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October is here, and for some, that means cooler days, crisp nights, and the smell of fallen leaves on the ground.  For others, October brings the mysterious and magical a little closer to our everyday lives.

Straddling fall and winter, October has a history of celebration as well as superstition. 2000 years ago, an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-win) was celebrated sometime in the month of October. Villagers would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts. Samhain roughly translates to “Summer’s End” and was a time of tribulation of conquests, stock-taking/harvesting for the long winter months, and possibly, honoring and communing with the afterlife. 

In the 7h century, Pope Boniface IV declared that there would be a celebration called All Saint’s Day (also known as All-Hallows or All-Hallowmas) to honor Christian martyrs and saints, with the day before known as All-Hallows’ Eve. 100 years later, Pope Gregory III moved All Saint’s Day to November 1st, effectively merging the pagan holiday Samhain with All-Hallows’ Eve. This created a blended celebration with bonfires, costuming, and offers of food and drinks to the poor as gestures of charity (this is thought to be the origins of trick-or-treat).

As Europeans settled in the United States, they brought many of their traditions with them, including All-Hallows’ Eve.  Some areas of the Colonies had limited celebrations of All-Hallows’ Eve due to various religious beliefs, but was much more common in the southern colonies, especially in Maryland.

For such a small state, Maryland delivers BIG on folklore. With a  rich history of  All-Hallows’ Eve celebration, it’s not surprising that superstition and the paranormal is an integral part of Maryland’s culture. Wars were fought here, history made here, and many different peoples settled here. Mix that all together and you have a state that is ripe with tall tales and spooky stories.  Edgar Allan Poe, one of the most famous horror writers of all time (and arguably the father of modern horror literature), lived in Baltimore for a time. Perhaps he was inspired by the stories told around the hearthfire on those cold, fall nights to craft some of his bone-chilling tales.

As with most folklore, Maryland’s tales are typically tied to a location that has experienced tragedy (like a battlefield or hospital) or a desolate area that was far from the safety of a village.  Many of these places are said to be haunted by spirits of the dead or plagued by unusual creatures.  Some of the most famous characters from these tales are Chessie, the Demon Truck of Seven Hills Road, the Goatman of Beltsville, Moll Dyer, the Snallygaster, and the Blue Dog of Charles County.

And it’s not just folklore characters that these tales are centered around, there are plenty of places in Maryland that are rumored to be more than they appear. Spread out across the land, Old Line State locales have long histories of mysterious happenings. 

Whether or not you believe in the unexplained, October is the perfect time to curl up with a creepy read, listen to a chilling tale, and have some spooky fun.  And what’s better than some “real” scary stories to do that? Check out the curated list below for a frighteningly good read about one of these famous characters or places!

(All summaries are from the publishers. Staff picks are chosen by CCPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We’d love to hear your ideas too, so write to us and tell us what you’d recommend!)

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“Chessie, the Sea Monster That Ate Annapolis” by Jeffrey Holland

She was big enough to have been Moby Dick’s daughter; her head was still dry in five fathoms of water; she made six foot wakes with a wag of her tail, and she slept on a bed made from spinnaker sails.

Chessie, the serpentine, snakelike sea monster that dwells in the Chesapeake Bay who ate Annapolis.

“Maryland Legends: Folklore from the Old Line State” by Trevor J. Blank

The demon car of Seven Hills Road, the ominous Hell House above the Patapsco River, the mythical Snallygaster of western Maryland–these are the extraordinary tales and bizarre creatures that color Maryland’s folklore. The Blue Dog of Port Tobacco faithfully guards his master’s gold even in death, and in Cambridge, the headless ghost of Big Liz watches over the treasure of Greenbriar Swamp. The woods of Prince George’s County are home to stories of the menacing Goatman, while on stormy nights at the nearby University of Maryland, the strains of a ghostly piano float from Marie Mount Hall. From the storied heroics of the First Maryland Regiment in the Revolutionary War to the mystery of the Poe Toaster, folklorists Trevor J. Blank and David J. Puglia unravel the legends of Maryland.

The Demon Truck of Seven Hills Road, a dark colored truck that chases unwary drivers at midnight in Ellicott City (which is often referred to as the most haunted cities in America).

The Goatman of Beltsville, in Prince George’s County, who has a muddled origin story that ranges from a goat herder avenging his slain herd to a Saskatch-esque mythological beast to an unintended result of a government experiment gone wrong at the Beltsville Research Agricultural Center.

Moll Dyer, a woman accused of witchcraft, from Leonardtown in St. Mary’s County, which inspired The Blair Witch Project set in Frederick County.

Physical Books about Moll Dyer 

Books Available on Hoopla!

“Witch Trials, Legends and Lore of Maryland: Dark, Strange, and True Tales” by William H. Cooke

Does a witch’s ghost haunt a park in Annapolis? Why should Baltimore really be called Charm City? What weird stories and traditions regarding witches in the Chesapeake region are true and where did the others originate? What is the real history of witchcraft in early Maryland? How were accusations of witchcraft handled by the authorities? Why did Maryland not suffer the same fate as Salem in 1692? Reviewing early Maryland records, newspaper articles, and other accounts from the 17th to the early 20th century, this book answers these questions and more, while revealing Maryland’s fascinating witch-related history.

“Mysteries and Lore of Western Maryland: Snallygasters, dogmen, and other Mountain Tales” by Susan Fair

Also Available on Hoopla!

In the shadows of the quiet mountain towns of Western Maryland, strange creatures are said to lurk in the woods while phantoms wander the foothills. The Hagerstown clock tower is reportedly haunted by the ghost of a young artist killed during the Civil War, while the low summit of South Mountain was once host to a mysterious spell-caster, the Wizard Zittle. Farther west, tales of legendary hunter Meshach Browning echo among the Allegheny Mountains while visitors to Deep Creek Lake may feel the chilling presence of monks who never left their former monastery. From the 1909 hoax of the monstrous Snallygaster that terrorized the Middletown Valley to the doglike Dwayyo that was spotted near Frederick in 1965, local historian Susan Fair rounds up the bizarre beasts, odd characters and unsolved mysteries that color the legends and lore of Western Maryland.

The Snallygaster, a bird-reptile chimera in Frederick County, that swoops down from the sky to steal unsuspecting livestock, pets, and children.

“The Blue Dog Legend” by Joan Sutton

Presents the story of the Blue Dog, a legendary creature from pre-revolutionary Charles County.

The Blue Dog, a ghostly blue tick hound who guards his master’s stolen colonial treasure, in Port Tobacco Charles County.

“Baltimore Ghosts: History, Mystery, Legends, and Lore” by Ed Okonowicz

Take a tour of Baltimore’s haunted historic sites in this book based on more than a dozen personal interviews with park rangers, graveyard workers, saloon keepers and museum curators. The book includes more than 60 photographs of graveyards, tombstones, forts, ships, haunted restaurants and historic locations.

“Monsters of Maryland: Mysterious Creatures in the Old Line State” by Ed Okonowicz

Features . . .Bigfoot Sea Serpent Chessie The Snarly Yow The Bunnyman Other strange beasts, including goatmen, swamp monsters, and others!

“Ghosts of Maryland” by Mike Ricksecker

Explore the supernatural history of Maryland through ghost stories and legends, and discover why the state may be one of the most haunted in America. Learn how a woman, killed by an oil lamp, locked the parlor doors of her house from her coffin. Play cards with the devil in a home where a ghost led a player to a hidden gold chain. See the impression left in a bed at the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd house and discover what person of infamy may have left it. Solve the mystery of the ghost of a headless peddler that kept pointing a stick at the ground, and read about the testimony of a ghost used in court. With over 100 ghost stories and an atlas to guide you, this comprehensive collection includes details unearthed for the first time in decades!

“Spooky Maryland: Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, and Other Local Lore” by S. E. Schlosser

Pull up a chair or gather round the campfire and get ready for thirty-four creepy tales of ghostly hauntings, eerie happenings, and other strange occurrences in Maryland. Set in the Old Line State’s city streets, rural communities, wooded mountains, and vast shoreline, the stories in this entertaining and compelling collection will have readers looking over their shoulders again and again. 

Maryland’s folklore is kept alive in these expert retellings by master storyteller S. E. Schlosser and in artist Paul Hoffman’s evocative illustrations. Set way back near the cold, calm waters of Crisfield, in the quiet rural farmlands of Venton, and in the dark, heavily wooded swamplands of Cambridge, the stories in this entertaining and compelling collection will have you looking over your shoulder again and again. Readers will feel an icy wind on the back of their necks on a warm evening. Whether read around the campfire on a dark and stormy night or from the backseat of the family van on the way to grandma’s, this is a collection to treasure.

“The Big Book of Maryland Ghost Stories” by Ed Okonowicz

Reader, beware! Turn these pages and enter the world of the paranormal, where ghosts and ghouls alike creep just out of sight. Author Ed Okonowicz shines a light in the dark corners of Maryland and scares those spirits out of hiding in this thrilling collection. From footsteps and apparitions appearing at Fort McHenry, to reports of strange noises and phenomena at the battleground of Antietam, these stories of strange occurrences will keep you glued to the edge of your seat. Around the campfire or tucked away on a dark and stormy night, this big book of ghost stories is a hauntingly good read.

“Weird Maryland: Your Travel Guide to Maryland’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets” by Matthew Lake

It can be called the Free State or the Old Line State, but after our investigations into all that’s odd, bizarre, and unexplainable in Maryland, we like to call it the Weird State. And that, of course, is the ultimate compliment. Any state can be called free (though maybe not old line), but to be weird is to be truly special.

And there’s no one better to record the strangeness of Maryland, with its cursed roads, oddball museums, curious people, and darn peculiar sites than best-selling author Matt Lake. Matt, being a transplanted Englishman, is himself a bit of a curiosity, so he fit right in. While his investigative journalism wore out a couple of computers as well as his car, Matt was dogged in his research of every strange nook and cranny our state has to offer, and he’s recorded it here for you, fellow Marylander.

So pretend Matt still has a car and ride along with him as he visits the giant cider barrel, then sip from the giant martini glass, go see the Love Road rocket, travel carefully down Satan Wood Drive, attend services at the Boring United Methodist Church-but pray that the Goat Man doesn’t sit next to you. Go see Hell House, make nice at the Presidential Pet Museum, say hi to the Pig Woman of Cecil County, be courageous and walk along the Devil’s Backbone, and while you’re at it, sail over to Devil’s Island. TIP: If you see the Bunnyman on your journey, move on, fast.

“Haunted Maryland: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Old Line State” by Ed Okonowicz

Vengeful ghosts, sea monsters, and America’s most haunted lighthouse figure prominently in this collection of eerie tales from the Old Line State. From the rugged Appalachian Mountains, to the metropolitan center of Baltimore, to the Atlantic Coast come a variety of stories and legends, including Dorchester County’s Suicide Bridge, Fort McHenry’s gruesome hanging ghosts, and a sea captain’s widow whose sad wailing can still be heard coming from her final resting place in the family graveyard.

Ghosthunting Maryland” by Michael J. Varhola (Available on Hoopla)

All the sites in the book have been chosen with an eye toward several criteria, including how accessible they are to the public, how evocative experience a trip to them is likely to produce, and the extent to which they actually appear to be haunted. A great many in the various regions of Maryland have some connection to the Colonial era, the War of 1812, or the Civil War, all significant aspects of the state’s haunted history. Maryland is divided into six regions for purposes of this book: Baltimore, Central, D. C. Metro, Eastern Shore, Southern, and Western. Geographically speaking, Maryland is not a large state. It is, however, among the oldest in the country, and has a rich, varied, and turbulent history that has contributed to an exceptionally high number

“Haunted Southern Maryland” by David W. Thompson (Available on Hoopla)

Southern Maryland is one of the most haunted spots in America. From pre-colonial settlements to modern times, the tales of every era of its history are often dark and sometimes bloody. Brave readers will meet the many otherworldly specters that loved the area too much to leave, like the spirit of the witch Moll Dyer or the nun reclaiming her ancestral home. Learn the haunted history of Sotterley Plantation and the stories of the ghosts that remained after the Civil War. Author David W. Thompson takes the reader on a spooky journey through Southern Maryland’s long history.