Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Zodiac

Hey, North Charles Street has a couple of joints that jump - and not just because of the current customers. The Club Charles and Zodiac Restaurant are side by side establishments, owned by Joy Martin, and both boast of spooks mingling with their night-time crowd.

The Club has Frenchie, an old waiter who we'll get to next week, and the recently shuttered Zodiac doesn't claim a serial killer, but possibly a murder victim, former owner Emil McKim.

Employees of the Zodiac report seeing a dapper gent dressed in a Roarin' Twenties white seersucker or linen suit sitting at Table 3 (others say Table 13, a more appropriate choice, we think.)

Sometimes the man is accompanied by a small white dog, and is often spotted with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Waiters have even tried to give him a menu, only to have him vanish.

And he is most assuredly not a friendly spirit. The staff claims that they often feel like they're being watched, and sometimes find themselves inexplicably filled with a sense of dread. Workers add that they've been pushed down the cellar stairs by an invisible entity; owner Joy Martin suffered a broken wrist when she got the McKim shove.

His face will sometimes pop up in the mens' room mirror, sending customers scurrying back to their table with wet hands, uncombed hair, and a burning desire to find another eatery. People also claim to have heard a mysterious voice at the restaurant telling them to "Get out!"

When the Ghost Hunters of Baltimore visited the Zodiac, one of them said an unseen hand tried to push her across the room and out the door. The Maryland Ghost and Spirit Association has an album filled with snaps of the Zodiac wraith.

Much of the eerieness centers on a flight of rickety steps that leads to a jumbled third-floor storage room; many workers are afraid to go up there. And given his antics on the basement stairs, who can blame them?

Who is Emil McKim and why doesn't he rest in peace? An elderly local resident said that during Prohibition, the restaurant was a speakeasy run by McKim. He hung himself in the basement (or third floor apartment; no one's quite sure) after his wife left him.

But just maybe he didn't kill himself. Other rumors speculate (among other possibilities; after all, it was a speakeasy during the gangster era) that his wife was fooling around and she and her lover boy decided three was a crowd, so they staged McKim's suicide. And he's now hanging around, trying to get the true tale told.

At any rate, the restaurant is closed now, and we understand it's currently being used as a performance space. And who better to kick off the festivities than Emil McKim? Whether a suicide or murder victim, his sad spirit is sure to be a show-stopper.

(Next - we're hanging out in Baltimore one more week. We'll visit the next-door Club Charles for a drink and meet-up with Frenchie.)

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