Two Watered-Down Ghost Stories
Unimpressive but Entertaining Tales of the Otherworld by Jonah Begone
Would you like to hear a couple of watered-down ghost stories from my years of Civil War reenacting? Of course you would. Sure, you can find reenactors with better ones, but how do you know they're honest? You don't. It's my experience that the ghost stories of other reenactors are almost always involved with drink somehow - or mass hysteria. Mine may not be any great shakes, but they are at least true. You can trust me - I'm Jonah Begone!
Ghost Story Number One: There is a big oak on the campus of the Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia, not far from the house on Marye's Heights (Brompton), which was used as a Confederate headquarters during the December, 1862 battle. Anyway, I visited the campus one Sunday, just walking around and looking at the sights as we reenactors sometimes do. (No, I was not in a uniform. I find this sometimes provokes park service employees, and that I'm treated better when dressed as a common member of the public.) I parked on the street and walked by the massive oak tree on my way to the so-called Sunken Road, which, as we all know, was the Confederate line of defense. As I walked by the oak I had the distinct feeling that I was being watched. I have not had that feeling so strongly before or since. I looked all around, didn't see anybody, and so continued walking. The feeling remained for a time, but went away.
So... I got home, and found myself looking at William Frassanito's excellent book "Grant vs. Lee." (A favorite book among us reenactors since it contains a lot of then and now photos.) There I saw a daguerreotype of the same oak tree I had walked by - but not as big in 1862 as now. And there, seated around it, were wounded Federal soldiers. One is missing a leg, another an arm - and all are staring into the camera. The photo was taken about where I was when I had the feeling that I was being watched. The photo is below. (If you like, however, you can add the spookiness this story just doesn't have by viewing the scary negative of the image instead.)
Cue Twilight Zone music.
It puts me in mind of a nightmare my dear mother once had. When she was heavily involved with restoring and dressing old dolls, she once dreamed that a bunch of incomplete and broken dolls approached her, chanting, "No legs... no arms... no head... no feet... no hands..."
I suppose it could be that I had seen the photo before and perhaps remembered it dimly, but, like you, I have seen many, many period photos. I didn't remember that one as being taken on the Fredericksburg battlefield.
Ghost Story Number Two: This happened during a garrison weekend at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland in 1988.
One of my favorite moments in my reenacting career occurred there, when I led the troops in the singing of the National Anthem at the base of the big flagpole. Have you ever publicly sung "The Star Spangled Banner?" It's a difficult song to sing, with odd phrasings and wide intervals between notes. Given that and the fact that the melody was originally a British drinking song entitled "To Anacreon in Heaven," I think we could do better. I favor the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," myself, but admit that perhaps "America the Beautiful" is more appropriate. But I digress.
It was this same garrison weekend that Mal Stylo, my so-called friend, was serving as a sergeant and put me on picket. He left the event without properly relieving me according to the rules of war. I kept walking post - like a sap - until it dawned on me to ask somebody when I would be relieved. "Oh, we're done. Mal left. We thought you were having fun and doing it on your own." Grrr.
That night I slept in the barracks with members of another local unit who were also doing the event. One of their guys - a (very) tubby bearded guy - snored really loudly. Incredibly loudly. In fact, he snored louder than anyone I have ever heard. Being used to it, his compatriots looked at us, gave wan smiles and shrugged as if to say, "Sorry I passed gas. A minor thing. Can't help it. Don't be angry."
Sometime in the wee small hours of the morning the tubby bearded guy reached a crescendo and woke me. It occurred to me that I needed to go and do what many sleepers have to do in the middle of the night, so I left my bunk, walked out the front door and onto the gravel towards the latrine. I did my business and walked back, and as I did so I heard footsteps on the gravel just behind me. I looked around and saw no one. I walked some more and then heard distinct footsteps to the side of me. I stopped and listened to the footsteps oddly change direction and appear to come from somewhere else. I looked around, even walking around the buildings and peeking down along walls, but saw no one and no shadows. It may have been that somebody was walking about and the sounds of footsteps were reflected oddly by the inside walls of the fort, but the next day I got a friend to walk about and I noticed no such odd acoustics.
Could it be that I heard Levi Claggett or John Drew (described here)?
Anyway, there you are: a feeling as if I was being watched at one place and footsteps after taking a leak at another. I told you these were watered-down ghost stories.
The following is an excerpt from the Maryland Ghost and Spirit Association website:
Submitted By: Laurie
I live in south baltimore, and I will start my story off by saying that personally, I do not believe in ghosts. I have however, witnessed strange things in my home, and other parts of my community.
South baltimore is home to Fort McHenry, where battles of the war of 1812 took place. Fortmchenry is on a penninsula called Loust Point. Many people who live on "the point" are familiar with the stories of ghosts that surround the fort. During the winter, the fort closes at 5:00, as opposed to 8:00 in the tourist season. A few friends and I went to the fort at 4:30 to take a walk and just to relax. We decided to visit the dungeons. as young children, we would often play hide and seek in them, despite the stories that others told us. We walked through the bombshelters, amunition houss, and dungeons, and were about to go home, but decided to go into the dungeons that give way to the inner fort and soldier barraks. there is a sort of tunnel that leads to the inner fort, with a dungeon on each side branching down from the tunnel. There has been a rumor since the end of the war that a tunnel had been built underground from one of the dungeons as an escape route for stranded soldiers. This has never been proven. The tunnel is supposed to run from the dungeon 20ft underground out of the fort, parallel to fort avenue, under Latrobe Park and fsk school, all the way to Federal Hill. (I doubt its true, although there have been houses to collapse due to secret tunnels built under them) but any way, my friends and I went into the dungeon and were reading the information about it when er heard talking. The dungeon is only so big, and it took a second to figure out that we were the only ones there. We decided that it was an echo from the for above us. The voices sounded like a group of irish or scottish men. We thought it strange, but did not think anything of it. As we were leaving, we heard another noise, it sounded like someone were repeatedly dropping things on the dungeon floor. one of my friends and myself walked toward the sound, wondering if there were tourists there that we had not seen. We saw two men, both wearing clothes that dated back to the war times. one man had blood all over his head. they were dropping barrels of amunition ont the floor. They then turned around and walked through the wall(the wall ehere the suppossed tunnel entrance would be) and dissapeared. thery were almost immediately replaced by a group of men whispering quietly, who then also walked through the walls. we did not know what to make of it. Could this mean that there had in fact been a tunnel. is it possible that the fort is haunted by these men? if the tunnel does exist, could it lead to major changes in the theory of what happened at fort McHenry during the war of 1812? I do not know the answers, all that I know is that something strange happened when my friends and I were in that dungeon and I have not been back inside that dungeon ever since. (p.s.-this happened in July, during the summer of 1998)