The Haunted Dome of the Maryland State House

Is the Spirit of Thomas Dance Still Hanging Around?

The Maryland State House in Annapolis has so many superlatives – the oldest this, the biggest that. But the 96-foot tall, all-wooden dome that caps the building in the center of State Circle also has a legendary ghost – the spirit of Thomas Dance, a plasterer who tragically fell to his death while plastering in 1793 before he got paid for his work and evidently … still holds a grudge.

But here’s some historical commentary on the dome itself and the State House to frame this ghost story. 

Maryland State House dome as seen from the Maryland Inn in historic Annapolis.
Maryland State House dome as seen from the Maryland Inn in historic Annapolis.

The Maryland State House is the oldest state capitol building in the USA still in continuous legislative use. It is also the only state capitol that also served as the Nation’s Capitol (1783-1784), and it was America’s first peace-time capitol.

The 94-foot tall, 50-foot wide wooden dome atop the State House is the largest all-wooden dome in North America made completely without nails. It is held together with wooden pegs imported from England. The dome also had a lightning rod designed by Benjamin Franklin installed at its completion. The rod can still be viewed today, now preserved as a historical artifact.

Several high-impact American historical events happened in the Maryland State House. It was there that General George Washington addressed Congress and resigned from his commission as Commander in Chief of the American Revolutionary Army. (a life-size likeness of GW now stands in the very spot where this is said to have happened… and people say George haunts that chamber … but that’s a ghost story for another blog post).

The Maryland State House was also where the Treaty of Paris was ratified, officially ending the American Revolutionary War. It was also where  Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall was confirmed as the first African American justice on the United States Supreme Court (1965).

The Thomas Dance Ghost Story

In 1793, Thomas Dance was on scaffolding plastering the top of the dome inside the capitol building.  The scaffolding collapsed and Dance fell 94 feet to his death on the marble floor below. It had to be a grizzly scene.

As the story goes… dance had a widow and several children who, upon Dance’s death were left without any means of income. Dance’s employer refused to pay owed wages to Dance’s widow stating that “Dance was dead, and dead men don’t get paid.” The employer also refused to give Dance’s tools back to the widow so that they could be sold. Tragically, the widow and children were deported to England.

Accidental/sudden deaths, suicides, murders, and other incidents of high-impact emotion often wear a hole in that veil that separates the physical dimension and the spiritual dimension, and perhaps Dance’s death being so sudden and so violent help bore that hole in the veil.

Legislators, aids, and even security officers have told tales of “rushing winds” and blasts of cold air surfacing in the State House rooms when all the doors are sealed shut. Disembodied voices – particularly in the old chamber (where the George Washinton likeness stands), water pitchers toppling over on their own, and furniture moving about without any noticeable assistance from humans are all snippets and pieces of ghostly tales that have been told by workers and frequent visitors to the State House.

Some figure it’s Dance making mischief because he’s pissed about not getting paid.

But perhaps the most consistently told tale is that of someone who appears in the dome after hours … walking the balustrade inside the dome, and even walking outside the dome. There are also reported apparitions of someone walking the grounds in the wee hours …. without touching the ground. Most figure it’s Dance looking for his tools, trying to finish his work because …. as my friend, Ed Okoniwicz wrote in his version of this ghost story …

… unexplained events have been attributed to the unfortunate plasterer – who never finished his task on the state capitol dome because he took an unplanned “last dance.” *


*excerpt from “Last Dance” in Haunted Maryland, Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Old Line State, by Ed Okonowicz published by Stackpole Books 2007