They say that old houses hold secrets. Past memories of events can linger on at a location long after the living have passed away. This belief is the basis for many a ghost story and it's a subject that has enthralled generation after generation. Countless scores of humanity have passed through this earthly plain before us, is it not normal to wonder if they left something of themselves behind?
That's a question that I started asking myself not long after I went with my friend Jason to the law offices of his father.
The elder Tatum holds court (no pun intended) in a historic building in Baltimore Maryland. This city on the upper east coast has a presence that you don't find in the typical Florida urban sprawl I come from. In Orlando the buildings all look like they were pressed out of a machine the day before yesterday and downtown seems to be the faŤade of a leftover tourist attraction. In Baltimore you get the feeling that the buildings have been here long enough to grow roots, that the city is a permanent structure in the midst of the changing human tide. The law offices of Tatum, Torrance and Levine amplified this feeling. This nest of lawyers (apologies to Shakespeare) has its residence in the bowels of an ancient building that was built in the early 1800's. Behind the usual trappings of watercolor prints and flowery wallpaper there's a real feeling of the past in the building. As if the history inside of it wasn't a dead thing at all but something that knows you're here and is letting you know that you're not the first to walk these halls.
But feelings and raw emotion isn't something you can build a Freakopedia story around. For this website you need some truths. You need hard, cold facts. And when I learned that strange events had been transpiring in the building I knew I was staring at the tip of a bigger paranormal iceberg. I just need to dig a little deeper and find out what the history really was.
What was going on in the building, you ask? Lots of strangeness, boys and girls:
- One of the head lawyers had recently quit and checked himself into a mental health facility. When I went to visit him, it became apparent that he was on a permanent vacation. Something had turned a highly respected lawyer into a virtual vegetable.
- Jason's dad had landed in the hospital after he suffered an "attack" during a meeting. He said it was a minor health issue but from the descriptions of his actions it looked like he had been scared out of his wits.
- Many of the employees at the firm have been noticing strange noises in one particular conference room. (The same one Mr. Tatum suffered his attack in.) They reported chairs seeming to move on their own, ghostly voices, and things going bump when they shouldn't go bump.
- Recently renovation work had started in the building. It's been shown in other hauntings that repairs in haunted houses have a tendency to bring out the worst in any spirits that may be living in the building. Were there spirits in the law office that objected to the work being done there? If so maybe the above mentioned poltergeist phenomenon might be a manifestation of their anger.
Jason's dad isn't one to listen when you start speaking on ghosts and he dismissed my claims when I brought them forward. Even Jason wasn't too keen on hearing my theories and I didn't blame him that much since he was rightly concerned with his Dad's health. Still, I was determined to find out what was going on and to do that I needed to find out the facts on the building's history. With a little help from Lan I began to dig at the back-story of the building. I started uncovering the true history on what exactly went on in the stone edifice. And what I found seemed to prove the theory of a haunting.
The first thing I was surprised to learn was that the building hadn't always been a business office. A wealthy man named Wallace Seaton erected the building in the early 1800's as his home. In the early days of Baltimore's history, Wallace was one of the most prominent leaders. On the surface he seemed to be an uptight, upright citizen. He loaned money to local businesses, was an active member of his church, and led the city council. All in all, Wallace helped put Baltimore on the map back when it was just a sleepy little town on the edge of nowhere.
All this philanthropy and good work was made possible by the wealth Seaton had accumulated in his land holdings. By the time Wallace was in his 70's he owned most of the inner harbor of Baltimore. The rents and levies he collected as landlord let him lead a very comfortable life. So comfortable in fact that he built the huge estate called Seaton house. Seaton's house was the pride of the city (and to Seaton himself) His death in the house at age 74 was a normal one and that confused me. Normally ghosts are formed by a violent death. Seaton passed away in his sleep of natural causes. If it was his spirit haunting the building then there had to be more to the story. I decided to look at it from another angle.
The other angle was the question of timing. If Seaton was the angry ghost that was haunting the law offices why had he just recently started making his presence known? To find out the answer to that I had to dig a little deeper. It seems that back when Seaton was helping to make Baltimore a major city, there were a series of strange occurrences involving several local landowners who went missing. One minute they were walking out the door to their home and the next second they had vanished. Over a period of ten years a total of seven of the most prominent landowners went missing.. Their bodies were never recovered and no one ever found out what happened to them. In every case the land they owned was taken by the city from their relatives after they could no longer afford to pay the prohibitively high property taxes that Wallace Seaton had helped impose. Furthermore, whenever the city sold the land, Wallace was right there in the front of the line. Over the time span of those 10 years, Wallace became the biggest private owner of land in Baltimore.
The gravestone of the seven missing men.
But no one ever spoke up against Wallace simply because he was too highly respected to suspect. Wallace was trying to make Baltimore a major city, he couldn't have anything to do with these disappearances, could he? With the city fathers turning a blind eye, Wallace became a wealthy man, Baltimore grew, and everyone was happy. Upon Seaton's death his land became to be known as Northgate Holdings and exists right on up to this day as one of the major real estate companies of Maryland.
And this is where all the lines of thought begin to converge because the lawyers of Tatum, Torrance and Levine had recently been hired by the last surviving relative of one of the missing men to protect her house from being bought out by Northgate. Some how over the years, the giant real estate firm had overlooked this little woman's home. But now Northgate was hungry for more property and they were ready to assert their rights to the land in the form of the deed Wallace Seaton had bought from the city after the original owner had gone missing. Jason's dad seemed to have a one-track mind on the case and was determined to win against Northgate even if it meant doing so at the expense of his business. This determination against Northgate's empire may have proved to be the catalyst that made the spirit of Wallace Seaton rise up against the firm.
These speculations lead me to do a little amateur archeology and I found hard proof of Seaton's misdoings. Buried under the floor of the law firm, in the former basement of Wallace Seaton's home I found the remains of the seven missing men. To me this proves that Seaton's spirit was haunting the law offices in an attempt to keep Mr. Tatum from uncovering the truth. Of course such paranormal talk isn't going to fly in a courtroom but the evidence can be used to prove that Seaton was a murderer and that Northgate is founded upon his ill gotten gains. The whole matter is still pending in a Baltimore court and I promised the senior Mr. Tatum I wouldn't speculate on the outcome but I think it's safe to say that Seaton's murderous past has come to haunt Northgate Holdings in much the same way as Wallace himself was haunting the law firm.
Original Baltimore land deeds and records, Baltimore Historical society
"The History of Baltimore" Harold Cinsome. Geriday Publishing 1998