An Eerie Walk Back in Time

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Connie Fitzgerald and tour guide Dwane Starlin on the grounds of Dumbarton House at 27th and Q Streets NW. Photo by Robert Devaney.

On Friday evening, Oct. 27, Dwane Starlin took a group of people on a walk throughout Georgetown, sharing stories that are buried deep within the crevices of the area. The “Spirits of Georgetown” walking tour, was offered through Dumbarton House on Q Street NW.

Getting into character, Starlin made it clear that we were exploring another side of Georgetown. He brandished a simple-looking megaphone. There was no button to press for vocal amplification.

“I don’t like mechanical things,” he said.

The tour was an invitation to travel back in time. One narrative that Starlin told was about how night riders were a part of Georgetown history. Comparing them to the Ku Klux Klan, he said they imposed a curfew on African American slaves in 1855. Though a significant part of the Georgetown population, these enslaved persons could not go outside after sundown. The night riders were also linked to grave robbing.

As the sun was setting, this eerie, rather ugly bit of history stood in juxtaposition to the realization that there aren’t such strict curfews imposed on today’s residents and visitors, who were chatting about the beauty of Georgetown, sipping pumpkin spice lattes and zombie frappucinos and sniffing fall-scented candles.

Stories of ghosts also came into the picture. Samuel Jackson was noted to have built on the land that is now known as Dumbarton House, in which a ghost was reported to have roamed. “I have yet to have the pleasure of meeting this person,” said Starlin. Another story is that of building a street near the currently named Dumbarton Bridge (formerly known as the Q Street Bridge and also as the Buffalo Bridge), which Starlin said made the spirits get a little upset.

Eccentrics were part of the local stories being told that night. Sam McKeever is one such example. McKeever was considered “a very unsavory big man” who picked rags, wore a huge overcoat and could scare people with his sudden presence. “You could never hear Sam until he was on ya,” said Starlin. McKeever is also said to have killed his wife and sold her body. He is rumored to be buried in Georgetown, but that claim has no current substantiation. But, “He may be coming for ya,” Starlin warned.

The tour ended with the “Exorcist Steps,” which Starlin described as “totally a fabrication,” with no basis on anything spooky in real life. Ending there took us back to the present, where listening to scary stories can be, in the end, just plain old fun.

For those in search of seasonal thrills this week, on Nov. 1, 2 and 3, Dumbarton House is presenting Picnic Theater Company’s production of “The Unexpected Guest” by Agatha Christie, a mystery set in a dark Welsh mansion. Information is available at dumbartonhouse.org.

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