On Nov. 19, 1970, there was published (in an unknown paper) an article called “The Ghost of St. Denis” by Ross Rainey, which text I record here in its entirety. I add that the illustrations are mine and mine alone, as well as any other expressed views, per usual.
So, to all you readers who like to get your knickers in a twist and have the temerity to scare yourselves with the unexplainable, with the ‘things that go bump in the night,’ and Republicanism, read on and laugh again tomorrow:
Last Thursday morning, though it was raining, I drove over to St. Denis to look at the ruins of the old village. The rows of stately trees marked the ancient lanes and stood as living monuments to the houses that once were there. Parking below one of the lone survivors — the Hitzelberger home, I slumped in my seat to survey the scene before me.
The debris had been removed and under the trees the high green grass beckoned nostalgically at me from the vacant plots. The rain ceased and wisps of mist were rising from the drenched earth, moving to the whim of the breeze. Through half-closed eyes I conjured up the pretty little village that use to be at the turn of this century and pictured the inhabitants going about their chores. My thoughts were interrupted by something white flapping on a tree beside the car and I lowered the fogged window to get a better look. It was a “Mandel for Governor” poster, hanging by a single nail, fluttering in the breeze.
Brought back to the present, I smiled and made haste to close the window for the fog was thicker and flowing into the car.
Picking up my pad to jot down some notes, I distinctly heard a sneeze. It was quickly followed by another and I turned quickly to look at the rear seat. What appeared to be a column of fog was in one corner and from it came a sharp whisper:
“So ye are the nosy busybody that’s been pumping Clem Forgan and Ed Householder about St. Denis?”
Stunned, I could only nod my head.
The misty wraith commanded:
“Speak up man!” “What’s in this glass jar on the floor?”
“That’s alcohol anti-freeze for the radiator.”
In shocked surprise, I stared as the quart container seemed to float in mid-air, up-ended.
“Don’t drink that!! It will kill you!” I warned.
A chuckle came from the smokey apparition:
“Ye wanna bet?”
The jar, partly emptied, floated down to the seat followed by a satisfied sigh:
“Best thing in the world for a cold.
You seem to be a nice jasper, but I can see ye don’t favor spirits. Now keep quiet a spell and I’ll tell about one of the nicest little towns as ever was!”
Spellbound, I listened to the torrent of words that followed. It was the history of sturdy industrious people and the events that changed their lives — the Patapsco River Ferry in 1800, the toll bridge in 1817, the rugged pioneers of the Twenties, the coming of the B&O in the Thirties, the Washington Turnpike in the Forties. IT told of the booming river industries of the Fifties, the terrible floods of the Sixties and the invasion of happy excursions and settlers into the 1890’s.
Fascinated, I listened to the misty figure as it droned on.
“… and Sutton Avenue became the principal street of St. Denis. The lock-up and volunteer fire department were located there as well as Dave Forgan’s bakery and confectionery store – he was Clem’s father. Mr. and Mrs. Jack Shiver had the grocery store and when a body would complain about too much bone in the meat, she used to say –
‘When ye buy land, ye buy stone;
when ye buy meat, ye buy bone!’ ”
All during the monologue, the quart jar had been up and down.
“… on the same street was Joe Sandman’s general store and tavern. I hung around there quite a bit and his poor bartender always got blamed for drinking the stock. Sandman also sold coal and wood. Charlie Waters, his driver, delivered the fuel with a two wheeled car pulled by a pair of mules. The mules were harnessed one behind the other and the leader was called “Toby.”
The Patapsco Band used to play in the picnic grove at the railroad end of Sutton and the street had carbon arc lights and water and fire plugs from the Catonsville Water Company. There was Julius Gottschallk’s barber shop and he used to cut hair when he wasn’t delivering mail. He also was the bandmaster and he had a picture of the band hanging on the wall and I remember….”
My cramped position and the dampness made me turn and I noticed the fog outside was thicker. I started the motor, flipped on the heater and turned back to the ghostly figure on the back seat, who was still talking.
“….so Dave Forgan dressed in Constable Tobe Brass’s uniform. When Gus Wahaus came out with his new bride, Dave pretended to arrest him for disturbing the peace! What a wedding celebration that was!
Nearly every man in town belonged to the St. Denis Volunteer Fire Department and Patapsco Band. Professor Paul was instructor and the band used to practice in the Fire Hall. They marched in a lot of parades all around the county and city. They changed the name later to the St. Denis Band.
I saw you look at that campaign poster on that tree. Well, let me tell ye that election time was a big thing with us. We’d build a big bonfire on the ballfield at the end of Main Street and have a high old time!
Edward Householder’s father, Zebidee, worked for the B&O and he was elected to the House of Delegates in Nov. 1895. Well, in that same election, our druggist, Dr. J. W. Costello, lost a bet and had to wheel Bill Smithson in a wheelbarrow because Republican Lloyd Lowndes was elected governor! The parade formed on Sutton Avenue headed by the mule, Toby, pulling a small hearse and followed by the band, twenty-five strong. They paraded up to the Republican Club headquarters on Catonsville Avenue near Arlington and returned to Zebidee’s home where they had a high old time – of course, I was one of the happy spirits…”
My visitor’s voice was growing weaker and his misty outline fainter.
“What’s the matter?” I cried.
“That DAMNED heat is drying me up – I’ve gotta fade!”
“WAIT, you haven’t given me your name.”
“Dennis A. Smith.”
The fading reply ended with a chuckle:
“Also known as St. Denis!”
I was alone in the car.
“You may find it hard to believe this story because my only proof is a water stain on the back seat, an empty quart jar and an old 1908 photo of the St. Denis * Band.”
* NOTE: to see the photo of the Band, it’s recommended you visit the Elkridge Heritage Society.