Point Lookout, MD – When it comes to haunted places, Southern Maryland can surely boast its share. Here is one of our favorites:
The Haunting of Point Lookout
To set the stage for understanding, there are several things noted paranormal investigator Hans Holzer made reference to in his investigations as to how things that go bump in the night come to manifest in the most remote of places.
Point Lookout—a lonely peninsula on the southernmost region of St. Mary’s County, fit all of Holzer’s criteria, a place where suffering was manifest.
The late St. Mary’s County Historian Edwin Beitzell researched the site where a Union prisoner of war camp for Rebels housed the men in deplorable conditions. He found that more than 3,300 soldiers perished there.
The hardships forced on prisoners were immense. Four men, sleeping in a canvas tent with one blanket between the four of them, on an open expanse where the northwest wind in winter could freeze, and often did, the poor souls huddling against each other for warmth.
Many historians swear that no one ever escaped from Point Lookout, and they are partly correct.
The peninsula was obviously well-chosen for its appointed task. Surrounded by water on three sides, all Union engineers had to do was erect a huge gate on the northern end, with towers housing armed guards above to deter the foolhardy.
James T. Waring was born and raised in Chaptico. Like his friends George Hayden of Red House Farm and the Thomas boys from Deep Falls, Waring had crossed the Potomac River to fight for the Southern cause.
The Southern Maryland men from Charles and St. Mary’s counties who fought in the War Between the States fought under none other than General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
Jackson had praised the men after their antics of charging Union lines at Front Royal in the summer of 1862 turned what appeared to be a Yankee victory into a Rebel rout as the bluecoats fled the field.
At Gettysburg, just as the war’s tide turned against the south, so did the fortunes of the Maryland men. George Hayden was wounded in that three-day campaign, but Waring and others were captured in the fighting and imprisoned literally in their own back yard at Point Lookout.
As bodies heaved in piles waited for extraction, Waring and his friends must have wondered if they would be next. They began to plot escape. At night, when the bodies were stacked on a wagon to be carried beyond prison gates, three men wriggled under the grisly cargo of cadavers.
When the wagon was safely beyond the prison towers, they slid undetected from the cart carrying their fallen comrades and vanished into the woods.
Three days later they showed up looking like wretched skeletons at the door of Kate Hayden of Savona, on the northernmost corner of Chaptico Bay.
Waring knew Kate from childhood and knew as well that she had epilepsy, and thought the Union soldiers wouldn’t shoot her on account of that should her aid to them be discovered.
She took the three men in and nursed them back to health. Certainly during this time, Kate would have told her friend that her brother George had died of his wounds at Gettysburg, that their mother and uncle, Dr. Willie T. Reeves, had traveled from Chaptico in a buckboard wagon to tend to their wounded relative, only to bear his body back to Chaptico from Pennsylvania for burial in that same wagon.
Waring and his friends were able to return to the conflict and lived to see the war’s end.
Kate, however, suffered a horrible fate, suffering a seizure and falling into the huge fireplace at Savona in 1880, burning to death.
Some of the soldiers she helped saw her obituary in The Baltimore Sun and wrote letters to the paper telling of her aid to them when they were most desperate.
To escape Point Lookout Prison was nearly impossible.
Deep river currents waited for anyone who tried and sometimes desperate men would risk the impossible vortex and drown in the effort. Union guards often yelled for prisoners to halt in sharp commands, threatening to shoot them down if they did not obey.
Native Americans believed that spirits do not traverse water. Those spirits down at Point Lookout, Holzer maintained, might be trapped there by the elements themselves as well as the experiences of their own traumatic lives.
Campers at Point Lookout, now a state park, often complain of men running through their campsites before vanishing in thin air.
There was the story of four fishermen who were up all night after bluefish and flounder and decided around 4:30 in the morning to go into Lexington Park to get a cup of coffee. All four piled into the pickup truck and headed off the point. Just before they reached the causeway, a man walked right out in front of the truck. They all saw him as the truck hit him head on. They jammed on their brakes and piled out of the truck, looking to render aid, hoping they hadn’t just killed someone and there was no one there at all.
The most reasonable question to ask is, did they ever go back and get their fishing tackle?
Donnie Hammett was a park ranger at Point Lookout for many years. Hammett was a local boy, a St. Mary’s College of Maryland graduate, and about as common sense, no-nonsense a guy as you would ever want to meet.
One day Ranger Hammett saw an old woman walking on the Potomac River side of the point, her head bowed as if she were looking for something.
He went over and asked if he could help her.
“I’m looking for the graves,” she told him.
Donnie looked at the woman. Her appearance was old looking, her dress somehow old-fashioned. She was garbed in black and wore a veil over her face.
“Ma’am, there aren’t any graves here,” he tried to tell her.
“Oh, they’re here,” she stated emphatically.
To hear Ranger Hammett tell the story, he turned his head away for just a second, perhaps to scratch it, and when he looked back he was standing alone on the beach.
There is merit to the mystery woman’s claims.
There are two monuments at Point Lookout. The first and smaller of the two was erected in 1918 following a horrific hurricane which collapsed part of Point Lookout from the mainland, exposing the mass grave of Southern prisoners buried and forgotten. The unearthed remains were relocated to where the monuments stand today.
That marble obelisk was the first confederate monument erected in the United States following the Civil War.
In 1933, there was another hurricane, this one far more devastating than the 1918 storm.
Late St. Mary’s County Commissioner David Sayre recalled as a young boy looking up and watching the sky turn black before hell broke loose. Part of Sayre’s native St. George’s Island fell into the Potomac River during that hurricane, as again, at Point Lookout, more land separated from the mainland exposing an even larger mass grave than before, thousands of bodies.
The second larger monument commemorates that reburial.
Where Ranger Hammett encountered the mysterious woman on the beach would have been in the general area where the original graves were located.
When I was a student at St. Mary’s College in the early to late 1980s, some of my classmates rented the old lighthouse at Point Lookout.
They told stories of turning out the lights and locking the doors at night only to find the lights on and the doors all unlocked when they awoke next morning.
Hozler and a team of paranormal investigators came to Point Lookout Lighthouse around this same time to investigate rumors of uncanny occurrences.
He came out of the experience declaring the lighthouse “haunted as hell.”
Tape recordings made during their time there revealed more than anyone expected. While investigators were recording they experienced nothing out of the ordinary, but when they played back the tapes they heard voices in the background, “this is my home, this is my home,” and a sharp voice screaming out “Halt! Halt there or I’ll shoot!”
Images of the past repeated unto perpetuity.
A place where troubled spirits find no rest.
That is Point Lookout.
Contact Joseph Norris at firstname.lastname@example.org