Haunted History -- A Halloween Hike For the Ages

It was here that John Berry was hanged and his body left to twist in the wind as an example to other would-be evil-doers. The 20-year-old was the mastermind of the November 1751 ax murder of Sarah Clark and the near-slaying of her husband, farmer John Clark, in their beds. Berry had designs on the Clarks' money and hoped to inherit their farm. He was their stepson.

Jamie Petrucci, Pataspsco Valley State Park Ranger, poses as the infamous John Berry as he recounts John's tale of the ax-murder of his stepparents in 1751
John Berry and his two female accomplices, one of whom swung the ax while the other held a candle, were convicted the following month. The women were hanged at Joppa, then the Baltimore County seat. But the brutality of the crime so outraged the Governor that a special penalty was imposed on Berry. His sentence, also death by hanging, was to occur near the scene of the crime and his corpse was to be left outdoors, hanging in chains, until nature, and vultures, consumed it.

Such punishment was reserved for the most heinous offenders, and the execution site has been known ever since as Berry's Hill, the subject of local legend. Just over 700 feet high, it sits in the heart of the 1,900-acre Soldiers Delight NEA, a unique habitat of oak savanna, serpentine barrens and scenic hiking trails.

Katie Crane, a Patapsco Valley State Park Naturalist, leads a haunted history hike at SDNEA
On Friday and Saturday nights between now and October 31st, you can pay $5 to be regaled with this and other seasonal tales of mining lore and lost love on a 45-minute hike through the woods along Soldiers Delight's Serpentine Trail. Your costumed guide will lead groups by lantern light to the Choate chromium mine, where a Patapsco Valley State Park naturalist dressed as an 1830s miner will relate stories about the mysterious Tommyknockers, said to clack loudly inside the mine as a warning of impending collapse.

Tiana Morris, a Maryland Conservation Corps worker at Patapsco Valley State Park, assumes the role of an 1830s-era miner in the old Choate Chromium mine at Soldiers Delight.
Groups will queue up in the visitor center for hikes that will depart every twenty minutes from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on the 27th and 28th of October. Those awaiting their turn for the hike will be entertained by a host of rehabilitated wild animals from the Scales & Tales aviary, which is on the premises.

An American crow with a broken wing evokes Edgar Allen Poe while entertaining visitors as they queue up for the haunted history hikes at Soldiers Delight NEA
And if you're lucky enough to register for a hike on Saturday, October 28, bring a pumpkin and come at 6:00 p.m. for a pumpkin-carving program to be held in the visitor center's auditorium, also $5 per person. Carve a jack-o-lantern, then step out into the crisp night air to learn about the area's fascinating history atop Berry's Hill.

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