Legends of Point Lookout

Vol. 8, No. 42
Oct. 19-25, 2000
Current Issue
Point Lookout Legends
Dock of the Bay
Letters to the Editor
Bay Reflections
Burton on the Bay
Chesapeake Outdoors
Not Just for Kids
Good Bay Times
What's Playing Where
Music Notes
Sky Watch
Bay Classifieds
Behind Bay Weekly
Advertising Info
Distribution spots
Contact us
There is something weird, in the neighborhood …
There is something strange, and it don’t look good …
Invisible man sleeping in your bed —
I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!

Are you a believer?

If you’re troubled by strange noises in the middle of the night, tremble in a dark basement, attic or graveyard or have spied a specter, spook or ghost — you may be a believer.

If not, Point Lookout may make a believer of you.

Among all of Maryland's legendary haunted spots, none has the fright capacity of Point Lookout. Here, for over 350 years, humans have massacred, imprisoned, tortured and starved one another. Add shipwreck, fire, famine, disease and war, and the stage is set for ghostly encounters unequaled in our state.

"There are lots of stories about ghost sightings," says Point Lookout State Park Manager Keith Frere. Many a ranger who's worked the park can tell those stories from firsthand experience.

One year ago, in September of 1999, Ranger Kevin Hook became a believer.

"On a fall evening, I was sitting in the living room in the small white house across the road from the fishing pier. The room faced south and toward the road that the soldiers used to march into Point Lookout. My dog Timber was nestled at my feet alongside a friend's dog. As we sat, the thermometer showed a stifling 100 degrees. My friend and I were talking quietly when the two dogs ran panic-stricken into the dining room. Both stood in the door and barked continuously into the oven-like room. My friend and I were completely dumbfounded.

"All of a sudden, the room turned bitter cold - even though the thermometer still read 100 degrees. The room was stone cold in seconds; we could even see our breath when we exhaled. It remained cold for about 30 seconds and then returned to its sauna-like condition.

"What happened? Why did the room get so cold?" Hook still doesn't know.

Day and night, so it is said, ghosts join the quarter of a million visitors to Point Lookout State Park each year. Intrigued by legends such as these, we came to look.

Haunted History

The point later to be named Lookout seemed pristine to Maryland's first colonists as their ocean-worn ships the Ark and Dove sailed up the Potomac River over 366 years ago. "Breathtaking, beautiful, tranquil, magnificent," Father Andrew White wrote.

A turbulent history on that picturesque peninsula - including Indian massacres, tragic fires and deadly shipwrecks - has replaced that first impression with unease.

Lord Baltimore's brother, owner and governor of the colony, died tragically in his mid-30s. His son drowned in nearby Calvert Bay. Virginia Indians raided Point Lookout in 1648, massacring many early settlers.

Shipwrecks have haunted the point. Many a sailor drowned in the salty waves, and the sandy beach has become many a grave. To prevent further disasters, in 1827 Congress ordered a small beacon light to shine the way for mariners headed into the Chesapeake Bay to the east and the Potomac River to the west. But trouble soon came to the lighthouse when its first keeper, James Davis, died on duty. Two other keepers also died while on watch.

Nor could the lighthouse prevent disaster at sea. On November 11, 1862, a Union gunboat, the USS Tulip, en route from Point Lookout to Washington, D.C., exploded, claiming 57 lives. Eight mutilated, unidentifiable bodies washed ashore.

Horrors mounted during the years of the Civil War. Point Lookout became the site of Camp Hoffman, the Union's largest Confederate prison camp, housing 52,264 Confederate prisoners. Tattered canvas tents provided little shelter. Starvation and disease ran rampant. Only death relieved the prisoners' suffering, and then even their bodies could not rest in peace. After being moved as often as three times, the remains of many a soldier rest at last in the Confederate Cemetery.

Disaster struck again in peacetime, when Point Lookout had become a popular vacation spot. With its bathing beaches and 100 cottages, the Fenwick Inn was the height of early 19th century resort fashion. Here the elite summered - until a tragic fire burned the hotel to the ground in 1878. That same year, the steamer Express broke up off the coast during a hurricane. Twenty-two lives were lost.

Many of those lost and killed keep restless vigil unto this very day.

Where Past Meets Present

Knowing all this, we came looking for a scare.

The warm fall sun blazed as we meandered through small farming communities, their fields clinging to dried corn and yellow soybeans. But as we maneuvered the last turn, destination close at hand, our demeanor changed. A reverent chill set in as we passed the 85-foot monument that rises in the Confederate Cemetery to honor its dead.

Every June, descendants of the Civil War dead gather to honor the 3,384 Confederate soldiers buried in this hallowed ground. They came from 40 states this year, many costumed to bring history to life - ladies in black-hooped dresses and veils, men with flowing beards in Confederate uniforms and tattered clothing. They set up a primitive camp on the edge of the Potomac, and over smoldering flames, pots of coffee steeped.

Despite the warm day, we felt a chill as we walked among the living, hearing stories of the dead.

Displayed among the trees, early documentary photographs of the Hammond Hospital - long since lost to erosion - revealed mutilation and misery. Malaria, typhoid fever and smallpox were common. For every soldier that died in battle, two died of disease. Thus the battle toll of 200,000 American fighting men rose to 600,000 dead.

Beside the encampment, a brisk wind whisked through the tall pines at Fort Lincoln, where Union soldiers had orders to shoot any prisoner who crossed an imaginary line inside the 23-acre fenced prison camp. Constructed for defense at the Point, the moated, four-sided earthen fort had the added protection of a 14-foot parapet. Here soldiers stood watch over a mass of prisoners tightly packed inside.

Inside the POW camp, Lee's Miserables - the name these living history actors call themselves - played out grim stories of those not-so-distant days.

A Confederate soldier in tattered uniform, one arm gone, scarred face and no shoes, greeted visitors with these words: "Have you seen my brother, Private George Jones of the H-24th Cavalry? I promised Mom I'd take care of him. I have to find him."

Perhaps his brother was looking for him, too, and instead found Volunteer Ranger Bob Crickenberger.

Dressed as a Union soldier, Crickenberger stayed in the guardhouse one rainy night. Before bed, he walked the grounds. As he bent down, perhaps tripping, a bullet passed his head to smash the window behind him. Shattered glass covered the ground.

He retreated to his pickup truck and a restless night.

At daylight, he cautiously approached the guardhouse to inspect the damage. The window was whole. There was no broken glass, nor could he find a bullet.
Goin' on a Ghost Hunt

We snapped back to reality at the Visitor's Center. Today's adventure was to seek stories of believers and, as we climbed from the car, the peaceful scene of tall pines and expansive wetlands spread before us could not dismiss our sense of other presences.

So, armed with all the courage we could muster, with open minds and receptive hearts, off we went in search of ghosts.

We zeroed in on the infamous haunted lighthouse, home to many sightings, a seance and two paranormal investigations.

It stands isolated from the world inside the fenced compound. Wooden doors covered with cracked and peeling paint, crumbling window panes and deteriorating steps make it hospitable for a ghost.

Our guide, park naturalist Christy Carter, admits to be eagerly awaiting her first encounter. "I've not seen anything yet," said Carter, "but I'm confident someday I will."

Perhaps soon. Paranormal activity most often occurs from October through April and usually before a sudden change in weather.

But this day the lighthouse was calm. Sunlight streamed through the thick panes of glass, warming its many rooms. Tiny raccoon tracks in the upstairs hallway showed that the ghosts share their haunted lighthouse.

We snap photos in hope of catching a glimpse. But no ghosts are home. The shy apparitions may have hidden in the shadows that day - but not everyday.

Company in the Lighthouse

Park Manager Gerald Sword swore Point Lookout lighthouse was haunted when he lived there in the 1970s. But only once did he document a ghost.

Sitting in his kitchen that night, he got the eerie feeling of being watched. Just as a violent storm hit, he saw at the window the face of a young man, wearing a floppy cap and a loose-fitting coat. As Sword opened the door in welcome for the visitor from the storm, the three-dimensional appearance floated in and disappeared.

Sword thought he could identify his ghostly visitor as a crewman on the steamer Express, which broke up in a storm in 1878. The body of young crewman Joseph Heaney washed up on the beach. He was buried near where his body had been found. Heaney's description, printed in the newspapers at the time, matched the image Sword saw at his window.

Sword also reported doors that opened and shut mysteriously, footsteps in empty rooms and on deserted staircases and the low, mysterious murmur of human voices. The sounds of objects crashing to the ground often sent him running to see what had happened, but nothing could be found.

He might hear coughing and snoring and feel invisible entities pass by as he entered a room. He had a constant feeling of being watched by unseen eyes.

Sword wasn't the only lighthouse resident to have kept company with ghosts. Laura Berg, the secretary of state for the state of Maryland, and her husband Erick lived in the lighthouse in the early 1980s.

One night when Laura was lying in bed beside her husband, she heard distinct footsteps outside her bedroom. It sounded as if the person were wearing boots. The sound ended as mysteriously as it began. The Bergs also heard unexplained noises and were often awakened to odd smells and the sound of people walking in the hallway.

Laura became increasingly fascinated by the psychic energy in the lighthouse, and in 1980 she asked park manager Sword to help her find out more about it. Together they got in touch with the Maryland Committee for Psychical Research.

Checking out the Weird

From the Maryland Committee for Psychical Research, experts Ron and Nancy Stallings, Kevin Mack, Sarah Estep and medium Cathy Bradford, of New York, joined to investigate the many sightings at Point Lookout. Advising the group was Hans Holzer, a professor at the New York Institute of Technology who has written 60 books on the paranormal and who produced the 1976-'77 NBC series In Search Of.

Nancy Stallings claimed to possess highly developed psychic skills. Typically, ghosts ran to not from her. While the ghosts were trying to get their messages across to Nancy, Ron would snap their pictures. One of the many photos Ron took at the lighthouse showed what appeared to be a headless man in a Confederate uniform leaning against the wall in the green front bedroom. The camera had seen him, but none of the people there at the time had.

Seeing that photo might be believing, but it's not on public view at the New York Institute of Technology, where it and all the records of that first session are archived. Among them are specters of a triangular kite shape that, like the headless soldier, are not visible to human eyes but appear in developed pictures.

Holzer, too, was tormented by intense psychic impressions in several rooms of the lighthouse. He could feel "pain and suffering" emanating from a small bedroom on the second floor. Laura Berg later told him that it had been a room that stank at night. "That place is as haunted as hell," the parapsychologist declared.

The experts left. But the ghosts stayed.

Berg awakened one night to see a circle of six lights over her head. She bolted upright at the odor of smoke coming from the first floor. Running downstairs, she found the heater on fire. The blaze was small and was quickly extinguished. Spirits, she felt, had alerted her to the danger.

Do you doubt them?

Voices of the Dead

Haunted to discover the cause of all they had felt, the experts returned with sophisticated equipment to concentrate on the voices. As they moved from room to room at the lighthouse and around the park, they recorded five minutes of voices.

They were jubilant. The voices varied: male and female, young and old. Twice the voices sang, twice they cursed. Some called for help. Another said, "I was in the water." One voice, that of a young boy, asked "can I play?" A voice of an old man called "get off that pier." A lady said, "let us take no objection to what they are doing."

Near the Civil War hospital a voice said "bad shape."

At the old roadbed, where the prisoners were marched from the steamboats to the prison, a male voice ordered, "fire if they get too close to you."

Two unexplained sounds also turned up on a recording. In the picnic area, a blast from a steam whistle. Inside the south basement of the lighthouse, a shutter rattling in the wind. There was no wind that day, and the shutters had been removed many years earlier.

Mack says two types of paranormal images can be recorded and photographed. First are voices of entities actively haunting a premise. Second are those that are not actively haunting but are simply impressions from the past, usually an emotionally charged event that repeats over and over again.

Those, he says, are the two types of voices on the Point Lookout tapes. If Mack is right, from massacred Indians, shipwrecked sailors and captive soldiers, there's plenty of ghostly raw material at Point Lookout.

Things That Go Bump in the Night

We left the lighthouse less haunted than the parapsychologists to make our way across the causeway toward the campground where even worse had happened.

During the Civil War, hundreds of soldiers suffered and died from smallpox in an isolated hospital near the north end of the present causeway. Where the hospital once stood, haunted campsites give many an unsuspecting or over-brave camper the willies.

Desperate prisoners, history records, tried to fake the disease to be moved to the hospital. From there they could attempt escape along a route that is still traveled today.

In our own time, park ranger Don Hammett says he has seen the evidence in "the form of a man running toward the woods always at the same section of the road, at full speed using long strides.

"My first thought was I was seeing a trespasser flee," Hammett said. "But I could not find any evidence of human or animal crossing. The site of the crossing is near, but not in, the original area of the Confederate soldier cemetery. If a man had been running in the same direction during the Civil War," Hammett continues, "he would have been running in a way that took him away from the smallpox hospital."

As we entered the campground's D loop, dead calm filled the air and the hair on the back of our necks prickled. We bravely passed campsites 137 and 139, site of the original hospital.

We didn't meet any camping ghosts, but many have.

Donald Godman had camped at Point Lookout with his family for years. In 1992, at age 16, he was walking late at night with a friend. On the road, a tall, straight figure walked toward them. As the image came closer, he noticed its gray appearance. "I couldn't understand why I couldn't see a face. The image came closer and closer until he was about 10 feet away," said Godman. "I felt like I was in his way but couldn't move or speak. But why? What was wrong with me? Why weren't my eyes clear?

"Finally we were face to face," said Godman. "All I saw was a gray image. He turned, lunging upward a bit and walked in front of me and into a gravel pile and disappeared. Later, as I ran the image over and over in my mind, I recalled I never saw his feet."

Assistant park manager April Havens recalls her own campground story. She was working the midnight foot patrol. At 3am, a deep low lying fog hung in the night air and the smell of campfires lingered. "I'd walked around the Hoffman camping loop hundreds of times and had never seen anything," she said. "Suddenly I felt a chill in the air as I passed site 145. I felt as if someone was following me. I heard a noise behind me and saw a row of white square shaped tents in the middle of the road. I ran for the camp office and quickly shut the door. I'm now a believer."

Called from the Other Side

From the campgrounds, we headed toward historic Fort Lincoln, our blood pumping with stories of torture, murder and despair. We just knew we'd see something; We could almost smell it this time.

Just like our animal friends?

Is it true animals can perceive things humans can't? Bruce Wilkins, assistant park manager in the 1980s, asked himself that very question after his encounter.

Wilkins lived in the cottage just north of the fort. When he was not at home, his dog was. But from this house, his dog displayed a compelling need to escape. The dog would jump through one plate glass window after another until the windows had to be replaced with Plexiglas. Even so, Wilkins returned home one day to find the dog had jumped through a closed second-story window, landed on the porch roof, jumped onto a parked car below and dropped to the ground.

Our own hackles raised, we found ourselves on the bridge over the moat, peering down - much as Union soldiers must have looked down on thousands of starving, freezing, lice-infested prisoners in the flat swampy camp below. Recalling stories of horrible suffering and death, we hoped for a glimpse of a wandering soul, but saw only soggy terrain.

Try as we might, the doomed never appeared to us. But Lynda Andrus of Southern Maryland Investigations wasn't disappointed.

"I felt as if I was being pushed along the bridge. Like someone was on my heels hurrying me along. While standing in the area that would have been inside the camp itself, I smelled coffee, strong coffee," she said.

Andrus had learned about the weird voices and other hauntings at Point Lookout from a friend who worked at the Chesapeake Bay Test Range. Intrigued, she and partner Lori Mellott sought permission to check out the site.

"They made us the official ghostbusters of Point Lookout," said Andrus. "It's been one of the most active sites I've ever been to."

In 1985, at her first visit to the lighthouse, Andrus conducted a seance. Her first impression was of an entity named Nathan, followed by a feeling of a strong male presence. All eight people at the seance also felt this presence. Andrus had received no specific information about the paranormal activity there. Yet, as she later discovered, psychic Nancy Stallings had been in contact with the same entity on a visit five years earlier.

Andrus and Mellott believe in many types of ghosts. Atmospheric ghosts, they say, seem to be psychic energy that has been imprinted on a particular area and can only be picked up by certain people and sometimes tape recorders and cameras. These ghosts seem to explain some of the voices recorded at Point Lookout by different investigators.

Traditional or historic ghosts are associated with historic houses or buildings. Here the theory is that certain materials and conditions can retain influence from the past. Somehow brick and stone can record traumatic events.

A third species, crisis ghosts, are messengers of intending disaster.

Anthropologist and director of St. Clements Island Museum Mike Humphries agrees. Whether you call them apparitions, ghosts, spirits, hoaxes - whatever you want to call them - he has tales of beings that will rattle your moorings.

"Spirits seem to have a poor sense of direction, which seems to explain why they wander about searching," said Humphries. "That's why in colonial days they used to hang people at crossroads: so a spirit couldn't follow you home."

Back in 1986, Humphries was looking for the entrance to the graveyard when he got lost in the woods. He recorded the experience on tape. On it, a voice can, he says, be heard saying, "to the right, to the right." Humphries was glad that ghost knew his way around.

"Point Lookout seems evil, just unsettled," explained Humphries.

About the same time Humphries met his well-directed ghost, Andrus and Mellott brought in their own cassette recorders and cameras. Andrus tallied words she could recognize. "In my investigations," she said, "I found the word 'hey' appears 23 times at the lighthouse. Forty-five percent of the voices recorded at Point Lookout were female. 'Help me' and 'I can protect you' come from other park locations."

Until We Meet Again

Evening was nigh. Our guide was at the end of her shift with still no ghosts. As we headed back to the Visitors Center, the glistening waves of the Chesapeake and its shores to our right, we could only pray for a sighting such as appeared in 1862, documented in the pages of The Hammond Gazette, a newspaper published by the Hammond Hospital during the Civil War.

"Those that were so fortunate to be on the Bay Shore on Sunday afternoon witnessed a beautiful mirage, which is rarely seen in this latitude. The islands off the coast of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, which are 25-miles distant from Point Lookout, were distinctly seen in an inverted position. Ships, schooners and steamers were also seen high in the air likewise inverted. The phenomena will be long remembered by those who witnessed it."

Twilight softened our surroundings as darkness waited patiently to envelop Point Lookout for another night.

This haunted peninsula has made its mark on us. We learned that you need not come face to face with the past to be held its captive. The tragic history of this place reaches into the present in different ways. It doesn't take a ghost to make the connection - or to make a believer.

pIf the supernatural is calling you, try for stand-by tickets for the Annual Ghostwalk, 7-10pm on Friday and Saturday nights October 27 and 28. Complete with costumed actors, this walking tour is full of haunted happenings: 301/872-5688. Then on Saturday, November 4, Point Lookout Lighthouse opens its haunted doors from 12-4pm.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly