Linville Manor is a comfortable AirBnB rental convenient to Washington DC, perfect for a family, a group of friends or several couples to share while they explore the region. But in addition to the comfort and convenience, Linville Manor also offers … ghosts.
We’d learned of Linville accidentally, but the January 1 2022 episode of Kindred Spirits was filmed at Linville Manor — check it out (after you read this article!).
Investigations of the paranormal should always start with history — and Linville Manor’s goes back to Maryland’s beginnings, when it was called Thorpland Plantation. Established circa 1670, Thorpland was the home of the Bowie Family, although the land, like most of the land in the Chesapeake Bay region, was in the giant circle John Smith (yes, that John Smith, of Pocahontas fame) had drawn with his fingers on a map, and had originally owned. Located to the west of the Collington Branch of the Patuxent River, by the mid 1800s, only a few hundred acres survived of the original holding.
Charles Bowie owned Thorpland when he died in 1849 — some theorize he died in the fire that destroyed the original plantation house, but little is actually known of Charles’ death or the fire. What is known is that Charles’ widow, Sarah Marie, built the current manor, a center hall Georgian Revival style house, on the site of the original house. She moved in with her children in 1852-54 (the actual date is stated differently in two different places); at the time of Charles’ death, she enslaved about 50 individuals, ranging from the ages of newborn to older than 70 years. Little is known of those individuals.
The house passed from Sarah to her eldest son, John William, with whom she lived until her death. In 1889, he sold the farm to Edgar P McCeney, the husband of John William’s younger sister, Eliza Combs. Various descendants of Eliza and Edgar lived in the house until 1951, when it was sold to former Illinois U.S. Representative Calvin D Johnson and his wife, Gladys. The Johnsons renovated the house to fit mid-20th century sensibilities, adding a ballroom wing and two additional bedrooms as well as various other more cosmetic changes, such as rounded arched doorways between rooms, likely the marble tiles in the front entrance, thicker columns on the outside porch and so forth, and renamed the place Gladacres. The upshot of the renovations, though, is that although the house probably was very comfortable for the Johnsons and apparently suited their entertainment-loving lifestyle to a T, it lost its historic value.
The Johnsons remained in the house until 1981 — Gladys died in one of the bedrooms. After 1981, the house passed through multiple owners and the land surrounding it was gradually sold off; now only 4 acres of the original farm remained. Three years ago, Winn Brewer purchased the home in an online auction, because why not? Although he’d been seeking a smaller house, when he won the auction, he figured he could open the home as a bed and breakfast and wedding venue.
Over the years, the house had deteriorated and Brewer soon realized it would need quite a bit of renovation. During the scraping and painting and repairing, he and his partner realized the house was haunted. “If we were upstairs, we’d hear what sounded like voices arguing downstairs,” he recalled. “If we were downstairs in the lounge, we’d hear what sounded like balls being dropped in the rooms upstairs, things like that.” Furniture and other items would move mysteriously in the dark of night. Figures, which they soon realized were residual (non-intelligent, like a memory) hauntings, moved from room to room, always following the same path. Brewer has embraced the mansion’s mysterious ambiance.
The house is decorated in a comfortable, wonderfully eclectic and even whimsical combination of antique, historic and contemporary furniture, with an emphasis on the historic and antique. I felt instantly comfortable in the house — this is how I would personally have sought to decorate it had I owned it. One of the bedrooms is decorated in a Stephen King theme, filled with his books and painted red (it’s the red room — get it?). The room is called “The Overlook.” So okay. I wouldn’t have done that. But the bed is really comfortable, you get a private bathroom and the entities seem not too intent on haunting — that really is the bedroom of choice!
We rented the manor specifically to conduct an all-night ghost hunt. We were not disappointed.
A number of entities haunt the old house, from an eye-less “Lurker” to the friendlier (and hella more fun) entities such as Ursula (Bowie) and Gladys (Johnson)) who have been known to enjoy themselves a good party. The house has seen its fair share of tragedies — women dying in childbirth, young children passing away from any number of issues, a devastating fire that may or may not have killed Charles Bowie in 1849, an enslaved man who was accused and executed for starting the fire and even an escaped convict reportedly killed in the front hallway in the 1950s (although there are absolutely no records, other than oral history, of the latter two events). Brewer spent almost two hours of his time giving us the house/paranormal tour — telling us of his and previous guests’ experiences — he’s a natural story teller and weaves in the mansion’s history with the stories. He also talked about the “Kindred Spirits” episode about Linville Manor and other history of the people who lived at Thorpland/Gladacres/Linville.
Eight of us participated in the almost-all night ghost hunt, and there were some stand out moments. We almost always ghost hunt with cat balls (they light up when moved or touched, and the theory is that a ghost can make them light up by coming near them, or trying to move them). We were in the midst of a question-and-answer session with the cat balls in the ballroom– no luck at that point with the dowsing rods — when Chris, a member of the group, suddenly shot up and dashed through the lounge into the hallway. “I just saw a cat,” he tossed over his shoulder. Only, there is no cat roaming the rooms at Linville Manor.
But there is a cat ghost, Winn confirmed. Shadow the cat was a favored cat — favored enough to be buried with the more prominent members of the Bowie family in the Bowie family cemetery. Shadow is seen and felt periodically.
There’s a mysterious entity at Linville which apparently just stares at sleeping guests, particularly in the Conservatory Bedroom, which was the room Calvin Johnson preferred (Gladys slept in the Red Room). The entity often lurks in the upper hallway, just by the passage leading to the Bear Room and the Conservatory Bedroom. At this point, the larger group of eight had broken into pairs to investigate the bedrooms and we headed to the Conservatory. We were keenly interested in the Lurker — even Brewer’s five-year-old nephew had seen him. Using a combination of dowsing rods and the Ghost Tube app on my phone, we had a “conversation” with one of the spirits in the room, who indicated it was male.
Thinking he might be the ghost of Jeremiah, an enslaved man who’d been executed for setting fire to the original house on the site, we asked whether he watches over the house to ensure its safety. The response on the app was an emphatic “NO!” We then asked the entity whether he was a Bowie or a Johnson. He denied being the Lurker but claimed family or friendship with the Johnsons. The conversation then got very dark. The app spit out “more than 1 here now” and then “be careful.” We asked whether some of the spirits in the room were dangerous; the dowsing rods indicated yes and simultaneously, the app said “Devil” and then immediately, “I see you.” We closed out the session and headed out to the others, who were gathering in the upper hall.
Throughout the evening, whether using our Spirit Box or Ghost Tube, after a bit of conversation, the entities would suddenly say “leave” or “good bye.” If we didn’t immediately shut down the conversation, then the mood seemed to change, to darken. “Murder,” it would say. Words like “possessed,” “Satan,” “demon” and “monster” popped up. It felt to me as if the entities — the lighter, happier, fluffier ones — would be chatting with us, until suddenly a darker, heavier entity would show up. The lighter entities would depart, hence the “good bye” or the warning, “leave now.” And the darker entity would resume the conversation. Was this baleful entity the Lurker? We never got the answer.
What do you need for a ghost hunt besides some tech and a healthy dose of illogic? (Some of us prefer to label that “suspension of disbelief” but even so, some experiences are really hard to debunk.)
During this ghost hunt, we used the spirit box, Phasma box (an app for lap tops, kind of like an eerie version of a spirit box), EMF (electro-magnetic field) reader, cat balls that light up, pendulums, dowsing rods, the Ghost Tube app and a ouiji board. The latter is pretty controversial among ghost hunters: ouiji boards are viewed as portals to demons, which I think is because of all the horror movies. I really don’t see a difference between engaging with the spirit world with a ouiji board or with dowsing rods, and I believe it comes down to intent. When conversations, either through a ouiji board or the spirit box went down a dark rabbit hole, we ended them, and said good bye. We only used the ouiji board with Brewer’s permission, and he asked that we keep the intent positive and closed down the conversations properly, which of course, we did.
One interesting result of one of the ouiji board sessions in the Library was the indication that the entity’s name started with E and “3” — “3” was repeated again and again and again. Before we left Sunday morning, Brewer brought us down to the Bowie Family Cemetery, located behind locked gates on private property. We noticed a small head stone in the back of the plot for Eliza L Bowie, 1835, Age 3.
At the beginning of the house tour, Brewer filmed a few seconds in the basement, capturing an orb. One of the other investigators caught an interesting whistle EVP (electronic voice phenomena). But mostly we got interesting results from the cat balls, EMF reader, Phasma box (although that’s sometimes hard to understand) and Ghost Tube. This was our first ghost hunt using Ghost Tube, but the results were as good, or as poor, as the dowsing rods, cat balls and spirit box, so we’ll definitely be working with that app again.
Our final experience at Linville occurred while I was downstairs eating breakfast. I was the first down, which is typical: I’m hard-wired to wake up at about quarter of 7. While munching a bagel, alone at the dining-room table, in my periphery vision I noticed a figure slip through the doorway between the ballroom and the lounge. And that was it. I finished my bagel and continued drinking my coffee and I let the figure alone — it was probably a residual haunting anyway.
Whether you decide to visit Linville Manor, which sleeps 8, for a friends retreat, a weekend playing CLUE (many of the rooms are named for rooms featured in the game, a favorite of the owners), a murder mystery weekend (just let Brewer know and he’ll help you plan the weekend) or for your own paranormal investigation, you’re sure to enjoy a comfortable stay in the former home of a family that collectively has witnessed American history.
The ghosts of Linville Manor are very shy about identifying themselves, making it harder to understand their connection to the history of the mansion, but they’re much less shy about making themselves known to visitors. Even when the four bedrooms are empty, I feel, they’re still full, with the spirits doing whatever they do, in their own time and space.
Getting there: Manor Gate Terrace, Upper Marlboro MD
Website: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/31647410?source_impression_id=p3_1646001275_Qmq4Y6XFdMKw7pzg; follow Linville Manor on IG at @LinvilleManor1852
Looking for more ghost hunts and paranormal investigations? Check out the places MidAtlantic DayTrips has already investigated!