by Caitlin Finnerty
October 27, 2011
Look around the Chesapeake Bay watershed this time of year, and you'll find ghost tours all over the place: Annapolis, Gettysburg and Richmond, to name a few.
And why wouldn't there be ghosts here? The Chesapeake region was among the first areas in the United States settled by English colonists. Since that time, the Bay has experienced land-altering and life-taking hurricanes, mysterious shipwrecks, and bloody battles during the nation's early wars.
Just in time for Halloween, we've compiled an eclectic list of hauntings, sightings and purely strange spooks from throughout the Bay watershed. Many of these places would make a perfect outdoor escape this weekend – if you’re brave enough, that is!
1. The most haunted lighthouse in America: The lighthouse at Point Lookout State Park, Maryland
"All of a sudden, the room turned bitter cold - even though the thermometer still read 100 degrees." –Eyewitness encounter at Point Lookout lighthouse
The most consistently haunted feature of Point Lookout is the lighthouse, which was first constructed in 1830. It has been featured on shows such as the Travel Channel’s Weird Travels and TLC's Haunted Lighthouses for paranormal activity ranging from strange odors that come only at night to spirits that have saved the lives of park employees living in the house.
After years of reported sightings, smells and sounds, the famous pioneer paranormal researcher Hans Holzer investigated. He recorded 24 different sounds and voices in and around the lighthouse using electric voice phenomena (EVPs).
One of these voices – heard saying, "This is my home" – is suspected to be Ann Davis, wife of the lighthouse's first keeper. Ann maintained the lighthouse long after her husband died. She has been seen standing at the top of the staircase, wearing a white blouse and blue skirt. But she is far from the only apparition people have experienced at the lighthouse.
The lighthouse is now maintained by the state of Maryland and is open only a few times a year. But if you’re really fearless, you can sign up for a Paranormal Night, when small groups can investigate the lighthouse after dark.
2. Look out for ghosts at Maryland’s Point Lookout State Park
It’s true: Point Lookout is so haunted that it earned two spots on our list of spooky places.
Point Lookout's location – a peninsula between the Chesapeake Bay and the mouth of the Potomac River – made it an ideal watch post for spotting British ships during the War of 1812.
Its isolation from the mainland offered little chance of escape for the 50,000 Confederate prisoners held here during the Civil War.
The prisoners of war lived year-round with nothing but canvas tents to protect themselves from mosquito-infested summers and freezing cold winters.
Between 3,000 and 8,000 men died in the camp and were buried in mass graves – many of which are now underwater.
As if that isn't enough, a Civil War hospital was also on the peninsula and housed wounded soldiers from the Battle of Gettysburg.
One of the most frequently seen ghosts at the park is a man in ragged, homespun Civil War clothing, reeking of mildew and gunpowder, and stumbling away from what was once the camp's quarantined smallpox unit. It's thought that the man feigned illness to escape from prison – but it seems he never did...
Brave enough to visit? The Maryland Department of Natural Resources lists information about Point Lookout's hours, trails, fishing opportunities and more.
3. The eerie ghost with “fire and brimstone eyes”: Harpers Ferry National Park (West Virginia)
Many people on the streets of Harpers Ferry National Historic Park have seen the ghost of abolitionist John Brown. He’s sometimes so realistic that tourists, thinking he is a historic re-enactor, ask him to pose for a photograph with him – only to find later that their camera has not captured him. Those who have seen Brown say they recognize him by “those piercing fire and brimstone eyes that would put the fear of God in anybody he looked at.”
Brown led an uprising at Harpers Ferry in 1859, raiding the armory in the hope of freeing the South (and Brown’s wife and children) one plantation at a time.
But when he heard about Brown’s rebellion, Confederate General Robert E. Lee left for Harpers Ferry so quickly that he didn’t even have time to put on his uniform. Lee and his one hundred troops sent Brown to the gallows; however, his proposed revolution would become a catalyst for the Civil War.
But perhaps a more frightening paranormal experience surrounds one of John Brown's opponents, John Wilkes Booth, who visited Harpers Ferry to witness the his nemesis’s hanging. Booth stayed in a house known as the "Haunted Cottage."
According to an article in the Martinsburg Journal-News, the house has been the site of 12 deaths. Many have witnessed objects disappearing and then re-appearing. The house is now the office of the Harpers Ferry Society for Paranormal Research.
Another haunted spot in Harpers Ferry is St. Peter's Catholic Church, where a priest can be seen walking down the aisle and a wounded Civil War soldier whispers his dying words, "Thank God I'm Saved," as he reaches the church doors.
4. Civil War battlefields: Antietam (Md.), Gettysburg (Pa.), Manassas (Va.) and more
The Chesapeake Bay watershed states were home to the greatest number of battles in the country's early history. Spanning the border of the North and South, the region was particularly hard-hit during the Civil War.
But public access to these locations also means that there are thousands of reports of wandering soldiers, loud booms in the night, broken cameras, and even entire battles being fought in plain view.
In one alleged incident at Little Round Top in Gettysburg, re-enactors working on the film Gettysburg were visited by a man dressed as a Union soldier, who they assumed was also in the movie. He passed them ammunition, which was later discovered to be pristine musket rounds that dated back to the exact time of the famous Civil War battle.
At Antietam – where 23,000 troops were lost during some of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles – a famous creepy spot is Bloody Lane. This old farm road got its nickname after one particularly deadly battle, when thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers were killed and their blood flowed down the road like a river.
Have you visited one of these battlefields? Which one do you think is the most haunted?
5. "Freedom fortress" at Fort Monroe (Hampton, Virginia)
Perhaps paranormal activity is expected at a military base that has been inhabited since 1608. But one would be hard-pressed to find a line-up of big named spirits anywhere else but Fort Monroe.
Reported sightings at the base include a young soldier named Edgar Allen Poe, President Abraham Lincoln, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Chief Black Hawk and Ulysses S. Grant. Other, lesser known personalities have also been spotted, such as a spirit that hates roses, and even something dubbed the "moat monster," rumored to be a relative of Scotland's Loch Ness Monster.
Orbs, lights and temperature changes are other creepy phenomena experienced so often and with such intensity that the U.S. Army has featured a story about "haunted" Fort Monroe on its website.
Sitting at the mouth of the James River and the Chesapeake Bay, the military base was a “freedom fortress” where fugitive slaves took refuge during the Civil War.
Since the fort closed last month, ownership has been turned over to the Commonwealth of Virginia. There has been talk of turning the land into a national park or even a math and science high school. But when new people move in, will the spirits stay?
6. The graveyard of the Atlantic and ghosts of Mallows Bay (Potomac River, Maryland)
Just across the Potomac River from Quantico Marine Base lies the greatest concentration of sunken ships in North America. Mallows Bay is a graveyard of half-submerged steamships, some of them poking out from the water’s surface.
This steamship fleet, which cost the government $1 billion, was intended to be used in World War I. But faulty construction and the war's end rendered the fleet useless.
More than 200 steamship vessels were towed to Mallows Bay on the Potomac River. The ships were packed together so tightly that you could reportedly walk for a mile without touching the water.
Watermen protested; they were certain such a high concentration of “garbage” would affect their livelihoods. Some vessels were burned, but many others were left to sink and rot.
Today, the giant steamships are still there, but now they are home to non-human inhabitants. Great egrets can be found nesting on the decks, while vegetation peeks out from beneath the rust.
Thankfully, the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem has found a way to use these vessels for their benefit. (For proof, check out these great photos from kayakers who ventured through the wreckage.) Perhaps the "haunting" nature of Mallows Bay is not one of humans that have been left behind, but resources that have been ill-disposed and forgotten.
Want to see this ghost fleet for yourself? Explore the old boats by kayak or canoe, which you can launch from the nearest boat ramp.
7. Blackbeard's head haunts Hampton, Virginia
Even when he was alive, people thought Blackbeard was a sort of devil re-incarnate. And it's no wonder: the pirate arranged lit torches in his beard before he ran into battle.
When Blackbeard – real name Captain Edward Teach – moved his operations north, Virginia Governor Spotswood ordered an expedition to capture or kill Blackbeard and his crew.
One big, bad, bloody sea battle later, Blackbeard was killed. The governor demanded that Blackbeard's head be placed on a stake at the entrance to the Hampton River as a warning to other pirates.
According to some Hampton locals, Blackbeard's spirit haunts this area, which is still known today as Blackbeard’s Point.
8. The Bay's vanishing islands: Drowned by a terrifyingly fast sea level rise
Approximately one hundred years ago, Holland Island was a five-mile-long, 300-person fishing community, with more than 60 homes, a church and a doctor.
But then sea level rose – and rose fast. Residents abandoned the island in the 1920s, some of them bringing their homes with them.
Stephen White, a former minister and waterman who first visited Holland Island as a young boy, was inspired to save the island after visiting one of the island's three cemeteries, where he saw a gravestone that read, "Forget me not, is all I ask."
White was taking a photograph of the gravestone when he noticed a ghostly girl standing nearby.
Inspired to honor the gravestone inscription, and not let the world forget about this little girl and her home, White launched a massive campaign to save the island, hoping that a donor or the government would assist him. But they didn’t.
Still, White and his wife made it their personal mission, spending hours distributing sandbags to try and stop erosion along the island’s edges.
But last October, the island's final house fell into the Bay, despite White's best efforts. Today, two of the island's three graveyards are reportedly underwater.
More vanished islands: Captain John Smith first described and mapped Sharps Island, once located at the mouth of the Choptank River. A lighthouse built here in the 1880s is now surrounded by more than 10 feet of water. And that’s not nearly the only one: pick up a copy of The Disappearing Islands of the Chesapeake to learn about the dozens of islands that have vanished beneath the Bay’s waters.
Experts say that Smith and Tangier islands – both still inhabited – may be next. Sea level in the Bay is rising faster than the world average due to a warming climate and natural sinking of the land. In Maryland alone, 260 acres of tidal shoreline erode into the Bay each year, drowning these vulnerable islands under more water and burying any historic artifacts (or graves!) that may remain.
9. Bloody fingers of the not quite dead: White Marsh Episcopal Church graveyard (Trappe, Maryland)
"This is a thin place, where the veil between this world and the next is transparent." - Mindie Buroyne, author of Haunted Eastern Shore: Ghostly Tales from East of the Chesapeake
1665. That is the year the Old White Marsh Episcopal Church in Talbot County, Maryland first opened. In the 1720s, the church’s Reverend Daniel Maynadier’s wife, Hanna, died. Upon her request, she was buried with her favorite ring on her finger. But the graverobbers, or “ringrobbers,” were ready. When they couldn’t get the ring off her finger, they began to slice away…
And Hanna arose.
The Reverend’s wife was not dead, but in a coma She gathered her shroud around her and walked home to greet her grieving husband.
Hanna went on to have several children, but the bloodmarks on her hand would never wash away. Rumor has it that she can still be seen walking home from the cemetery, her shroud around her and her hand leaving a trail of blood.
For more Eastern Shore hauntings, visit some of these scary places listed in Haunted Eastern Shore.
Now it's your turn to scare us! Do you know of a creepy, spooky Chesapeake story or place we didn't include here? Share it in the comments!