Fake foam tombstones, polyester-spun cobwebs, and elaborate “haunted” houses abound during the Halloween season, but if you want to see the real thing, head to Westminster Hall at 519 W. Fayette Street. An 18th century historic burial ground and catacombs, simultaneously macabre and serene, lies directly across North Greene Street from the looming glass tower of the Baltimore VA Medical Center. Edgar Allan Poe’s gravesite attracts the most attention, but many prominent civic and military leaders are buried here.
The Westminster Burying Ground and Catacombs is holding its annual Halloween Tour on October 31, from 6 to 9 p.m. Descend to the catacombs, then visit the Poe monument for readings of his classic tales. General John Stricker, an inhabitant of the graveyard, may wander by. A visiting guest artist, Count Dracula, will play eerie music on the 1882 Johnson pipe organ in Westminster Hall. The outdoor graveyard is open to the public during daylight hours. However, the catacombs can only be seen with a tour guide or during special programs, such as this Halloween event.
When the old “Western Burying Grounds” was established in 1786 by the First Presbyterian Church, its location was on the outskirts of the city. Nearby Lexington Market consisted of farmers who set up their horse-drawn wagons in fields. As the city grew, the congregation built a Gothic Revival church in 1852, constructed on brick arches over a portion of the cemetery, thus creating the catacombs. The congregation used the church until 1977. Today the church, known as Westminster Hall, is operated by the non-profit Westminster Preservation Trust, Inc., under the auspices of its neighbor, the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.
For more information on visiting Westminster Hall, call 410-706-7228 or go to westminsterhall.org