By Dorcas Coleman
A figure appears ahead of you on the edge of a clearing. It is of a man,
bearded, ragged and gaunt. As he draws nearer, you can see that his cheeks are
sunken and eyes hollowed, giving the impression they might rattle around in his
head like marbles in a box. His clothes – what's left of them – appear to be
homespun, of wool, too heavy to be the type normally worn on a warm late summer
day. He wears boots, dusty, the leather cracked, and his gait is loose, as if he
has been walking for a long time. A canteen is slung across his shoulder. A belt
that would normally sit at the waist hangs precariously from sharply angled hips.
You find yourself staring and expect to make eye contact as he passes, but he
continues to look straight ahead, seemingly oblivious to your presence. As he
passes, you catch a whiff of a musty, humus-like scent intermingled with gunpowder.
Though unfriendly, you are impressed by the accuracy and intensity of what you
assume to be a historical reenactor. A few steps later, you turn to take another
look but he's gone… vanished. You stop and listen but there is no sound, other
than the twittering of birds in the trees and your own breath. There is no one
there. You feel the blood rush out of your head and your heart starts to race.
You think you may have seen a ghost...
If you're in Point Lookout State Park, chances are you have.
Whether you believe in ghosts, apparitions and poltergeists or not, the fact
that Maryland's public lands have experienced more than their fair share of tragedy
and unexplained phenomena is undisputable. And Point Lookout State Park, located
at the southernmost tip of Maryland's western shore, undoubtedly has the most
grisly history of any of the state's parks.
Spectacularly lovely, Point Lookout sits on a peninsula at the confluence of the
Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay. Today its completely serene panorama
consists of lovely stretches of beach and dense stands of loblolly pine. But this
was not always the case. While it seems hard to believe today, Point Lookout State
Park was once the site of the Civil War's largest prison camp.
The tolls of war
Point Lookout began as part of St. Michael's Manor, one of three manors owned by
Leonard Calvert, the first Governor of the Maryland colony. In the 200 years
leading up to the Civil War, it became a popular summer resort, complete with beach
cottages, a large wharf and a lighthouse. With the advent of the war, people's
attentions turned away from recreation and the area's summer resort owners began to
The U.S. Government, needing a hospital to house casualties of the Northern
armies, leased the Point Lookout resort; Hammond General Hospital was built and
received its first Union Army patients on August 17, 1862. Early in 1863, the
authorities ordered a small number of Confederate prisoners confined to the
hospital grounds, most being Southern Marylanders accused of helping the
Confederacy. Not long after the Battle of Gettysburg, the federal government
expanded the hospital's grounds and built a prison camp for Confederate soldiers.
Point Lookout was close to the battlefields yet isolated enough to make escape
difficult. The site became officially known as Camp Hoffman, a rebel camp capable
of holding 10,000 prisoners of war. Three forts were erected to protect the
prison, one of which -- Fort Lincoln -- still remains.
As the war progressed, additional prisoners were assigned to Camp Hoffman: In
September 1863, 4,000 Confederates were being held at the camp; by December, the
number had more than doubled to 9,000. By the following June, less than one year
after the camp, more than 20,000 prisoners crowded the camp.
Point Lookout was used mainly for enlisted men; most officers were sent to Fort
Delaware. During the prison's operation, filth prevailed and wells became
contaminated. Men literally froze to death in Sibley tents -- rudimentary
structures offering little protection from the elements -- with but one blanket
apiece and very little wood. With money scarce and boredom plentiful, the
prisoners learned to occupy themselves making trinkets and many other useful
articles out of various materials that were subsequently used for bartering
At the end of the Civil War in April 1865, federal officials began transferring
the Confederates south; by late June the last prisoners were gone. In just under
two years, out of 52,264 Confederates imprisoned at Point Lookout, between 3,000
and 8,000 men died.
Today, two monuments honor the memory of the prisoners who died there. The
first was built by the State of Maryland and dedicated in 1876. The U.S.
Government followed suit, erecting the second monument in the early 1900s. In
1965, 100 years following the end of the Civil War, the Maryland State Forest &
Park Service began development of Point Lookout State Park. Today the park
comprises 1,064 acres.
Let there be light
One of the most well known and reputedly haunted sites at the park, the Point
Lookout Lighthouse, still stands. No longer in use, the lighthouse first came into
existence in 1830 as a one-and-a-half story wooden and masonry building. In 1883
another story was added to house two keepers and their families, allowing the
arduous duties involved in lighthouse keeping to be shared.
Keepers of previous generations did not enjoy the advantages of automatic alarm
systems to alert them if the light went out, or mechanical means for ringing the
fog bells. If weather was foggy for a week, the bell had to sound constantly, so
the whole family had to take turns ringing.
Point Lookout's lighthouse was active for more than 135 years until the Navy
purchased it in 1965, after which an automated light was placed offshore. It
remained tenanted until 1981.
Who goes there?
Over the decades, there have been numerous reports of paranormal experiences
within Point Lookout State Park, but none more so than in the lighthouse itself.
These reports eventually reached the ears of the internationally-renowned
parapsychologist, Dr. Hans Holzer, along with his team of paranormal psychologists,
was the first to investigate the lighthouse some 20 years ago. To this day it
remains the only Chesapeake Bay lighthouse to have earned such esteemed scrutiny.
Holzer's team successfully recorded 24 different voices in the building, both
male and female voices singing and talking, often using quite colorful language.
One comment, "Fire if they get too close to you," was thought to reference the
great number of Confederate soldiers imprisoned nearby. A female voice, recorded
on the tower staircase and believed to be that of Ann Davis, wife of the first
keeper, spoke of "my home." Yet another voice said, "Let us not take objection to
what they are doing."
Lighthouse visitors, including Dr. Holzer's team, have experienced very chilly
air in parts of the building, along with a rotten smell emanating from one
particular room. Oddly, as soon as Dr. Holzer made public his belief that the
smell was from the tormented spirits of people held there against their will --
those falsely accused of spying or having Confederate sympathies -- the smell
In addition to unusual sounds and smells, many spectral visions have also been
reported, such as that of Ann Davis, standing at the top of the stairs in a white
blouse and long blue skirt.
Several unexplained images have appeared in photographs, the most well known
being that of "The Ghost of Point Lookout," taken during a séance in the lighthouse
in the late 70s. In the photograph, Laura Berg, a former lighthouse resident,
stands in the center holding a candle. To her left, the foggy form of a man in
soldier garb - weapon, sash, one leg casually crossed over the other - appears to
be leaning into the wall. Interestingly, this image was not noticed by those
attending the séance; it was seen only later, in the photo.
Need more evidence? Consider the following tales related by Ranger Donnie
Hammett, longtime manager of Point Lookout State Park, as he personally experienced
An initial encounter
The incident I am about to relate occurred on an unseasonably warm day in early
March of 1977. I had been a park ranger at Point Lookout for only two months.
Although mine was a new job, Point Lookout was not new to me; I had lived my
lifetime of 25 years in the Point Lookout area.
I was working the evening shift. It was a weekday and despite the beautiful,
warm weather there were few park visitors.
At about 4:30 p.m., I was on the Potomac River beachfront gathering and
recording weather data when I noticed an elderly woman standing about 40 yards from
me. She caught my attention because she was strangely shuffling along, looking
toward her feet. She appeared to be desperately looking for something she had lost
in the grass.
After I had watched her for about five minutes, I walked over to offer my
assistance. My first thought was that perhaps she had lost her keys. She seemed
very distant and our conversation was very brief. I only remember three points she
made: she did not need my assistance, she lived up the beach "a ways," and she
asked if I knew where the gravestones were that used to be where we were standing.
I remember that for some reason I felt I was imposing on the woman and not
wanting to be an imposition, I left to walk 300 yards east to the Chesapeake Bay
shore to record more data. About five minutes later, while I was walking back to
my truck which I had left parked near the River, I noticed that the woman had
disappeared. It was then that I realized the adjacent parking lot was empty.
Furthermore, from my vantage point since our conversation, I would have had to have
seen any cars entering or leaving the area. None had. I did not conduct a search
for the woman though I often wish I had done so.
A few hours later, I asked then park manager, Gerry Sword, if he knew anything
about a graveyard near the Potomac River picnic area. He wanted to know why I was
asking, so I told him about my odd encounter with the old woman. After Mr. Sword
heard my story, he told me that there had once been a graveyard somewhere near
where the mysterious lady had been wandering. It was the Taylor family graveyard.
It's exact location is no longer known but its former existence is well documented.
Records show that one of the individuals buried in the lost graveyard is Elizabeth
Taylor. Evidently someone had come across the missing burial site and stolen her
headstone. Elizabeth Taylor's grave marker was found in a local hotel by a Point
Lookout park ranger.
Some years later my mother, Regina Hammett, and I went to the site where I had
talked to the old woman. We searched for signs of a graveyard using metal rods to
probe down through the sand. Within minutes we located a rectangular, rocklike
form under about a foot of sand. Soon we located several other possible
gravestones laid out in regular rows as one would expect. However when we dug up a
couple of these objects, we discovered they were concrete foundations of an 1860s
Civil War warehouse. The Taylor family cemetery has never been found.
Could the strange woman have been the deceased Elizabeth Taylor searching for
the rest of her family?
On several occasions, I have witnessed a man running across the road through
Point Lookout. The sightings always took place during the day, on the same section
of road, and the man always crossed the road just after my truck had passed,
causing me to view him in my rearview mirror. The man was always crossing in the
same direction. Other rangers have experienced the same phenomenon while passing
in other vehicles at different times of the day and different times of the year.
The first time I saw the man I immediately returned to the crossing site. The
man was running, using long strides. He first appeared at the edge of the road
adjacent to one of the Point Lookout camping areas. He crossed the road and dashed
into the woods on the other side, leaving park property. My first thought was that
he was a trespasser fleeing the area. I examined the area but was unable to find
any type of path on either side of the road or any evidence of human or animal
crossing. I did not get a good enough look at the intruder to identify him or
describe his attire.
The site of the man's crossing is very near but not in the original Confederate
soldier cemetery... used to bury prisoners who had died of smallpox at the nearby
smallpox hospital where sick Confederates were held. Had the man been making the
same trek during the Civil War, he would have been running in a route taking him
directly away from the smallpox hospital.
Reportedly, Confederate prisoners would trick their Union guards into sending
them to the hospital and then would attempt an escape through the same woods from
which I had seen the man flee. Could the figure have been the spirit of a
Confederate prisoner who escaped from the smallpox hospital, only to die in the
nearby woods, having himself been infected with the deadly disease as often
Power outages are not at all unusual at Point Lookout. Being located on a
peninsula, electricity can only be brought in from one direction. If those lines
are interrupted, the Point is left in darkness. Because of this, Point Lookout
residents always keep candles and matches available.
One dark and stormy night when the power was out on the Point, Gerry Sword
experienced something we have yet to explain.
According to Mr. Sword, he lit three identical candles in a candelabrum in the
living room. Mr. Sword left the candelabra for a short time to go to the kitchen
to fix dinner. A few minutes later he heard a loud sound come from the room where
he had left the candelabra unattended. Being alone in the house, he immediately
went to investigate the disturbance. The candelabrum was as he had left it only
now there was a marked difference in the size of the candles. One had only burned
about an inch, the second had burned nearly four inches. But it was the third
candle that is hardest to explain: only about an inch of this candle remained
however a section of the candle rested on the floor nearby. Apparently, somehow
the candle had been broken. The wick on the length of candle lying on the floor
had been lit, but now was extinguished. Inexplicably, the small piece of candle in
the candelabra was aflame.
A sixth sense
It is said that dogs can perceive things humans cannot. They can hear things
the human ear can't and their superior sense of smell is well known. Perhaps dogs
have other senses completely alien to us, senses we could not understand.
Later Mr. Sword moved to a property located adjacent to an old Civil War road
that ran the length of Point Lookout. On several occasions, Mr. Sword's German
Shepard seemed to ‘see' someone or something traveling on the old Civil War road.
Sometimes the dog would sit and watch the invisible traffic go by for lengthy
periods of time. Other times the dog would bark and lunge against its chain, as if
trying to get at an intruder walking down the road – though none was ever seen.
More eerie tales
Following is a series of encounters experienced and told by Laura Berg, former
resident of the Lookout Lighthouse.
Just passing through
Before moving into the lighthouse, Ms. Berg learned of the strange things that
happened to the former park manager, Gerry Sword, during the time he lived there.
Mr. Sword frequently heard snoring in the kitchen. At times he would hear voices
outside of the back of the house but when he checked, there was no one there. Then
he would hear voices in the front yard and again upon checking, there was no one to
be found. This happened frequently. One evening he actually saw figures of men
going through the house! Ms. Berg also learned that numerous fishermen throughout
the years had heard calls for help on the water only to discover that there was no
one to be found.
In the company of strangers
The first night Ms. Berg spent in the lighthouse, she was awakened to the sound
of heavy or old-fashioned boots walking up and down the hall. She also relayed
that one of the rooms had a very bad odor at night. Some mornings she heard a
female voice at the top of the stairs singing. She never could tell what song it
was but it seemed to be a very happy one. Sometimes she heard the sound of men
laughing and talking in the south-side living room and whenever she checked for
intruders, she never found anyone. She only actually saw something one time... two
figures in the basement. They were transparent and Ms. Berg couldn't tell if they
were male or female.
Coming to call
Ms. Berg enjoyed family and friends visiting her in the lighthouse. Several of
them had strange experiences. One time when her parents were visiting her from
Baltimore, her mother was awakened in the middle of the night by someone calling
her name – Helen.
Another friend who was visiting her went into the living room alone and saw a
woman in a blue dress. Thinking it was another guest, she went to ask Ms. Berg who
it was. Both of them returned to the living room but no one was there.
A guardian angel?
Ms. Berg's most vivid memory was being awakened one night and seeing an unusual
series of six lights. She thought it might have been a reflection from a boat or a
car but when she looked out, all was dark. As she became more awake, she suddenly
smelled smoke. She jumped up and raced downstairs and found her space heater on
fire. She was able to put the fire out but the entire wire was burnt, as was the
wall socket. She realized that if she hadn't been awoken by the lights, the whole
house could have burned, with her in it. She felt like someone was looking out for
her and that she was safe.
Through the time that Laura Berg spent in the lighthouse she had many strange
experiences but she never felt threatened.
These are only a few of the many unexplained phenomena people have experienced
while visiting the park. Still not convinced? Perhaps a personal visit is in
- This story by Dorcas Coleman originally appeared in the Fall 2001 issue of The Natural Resource Magazine It has been resurrected for Halloween 2016.