Haunted Painting Returns to Maryland Tavern

Cockey's Tavern in Westminster has lost its haunted traces after a renovation completed this year, except for one, according to two former employees.

Carole Cook and Pat Thomas worked at the upscale restaurant from the 1970s through the 1990s. To them, rumors of a ghost between the dark, oppressive and seemingly haunted walls of the tavern were long gone after seeing the Historical Society of Carroll County's restoration of the building.

Until the two saw a startling Civil War-era painting. A bearded gentleman, who seems to be bleeding, stares out from the tavern's history into its future. The image of the dark-coated man grows darker; Cook said it seems more haunted now than ever although she said it always seemed foreboding.

The employees at the restaurant always thought the painting was of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, but Timmi Pierce, executive director of the Historical Society, has her doubts.

"If it is, it's a very poorly done portrait," Pierce said.

Cook said she can't really remember when it started, but one day when she was working at the restaurant she noticed the figure seemed to have blood coming out of his sleeve and on his thumb. No one remembered it being that way previously, she said, so they found it unsettling.

Over time, the shadow that looked like blood spread down his hand, and also spouted from his forehead, and also on his chest, she said.

Today, the painting still has those dark marks, but the whole painting seems to have darkened as well, making those dark spots less dramatic, Cook said.

Cathy Baty, curator of the Historical Society, said the darkening is caused by the varnish naturally darkening over time. Having hung in the restaurant and bar, exposed to cigarette smoke, the painting's varnish likely darkened faster than under normal conditions.

After the restaurant closed in 2000 because of a devastating fire caused by arson, many of the building's contents were sold at auction, including the painting. Pierce said the Historical Society got the painting back in January from the grandson of the man who bought it at auction.

Thomas said the "Grant painting" wasn't the only one that behaved strangely in Cockey's Tavern. She remembers a time when two women from Baltimore were having lunch at the restaurant, and one woman said she didn't believe in ghosts. Thomas warned her to hold her tongue, but before she knew it, a painting behind her fell off the wall and on her head, Thomas said.

There were other times when pictures would fall of walls without people touching them, candles would re-light themselves, and people would hear voices and the sounds of glasses tinkling when no one was there.

"You'd get a little scare, but (the ghost) never hurt anyone," Thomas said. "It was just creepy."

Pierce and a few other Historical Society members went through Cockey's Tavern in November for a "ghost seeking" expedition under the direction of Lois Szymanski, a local ghost hunter and writer. Using electronic equipment, they detected some presences, Pierce said, including some in her future office.

As for whether she believes the tales of ghosts in Cockey's Tavern, Pierce is a little skeptical.

"I reserve judgment," Pierce said.

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