By KARINE ABALYAN, Capital News Service
WOODLAWN - Once upon a midnight dreary, Beverly Litsinger got a visit from Edgar Allan Poe.
Never mind that the poet and author had been dead for over a century when he appeared near his grave at Westminster Burying Ground and Catacombs in Baltimore last year. Litsinger, a self-described ghost medium, chats with dead people regularly.
It's not her day job—she runs a normal, nonprofit consulting company, Association and Meeting Management, out of her home in Randallstown.
But she has seen ghosts since childhood. It was not until six years ago, however, that she decided to share her skill with others, and created the Maryland Ghost & Spirit Association, an online community of people interested in investigating the paranormal.
"I opened the site so people could actually have experience and get out and meet and talk to spirits," she said.
The group, http://www.marylandghosts.com, has attracted 5,000 members, Litsinger said, including enthusiasts outside the United States.
"It's very informal," said Laine Crosby, who discovered the organization in 2004 when she began hearing noises in her new home. "It's just for people who are interested in going to places that are haunted."
Members visit ghost sites and gather evidence, such as photographs and tape recordings. They can post stories and browse Litsinger's database of hauntings. In addition, Litsinger conducts private investigations at area businesses and homes.
It was during one of her routine excursions to Westminster that Litsinger saw Poe.
"I said, 'Is this really Poe?' and he goes, 'Yeah,'" Litsinger recalled.
Apparently Poe, who turned up disheveled in Baltimore in the fall of 1849 and died in a city hospital on Oct. 7, returned to clear up the details of his last days.
"He was annoyed that everybody has these theories about how he died," Litsinger said, explaining that the writer revealed he had been robbed and murdered.
"He's the only famous person I've ever talked to," she said.
Poe may be her only run-in with a celebrity ghost, but he is one of hundreds of spirits Litsinger, 54, has met in her lifetime.
"She never ceases to amaze me with her ability," said Pamela Villeneuve, co-owner of the Charles Washington Inn in Charles Town, W.Va.
Villeneuve and her husband, David, began noticing strange happenings at their restaurant when they bought the property in the early '90s.
Doors opened and closed, the lights flickered, the dishwasher turned on, napkins disappeared off customers' laps and the toilet paper was pulled out and folded accordion-style in the bathroom, Villeneuve said.
"You try to explain these things away . . . but it was just one thing after another," she said.
Villeneuve had several ghost experts inspect her property, but no one was "as gifted" as Litsinger, whom she called one and a half years ago after a construction worker at the inn recommended her services.
Litsinger convinced one ghost, who had been causing damage at the inn, to quit his pranks, and talked to others about their experiences. The inn boasts 25 ghosts, Villeneuve said, including a runaway slave who was beaten in the basement and a womanizer who "flirts with the ladies."
"They don't mean us any harm," she said. "The ones we have are all friendly."
That's typical of the ghosts Litsinger encounters. Though malevolent spirits exist, she prefers to steer clear of them for fear they will follow her home.
"People think all ghosts are evil, and that makes me so mad," she said.
The ghosts Litsinger meets were people who've often failed to enter the afterlife, either because they're scared to make the transition, don't know they're dead or have unfinished business here.
Take Bill, a slave whom Litsinger met at Crosby's home in Derwood. He lived in the area in the mid-1800s, Crosby said, and appeared the evening she invited Litsinger to check her home.
"I almost passed out," Crosby said. "Beverly was just fine."
Bill told Litsinger that his father had been hung there when he was a child, and that he was forced to watch the execution. Crosby sympathized with Bill and befriended him. Not long after, she realized that she has the ability to communicate with spirits, and began meeting with ghosts herself.
"Beverly is really my mentor," she said.
This fall Crosby plans to launch a podcast focusing on the paranormal. Though she says it's difficult to deal with spirits everywhere she goes, she enjoys "helping people cross over" to the next life.
The Ghost & Spirit Association thrives in Maryland because this is a great place to find spirits.
"We're one of the first states so we have a longer history, and with that long history we've picked up a lot of ghosts," Litsinger said.
She has countless photographs where white, cloudy shapes appear against dark backgrounds and small, semi-transparent circles Litsinger identifies as orbs, or traveling ghosts, crowd the image. These are proof, she says, that ghosts exist.
"When she takes pictures, she gets more than I do because she's a medium," said Velicia Ten Kate, a Pasadena resident who invited Litsinger to her home about four months ago.
Litsinger's camera captured a "little girl in the bathroom," who Ten Kate believes is her dead twin sister.
Still, not everyone is convinced.
"It's fun, it's romantic, it's thrilling for awhile to imagine these things could be," said Chip Denman, senior lecturer in the University Honors Program at the University of Maryland and one of the founders of the National Capital Area Skeptics, a non-profit group that promotes scientific thinking.
Denman, who teaches a class called "Science and Pseudoscience," says pointing to ghosts is "an easy way to put a label on something."
It's better to admit ignorance, he said, and rely on scientific thinking to explore the unexplained.
"I think we need a lot better evidence than what's being presented in order to assume there are ghosts," he said.
It's not her goal to persuade people, Litsinger says.
"I don't care. If you don't believe, you don't believe," she said. "I know there's another side. When we're dead, we're not done with."