Professor of Prestidigitation. A unique title for a unique performer. But Dr. Marc Charisse certainly owns the designation proudly. As a student of the art of magic and storytelling for over 50 years, all the while earning a Ph.D. in communication law and history from the University of Washington, Charisse seems to be the perfect narrator for Hanover’s ghostly tales.
Dr. Charisse, who serves as the director of the Hanover Heritage & Conference Center, guides area residents on ghost tours around the downtown area. Tours generally occur around Halloween for those guests wishing to capture the spirit of the spooky season, as well as around July 4, the anniversary of the Battle of Hanover.
“I’ve always been interested in history and had a particularly keen interest in military history,” Dr. Charisse, also the former editor of the Hanover Evening Sun, explained. “So I became the de facto giver of Battle of Hanover tours.”
Growing up in a family that was rooted in Hollywood show business, Dr. Charisse has always had a flair for telling stories and entertaining audiences, in fact, he states he was “born to do this.”
Although often overshadowed by Gettysburg, Hanover certainly teems with history in its own right, which is why the Hanover Heritage & Conference Center hosts the walking ghost tours; the center provides the opportunity to experience history in a unique and engaging way.
Locations include those homes and historic buildings surrounding the Hanover Square and neighboring streets.
“I’m not here to tell you whether or not the ghosts are real,” Dr. Charisse noted. “The story itself is history for sure, the ghosts are for people themselves to decide.”
The first, and likely oldest, ghost story in Hanover centers on the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Conewago. According to local legend and as recorded in many publications, including the Haunts of Adams and Other Counties by Sally M. Barach, Baron de Beelen Berthoff and his wife fell victim to a yellow fever epidemic in the early 1800s.
While the baroness died months before her husband and was buried, after the baron died, both coffins were to be moved to the cemetery at Conewago. However, fear of the spread of the illness overcame the workers hired to complete the task and they simply left the coffins unburied and ran.
“The Baron was known to be a bit pompous,” explained Dr. Charisse. “With no funeral ceremony, the pair’s spirits are often seen to this day; perhaps it was some form of cosmic comeuppance.”
As an employee of Reader’s Café on Broadway, owned by Derf and Mary Ann Maitland, Macy Keefer had a clear objective when she was taking inventory one evening. Count books and mark titles on the upper floor of the café. As it was nearing closing time and she finished her counts, Keefer hit the lights to proceed downstairs to lock up.
“I had pushed all the books back on the shelves and made sure everything was in order,” recalls Keefe. “Then when I hit the lights, a psychology book came straight off the shelf and fell directly to the floor.”
Keefe did not bother to pick up the book that evening, but hurried to exit the building, locking the door behind her. She experienced the same odd occurrence another time as well.
The Reader’s Café is a stop on the Battle of Hanover Ghost tours, and as Dr. Charisse noted, is known for ghost activity.
Other store workers have heard footsteps on the stairs and whistling when no customers were in the store.
The Battle of Hanover serves as the anchor of the ghost tour and much like the ghostly tales surrounding Gettysburg, Dr. Charisse explains that soldiers were also the victims of the Battle in Hanover. As troops prepared to march on toward Gettysburg, what is now Broadway was a battle zone.
“One of my favorite stories to tell on the tour deals with a home on Broadway,” said Dr. Charisse. “Judge Erb thought it was joke one evening when he saw a man dressed as a Confederate soldier standing at the top of his staircase.”
Homes throughout Hanover, much like this residence on Broadway, often experience “ghost pranks”; objects move without explanation, footsteps can be heard in empty rooms, and doors open and close without prompting.
As Dr. Charisse notes, “there is a lot of unfinished business here.”
This unfinished business is really what encouraged Peggy Santamaria to pen her first fictional novel soon after moving to Hanover five years ago.
At age 68, Santamaria moved to the area and was immediately enthralled by the historic homes and the lives the residents that came before her lived while occupying the residences in a completely different time period.
She and her husband finally settled on a home that sits on what used to be a parcel of the land grant that housed the Fisher Crouse Farmhouse. Her inspiration was born from her new residence.
Coincidentally, Hanover was about to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Hanover, so Santamaria was also gifted with a setting for her story. When she contacted the borough for background information for her tale, they decided to have her do a book signing during the anniversary celebrations. Santamaria jokingly explained that at that moment, there was no book.
So The Spirit of Abby Cooper came to fruition. While the tale is not based on any particular person, the short novel bridges the past and present and moves back and forth between time periods.
In the novel, the spirit of 16-year-old Abby Cooper, who was accidentally killed during the Battle of Hanover, lives on the farm where the current 15-year-old girl resides in modern day. Cooper makes herself known to the girl, and the two learn about each other’s lives, which exist decades apart.
“The fun part for me is the ghost is the vehicle to tell about history and tie it to the present,” explained Santamaria. “It’s a Hanover story all the way around and serves to really make local history interesting.”
Her second novel, Finding Young Wolf, is based on a more personal experience.
As she and her husband were touring possible homes, she sensed something unique in a residence in Hanover dating back to the 1800’s. After calling on the assistance of her daughter, they determined there was a child connected to the property, but he pre-dated the physical residence.
“What we discovered, was in fact, the spirit of a Native American child who wandered away from his family and subsequently lost his life,” described Santamaria.
Santamaria found credence for the spirit of the Native American boy after research led her to discover that the Monocacy Trail, which was heavily traveled by Native Americans during the Colonial period, ran through the area.
“I knew immediately the experience would lead me to my next story,” explained Santamaria.
“I’m really dealing with the spirit of the past and the present. The fascinating part deals with the past; it has a whole mystique surrounding it.” Santamaria said. “It’s magical that someone has a whole different set of experiences than we do. It’s about bringing a piece of the past to the present.”
Whether for true believers or skeptics interested in simply hearing a ghostly story, an untouched part of Hanover’s oral history emerges with the retelling of each ghostly tale and this history may just surprise you.