But lo! there surges forth a shriek,
From hill to hill, from creek to creek-
Maryland! My Maryland!
–from Stanza VII, “Maryland, my Maryland” by James Ryder Randall (1861), state song of Maryland since 1939.
Point Lookout State Park
11175 Point Lookout Road
Where the Potomac River calls to and meets the Chesapeake Bay at a place called Point Lookout, shrieks sometimes rend the quiet night air. The shrieks and cries may come from the throats of the countless men who withered and died in the Union prison camp here or perhaps they are shrieks of terror from the living who have encountered the active spirits who haunt this place. Here in this wild and lonely place, apparitions are frequent accompanied by audible echoes of the past and negative energies of the past are still palpable in the salty breeze from the Chesapeake Bay.
Seemingly squashed between Virginia and Pennsylvania and hemmed in by the Chesapeake Bay, Delaware, and West Virginia, Maryland seems to be more of an afterthought as a state, though it is perhaps one of the more important states in the early history of this country.
In terms of the paranormal landscape, Maryland is also not well regarded, though it could be seen as one of the more haunted states in the South if not the country. From the small villages clustered along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay to the Washington, D.C. suburbs, Baltimore, Annapolis, the battlefield-pocked farmland of Washington County to the mountains of Western Maryland, the state is haunted to its core.
Among its contributions to American paranormal studies are the 1949 exorcism of a young boy in Cottage City (a Washington, D.C. suburb in Prince George’s County) that forms the basis of William Peter Blatty’s novel, The Exorcist; the persistent legend of a goatman-like creature near Beltsville (also near Washington); and numerous macabre near-mythical characters including the killer Patty Cannon, the vengeful slave Big Lizz, the Pig Woman of Cecil County.
Haunted landmarks include the USS Constitution docked in Baltimore Harbor, the Antietam battlefield, the Landon House in Urbana, Governor’s Bridge, the University of Maryland in College Park, and historic and haunted cities such as Ellicott City and Frederick.
Therefore, it is appropriate to begin our Grand Tour of Southern Ghosts on this little spit of land in Maryland.
Point Lookout is the most southern tip of St. Mary’s County, the oldest established county in the state having been established in 1637. The area was first explored by Captain John Smith (yes, the one of Pocahontas fame) in 1608 who noted the abundant fish and game, the fertile soil, and the strategic military importance of this spot.
Over the next couple of centuries settlers here endured attacks from Native Americans and the site’s military importance brought a raid from British forces during the American Revolution. After a number of ships were lost on the shoals just offshore from Point Lookout, the government built a lighthouse in 1830. Despite the warning beacon, some catastrophic shipwrecks still occurred here including the USS Tulip which sank with 47 souls after a boiler explosion, and the tragic breakup of the steamship Express during the Great Gale of 1878 with the loss of 16 souls.
The Civil War brought thousands to this little peninsula with the establishment in 1862 of Hammond General Hospital to care for wounded soldiers. The immense building could house 1,400 patients and consisted of 16 buildings arranged as the spokes in a wheel.
A short distance from the hospital, Camp Hoffman was established the next year to house Confederate prisoners of war. In The Photographic History of the Civil War, the camp is described: “No barracks were erected, but tents were used instead…The prison was the largest in the North, and at times nearly twenty thousand were in confinement…in winter the air was cold and damp, and the ground upon which most men lay was also damp.”
In this rude prison—nearly all prison camps during this war were rude and inhumane—some 3,000 Confederate troops perished from disease and exposure to the elements. With this dark history it’s no wonder that Point Lookout is teeming with activity.
In 1992 on the FOX TV show, Sightings, paranormal investigator Lynda Martin says of Point Lookout: “This has to be one of the places that I’ve investigated, that it’s just the whole area is just full of activity. It’s not just localized to just one building or one spot on the grounds, it includes the whole area. I’ve never come in contact with anything like that before.”
After a 1980 paranormal investigation here involving Hans Holzer, the pioneering paranormal researcher and early ghost hunter, he declared, “that place is haunted as hell!” For decades, reports have been filtering out from Point Lookout from staff and visitors alike regarding paranormal activity here. What makes these reports so interesting and important is the wide variety of experiences and the evidence that has been captured.
Some years ago a reenactor was spending the night in an old guardhouse near Fort Lincoln, one of the earthen forts built to defend the prison stockade. Going out after dark to gather firewood, the man knelt down and heard the distinct sound of a bullet whizzing past his head. A window pane in the guardhouse behind him was struck and shattered. Shaking with fright from his near-death encounter, the reenactor fled the area. Returning the next morning, he was shocked to find that all the window panes were perfectly in place and none had been shattered.
It is perhaps the old lighthouse here that serves best as a beacon for spirits. Various caretakers have lived in the early 19th century structure and many of them have had experiences. It was one of these caretakers living here in the late 1970s who asked paranormal investigators to check out the activity after he had numerous experiences in the building. One evening as the caretaker sat at his kitchen table he was overcome with the sensation of being watched. Walking to the door he saw the visage of a man wearing a floppy hat looking back at him through the window. His curiosity was aroused by the strange visitor and the caretaker opened the door to let him in. The figure turned and walked through the screen that enclosed the porch. The same caretaker regularly reported hearing voices, footsteps, moaning, and snoring throughout the house when he was home alone.
A park ranger reported that he saw a Confederate soldier running across the road near where the camp hospital once stood. Over the years that he served at the park he claimed to have seen the soldier nearly a dozen times. A group of fishermen arriving early one morning reportedly struck a man who suddenly appeared in the road ahead of them. The group exited the vehicle to find no man or damage to the car, though they had all experienced the thump of the man’s body hitting the car. Another park employee on patrol one night turned to see a field of white tents lined up in the middle of the road. She fled without looking back.
In terms of auditory evidence, Sarah Estep, one of the pioneers in the field of EVP or electronic voice phenomena, was a part of the 1980 investigation and captured a number of EVP here. Among the EVPs captured was one saying, “let’s talk,” while another EVP came in response to Estep’s question, “were you a soldier here?” The clear voice of a young man states, “I was seeing the war.” These EVPs were among some 25 captured during this investigation. Others have successfully captured singing, humming, and even the chanting of soldiers on tape when nothing was heard at the time.
From the ominous lighthouse to the spiritual artifacts remaining from the Civil War prison camps, Point Lookout remains one of the most important historical and paranormal landmarks in the South.