Post by Graveyardbride on Dec 2, 2015 8:32:18 GMT -5
The Most Haunted House in Annapolis
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – No one has lived in the old James Brice House at 42 East Street since at least 1999, when it was purchased from the Stanley Wohl family by the International Masonry Institute. Except, possibly, a ghost or two. Legend has it James Brice and the last Brice descendant to live there roam the house at night.
In 2014, the state of Maryland purchased the property on the corner of East and Prince George streets for $2.5 million. The 30-room, 2½ story mansion is now the headquarters for Historic Annapolis. The James Brice House is a Georgian-style manor composed of five parts. Hyphens extend from each side of a large central block, connecting the central portion to its flanking pavilions. Though to get from one side to another requires climbing up and down short flights of stairs. James Brice’s detailed account book was discovered in the 1970s and established Brice as the architect and master builder of his house. The journal, replicated in a book by Orlando Ridout IV, Building the James Brice House 1767-1774, sat in a fireproof safe for decades, surviving two fires that raged around the safe. Brice detailed, said Robert Clark, CEO of Historic Annapolis, “every nail, everything that went into this house.” According to Clark, experts from Colonial Williamsburg “rank James Brice House among the top colonial mansions in the US for its state of preservation, its original details and fabric.” Unlike other houses of the era, which have been heavily restored, repaired or had major parts replaced, “it was in respected hands its entire lifetime,” Clark confirmed. “The core house has not been altered, though its two wings have been modernized.” On one end of the residence, a conference room has been set up in the former carriage house. Offices have been set up in the other end of the large, stretched out residence. It is in a state of stasis while every inch of the house is documented, analyzed and deciphered.
Historic Annapolis officials need to stabilize the building and update its infrastructure – its wiring, plumbing and HVAC – to ensure it will serve as a vibrant, educational centerpiece of Annapolis and America’s past. “Stabilization and preservation will be done immediately,” said Carrie Kiewitt, senior vice president of advancement at Historic Annapolis. “Restoration will take years. We’d like to do it to the highest level possible.”
Glimpses inside. “Throughout the house, many of the doors, knobs, floors, hinges and the buffet are all original,” added Lisa Robbins. “The house is the same floor plan as his father’s house, the Judge John Brice House, across the street. The house with the red metal roof.” The property, which originally extended to King George Street, was subdivided by the Martin family in the late 1800s. The dividing line was called Martin Street. The triangular-shaped land on the other side was cut up into lots and sold off. The Martin patriarch had been the publisher and editor of The Maryland Gazette.
Attached to the doorway molding at the top of the staircase leading into the basement is a remnant of what used to be rigging for a small bell used to summon servants. Down in the basement, high in a dark, musty corner is the building’s cornerstone. The words “the Beginning” are inscribed on the stone. The basement, Robbins explained, was dug by slaves borrowed from James Brice’s mother’s home on the upper Severn River. Part of the basement was a wine cellar. Looking up, the original cross beams supporting the building are about 18 inches thick. In the front hallway, the staircase serves as an example of the artistry of two woodworkers. George Foster hand-carved the detailing on the side of the stairs, plus the buffet and mantel in the adjoining dining room. Two years after Foster’s death, Robert Key finished the woodwork and carved the curving handrail that is grooved to fit the fingers.
Robbins opened the tall wooden front door, which dates to 1767, and looked out. The scenery has changed since Brice built the house. He had an unobstructed view of the harbor. Robbins looks out on a church building across the street and houses in every direction. In the dining room, and elsewhere in the residence, almost every window has wooden seats and interior shutters that fold into the walls. The walls in the room are carved plaster and creating this effect was time-consuming. “It was more expensive than installing wood panels,” said Robbins. “They were then faux-finished to resemble wood. He was showing off – and going bankrupt at the same time.”
In the 1950s, the Wohls discovered signs on a rear wall of a servants’ staircase that no longer existed and they replaced the vanished stairs. Servants did not use the main staircase. They had to handle trays of hot food, or a master’s laundry, on the dark, narrow stairs and flip a trapdoor at the top. The drawing room at the rear of the house, its entertainment space, features the same carved plaster walls of the dining room, and a fireplace mantel is lavished with delicate carved details.
A Delft touch upstairs. The master bedroom has dynamic views of the Severn River and Paca Gardens next door. The fireplace in a second upstairs bedroom is sheathed with hand-painted Delft tiles – ceramic tiles made in Holland. It is considered the only surviving in situ fireplace of its kind from that era in the US. Robbins points to a second story window in the center of the main block which is at odds with the Georgian style of symmetry. The window is different from all the others, which are stark in contrast. This particular window is lavished with hand-carved details, curlicues and a pediment. James Brice, apparently, looked to Paca House, his father’s house, and other area buildings for inspiration. He also had a book of architectural drawings. But, in the end, he designed and built what he wanted – and not according to the dictates of a particular style. Another, less elegant, set of stairs leads to the attic. At one point, when St. John’s College owned the building, the house was divided into apartments for its faculty. The attic was also split into several rooms.
The Ghosts. Robbins said there are claims the James Brice House is the most haunted in Annapolis. The spirit of James Brice has been seen in various parts of the house, taking care of things, seeing to the details of parties and perusing renovations. His apparition was first observed shortly after his passing by his wife Juliana. He appears as a man with long white hair wearing black period clothing. Occupants of the house reported seeing him walking the halls as recently as the 1920s when St. Johns College used the house as a residence for graduate students and some of the professors detailed their accounts of these sightings in articles and interviews.
Thomas Jennings Brice, the bachelor son of James and Juliana, was the last Brice to occupy the mansion, He was murdered, presumably by his manservant, who disappeared shortly after his master was attacked. Brice was known as a kindly man, much loved by his servants, and he survived the attack until his wounds became infected by gangrene. Following Thomas Brice’s death, some reported seeing the gruesome re-enactment of the assault in the mansion’s library where it occurred.
A third ghost is that of what is called the “Crying Girl.” She wears white and has been seen – and heard – in the halls and on the stairs, or standing beside the ballroom mantle wailing with her hands over her face. Those who observed this disturbing phantom soon learned that once the candles were lit, she disappeared. In recent years, people in the neighborhood have reporting hearing the wails of the Crying Girl and liken it to the cries of a woman being abducted or attacked. Even some of the tour guides have heard the frantic cries and, on occasion, police have been called to investigate the screams. locals have reported hearing the Crying Girl wale with such woeful cries that liken the terrifying sound to a girl being abducted or held prisoner. Even our guide, Kate reports to have heard the Crying Girl. Police have been called and they’ve investigated the cries, but the source of the cries have never been discovered. During renovations in the 1990s, the skeletal remains of a young female, believed to have been in her teens, were found behind a wall in the basement. Though the bones were removed and given a Christian burial, Crying Girl continues to stalk the old dwelling, an indication the skeleton was not that of the woman in white. During the same renovations, when the flooring was removed, workers found a cache of more than 100 items used in the practice of Southern Hoodoo.
Special events in December. During the renovation process, the James Brice House will be open to the public for events, tours and special exhibits. On Saturday, December 19, there will be a reading of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at the house by Mark Hildebrand, Lois Evans and Eric Lund. The readings, at 4 and 7 p.m., include light refreshments. Admission is $10 per person.
On Sunday, December 20, visitors can spend the afternoon, from 3 to 5 p.m., with Santa at the house. The special event includes a photo and holiday craft-making, while Santa entertains with stories, songs, holiday activities and cookies. Admission is $20 per person.
Sources: Wendi Winters, The Capital Gazette, November 27, 2015; Haunted Maryland: Ghost Stories and Strange Phenomena of the Old Line State by Ed Okonowitz; and Historic Annapolis, Inc.