We didn’t know that the Vance Miles House was haunted when we purchased it in 2002. But I sensed it was the house we were meant to live in right away. We’d left our historic home on the Western Shore and moved to one of the most rural areas on the East Coast. I’d searched for weeks for the perfect home. We forced our real estate agent to show us every historic home that was for sale in Somerset County, Maryland. I knew what I wanted. But none of the homes we saw were right.
Our house on the Western Shore was sold. I had our money in my hot little hand, and needed a home quick so we could avoid having to rent before buying. So with the pressure on, I did the 3 mile drive to the Eastern Shore and drove past all three houses of consideration. I reluctantly chose a white Victorian on Charles Cannon Road. I was disappointed that it didn’t feel right. It was too big, too modernized and didn’t have the right feel for me. But perhaps we’d grow to love it in time.
As I pulled away from that Victorian home I noticed that right across the street was a similar home that had a for sale sign in the front yard. When did that happen? When I called our real estate agent and begged him to drop what he was doing and come show me this house, I found out that it had been for sale months ago, but the settlement had just fallen through. It had been put back on the market that very day. The house was vacant so I spent an hour or so walking the yard and peeking in the windows. It seemed right … at least better than the others.
When Ted Phoebus (our agent) pulled in the driveway he told me to wait until he opened the front door. With every house he showed, he required the owner to walk through the front door.
When I crossed the threshold of the Vance Miles House, I knew it was right. The house vibrated a welcome that fit. Very little was changed since the house had been built in 1892. All of the original woodwork, the radiators, the layout of the rooms — all were just like they were when it was built 110 years before.
I took a sweeping walk through every room and twenty minutes after walking through that front door I told Ted that we’d take it and asked him to write a contract for me to sign before I went back to the Western Shore… which he did.
Moving in to the Vance Miles House
Two U-Haul trucks and the help of four of our six kids made moving in pretty easy. The first morning I woke up in the Vance Miles House was my 43rd birthday. I’ve awakened in this same house for twelve subsequent birthdays, and in those years some disturbing things have happened.
Within a few weeks after moving in we noticed strange noises, banging and clanging. My college-aged daughter was coming home on the weekends and felt uneasy most of the time she was in the house. She heard the noises, and sensed the presence of others who weren’t visible. I discounted the noises and the strangeness, and played down her fears. I loved the house.
One evening I was watching television in the living room with my daughter, while my husband slept upstairs. We heard a crash above that sounded like a bookcase or shelf falling over. It woke my husband and he rushed downstairs. We investigated all the upstairs rooms and the attic. The only thing we found was an open window in my daughter’s room and an 8X10 picture frame that toppled over due to the wind. The open window was one of the few in the house that had no screen. Because we have wicked mosquitoes here day – and night, that window would have never been opened – not by one of us, anyway. We never figured out what the crash was…. even though three of us heard it and felt the house shake.
We bought a new clothes dryer had to carry it into the basement from an outside entrance. We had difficulty getting it through a narrow passage. While struggling with the dryer, we heard the side door of the house open and and then close. Then we heard footsteps walking across the living and dining room floors above us. We felt the house vibrate with the pressure of those footsteps. We thought this strange because we heard no car in the driveway (which was just outside the basement entrance). I looked out the basement door. No car. The dog didn’t bark. We knew whoever entered our house would have had to walk up to the door and somehow missed distracting our dog.
Dan took the dog and checked the house…. he checked all the rooms – even the attic. He found nobody there – nor a trace that anyone had been there.
The dog would often bark at nothing in the front parlor – but only at night. The front parlor was the room where my daughter heard the rustle of clothing as if someone entered the room from the foyer. She thought it was me. When she looked up to speak to me, there was no one there, in fact, Dan and I were both asleep upstairs.
Dan kept sensing someone watching him when he was in his workshop. He’d occasionally see a figure – head and shoulders – of a man with his peripheral vision, but when he’d turn to look directly at the apparition, it would vanish. I was also having difficulty sleeping. I’d be in that twilight stage half between wake and sleep, and would see a dark figure hovering above my bed. Sometimes it would choke me. It was awful, terrifying. I feared going to sleep.
A Visit from a Stranger
About three months after we moved in, a man in a van with North Carolina tags pulled into our driveway. I walked out to meet him, and as he was climbing out of the van he said, “Hi. I’m doing genealogy research an my aunt Lillian was married to the man who built this house.” The stranger moved closer to shake my hand and continued … “His name was Vance Miles and he shot himself to death right in your front parlor.”
I remember thinking, “Nice to meet you.”
After several visits and conversations with this stranger, we became friends. He produced much information on the Miles family and the history of our house. He even provided us with the photo of Vance and his family on our front porch (pictured above).
We later discovered that Vance Miles didn’t build the house. It was built in 1892 – the same year Vance was born. It was likely built by his father or some other patriarch in the Miles family as almost all of the surrounding land was owned by the Miles’. And while Vance did commit suicide, he did not kill himself inside the house. As Vance grew older, he’d become ill and was having financial difficulties. My neighbor, Miss Virgie knew him well and said that Vance went fishing every day at Coulbourn Creek. He’d park right by her house and launch his boat. One day in the 1950s, there were police and an ambulance around his car. Vance evidently shot himself when he was fishing.
Suicide in the Early 20th Century
One thing I’ve discovered in doing all this research about ghosts in Eastern Shore towns is that suicide was way more common than it is today. At the turn of the century and for years on both sides, if the family provider lost all of his money there was no safety net. Everything was lost – house, home, land. Families were almost always broken up. If you were lucky enough to keep your family together it was because you had kin that could take care of you. Children were often divvied up between relatives. If there weren’t enough relatives to take in all of the children, the older children would be put into a type of foster care where they worked for room and board. Some were sent to foundling homes miles and miles away. So many men who lost their fortunes – or at least their assets – knew what was coming. Many chose to end their lives rather than face that kind of public failure.
Perhaps this was part of why Vance Miles ended his life. His children were all grown by this time, but his wife Lillian was quickly whisked away from the property after his death and the house was sold. So who knows? Since suicide was almost never reported and certainly never talked about, the answers to all the “why” questions are buried with the unfortunate deceased.
Event Became Unnerving
One day Dan noticed the chandelier in the dining room slightly swaying. It built momentum and went faster. Just as he was reaching to stop it, one of the antique globes from the chandelier shot down and crashed into two dozen Valentine’s Day roses he had bought for me. The globe hit the roses with such force, that it toppled the large vase, and broke.
We also had difficulty keeping a mirror in the upstairs bathroom. I had a large sideboard mirror hanging in that bathroom, and it fell one day. The nail was pulled out of the wall. Dan secured it better and made sure the hook was in a stud. We rehung that mirror, but It fell again a few weeks later. The wire on the back of it had broke – it almost looked like it was cut. The frame of the mirror had broken and it was unusable. A few months later – in that same bathroom – the mirror that fit in the door to the medicine cabinet slipped out and shattered all over the sink and floor. Both of us cut ourselves cleaning that up. We hung an old mirror over the the empty door of the medicine cabinet. A few weeks later, that mirror fell into the sink. It didn’t brake, but I gave up and put that mirror in a closet. We went without a mirror in that bathroom for over 3 years.
None of our children – not one (we have six – all grown) would sleep in our back bedroom next to that bathroom, nor will they allow their children to sleep there until last year, and even then — it’s only two of them. Today, our family members would rather sleep on the hard floor anywhere else, but not in that back bedroom. We live relatively close to the beach but when we ask our children if they’ll stay and watch the house when we travel during the summer, we get a big resounding NO. No one will give a reason why. We all know the reason why.
The Event that Pushed Us Too Far
The event that pushed me over the edge had to do with an antique plate that my friend Helen gave me. It was a 1918 Homer Laughlin calendar plate in the bluebird pattern. It was one of two special plates I displayed in plate stands on my sideboard. The other plate had belonged to my great grandmother. As I was walking into the dining room from the kitchen, I saw the bluebird calendar plate flip off the sideboard and break in two. There was no cause, no bump, and no vibration. I stood there for a few minutes asking myself if I really saw that. Now I was worried about my other plate, the one that belonged to my great grandmother. I carefully unlocked my oak china closet and placed that plate inside on its stand. I closed the china closet, locked it and placed the key on the sideboard. As always – I tested the lock to be sure the door was secure. Then I went to bed.
As I tried to fall asleep, I recounted all the incidents of madness in that house. All the sounds, the crashes, the footsteps, the swinging chandeliers, plates and lamp globes flying, mirrors shattering and a bedroom no one would sleep in. I considered what it would take to move out. As I drifted off to sleep, I was again disturbed by the shadows that hovered over, choked me and threatened me.
The next morning I began telling Dan about the plate incident. He said, “You should lock that china closet. That glass door is going to break. When I came down this morning, the door was wide open.”
That day I put the house up for sale. We’d lived in it barely a year.
We had immediate interest from a couple in Pennsylvania. They spent about an hour walking through the house with us. Just before they left, the woman asked if she could take one more look at the attic. She was gone for about 15 minutes. When she met us back in the foyer she mentioned that she’s had a nice conversation with the man upstairs about the house. She asked if he was my father. There was no man upstairs. My father had been dead for years.
Though the incident with the potential buyers was disturbing, I realized after about a month that nothing strange had happened to me or my husband since I put the house for sale. All the strange noises, and strange happenings stopped. I explained the whole series of events to a psychic medium and a mystic. They both said the same thing. “Whatever is haunting that house – it doesn’t want you to go.”
It’s Not Just Vance Haunting Our House
So here we still are. And while it’s true that most of the things stopped once we put the house for sale, not everything has stopped. My granddaughter talked to “no one” often. Today she says she remembers him — it was a man — a nice man. But she doesn’t see him any more.
A psychic medium from Denver did a reading for us and told us that our house was haunted by hundreds of spirits. Perhaps it was on a vortex where spirits could pass in and out. Maybe this is why visitors to our last open house captured images of what they believed to be children, women and men… almost all being captured in the back of the house upstairs (where the mirrors break).
It doesn’t matter to us. The spirits are friendly now and they don’t bother us. But it makes for interesting ghost stories and experiences in my home continues to fire up my curiosity about ghosts and spirits – – and this keeps me on what seems to be an endless writing and speaking jag about ghosts, hauntings and mysterious old houses on the Eastern Shore.