A Haunted Civil War Prison Camp

About half an hour to the south of Wilmington, in Delaware City, lies arguably the best haunt in the area. Actually, the haunted property is not in Delaware City; it is in Delaware City that you catch a ferry that traverses the Delaware River taking you to Fort Delaware located on Pea Patch Island. The 288-acre Fort Delaware State Park is home to Fort Delaware—a fort with a dark and haunted history.

Photo by author.

In 1820, Pea Patch Island was acquired by the government of the United States to be used for military purposes. A large pentagonal fort was commissioned to be built on the island, and construction was complete in 1859. Features of the fort included: sections of walls that reached 32 feet in height; a moat that surrounded the fort, only passable by a single drawbridge; and the fort was outfitted with a dungeon—a dungeon that would see its share of activity in the years that followed its construction.

Pea Patch Island and Fort Delaware. Photo by author.

The fort is most famous for its use a Civil War prison; it was this very activity that has left it haunted by ghosts from the past. During its time as a prison, a cumulative total of nearly 33,000 POWs were incarcerated on the island; at one point, nearly 12,000 men were held at the same time, far outstripping the maximum capacity of the prison by 300%. Conditions were deplorable, and nearly 2,460 prisoners died along with 109 guards and 39 civilians. Despite the number of deaths that occurred, Fort Delaware was one of the more “survivable” Civil War prison camps with a mortality rate of “only” about 7.5%. Conditions were far worse in other prisons. Of the 28 prison camps operated by the Confederacy, the mortality rate among Union POWs was about 15.5%. Rebels imprisoned in the 24 Federal camps suffered mortality rates of about 12%.

The horrors of the Civil War prison have left behind restless spirits, residual hauntings, and all manner of paranormal activity on Pea Patch Island. Ghostly Confederate soldiers have been spotted trying to flee the site; this could be the residual effects of a failed escape attempt. In the dungeon, people report hearing moans and screams along with the sound of clanging chains. Cold spots are reported throughout the fort and apparitions are seen, and photographed, regularly. Orbs are also regularly photographed on the island. There have also been reports of ghostly pirates being spotted on the island. In one account, a state employee claimed to see the apparition of a pirate wearing a silk shirt and silk pants. It is said that before the island became home to a Civil War prison camp, pirates that were captured were held there.

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Haunted Bellevue Hall

I recently visited several interesting places in Delaware. Among these, was Bellevue Hall.

Bellevue Hall and the surrounding land was originally owned by a wealthy merchant named Hanson Robinson. Robinson built a Gothic Revival-styled castle on the property complete with towers that provided a view of the Delaware River. William du Pont (1855–1928) acquired the property in 1893; his son William du Pont, Jr. (1896–1965) inherited the estate after his death. William du Pont, Jr. remodeled the Gothic Revival castle into a replica of James Madison’s Orange, Virginia plantation, Montpelier. Du Pont named his masterpiece Bellevue Hall.

Photo by author.

Today, Bellevue Hall is thought to be haunted by several entities. The second and third floors of the home, both of which are closed to the public, are especially haunted. Staff have reported hearing screams and laughter in the home; the lights in the mansion flicker randomly; chairs and objects move on their own.

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The Haunted Rockwood Mansion

I visited several interesting places in Delaware  recently, one of which was the Rockwood Mansion. The Rockwood Mansion in Wilmington is thought by many to be the most haunted house museum in all of Delaware. A wealthy merchant banker named Joseph Shipley (1795–1867) built the mansion in the 1850s. Shipley’s great nephew Edward Bringhurst Jr. acquired the estate in 1891. The property remained in the family until being gifted to New Castle County in 1973. The mansion underwent a major renovation project and was eventually opened to the public. Located within the 72-acre Rockwood Park, the Gothic Revival mansion was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Rockwood Mansion. Photo by author.

Obviously, there is a long history behind Rockwood, and today it is said to be haunted by several entities—entities who lived in the home while they were alive. One of the spirits haunting the home is that of Mary Bringhurst who is very particular about her room; she does not like for visitors to enter, and it is considered to be the most haunted room in the home. According to psychics who have visited the mansion, there is a strong presence that can be felt in Mary’s bedroom. There are accounts in which people have fallen ill and even passed out upon entering the room. Mary’s presence can also be felt in a room on the main floor that she occupied after becoming too frail to navigate the stairs any longer.

Eddie, the son of Edward Bringhurst Jr., is thought to be another entity that haunts the home. Paranormal activity has been reported coming from Eddie’s bedroom. Laughter and giggling—from a child—has been reported around the stairs.

The ruins of Eddie’s playhouse are still standing on the property; Eddie’s presence has been observed there.

The ruins of Eddie’s playhouse. Photo by author.

There are other ghosts in Rockwood: a man in a red smoking jacket haunts the home; the man has a ghostly canine companion; a woman with a “halo” of cold air wanders around. Then there are the “typical” things that accompany hauntings: there are cold spots throughout the home; of course, there are strange sounds that cannot be explained; sudden smells from nowhere are reported—particularly the smell of lilac. This phenomenon—strange smells without a source—is something I observed firsthand at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado during a paranormal tour. The ballroom, located in a building adjacent to the hotel, inexplicably filled with the smell of perfume while I was there. Thought by many to be the scent of Mrs. Stanley’s perfume, the sudden, ghostly smell is a regular occurrence in the ballroom.

Other phenomena take place at Rockwood that go above and beyond what is often associated with typical hauntings. The most eerie of which is the “Vortex of Souls.” The vortex is a mist that has been spotted above the home. At times, faces are observed inside of the mist.

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The Moon-eyed People

Most of present-day West Virginia was void of permanent Native American settlements when European colonists began their westward push. Why? The area is rich in game and other resources; why not live there?

In 1773, at the behest of Virginia Governor Lord Dunmore, Thomas Bullit travelled to present-day southwestern Ohio to seek permission from the Shawnee to establish settlements in the Can-tuc-kee lands (which included large portions of modern-day West Virginia). Shawnee chief Black Fish was unable to grant permission; he did not feel it was his to give, the land belonged to the ghosts of the Azgen, a tribe of “moon-eyed” people who were murdered by the ancestors of the Shawnee. Because of the ghosts, the Shawnee refused to settle on the land and only used it—respectfully—as hunting grounds.

Who were these moon-eyed people? According to many legends, they were a light-skinned, nocturnal people with large eyes. They had a sensitivity to light and could only see in the dark.

The Cherokee also have legends of moon-eyed people. According to Cherokee legends, the moon-eyes were nocturnal and lived in circular earthen houses. Long ago, as the Cherokee made their southward migration, they encountered the large-eyed white people and waged war against them. Like the Shawnee, the Cherokee also rid the land of these peculiar people.

There is another tradition in which the Creek tribe annihilated a group of moon-eyed people.  According to this legend, the strange people could not see during certain moon phases. The Creek used this to their advantage and attacked the moon-eyes when they were vulnerable.

Who were, or, what were, the moon-eyed people? Some say they were albinos; some claim they were Europeans—possibly descended from Madoc, the Welsh Prince; author Barbara Alice Mann, of Seneca descent, has written that the moon-eyed people were mound-building astronomers who merged with the Cherokee. What we do know, is that a group of people strange to the Native Americans were in present-day West Virginia long ago; they were eventually annihilated. The question then becomes, could the ghosts of the Azgen—the moon-eyed people—play a role in the paranormal in West Virginia?

Feature Image: By TranceMist (Flickr: The Legends of Fort Mountain) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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The Creature from San Miguel Lagoon

In 1971, an unusual creature was spotted in a lagoon outside of Havana, Cuba. The lagoon, a flooded quarry, is located in San Miguel del Padrón, a suburb of Havana. Rumors of a frightening creature quickly spread throughout Havana; crowds of curious onlookers flocked to the lagoon. As news of the monster spread, the masses grew—crowds that once were in the hundreds, quickly escalated to thousands in number. The creature created such a buzz within the community, that the government-ran radio station, Radio Progresso, took an interest and sent reporters to investigate. The correspondents descended upon the scene; they examined eyewitness reports and interviewed witnesses.

Descriptions of the creature vary; some described it as spindle-shaped, with large and threatening yellow eyes; others claimed to see a horned, hippopotamus-like animal with a featureless face. According to one witness who claimed to have seen the animal on multiple occasions: “It doesn’t look like anything but a black ball that, maybe, resembles a hippopotamus with horns, but it doesn’t really resemble any animal…and it’s got no eyes on it at all.”1

One of the reporters sent to investigate the phenomenon saw the creature for himself. He claimed to see something rise from the water amid “intense bubbling.” Whatever this animal was, it had a rough texture and a rounded shape. After it surfaced, it floated for a few seconds, and then sank back into the water.2

Psychic Abilities?

If some of the stories about the monster are true, then we have a very strange creature—one that may have psychic abilities. Rumors tell of an elderly man who lived in a ramshackle home by the lagoon that was driven crazy by the monster. According to the story, after the man encountered the creature, he fled in terror. The poor man had gone mad instantaneously and later hanged himself from a tree.3

Word spread of the monster’s mind-bending abilities. Many of the folks who ventured to the lagoon shielded their eyes, careful not to make eye contact with the creature—fearful of its dreaded gaze.

Read the rest of the story…

 

Notes:

1.) “Mystery Monster.” The Dispatch (Lexington, NC), August 23, 1971.

2.) Ibid.

3.) Mario Masvidal Saavedra. “The Creature from the San Miguel Lagoon.” OnCuba. May 24, 2012. Accessed February 15, 2016. http://oncubamagazine.com/magazine-articles/creature-san-miguel-lagoon/.

 

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A Haunted Museum

In downtown Frederick, Maryland, on East Patrick Street, sits the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. Civil War medicine creeps me out a little. Think about it—the threat of gangrene and other infections were as much a concern as wounds inflicted on the battle field. Just look at some of the tools used—in unsanitary conditions—and tell me it doesn’t make your hair stand up.

Now, imagine those tools in a haunted building and you’ll have a good idea of what the National Museum of Civil War Medicine is like. The museum resides in a building that was constructed in the 1830s. An embalming business once operated on the premises and it was used as a mortuary during the Civil War.

Today, people report scratching sounds—almost like a cat clawing at a scratching post—coming from the director’s office on the top floor. Other strange sounds are frequently reported in the museum as well. There have also been reports of objects that have moved or gone missing in the museum. Some believe it is the ghosts of Civil War soldiers moving the objects—some of which may have belonged to them when they were alive.

The last time I was there, I spoke with two museum employees and neither had experienced anything paranormal while working there. However, one of the workers spoke at length about people he has known who have had ghostly encounters and he did not dismiss my questions in the least.

My wife had an unsettling experience in the museum that I will recount in a future book.

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Haunted Headquarters

Driving on US Route 340 from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, as soon as you cross the Potomac River and enter Maryland, at the first exit after the bridge, there is a sign for the John Brown Raid Headquarters. Also known as the Kennedy Farmhouse, this restored and preserved log cabin—about five miles from Harpers Ferry—is where John Brown planned his daring raid on the federal arsenal housed in (at the time) Harpers Ferry, Virginia.

Brown arrived in Maryland in 1859 and rented the property for about three months under the name of Isaac Smith. He and his raiding party stayed at the home and slept in the attic.

The Kennedy Farmhouse, also known the John Brown Raid Headquarters. Photo taken by author.

The cabin is haunted; people have heard footsteps pacing the floor in the cabin. There are also reports of groups of people walking up the steps; sounds of talking, snoring, and breathing have also been reported. Most likely, the strange activity is probably some form of “residual haunting.” To be clear, I do not consider myself to be any type of authority on ghosts or hauntings. But, with that being said, I believe I understand the phenomenon—at least to a degree. I would define a residual haunting as an event that continues to repeat itself, almost like a movie playing over and over or a song on a loop. Residual hauntings can be unsettling; witnesses often hear footsteps, voices, and observe doors closing on their own. Unlike “intelligent hauntings,” though, the phenomenon involved in residual hauntings does not interact with the living; instead, it “sticks to the script,” so to speak. It almost reminds me of an actor performing right on cue.

Imagine having around 20 people crammed into the tiny house for months; they were unable to leave during daylight hours to avoid suspicion; all of this while planning a violent attack on the federal government—a plan considered suicide by Frederick Douglas, who Brown tried to recruit—perhaps all of the energy concentrated in the cabin preparing for the raid left some sort of signature still active to this day. Who knows? What is known, though, is that John Brown left an impression in the history books and in the very fabric of the tristate area.

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50 Years Ago—Tragedy on the Ohio River

On this day, 50 years ago, 46 people plunged to their deaths in the icy waters of the Ohio River when the Silver Bridge collapsed. The bridge, which connected Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and Gallipolis, Ohio, collapsed during evening rush-hour.

Marysville Journal-Tribune (Marysville, OH), 18 Dec 1967
Marysville Journal-Tribune (Marysville, OH), 18 Dec 1967

The event was preceded by a 13-month period of strange sightings of a winged humanoid dubbed the Mothman.

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The Stanley

In late September I had the pleasure of visiting the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. You may remember the hotel from films such as The Shining and Dumb and Dumber.

The hotel is rich in history and it would be hard to find a more picturesque location. It sits on a hill overlooking the town of Estes Park with the Rocky Mountains in the background.

What really interests me, though, is the paranormal history of the hotel. Quite a few Ghost Hunting television shows have filmed investigations there and several documentaries have been filmed as well.

While waiting for my ghost tour, I enjoyed a delicious Shining Ale no. 217

The hotel offers both historical and paranormal tours—both of which are definitely worth your time and they are also worth the money. When I visited in September, I took a paranormal tour with my wife and we enjoyed it very much. Our guide was outstanding and the ghosts participated to a degree—although we failed to capture any pictures.  Another family that visited the hotel in September did capture some strange imagery with their camera.

The blend of the history, the stunning location, the film history, and the paranormal activity makes the Stanley Hotel a must see.

A flag donated to the hotel in which under the correct conditions a ghostly image can be seen in the upper right corner.
The ballroom where unexplainable music is heard at times; the smell of Mrs. Stanley’s perfume fills the air unexpectedly; and a number of other weird occurrences take place.
The billiard room.
The basement where the mountain has been tunneled into. Hotspot for strange activity.
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A Haunted and Abandoned Amusement Park

Although Halloween is over, I still can’t help but think of haunted locations that I have visited over the years. One of the most creepy is the Lake Shawnee Amusement Park. The following is an excerpt from my book Wild & Wonderful (and Paranormal) West Virginia:


The Lake Shawnee Amusement Park

Driving northeast a little less than an hour and a half from my birthplace in southwestern Virginia, you will come upon the Lake Shawnee Amusement Park. Located in Mercer County, and abandoned in 1966, this is not your average amusement park—this place has a dark history and may even sit on cursed land.

The park closed its doors in 1966 after the deaths of two young people. The park, built in the 1920s, had an unthinkable number of tragedies while in operation. A least six people died on the park’s rides; a young boy also drowned in the swimming pool.

The bloody history of the land dates back much further. The park was built on top of a mass grave—a Native American burial ground. You read that correctly; an amusement park was actually built on top of a Native American burial ground. What could go wrong? Additionally, several murders also took place on the property. Mitchell Clay and his family, among the earliest white people to move into the area, settled on the land in 1783 setting a violent confrontation in motion. While Clay was out hunting, a band of Shawnee killed his son and daughter. His eldest son was kidnapped and taken to Ohio where he was burned alive. Seeking revenge, Clay, with the help of other area settlers, killed several Shawnee in retaliation.

Today, people claim to see the swings in the park move on their own. A little girl wearing a bloody dress has also been seen. Featured on several television programs, Lake Shawnee Amusement Park is certainly one of the creepiest places in the country.


Further Reading

Carol Kuruvilla, “Abandoned West Virginia Amusement Park has a Bloody History,” NY Daily News, October 26, 2013, accessed February 04, 2017, http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/abandoned-west- virginia-amusement-park-bloody-history-article-1.1497567.

Ella Morton, “An Abandoned Amusement Park With a History of Death,” Slate Magazine, May 13, 2014, accessed February 04, 2017, http://www.slate.com/blogs/atlas_obscura/2014/05/13/lake_shawnee_in_w est_virginia_is_an_abandoned_amusement_park_with_a_history.html.

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