I chatted with local author Shelley Davies Wygant about her her latest book, “Haunted Ellicott City”, and how the town is recovering after the recent floods.
Talk about your childhood, where you grew up, etc
I grew up in Western Pennsylvania — Aliquippa. Classic steel town. Everyone I knew or was related to worked at “the mill” – Jones & Laughlin Steel Company. I would have to say I was a bit of a strange little child…roamed the local graveyard wearing a black veil, hat and long dress pretending I was some mysterious visitor. As a little kid, I actually had to change my favorite color to blue because when I told people my favorite color was black, their eyes got all wide and buggy.
When did you know you wanted to be an author?
I was an author from the time I was able to write. In elementary school I penned and illustrated all kinds home-made “books”. I also wrote plays that my friends and I would perform for the then-new tape-recorder. In college I was the editorial editor for the newspaper. My first “book” was the 1982 edition of the Westminster College Argo year book. From there I used my writing skills to persuade people to do what I wanted them to do as an advertising/direct response copywriter/creative director.
Why did you decide to write “Haunted Ellicott City?”
In 2010 when I was President of The Howard County Historical Society, Arcadia Publishing reached out and asked if we would be up for creating an Images of America: Howard County book — I immediately jumped at the opportunity. I had some delusion that I would farm out the chapters to various Society members to do, but that fell through so I basically wrote 95% of it myself and donated the proceeds to the Society. Last year I saw that The History Press (part of Arcadia) had a “Haunted America” series, I thought, hey – I could combine my love of local history and interest in all things spooky by writing a book that let me research them both. I basically wrote it over the course of a year between the time I got up in them morning (like 5AM or earlier) and when I left for work.
Do you believe in the supernatural?
Although I don’t have any kind of sixth sense, I believe in ghosts and spirits enough not to challenge or dismiss them. I’m fascinated by the phenomena and have been involved in a paranormal investigation (of Springhill — the last story in the book) that really shook me up.
Which legend in the book is your favorite?
I have to say that partly because I was there to witness the happenings, that the Springhill haunting is the one I found most compelling. It is supposed to be haunted by the ghost of Comfort Dorsey’s fiance’ who was killed in a hunting accident on the property…but the ghost we encountered the night of the investigation was of a much more recent and bizarre vintage.
The one story that caught my attention was Peeping Tom of Illchester Tunnel. Would you ever follow the lore and stand in front of the tunnel for one hour starting at midnight; not blink, in hopes of seeing him?
The Peeping Tom/Blinkman of Ilchester Tunnel legend is a classic — reminiscent of the old Bloody Mary tale. I am a bit of a creature of comfort so standing outside in the middle of the night with my eyes propped open for an entire hours doesn’t sound that appealing. Maybe if I had a comfy chair, toasty blanket and a few glasses of wine, I’d give it a go.
How has Ellicott City been recovering since the floods of the past few years?
Our poor wonderful town of Ellicott City has really taken it on the chin with the floods of 2016 and 2018. Something has to be done to actually ensure the safety of the town as well as preserve its historic character. Fortunately the people of Howard County spoke in the most recent election, and we now have people in office who are committed to do what is best for Ellicott City both in terms of truly effective flood protection and historic preservation. If we have the resolve and willingness to invest what it’s going to take, I am convinced that the future of Ellicott City is going to continue to be very bright. You can’t keep a good town down.
What has been the response to the book so far?
I’m sure it’s a common experience of authors that after all the work you put it, there’s a fear that it will come out and people will think it sucks. Compounding that fear for me, is the fact that there are SO many knowledgeable historians of Ellicott City out there — most of which I am friends with. I had nightmares of the phone ringing off the hook with people calling to point out my errors. Thankfully the phone has remained silent — meaning either that my research was pretty good or my friends are taking pity on me. And, despite the fact that I didn’t agonize over the prose — I basically wrote it in one swipe and was done — I’ve had people go out of their way to tell me how much they enjoyed the story telling. I’m up to five 5-star reviews on Amazon. My book signings at local businesses, books stores, markets and other events have been gratifyingly successful. All of which makes me both happy and relieved.
“Haunted Ellicott City” is available NOW wherever books are sold!
Autographed copies available on Etsy