Saturday, March 5, 2011

Point Lookout Park

Point Lookout - Civil War POW Camp
image from Southern Maryland On Line

Point Lookout is a Maryland state park at the southern tip of St. Mary's County, resting on a peninsula formed by the confluence of Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River. It began as part of St. Michael's Manor, one of three manors owned by Leonard Calvert, the first Governor of the Maryland colony. The site also features an old lighthouse; hence its name.

The peaceful park has a not-so-peaceful past. Native Americans raided its early settlers, the Redcoats and Colonials had several skirmishes there, and it was a hospital and huge POW camp during the Civil War.

It housed over 50,000 reb prisoners over the span of the war's duration, sometimes holding 20,000 prisoners at a time in a fifty acre tent city. There are large, mainly Civil War era grave sites, some of which are now underwater. It's also been the scene of many shipwrecks over the centuries.

There are Confederate spooks galore. One had its picture taken in 1970 during a seance in the lighthouse, casually leaning against the wall sporting a sash and sword. Another has been spotted running across the road from the old infirmary site, reliving his escape attempt.

Visitors report apparitions of gray-suited soldiers that suddenly appear in front of their vehicles and then disappear. Some have seen a southern soldier sitting in the back seat of their car, disappearing when they passed the Confederate cemetery near the park entrance.

Tourists have noted ghostly sightings throughout the park. One road apparently has a legion of troops marching on it; no one has ever seen them, but dogs will stop and growl, hackles up, quite often when by the lane. A general officer is said to haunt the fort proper; his faint voice is often heard and sometimes his shadowy figure has been seen. There are also the obligatory orb pictures.

One famous tale recounts an old lady trudging by the picnic area by the shore, looking lost. A bypasser saw her and asked if she needed any help; he thought she may have dropped something. She replied no, but did the man know where the Taylor Cemetery might be? He didn't.

The Good Samaritan mentioned his encounter to a park ranger in passing, and found out that the Taylor Family Cemetery (the Taylor's owned the property that the lighthouse was built on) had been near where the lady was seen, though it's exact location has been lost to the mists of time.

Some snooping found that one of the folks buried in the now gone graveyard was Elizabeth Taylor. Over the years, someone had stolen her headstone; the grave marker was later found in a local hotel by a Point Lookout ranger. It's thought by some that Elizabeth won't find her final rest until the stone is replaced over her remains. Others believe she's looking for the graves of her children.

But there's no question that the park's spook central is the Point Lookout Lighthouse. It was built in 1830 and expanded in 1883 to allow room for a second lightkeeper and the families. The lighthouse was manned and functioning until the Navy purchased it in 1965, and an automated light tower was placed offshore. Its final keeper left the structure in 1981.

It still stands, and is unlocked for the public occasionally by special request or for its annual open house. (The building is being rehabbed, so it may become more accessible in the near future.) Not surprisingly, much of the unexplained paranormal activity happened after the lighthouse was decommissioned by the Navy, although there were several tales passed on by the lighthouse tenders.

There are lots of reports of the usual ghostly phenomena. They include snoring in the kitchen, voices heard both inside and outside of the lighthouse, cold spots, pungent odors, footsteps, orbs, glimpses of ghostly forms, the sounds of happy singing coming from the stairwell and conversations being held in empty rooms.

Famed ghost hunter Dr. Hans Holzer checked out the place in the eighties. He and his team recorded 24 different voices in the building, both male and female, taped saying things like "Fire if they get too close to you," apparently by an old Union guard suspecting rebel skulduggery, and "Let us not take objection to what they are doing," which must have lessened some of the angst felt by the investigators poking into the realm of the undead.

One voice was believed to be that of Ann Davis, wife of the first keeper, who said "this is my home." Her spirit is said to have been seen standing at the top of the stairs in a white blouse and long blue skirt. And she's far from the only apparition to call the lighthouse home.

Beside Ms. Davis and the Confederate dandy, two transparent figures were sighted in the basement. The ghostly figure of a young man peeking into the lighthouse window has been spotted. The spirit of a silver-haired woman in a gray dress identified as "Rue" has been reported in the attic and on the grounds.

This final tale is the most eerie. A park ranger that lived in the lighthouse (its current use) heard pounding on his door during a severe storm. He opened the door and a man floated inside before disappearing. He shared his weird encounter with the other park rangers, and a little investigating began.

It didn't take long to figure out what happened. An 1878 newspaper article noted that a body had washed ashore after the steamer Express capsized. The crewman matched the ranger's description to a tee. He was Second Mate J. Heaney, who was buried on the beach near the spot where his body was discovered.

He's become a harbinger of sorts. Heaney is said to sometimes appear on the beach in a soaked uniform before a major storm hits the area.

Do the rangers buy into the spooked out stories? It's reported that they at least keep track of the park's strange sightings and reports, and conduct a ghost tour each October. After all, they're never exactly sure who - or what - they'll bump into at Point Lookout Park.

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