one really knew much about her......Try as I might for the two years we lived in the house, I never saw her again. I guess she had thought no one had been home, since the house was quiet and I had just moved in, and she thought she had had the house to herself......