Maria Archangelo and Susan Thornton
Columbia Flier, May 23, 1996
see original newsclipping
The 66 stone steps, covered in leaves and broken beer bottles, stretch up the rocky hill just off Ilchester Road. Decades ago, the Redemptorist priests and students of the old St. Mary's seminary and college used to ascend those stairs, nicknamed "Jacob's Ladder," after alighting from the B&O trains. Now only furtive teenagers, fortified with Budweiser or Coors, make the climb.
The magnificent buildings, some more than 100 years old, have deteriorated over the past 10 years and become a magnet for thrill-seeking teens. Where once brothers used to prune roses in the company of statuary saints, teens now dare one another to trespass and vandalize.
These days, the single inhabitant of the property is the caretaker- to the teens, a resident boogeyman.
And the spooky atmosphere created by overgrown gardens and crumbling brick have earned the buildings a new name. Teenagers from Woodlawn to Mt. Airy to Glen Burnie know the property as Hell House.
Jamie Nash, a 24-year old computer game designer who lives in Catonsville, has been collecting stories about Hell House for years. He can relate rumors of Satanic altars or drug labs or ghosts housed within.
He's never been inside any of the buildings, but most of his high school friends considered entry a right of passage. "It is the crown jewel of teenage trespassing and vandalism," he said.
The object, he said, is to get as far inside the newer of the two main buildings as possible. On the second floor of that building, some say, is a satanic altar.
Enmeshed in the legend of Hell House is caretaker Allen Hudson, sometimes called "the hillbilly" because of his wild appearance.
Getting caught on the property by Hudson is part of the "bravery test," Nash said.
Last week, Hudson was arrested on assault with intent to murder charges stemming from the May 11 shooting of a Baltimore man, who had come onto the property with two other men carrying bats. The men had been there earlier on the evening and Hudson had ordered them off the property, according to the police.
David Greenberg, Hudson's attorney since 1989, explained that over the years vandals have broken windows, ripped phones from the wall, torn down the "No trespassing" signs and fences, broken the security lights and have even stolen the copper downspots.
Hudson himself could not be reached for comment this week. He was released from the Howard County Detention Center last week after posting $2,000 bail.
Kenneth Smith, who lives with his wife Ardellia on property adjacent to St. Mary's, is sympathetic to Hudson's problem with the teenagers; they're trespassing and vandalizing, he said.
"He's OK, just don't mess with him," Smith said.
County police spokesman Sgt. Steve Keller said that since 1994, officers have been called to St. Mary's more than 15 times.
The majority of those times, Hudson called the police to report trespassing, burglaries or destruction of property.
Hudson's arrest last week appears to be the first time he has been criminally charged in connection with trespassers on the property, but it is not the first time complaints about him have been lodged.
Hudson was the target of two civil lawsuits filed in Howard County Circuit Court. In August 1991, a Severna Park man filed a $1.3 million lawsuit against Hudson stemming from a 1990 incident on the property.
Russell Six claimed that Hudson had beaten him, sicked dogs on him and threatened to kill him. Six tried but to run away, according to the suit, but fell off an elevated driveway and got a fractured pelvis and a concussion. Hudson countersued, charging that Six and two women came onto the property uninvited late at night and that Six got hurt when he ran away from the caretaker.
A county jury issued a split verdict, awarding Six more than $5,000 in medical expenses but declining to give him any money for pain and suffering.
The jury also awarded Hudson $1 for his countersuit against Six.
Another man, who was walking near the property on April 18, 1992 at 2:30 p.m., also sued Hudson because one of his dogs "charged, bit and viciously attacked" him, according to the lawsuit.
That case was settled in May 1994, but details of the settlement were not available this week.
Hudson lives on the grounds as a tenant of the nonprofit Kamakoti and Tirupati Foundation, says the owner of the 33-acre property, Sateesh Kumar Singh. He purchased the property in 1988 for about $400,000 through a corporation he formed with a number of people around the country.
Singh, with bare feet and a long white beard, stood outside his River Island apartment in Savage Monday to talk about the foundation and the seminary property. Hudson is "kind of like a tenant," Singh said. "It's complicated," he added, but wouldn't say more.
Neither Hudson nor Singh can stop teens from vandalizing the property, said Singh, who is also part-owner of the apartments where he lives. Singh said police can't protect the property either, any more than they can keep people from cutting down redwood trees or burning churches.
The foundation bought the property, he said, with the intent of creating a comparative religion foundation on its grounds.
Now, that foundation is "dormant," Singh said, and has no money left for its "grand plans."
A.N. Murty, a professor of physics at Grambling State University in Lousiana, lived at the college from 1983 to 1985 while he was helping to start the foundation.
The foundation wanted to renovate the college and initiate an International Institute for Religious Studies to investigate parallels and connections between the world's major religions. The group wanted to build a library, hold lectures, do research, recruit scholars, Murty said.
"That was the objective," Murty said, but now there is no money to pay him to write grants.
"I'm of the frame of mind that if someone wants to buy it, even at a low price, I'll sell it," Singh said.
The property was originally owned by the Ellicott brothers; one of their grandsons built a hotel and a tavern on the property. The Catholic Redemptorists bought the property from the Ellicotts in 1866, and built a seminary on 1868. As the number of incoming seminarians decreased, the priests added a private Catholic day school.
Writings on 19th century architecture praise the school's elaborate brick and stone work, its Roman arched niches with statues of Madonna and child, its Italian Renaissance-style steeple towering over the Patapsco River.
In 1968, a fire destroyed a main building, but the seminarians housed had already been moved to Wisconsin and New York. The parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help stayed at the site until the late 70s, when it moved up the hill to its present Ilchester Road site.
The property has changed hands a number of times, as developers tried to alter the zoning from its present preservation status to one that would allow apartments or townhouses.
Ardellia Smith, who lives next to the property, remembers playing in the St. Mary's gardens as a girl. Her grandmother washed the priests' laundry. After the brothers and students left, Smith took her three young sons to the seminary kitchen and cooked for the remaining priests.
"It was just beautiful," she recalls. "The chapel was always cool; it had marble floors. I thought the world would end when the Redemptorists left."
She hasn't visited the grounds since 1971, she said sadly: "But I hear it's a wreck up there."
Tanya Jones, Sun Staff
Baltimore Sun, 1997
see the original newsclipping
The former St. Mary's College in Howard County , once a seminary and retreat for priests of the Redemptorists order, went up in flames yesterday morning, in a blaze that state officials have labeled suspicious.
County firefighters will let the five-story brick structure smolder out over the next few days, then have it demolished.
Investigators with the state fire marshal's office are calling the blaze suspicious because the building has been vacant since the 1970s, according to Allen L. Ward, deputy chief state fire marshal.
Baltimore County firefighters, called to the scene first, called Howard County firefighters at about 5:15 a.m.
By then, the building was engulfed in flames, but it is not clear when the blaze started, said Capt. Sean Kelly of the Howard County Fire Department.
A county fire chief on the scene determined that firefighters would be needlessly endangered if they tried to enter the building or stood near it because the 12-inch thick walls might collapse, Kelly said.
"There was no reason to put anybody in danger," Kelly said.
A caretaker who lives on the property, Allen Rufus Hudson, will not be allowed to live in his nearby home because a building wall might fall on it, Kelly said.
Gray smoke mixed with fog over