Friday, August 30, 2013

The Ghosts of Point Lookout Part l

“Death opens unknown doors.”
                                --John Masefield

Point Lookout has made more than one witness a believer in the paranormal. 

Today, Point Lookout is a Maryland State Park. It is located on a gloomy isolated peninsula that looks out on the Chesapeake Bay to the east and the Potomac River to the west. 

This patch of ground has seen over 350 years of human suffering. It is here that people were massacred, imprisoned, shot, tortured, and starved to death. Add to these tragedies shipwrecks, fire, famine, disease, and war, and it is no wonder this peninsula is considered very haunted.

For thousands of years, the native Yaocominco Indians lived in this area. The first Europeans colonized the area in 1612. In 1648, the local natives massacred many of these early settlers. 

This settlement, established in 1630, was called St. Mary City and became Maryland’s capital. Catholics seeking religion freedom initially populated this area. However, later Protestants moving in turned against the Catholics--eventually banning the Catholic mass. The original families were then driven out of the area, and the capital was moved to Annapolis.

So many shipwrecks occurred that in 1827 Congress ordered a small beacon light built on the peninsula’s point. Seamen also drowned off the Point, its beaches becoming makeshift graves. 

This lighthouse’s history and hauntings will be discussed in Part ll of this post. 

The early history of Washington D.C.’s is tied to Point Lookout. In the early 19th century the point became a popular tourist destination. Hundreds visited and stayed in its beach cottages in the summertime. 

For the Washington elite who came to escape the heat, they stayed in an elegant resort hotel called the Fenwick Inn. This inn tragically caught fire and burned down in 1878.

During the War of 1812 is when Point Lookout earned its name. The peninsula was used to spot British Ships.

During the Civil War, Point Lookout experienced the most human suffering. At this time there was a Union hospital located on the Point called Hammond. Today its buildings shaped like a spoke of a wheel are long gone. 

For every one soldier that died here because of war wounds, another two or more died of diseases, such as, dysentery, smallpox, typhoid fever, and Malaria. It is stated the casualty toll rose from 200,000 to 600,000 because of these illnesses. This hospital closed in 1864. 

Before the war, this the peninsula was used as a refuge for runaway slaves.

Point Lookout also housed the largest Confederate prisoner of war camp. Camp Hoffman was built initially for 10,000 prisoners but it is said 50,000 plus soldiers were actually kept here. 

They were placed in open air tattered tents--left to mosquito infestations in the summer and the freezing cold of winter. An imaginary line or trench surrounded this 24 acre camp with the orders that if any prisoners crossed this line, they were to be shot. Many were shot. But the camp’s isolation made escape virtually impossible.

The Confederate prisoners at this camp called it “ Lee’s Miserables.”  They were packed in like sardines. Starvation and disease ran rampant through the area. So many prisoners died--an estimated 4,000-- they were initially all buried in a mass grave. 

Later these bodies were disturbed when they were placed in the “Confederate Cemetery” on the peninsula. 

Today, many witnesses as they drive past this cemetery are startled to see a still, silent Confederate soldier sitting in the backseat of their cars.

A smallpox outbreak on the Point forced the Federalists to establish a separate area for infectious disease. It is in this area that another frequent ghost sighting occurs. 

A man is seen wearing Civil War era clothing moving across the road at dusk away from where the smallpox unit was located. This gaunt ghost is seen moving very quickly--almost leaping.

Witnesses state he reeks of a distinct odor of mildew and gunpowder. His clothes are homespun and ragged. 

Most feel he is a Confederate prisoner who feigned illness, hoping to escape. But his plan appears not to have succeeded for he is repeatedly seen crossing this road. He is not aware of the people who see him, so this haunting is probably residual in nature.

Photo: Dolores Monet
Yet another ghost that has been seen many times is that of an elderly woman. This woman is known to have conversations with the living. She is always seen looking for something. 

In 1977, Donnie Hammett a ranger on the island reported an encounter with this female ghost. It was early spring, and there were not many people visiting the island yet. Hammett was working on the Potomac River side of the peninsula.

He spotted an elderly woman looking for something near the beach. Hammett approached her and asked if she needed help. Immediately he noticed his presence seemed to annoy her. 

She told him gruffly that she was looking for a gravestone. He said to her that the nearby Taylor Cemetery had all but disappeared--swallowed up by nature. She shrugged her shoulders and walked on. 

When Hammett left shortly after this, he was surprised to see that his car was the only one in the parking lot. Later, he discovered that many others had seen this female ghost. She is spotted always looking for her own grave. 

Hammett has also seen the residual leaping ghost mentioned above.

EVP’s picked recorded the peninsula include-- the sounds of an Indian massacre, shipwrecked seaman shouting and the sounds of captive soldiers. 

Campers, including rangers on the peninsula, have seen a variety of ghosts in the woods at night. One witness, a Civil War re-enactor, bent down to pick up something when he heard glass shatter and a bullet whiz by his head. When he inspected the area, the windowpane was intact, and there was no sign of a bullet.

In my next post entitled, The Ghosts of Point Lookout Part ll I share information about the haunted lighthouse on this peninsula. It, by far, is the most haunted spot on the Point.

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