by Rachel Felver
October 29, 2021
From the mouth of the Chesapeake in Virginia Beach, Virginia to its terminus in Havre de Grace, Maryland, lighthouses still shine to this day, guiding sailors and watermen alike through Bay waters. But thanks to shipwrecks, wars and pirate attacks, lighthouses around the world are known for their haunted tales as much as their ability to guide vessels to safety. The ones that are scattered throughout the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries are no exception to these ghostly stories. Read on if you dare!
Drum Point Lighthouse
Drum Point Lighthouse now sits on display at the Calvert Marine Museum, but for 79 years, it guided vessels at the mouth of the Patuxent River. During that time, the lighthouse was rammed by a sloop dragging its anchor and a few years later, an ice floe during the winter. It also survived an earthquake and a severe gale that flooded the structure and washed away instruments and sank the lighthouse keeper’s boat. During World War II, the lighthouse was targeted during potential enemy strikes and made to turn off its light most nights to keep safe. With all of this history, its not a surprise that locals now report seeing the apparition of a young brunette woman walk around the lighthouse at its new home and water over the Bay.
Fort Washington Lighthouse
With Fort Washington built on the banks of the Potomac, along the way to Washington, D.C., this bustling portion of the river needed a lighthouse to help guide travelers along the many hazards in the water. Built in 1857, the Fort Washington Lighthouse is still in use today, albeit automated.
As with many other lighthouses, rumors of strange phenomena have plagued Fort Washington for years. A few years ago, an intuitive visited the site to see if she could observe any of these paranormal activities herself. Her records note the presence of two spirits—a male and a female—as soon as she arrived at the lighthouse. The male indicated he was the former Fort caretaker and the woman was identified as a spirit named Ophelia. Subsequent research identified an Ordnance Sergeant Joseph Cameron who had served as the Fort Washington caretaker for 37 years in the 19th century. He resided at the Fort with his wife…Ophelia.
Holland Island Bar Light
Just the mere location of Holland Island Bar Light sends a shiver up one’s spine. Nestled in the Bay across from Point Lookout State Park (home of one of the world’s most haunted lighthouses) and near both Bloodsworth Island—used by the U.S. Navy as a shore bombardment and bombing range—and Holland Island, which is the face of climate change in the Chesapeake, the lighthouse doesn’t need haunted tales to be spooky. But in 1931 it bore witness to one of the strangest unsolved deaths in the region.
A fellow lighthouse keeper manning nearby Solomons Lump Light panicked when he noticed Holland Island Bar Light was not lit. Immediately, the local sheriff and doctor took off for the lighthouse where no one greeted their arrival, and the boat used by Ulman Owens, the lighthouse keeper, was tied up in place. Upon entering the lighthouse, they found the door wide open, the room ransacked and covered in blood, and the body of Owens lying in the middle of the floor, completely naked and next to a butcher’s knife.
But when examined, the doctor could not find any cuts on Owens’ body—so where did all the blood come from? It was eventually determined that he had passed away due to natural causes—a result that didn’t satisfy anyone. To this day, rumors abound that Owens was involved in Prohibition-era rum smuggling or had been killed by a jealous husband, as he was a known womanizer.
In an even stranger tale that also involved Holland Island Bar Light, in 1957 Navy pilots flew in the area with the intention of using a nearby shipwreck for target practice. However, one of the pilots confused the lighthouse with the shipwreck, attacking it and the four lighthouse keepers that were inside. Luckily, the three rockets that hit the lighthouse were not armed with explosives but did greatly damage the structure. The four men were able to escape unharmed and the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1960.
Piney Point Lighthouse
The oldest lighthouse along the Potomac River is also known as the “Lighthouse of the Presidents,” as many vacationed and visited its grounds since it was built in 1836. While no violent or disturbing incidents are known to have taken place at the lighthouse, there have been several reports of paranormal activity over the years. Enough to bring the D.C. Hauntings group out to investigate at the site. Visitors have reported feeling people touch them that they could not see and even hearing speaking when no one else was around.
Former Director of the St. Clements Island Potomac River Museum, Michael Humphries, related a story to the Baltimore Sun in the late 1990s. “I asked out loud if I could move some paint and had a voice tell me to ‘suit yourself’.” He recorded the voice and found out that others at the site had heard it as well. Humphries also relayed that workers had noticed a woman in 1920s-era clothing walking the lighthouse grounds and smoking a cigarette. When they tried to approach her, she disappeared.
Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse
After spending years guarding the entrance to Baltimore Harbor, Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse, built in 1856, was moved to Pier 5 near the National Aquarium in 1997. The lighthouse was still manned by a lighthouse keeper in 1933, when the Atlantic seaboard experienced one the most active hurricane seasons of its time. In August of that year, the Chesapeake-Potomac hurricane slammed into the Mid-Atlantic, carving out the inlet that separates Ocean City and Assateague Island and becoming the barometer for which future hurricanes are now measured by.
Lighthouse Keeper Thomas Steinhice was out in the harbor during the storm, along with his son, Earl. Early in the morning the day the storm hit, Earl was suddenly awoken from a sound sleep, screaming that a cold, icy hand was upon him. At that same time, a distress signal came from below. Earl was convinced that what he felt was a sign that only danger lay ahead should his father try and rescue the ship that sent the call. He did everything in his power to hold him back, but Steinhice braved waves up to 15 feet high to reach five sailors who had fallen out of a tugboat. One of the men did not make it and to this day, Earl firmly believes that the ship engineer who did not survive was the one to have awoken him with the icy hand pleading to save the others aboard.
“I felt that ghostly hand just as plain as could be,” said Earl in an interview years later to The Lighthouse Digest. “I don’t believe in spirits, but sometimes I wonder if it wasn’t the ghost of the dead chief engineer who wanted to warn me that his pals were drowning nearby. It may be something to laugh off, but I can’t quite do that.”
Point Lookout Lighthouse
None of the above lighthouse ghost stories can compare with Point Lookout Lighthouse. Located at the top of southern Maryland, this area is not only known for its paranormal activity but holds the title of the “Most Haunted Lighthouse in America.” It had the unlikely misfortune to be built near a Civil War hospital and prisoner of war camp, where over 4,000 people died.
Author Edwin Warfield Beitzell notes, “The tale of the camp is a horrid story to tell. It is a story of cruel decisions in high places, a story of diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid and typhus, of burning sands and freezing cold in rotten tents. It is a story of senseless shootings by guards. It is story of the death and despair of the 4,000 prisoners, many whom could have been saved.”
Ghost hunters believe that the spirits of these soldiers curse the lighthouse and haunted spirits of all ages, genders and moods have been observed at both the top of the structure and in its basement. In particular, a Civil War-era solider has been spotted patrolling the grounds with a long rifle on this shoulder.
Even outside of the Civil War, the history of the lighthouse is a dark one. The first keeper died after only two months on the job. Then, in October 1878, a steamship sank off Point Lookout Point and a few days later, the body of a mariner washed ashore. The mariner, Joseph Haney, is rumored to haunt the lighthouse to this day. Former lighthouse residents note strange tales such as someone knocking on the door, and when answered, no one was there but puddles of water leading to the Bay. Another claimed to have seen books fly off of bookcases and hear heavy footsteps down the hallway at night. Still others claim to have seen a woman at the top of the lighthouse and have heard the voices of men and women while walking along the grounds. Terrible smells waft out of various rooms and the temperature vastly drops.
Have you visited any of these haunted lighthouses? Tell us about your experience in the comments!