Throughout the service’s history, stories of rescues at sea naturally evoked images of romance in hard times, but would anyone believe there are plenty of ghost stories associated with lighthouses and lifesaving stations? Read on as Coast Guard historian Nora Chidlow tells the story of Point Lookout Lighthouse and decide for yourself…
Written by Nora Chidlow, Coast Guard historian
Point Lookout Lighthouse is at the southern tip of St. Mary’s County, Md., where the Potomac River meets the Chesapeake Bay. Billed as America’s most haunted lighthouse, it was built in 1830 by famed lighthouse builder John Donahoo. Point Lookout was a fashionable resort area with more than a hundred cottages where the wealthy spent their leisure time; all that changed when the Civil War broke out.
After the Battle of Gettysburg, a Confederacy prisoner of war camp was built just north of the lighthouse. Camp Hoffman – though the name was rarely used – was in operation from Aug. 1863 until June 1865 and was the largest Union prison camp for Confederate soldiers. In the two years it was in existence, approximately 52,000 prisoners of war were incarcerated there. Some 4,000 men died in the camp and were buried on site; graves were later removed.
Point Lookout Lighthouse was only a few hundred feet from the camp’s spoke-shaped hospital and served as a stop on the Underground Railroad, providing refuge for escaped slaves from Virginia making their way north. In 1878, Congress authorized the establishment of a Coast Guard station, which adjoined the lighthouse. While the station became inactive in 1937, it was not formally abandoned until June 1948.
Pamelia Edwards, who served as Point Lookout’s keeper during the Civil War, is believed to have been forced to allow Union officials set up an area inside the lighthouse to house female prisoners before they were transferred to a federal prison. This area supposedly became an interrogation room where torture was often used by the Union Army. Edwards later regretted her decision after seeing the torture and deaths of these prisoners and is believed to have become a rebel sympathizer helping prisoners escape. Sadly, she was removed from her post in 1869.
Point Lookout’s first four keepers died while in service. The first keeper, James Davis, died in the lighthouse after only three months of service. His daughter Ann then operated the lighthouse until her death in 1847. She was a well-liked woman known to fantasize about leaving the lighthouse to travel but never did. Richard Edwards became keeper in 1853, but became mysteriously ill and died at the lighthouse on July 14, 1853. His daughter Martha served from 1852 to 1855, and her sister Pamelia served from 1855 to 1869. The longest serving keeper was William Yeatman, who served 37 years from Sept. 1871 to May 1908. He is buried only eight miles north of the lighthouse.
The ghost of a woman – said to be Ann Davis, or is it Pamelia Edwards – has been seen standing at the top of the stairway wearing a white blouse and a long blue skirt with a sad look on her face. Other figures have been seen in the basement. Doors mysteriously open and close and strange noises – snoring, ghostly voices and footsteps – have been heard. Voices have even been heard coming out of nowhere – “Fire if they get too close to you” and “Let us not take objection to what they are doing.”
For quite some time, an upstairs room smelled every night of decomposition. Attempts to rid the smell were of no use until parapsychologists identified feelings of pain and suffering, perhaps from the female prisoners incarcerated there?
Could it be the souls of Civil War figures have never left Point Lookout? Or perhaps Ann Davis simply could not leave her beloved lighthouse? Maybe Pamelia Edwards stayed behind to protect something? You decide…
Check back with the Compass Oct. 31, to read more about haunted places in the service’s history!