Friday, September 14, 2012

Lilburn: Ellicott City's Haunted History House

Lilburn from Ellicott City Tourism

Lilburn Mansion, also known as Hazeldene, Hazelhurst and/or Balderstone Mansion, is one of the historic treasures of Maryland's Ellicott City in Howard county.

An Englishman from Berkshire, Henry Richard Hazelhurst (his name is sometimes recorded as Richard Henry), started out as a civil engineer and made a fortune dabbling in railroads and then from his iron foundry in Baltimore, which would become an especially lucrative business during the Civil War. Hazelhurst was part of the gentry; his name can be found in the nineteenth century "Blue Book."

In 1857, he and his wife Elizabeth built a 20 room Gothic stone mansion with a four story tower, surrounded by seven or eight acres of rolling land off Cottage Avenue. The amenities included seven marble hearths, a circular drive, a guest house, a carriage house, a smokehouse and a swimming pool.

Sadly, a big crib and blue blood doesn't always translate into domestic tranquility. The Hazelhursts lost three of their six children at home. Two were taken early by childhood accident and illness while the third died during childbirth. Elizabeth then passed away, and Henry joined her in 1900, giving up the ghost - maybe literally - at the age of 85.

The home sat dark and unoccupied for a couple of decades before the estate sold it to the Maginnis family in 1923. Well, maybe not exactly unoccupied...

Almost as soon as they moved in, the Maginnis clan heard unexplained footsteps throughout Lilburn and in the tower. Some of the family thought that it may be the spirit of Hazelhurst's daughter; others believed that it was Henry pacing the top floor of the mansion.

But they quickly had more pressing concerns than a Hazelhurst spiritual reunion. The structure caught fire around Christmas time that year, and while the family escaped unharmed, Lilburn was badly damaged. It was rebuilt almost identically to the original - except for the tower. Maginnis replaced the Gothic turret with  a stone parapet.

As you can imagine, the ghosties of Hazeldene were not pleased. A common theme of haunted homes is that family spirits are pretty resistant to change and not the least bit shy about letting their feelings be known to the renovators. The paranormal activity increased with the sound of bodiless footsteps echoing through the mansion and the widows of the new tower refusing to stay shut. But the Maginnis and Hazelhurst clans got along well enough, considering everything.

Beth Hillel Sanitarium bought it from the Maginnis family in 1930 - we'd bet a haunted house is just what the doctor ordered for the Sanitarium's patients - and it changed hands four more times over the years until the Balderstones purchased it in 1965. None of the other owners reported anything particularly out of the ordinary, but they may have just been playing possum, because the place became spook central after Balderstones got the deed.

The footsteps were back (if they had ever gone away), and doors would open, shut, and unlock themselves without any human help. A chandelier would swing wildly (once during a party with a houseful of witnesses) and cigar smoke could be detected, both by smell and sight, in the library. The aroma of food cooking from a deserted kitchen was reported. The sounds of a crying baby could be heard coming from an upstairs bedroom.  There was a small room upstairs that the family pooch refused to enter.

The housekeeper even reported an actual apparition of a man and little girl in a chiffon dress, suspected to be Henry and one of his daughters. Sometimes they're seen together, and other times separately, with the girl often seen playing in various spots around Lilburn. There's also a spirit named "Margaret" who is blamed for much of the mischief (as in "Margaret, quit playing with the chandeliers already!") We're not sure who she is, perhaps a daughter or one of their playmates who took a liking to Hazeldene.

Oh, yah, almost forgot about the tower. Those dang windows proved to be quite the poser for the Balderstones. They opened on their own, and no matter how often the Balderstones shut them, they ended up open again.The family even tied them shut with ropes; often by the time they reached ground level and looked up, the tower windows were untied and wide open again. We'd have gotten screens, but hey...

Anyway, the Balderstone era ended in 1977, when Dr. Eugenia King became owner. She reportedly had the same window problems in the tower and with the swinging chandelier as the previous tenants, with the addition of a little poltergeist play involving a dumped vase.

The good doctor sold it in 1983, and the house, even with some renovation work, has been quiet since, according to its owners (Hazeldene has had its deed flipped a couple of times since, so we suppose upscale Ellicott City, located between Washington and Baltimore, is a pretty sweet market for home sales.)

So maybe the Hazelhurst family has left this vale of tears and crossed over. Then again, maybe the  owners figure that things going bump in the night might be a drag on the return on their investment...

If you want the full scoop on Lilburn, get thee to a library or bookstore and pick up "Ghosts And Haunted Houses of Maryland" by Trish Gallagher and/or "Haunted Ellicott City" by David Ketchersid and Troy Taylor.

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