The second leg of the “Tour in My Backyard” took me to Ellicott City, MD. What I knew of Ellicott City was more limited than I thought. Built on seven hills, Ellicott City is a small town with a long history dating back to the Quakers. It’s been voted as one of the top “20 Best Places to Live in the United States” by Money magazine and CNNMoney.com. Historic Ellicott City is picturesque, full of character, and harbors its fair share of disasters and ghost stories. It’s been called “one of the most haunted small towns on the East Coast.”
Parking in the lot behind the Visitors Center, you get a sense of the town’s unique topography. As I exited my car and took in my surroundings, before knowing anything about Ellicott City’s history, I felt like the town had a story or two to tell. The homes and businesses that sit atop raised elevations surrounding the lot look more like landscapes I’ve seen in San Francisco or Seattle, not Maryland.
The first stop on my press tour of historic Ellicott City brought me to the Wine Bin, a boutique wine shop at the top of the Main Street hill. The building used to be a fire station and is the first stop on the city’s Ghost Tour. The shop has a collection of more than 500 wines and several shelves of craft beer. The owner, Dave Carney, was nice enough to share his own ghost stories as he spoke about his wine collection. While there, I experienced nothing except a tasting.
As you make your way down the hilly street from the Wine Bin to where the majority of the stores are located, you notice that there’s quite a bit to take in. Most of the buildings in the town are from the first decade of the 18th century. Many of those buildings and homes are reported to still house the spirits of mill workers who once lived there.
The Diamond Back Tavern and Portalli’s restaurant were the second and third stops on the Ellicott City tour. Each of which have their own paranormal stories to tell. I was so enamored with Portalli’s crab risotto balls that it didn’t matter to me that its dining room was the scene of several inexplicable events. It almost seems the exception in Ellicott City to not have a ghost experience to recount. Oddly enough, hiring a spiritual cleanser to come into a newly acquired home or building is commonplace and not a big deal to the local residents.
A few hours in Ellicott City seems too short. People are attracted to the town for its ghost stories but as you learn about its famous residents like Benjamin Bannekar, its railroad station – the nation’s oldest surviving and the first terminus of the first railroad in America, a newly discovered Civil War Union Camp named Camp Johnson, and the city’s bucket brigades, you find that this small “backyard” has a big story to tell. Undoubtedly, my curiosity will lead me back there to hear it.