Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Ghost at the Belair Mansion?

I received the first edition of a new magazine called Bowie Life in the mail last Saturday.  It's published by a company called Hibu, an international organization that also owns YellowBook USA.  I suspect that there must also be a Laurel Life magazine, an Annapolis Life magazine as well as countless others.

The magazine is heavy on the advertisements, including ads from local businesses like Rips, Golden Pavilion and Beall Funeral Home.  It contains general interest stories on topics like personal finance, real estate and health.  Local Bowie stories and announcements are also included. I learned from one article that the Bowie Interfaith Food Pantry is moving to the Kenhill Center.  That was news to me.

Bowie Life asks readers to submit photos and articles to be included in future editions of the magazine.  This edition included a story called "Messages from Beyond the Grave" that was submitted by Rob Gutro, a self described local resident, scientist and ghost hunter.  Gutro can be seen on the cover wearing his "I'm With Ghost" shirt.

In the article, Gutro describes his first visit to the Belair Mansion during a candlelight tour one December.  He instantly got a headache when he walked through the door to the mansion - something that happens to Gutro when he's in the presence of a ghost or spirit.  A little girl approached Gutro.  She told him that she wanted to play in her room, and she pointed toward the stairs.  There was a room on the second floor setup like a nursery, and the girl's ghost told Gutro that the nursery was her room.  No one else on the tour saw the little girl.

Gutro wanted to know the identify of the little girl.  He asked one of the tour guides if a little girl had died in the house.  According to Gutro, the tour guide recommended that he talk to the "house historian," and Gutro took the advice.  He learned that a two year old girl named Anna Marie Ogle had lived and died in the house (1849-1851), and that she was buried in the cemetery at the edge of the Belair Mansion property.  In a different account of the same story on his blog, Gutro's told how his body rapidly heated in the presence of the little girl, and he began to perspire.  Gutro believes that Anna Marie Ogle was sharing the experience of her death, which must have been accompanied by a high fever.

I had never heard of anyone at the mansion described as a "house historian," so I thought I would try to corroborate the details in Gutro's stories with available reference materials.  I confirmed that Anna Marie Ogle did live from 1849 to 1851, and she is buried at the cemetery on the mansion grounds along with her mother, but I found little information about her in the books that I own.

I decided to ask for help from Pam Williams, the Historic Properties Manager for the City of Bowie.  Not only is she an authority on the history of the Belair Mansion and property, but she has had an office in the mansion since 1996.

The Belair property in the mid 1800s was divided into different sections, Ms. Williams explained, and the mansion was just one of several houses on the property.  There was a section known as Bladen, and the house for Bladen was approximately located on the present day site of the Kenilworth Elementary School playground.  Young Anna Marie Ogle and her family lived in the Bladen house, and her aunt, uncle and cousins lived in the mansion.  History is full of uncertainties, and according to Pam Williams, it's possible that Anna Marie Ogle was either born in the mansion or died at the mansion, but it's highly unlikely.

It also turns out that Pam Williams had spoken with Gutro in the past.  He wanted to bring a team of ten people into Belair Mansion to hunt for ghosts, and he offered to donate $150 to the museum for the opportunity.  Pam Williams declined the offer.  Ms. Williams shared the following with Bowie Living.

This house has a long and interesting history on a stand alone history basis.  Lots of people lived here, and lots of people likely died here as well.  I do NOT like to promote “haunting.”  First, having been here since 1996, alone at night and during the day, in spite of saying “Hey, if you guys are here, come talk to me," I have NEVER seen a spirit – or had one approach me.  I’ve had a few headaches here myself over the  years, but they have more to do with budget planning and this kind of stuff than the presence of the dead.  We don’t need an audience delivered by thrill-seekers attempting to dive into the paranormal.    Second.   This house was home to many people.  I feel, on some level, that this is disrespectful to them.  Third.  We don't need $150 that badly.   These were real people, they lived here, and they had peace here.  I think they’re entitled to respect when they’re dead, too.  I’m sure he’s very serious in his study.  We’re just not going to exploit a dead child – or anyone else dead. 

So who was the young girl that approached Gutro in the mansion?  I encourage everyone to visit the mansion, and if you're approached by the spirit of a deceased girl, ask for her name.

The Belair Mansion is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 4pm.

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