Saturday, December 31, 2011

"That full-up feeling"--Looking Forward

Just thinking of growing fat
Our senses go reeling;
One moment of knowing that
Full-up feeling!
--Lionel Bart "Food, Glorious Food" from the musical Oliver!

I've been experiencing "that full up feeling" quite a bit recently, but mostly that my plate is quite full. I'm looking into the new year with a mix of trepidation and excitement. I have tons of ideas for the future of Southern Spirit Guide. A complete website may be in the works that would include moving to a new address away from Blogger as well as an expansion of the blog and a directory of information on haunted locations throughout the South. In this case, the blog would recount my own adventures as I delve further into the subject as well as documenting some of my research.

I've hinted that a book is in the works. It's still very much in the preliminary stages, but it will likely utilize some of what I've already posted, though in a different format. The website would also offer a platform for advertising that.

Additionally, I really want to travel more and explore more of these locations that I've, so far, been unable to see due to financial concerns. Though, now that my financial situation looks less bleak, my current employer has difficulties with the concept of work/life balance.

In the new year I have plans to observe an investigation with a noted paranormal group and some friends and I have discussed the possibility of creating our own team of investigators. This will add a new twist to my writing and research.

I would like to thank all of my readers out there who have supported me. In addition, I'd like to thank those bloggers and writers out there who have supported my efforts this year and who continue to inspire me with their work.

To all of you, I wish peace, joy and prosperity in the coming year!

Pondering my future with the dead. All rights reserved.

Lewis Powell IV
Southern Spirit Guide

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

“Just Visiting”—Old Jail Tour, Charleston, South Carolina

A set of old jail keys. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights
Outside looking in. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell
IV, all rights reserved.
One of the jail corridors. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV,
all rights reserved.

Standing in front of the Old Jail in Charleston, South Carolina, even in the midst of summer heat and humidity, is chilling. The building is imposing and threatening like a bully rising to ask, “Do you have a problem with that?” On a chilly evening in early December with a chill wind blowing, the building grows more threatening. While waiting for my 10 PM ghost tour through the building, I stood in the cold with a few couples and spoke with a couple visiting from Rhode Island specifically for Charleston’s ghosts. They were staying in the Battery Carriage House Inn and had rented one of the haunted rooms for the evening. Definitely, they are proof that much can be said of “paranormal tourism.”

Our guide, Susan, was very efficient and no-nonsense, precisely the type that I like as a guide, someone who was down to earth yet open minded. In fact, she reminded me of the actress Ellen Page, someone I would love to just hang out with. She remarked that while the jail looks quite large and imposing from the outside, it is actually much smaller inside. We walked around back and she discussed the gallows that stood behind the jail for many years. The design, apparently, was somewhat unique and would, at time, decapitate the victim instead of merely breaking their neck. She described one of the final executions, that of a young man who may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. She ended with the statement “his ghost is said to be one of the many here.”

A cage for the more dangerous criminals. These cages would
hold multiple inmates at the same time. Photo 2011, by Lewis
Powell, IV, all rights reserved.
The building is being stabilized and restored
by the American College of Building Arts. Photo
2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

That’s one of the most overused statements in ghost literature and doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that a location is actually haunted. We moved inside and found ourselves in a cell where torture was described then moved on to a large room with a replica of the cage that was used for the more violent offenders. There was a discussion of criminals and their treatment and we moved again downstairs to see solitary confinement, the kitchen and some other rooms off a small corridor on the lowest level. The guide pointed out a large room that had served as a surgery during the Civil War. She suggested that if any room had spiritual activity, it was that room.

An original cell door. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV,
all rights reserved.
Another cell door. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell
IV, all rights reserved.
Yet another cell door. Note the "peep holes."
Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

We finally entered a dark room next to the exit and were told a bit about paranormal activity involving the possible spirit of a former warden, one who had served at the jail for quite a long time. After this, we walked out a back entrance and the tour was over. I was surprised by the emphasis placed on the history and so little mentioned of the paranormal, this is a haunted jail tour, isn’t it? I cannot blame the guide, she was following a script which she later admitted was very dry and dull, she went so far as to say that all the guides spiced up each tour with additional stories and information.

Being disappointed at the lack of ghosts on the ghost tour, I stuck around to ask the guide what she’d experienced. She was more than happy to fill me in on the details. She mentioned that she had lasted longer as a guide on this tour than anyone else, as the other had been scared away, especially while having to lock up the building alone after tours. Personally, she’s heard voices in the empty building, specifically the sound of men in conversation as well as hearing her name called. She’s also been touched. She mentioned other guides who have felt nausea in certain areas and who’ve had much stranger experiences in the monstrous edifice.

I was happy to finally hear of some specific activity as most sources on the haunting fail to be very specific about the details of the haunting. While the conversation with the guide was quite interesting, it bothers me that few of those details were revealed on the tour. The tour is offered through Bulldog Tours which offers the Ghosts and Dungeon Tour which I took a few months ago and which I would highly recommend. Unfortunately, the jail tour is the only real chance the public has of actually touring the interior as well. I’d like to encourage Bulldog Tours to review the script for this tour and add in some more ghosts.

At the outset of the tour, the guide encouraged the group to take pictures. She went on to say that balls of energy, known as orbs, were often captured in and around the building and that this was known as “paranormal activity.” Actually people quite often capture these “orbs” in all types of photographs and, more often than not, these are reflections of light off of water vapor, dust or insects.  Earlier that week, while visiting the Lost Sea, I took a series of photos while in the boat on the underground lake there and these photos, taken in a very humid environment, are filled with “orbs.” In my photos, I did capture one prominent orb. It may be dust or it may be paranormal.

Looking down a flight of stairs. The orb is just below the center
of the pic. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
Closeup of the orb. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell, IV,
all rights reserved.

I did capture one other anomaly, though this is much odder. The photo shows one of the upper hallways and is looking towards a set of metal stairs. There are two very bright lights around the stairs. This was taken with a flash and it appears to be very brightly reflected off of something, though I can’t figure out what. There’s a little bit of light reflected on the glossy paint of the stairs, but it’s not so reflective as to reflect back the amount of light in the photo. Again, I can’t say it’s paranormal, but it is odd. 

The odd light anomaly. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights
Closeup of the light anomalies.
Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV,
all rights reserved.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Spiritual Treasure—Angel Oak, John’s Island, South Carolina

Angel Oak Park
3699 Angel Oak Road
John’s Island, South Carolina

The massive Angel Oak. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all
rights reserved.

The City of Charleston incorporates not only the bustling peninsula where the city was originally built, but it now encompasses parts of some of the surrounding barrier islands like James and John’s Islands. Until fairly recently, John’s Island has been somewhat rural, for years after the Civil War it was home to communities of freed slaves and their descendants, but developers have begun turning the island into a bedroom community for the city of Charleston. This has caused quite a stir among locals as the quiet nature of the island has rapidly changed with sprawling commercial and residential developments. The magnificent Angel Oak, whose leafy branches have provided shade and solace for centuries, is now at the center of one of the controversies over the island’s development.

The massive limbs seem to reach out towards visitors. Photo 2011,
by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Angel Oak is considered to be the oldest living thing east of the Mississippi. However, dating a living tree can be difficult. Signs around the tree give the age at between 300-400 years old, though many other sources estimate it to be in excess of 1500 years old. This tree has withstood hurricanes, war, pestilence and small, screaming children climbing its branches and yet continues to provide a gentle, loving embrace to thousands of visitors year after year.

The tree is a remarkable sight. Southern Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana) are not known for their height, this tree is only 65 feet high, but for their sprawling branches, which, in this case, loll over an area of 17,000 square feet. The massive trunk is over 25 feet in circumference with the largest branch being 11 feet in circumference. During a performance under the oak, the Charleston Ballet Company was able to fit its entire company, 19 dancers, behind the trunk. To prevent the massive limbs from breaking off, wooden and metal posts have been erected along with steel wires to help support some of the larger, more unstable branches. Walking near the tree and under its massive branches is a memorable experience.

Centuries of branches rise out of the massive trunk. Photo 2011,
by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
Looking into the tree's canopy. Note the steel wires supporting
limbs on the right of the pic. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all
rights reserved.

There is a marvelous energy here. The atmosphere is calming and moving, like being in the presence of an enlightened being, I felt protected and supported by this massive thing, it’s almost god-like; it’s divine. The spiritual energy is just as strong. This spot naturally offers a plethora of legends and stories. The most common stories involve the spirits of slaves appearing among the leafy branches. It should be noted that the tree’s name is a reference to the Angel family who once owned the plantation that surrounded this massive treasure.

Author Denise Roffe in her Ghosts and Legends of Charleston, South Carolina, interviewed an elderly African-American woman who was descended from the slaves who once toiled on the island’s plantations before the Civil War. She recounted the legends of the tree including that the tree was once home to huge birds (probably vultures) who would feast on the bodies of slaves hung in the tree. The old woman continued saying that many people were buried under the tree including Native Americans who met under its shady branches before the area was settled by the white man. She stated that these spirits are still experienced around the oak and that they also work to protect the tree. Certainly if there are bodies under the soft ground around the tree, it’s not hard to imagine that the tree has fed off of the remains, adding to the tree’s allure.
Branches, like fingers, intertwine. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell
IV, all rights reserved.

Besides the spirits there, the mission of protecting the tree has become part of the lives of many living beings who have organized to fight development of the area. The development threat does not directly affect the Angel Oak itself but the land surrounding Angel Oak Park. The park is owned by the City of Charleston, but outside of the few acres that comprise the park, the now wooded property is privately owned. Recently, a developer proposed constructing a residential development that would contain around 600 housing units, thus destroying the peaceful sylvan atmosphere of the area. The fear of many of those working to prevent this development is that while the oak is untouched, the destruction of the surrounding forest would eventually lead to the demise of the tree itself. The woods surrounding the tree are believed to be one of the reasons for the tree’s survival as it provides protection from high winds and destructive flooding. The fight is still being waged for this peaceful place with the sprits standing behind those of us who would see the tree protected for generations to come.

The intrepid Southern Spirit Guide poses
with the mighty trunk. Photo 2011, all
rights reserved.
All around the tree are posted signs in hopes of protecting
the tree. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Angel Oak. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 14 December 2011.
Jones, Jessica. “Exposing the Angel Oak in Charleston, South Carolin.” 29 May 2011.
Moore, Andrew. “Battle swirls around fate of the East Coast’s oldest tree.”
     Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 17 April 2011.
Roffe, Denise. Ghosts and Legends of Charleston, South Carolina. Atglen, PA:
     Schiffer, 2010.
Save The AngelOak. About. Accessed 14 December

Friday, December 9, 2011

Photos of White Point Gardens, Charleston, South Carolina

My two part trip this week has brought me back to Charleston. I spent some time at White Point Gardens since I wrote an entry about it a few months ago. It was quite lovely even on a day in early December.

View of the walk along the Battery. Photo 2011, by Lewis
Powell IV, all rights reserved.
A barge passes by the Battery. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell
IV, all rights reserved.
Houses overlooking the gardens. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell
IV, all rights reserved.
Artillery pieces like this mortar line White Point Gardens as a
reminder of the Battery's martial function. Photo 2011, by Lewis
Powell IV, all rights reserved.
More of the heavy guns lining the gardens. Photo 2011, by Lewis
Powell IV, all rights reserved.
The stone marking the spot of Stede Bonnet's execution. Photo 2011,
by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
The inscription on the Stede Bonnet marker. Photo 2011, by Lewis
Powell IV, all rights reserved.
A whimsical sculpture greets visitors entering the
gardens. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights
Looking towards the bandstand under the mighty oaks. Photo 2011,
by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
The sun filters through the trees. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell
IV, all rights reserved.
The Fort Sumter defenders monument with a sailboat passing
by. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
Monument to the Confederate defenders
of Fort Sumter. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell
IV, all rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Sunless Sea—Craighead Caverns and the Lost Sea

In Xanadu did Kublai Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
--Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Kublai Khan” (1797)

The Lost Sea
140 Lost Sea Road
Sweetwater, Tennessee

Many moons ago a large, prehistoric jaguar stumbled into this cave in eastern Tennessee between the modern metropolises of Chattanooga and Knoxville. The large cat may have wandered in but it never saw the light again. Lost in the inky darkness of the cave, the cat stumbled, fell and died. Its remains and a couple paw prints remained undisturbed until two curious cavers discovered them in Craighead Caverns in 1939. Since then, according to Christopher Coleman’s Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, “visitors have felt something akin to the tail of a large animal brush against them. Locals swear that a phantom jaguar haunts the cave.”

Visitor's center. Photo, 2011, by Lewis Powell, IV, all
rights reserved.

Being a weekday morning in early December, I was visiting long past the usual tourist season. The visitor’s center was quiet with a few employees putting up Christmas decorations. As a child, I always collected travel brochures when I went on family vacations and brochures for The Lost Sea were always available. I was thrilled to be finally visiting and even more thrilled to see that I was getting a private tour as one of the few visitors that morning.

The modern entrance to the caverns. Photo 2011, by Lewis
Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

My guide and I descended the futuristic tunnel to the caverns and he began his spiel: explaining the stalagmites and stalactites and how they were formed. We entered a round room called the “Council Room” where the Cherokee who once owned the cave may have gathered. The ceiling of this room bears beautiful and rare ornamentations known as “anthodites,” a fragile, flower-like formation. The Cherokee were among the earliest explorers of the cave and they left behind some artifacts. In the 1820s, the property was owned by a Chief Craighead for whom the cave was named. At some point after this time the cave was “discovered” by the white pioneers moving into the old Cherokee lands. Initially, families living in the area used the large, cold and dark cave rooms for food storage, but eventually an operation was set up to extract saltpeter for gunpowder.

A cave formation. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

As with so many caves throughout the South, during the Civil War the cave’s saltpeter works became strategically important. In fact, the ceilings still bear signatures that were left there by soldiers and visitors. According to an old diary from the period, the cave’s guard was infiltrated by a Union spy who intended on blowing up the whole operation. Once discovered, the spy was dragged out of the cave, tied to a large gum tree and shot. Of course, some have tied this story with the spirits that may haunt the cave, though, as of yet, there’s no real evidence to make that connection.

Replica of a saltpeter leeching vat. Photo 2011, by Lewis
Powell, IV, all rights reserved.
A date smoked into the ceiling. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell,
IV, all rights reserved.
A soldier's name smoked into the ceiling. Photo 2011, by Lewis
Powell, IV, all rights reserved.

Following the tumult of the Civil War, the cave saw a variety of uses including mushroom farm, a setting for moonshine operations and as a fallout shelter during the Cold War. In 1947, the cave opened as the Cavern Tavern, a nightclub in the Big Room just inside the historical entrance of the cave. The tavern owners installed a bar and a dance floor with a band in an adjacent room which aided the acoustics. Patrons entering the tavern would traverse a steep staircase to descend into the club and once they’d had a few drinks and danced the night away, would again have to traverse the staircase again. According to the guide, resulting injuries from drunk patrons forced the closer of the club after a few months.

A cave formation. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell
IV, all rights reserved.

We were standing in the Hanging Rock Chamber (a round room created by a whirlpool with a ceiling of jagged rock) as the guide told me about the club in the adjacent Big Room. The room is not usually open during regular tours, though it is used as part of the Wild Cave Tours and groups spending the night within the cave stay here. No mention of legends had come up at this point, so I decided to ask about ghosts.

“I’ve read that there are a few legends of ghosts associated with this cave.”

The guide looked rather uneasy so I added a postscript, “I’d be interested in hearing anything you may know if you’re not forbidden to talk about it.” The guide relaxed a bit.

“I’ve had some experiences here.” He went on to explain that he had had an experience in the Big Room. He was in the cave with a group spending the night and was seated on the infamous staircase reading. He was startled by a sudden drop in temperature at which point he said he heard voices around him whispering. He jumped up and went outside for a little while.

"The Hell Hole" within the upper portion of the cave. Photo
2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

He went on to relate the experience of a maintenance man who was gathering bags of trash in the same room. The maintenance man heard the sound of footsteps following him as he moved through the room. As he began to leave, a voice uttered his name from just behind him. He fled.

The guide and I began to leave the Hanging Rock Chamber, but I wanted to get a photograph of the entrance to the Big Room. Since we were on a private tour, I was allowed to venture into the room to see the dance floor and the staircase. The way into the room was steep and I was out of breath by the time we were inside. The room felt colder and there was an odd, possibly chaotic energy there. My instincts said, “You shouldn’t be here.” I ignored them and took a few pictures, though I could tell the guide wanted to go as well. As we hurried out, I remarked on the energy. He felt it too.

The best picture I could get of the old dance floor in the Big
Room. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

I recalled something a guide said when I was visiting Kentucky’s monstrous Mammoth Cave last year. After turning out the lights we were treated to the pitch black darkness that can only be found in caves and at the deepest reaches of the ocean. The guide spoke of how caves can wreck havoc on the senses, especially where there is the sound of water: the ears can be tricked into hearing voices. In the case of Craighead Caverns, the cave is quite humid and there are large amounts of water, though mostly in the lower reaches. In the upper reaches, I occasionally heard water dripping, but it was fairly sporadic and not noisy enough to be mistaken for voices.

Anthodite "flowers." Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all
rights reserved. 

We discussed spirits as we moved through the caverns towards the Lost Sea. My guide mentioned that he occasionally saw shadowy figures dart through the caverns. I inquired about the spirits of the ancient jaguar and the Union spy. He had heard the stories but didn’t elaborate any further.

The guide returned to his spiel about the discovery of the Lost Sea. As it turns out, the sea really was lost for quite a time. A young man playing in the cave in 1905 was the first to discover the large, flooded chamber. When he told others about it, they tried to find the room, but were met only with passages that were flooded. As Ben Sands grew older he continued to tell about the lost sea that only he had seen. It wasn’t until many years later that the sea was found and the entire cave developed as a commercial “show cave.” It opened as The Lost Sea in 1965.

The sea itself is immense. The only words I could utter when it was first revealed were, “Oh my!” As we got out on the second largest underground lake (as they call it) in the world, I did feel a bit of a chill peering into the darkness beyond the boat. The lake is lit with occasional lights along the edge and this allows visitors to see the large Rainbow Trout that have been stocked within the lake, but it is still fairly dark. Seeing the large, dark shape in the water of the first trout approaching the boat was a bit disconcerting and soon the water around the boat was swarming with them. They’re fed on every tour and that has contributed to their large size.

The Rainbow Trout in the sea. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV,
all rights reserved.

After exiting the boat the guide and I began our ascent back to the entrance. We paused for a moment near a dark, narrow passage that was another part of the Wild Cave Tour. The guide mentioned that he didn’t like to walk that area alone and he offered to let me take a quick look. We walked a few yards into the passage and something in the back of my mind kept repeating, “You don’t need to be here.” My guide remarked that he felt another energy change and felt a heaviness in his chest. I didn’t sense any of that, but it felt warmer in the space, a feeling that I somehow equated in my mind with hot breath. I knew I did not want to go any further so I took a quick picture and we returned to the trail.

Overall, the cave tour is quite pleasant. Where some cave experiences can be overdone (using music, colored lights and other nonsense), this cave is perfectly lovely and it has been left in its mostly natural state. The wonder of nature’s creation and the cave’s unique history shows through. My guide (and he knows who he is) was friendly and very interesting. I’m grateful he shared his experiences with me. If you’re looking for an interesting tour in East Tennessee, be sure to stop at Exit 60 for The Lost Sea!

Coleman, Christopher K. Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. Winston-
     Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2010.
The Lost Sea Adventure. The History of The Lost Sea Adventure:
     America’s Largest Underground Lake. Sweetwater, TN, No date.
Matthews, Larry F. Caves of Knoxville and the Great Smokey Mountains.
     Huntsville, AL: National Speleological Society, 2008.

Friday, December 2, 2011

“On the road again…”—Southern Spirit Guide on the Road

On the road again;
Goin' places that I've never been;
Seein' things that I may never see again;
And I can't wait to get on the road again.
--Willie Nelson, “On the Road Again” (1980)

My wanderlust has gotten the better of me and I’m hitting the road again. As my regular readers may have noticed, there’s been a decrease in posting. Recently, I’ve been working full time which has left me with little time and energy to write. Not being able to write and research at my usual manic pace tends to leave me grumpy and irritable.

Due to the nature of my job, I really can’t do much blog work in the little free time I’m afforded, though I can do a little bit of plotting and planning in my head. I’ve wanted to do a book on ghosts for some time. Certainly, I’ve amassed a good deal of writing here and it’s not currently making me any money, so I can compile some of my entries with some new writing and create a tidy e-book. Why an e-book? Well, I can have a good deal of control over formatting, design and content, plus the profit margin appears to be better as well. In other words, I have more control, though there’s also more work. My regular readers can expect a lag in the number of new posts for a while until the book has released me.

As for my trip, I’m splitting my time between the mountains and the coast. My first stop is Knoxville, Tennessee followed by a few days in Charleston, South Carolina. I’m visiting family but I’ll be spending most of my time exploring the historical and spiritual sides of each city. Cemeteries included!

The Knoxville skyline, 2007, by Nathan C. Fortner. Courtesy
of Wikipedia.

I’ve explored a part of Knoxville in a very early post on the very spiritually active campus of the University of Tennessee. I’ll be dropping by the campus, though I’ll also be checking out a number of other locations like the Baker Peters Jazz Club (located in an old and haunted house), the Blount Mansion (which has reports of recent activity), the Bijou Theatre (which I featured in my entry on Haunted Tennessee) and the Old Gray Cemetery. I’ve not spent much time in Knoxville, so there’s no telling what I may find.

Further afield of Knoxville, I’m hoping to get a tour of The Lost Sea (also featured in Haunted Tennessee), Kingston (including Long Island of the Holston), Jonesborough and Johnson City, all places that feature a number of haunted locations. The whole East Tennessee region, with its Native American and pioneering history is a fascinating place for ghosts.

One of the holiest sites in The Holy City,
St. Philip's Church, 2011. By Lewis O.
Powell, IV, all rights reserved.

After a few days in Knoxville, a pioneer outpost turned hip urban center and Queen City of the Mountains, I’ll return to the genteel wiles of The Holy City, Charleston, on the coast. As I wrote a few months ago during my last visit, Charleston’s streets are still filled with numerous phantoms. Please stay tuned as I go on the road again!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

“…the Heav’n rescued land…”—Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland

Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
--Francis Scott Key, “The Defense of Fort McHenry”

One can hardly fathom the sheer terror that Francis Scott Key must have experienced as he watched the bombardment of Fort McHenry on the night of September 13 and into the early morning hours of the 14th, 1814. That evening, Key, a thirty five year-old Maryland-born lawyer from Georgetown in the district of Columbia, had dined with enemy officers aboard an enemy ship in order to negotiate the release of American prisoners. Because he was now privy to British plans for the bombardment and invasion of Baltimore, Key and American Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner were detained aboard the HMS Tonnant.

The guns of Fort McHenry now overlook the Francis Scott
Key Bridge which carries I-695. Photo by renpytom, released
under Creative Commons licensing. 

Key likely knew of the systematic destruction of Washington, D.C. by the British and quite possibly worried about destruction of his own home on the opposite bank of the Potomac River. Now detained aboard an enemy ship in Baltimore harbor, it’s imaginable that he worried about the probable destruction of another American city. Below decks, American prisoners lay shackled and there was fear that the British would mercilessly hang these citizens including a respected doctor, William Beanes, from Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Key and Skinner watched with horror the bombardment of Fort McHenry with its huge flag.

A reproduction of the fort's huge flog still flies.
Photo by renpytom, released under Creative
Commons licensing.

The bombardment by the British fleet in Baltimore harbor began on the morning of the thirteenth with an initial exchange. The Americans had sunk a series of merchant ships in the harbor to prevent the British from getting close enough to the fort. After the initial bombardment, the British withdrew to just outside of the range of Fort McHenry’s cannon. At 1 AM the next morning, the British began their heaviest and most long-lasting bombardment that would last most of the next day. They poured some 1500 to 1800 Congreve rockets and mortars onto the fort from a series of ships. Firing mortars onto the fort were ships bearing names like Devastation, Terror, Meteor, Volcano and Aetna. Fortunately, the mortars were poorly designed and few of them actually reached their targets while many of the Congreve rockets exploded mid-air. “…And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air…”

With dawn’s early light, Fort McHenry’s huge flag which had been sewn by Mary Pickersgill and her 13 year-old daughter was revealed to still be flying, an indication that the city and fort had repelled the invasion. Relieved, Key wrote an ode to the flag that was set to an English tune, “To Anacreon in Heaven.” The song gained popularity and was eventually deemed the national anthem in 1931. The grand flag has been cherished and preserved in the Museum of American History while Fort McHenry has been deemed a National Historic Shrine: a shrine to liberty, American defiance, hope, history and spirits.

A view of one of the bastions. Photo by Ad Meskens, courtesy
of Wikipedia.

Whetstone Point juts into an arm of the Patapsco River as it meets the Chesapeake Bay. This peninsula provides the perfect perch from which to oversee ships sailing into Baltimore Harbor and it was here that a fort was first constructed during the American Revolution in 1776. Baltimore was never under British threat during that war, but the local citizens thought it necessary to expand the fort following the war using a five-pointed star design by Jean Foncin. Among the fort’s biggest cheerleaders during this time was Secretary of War James McHenry, for whom the fort was later named.

In the midst of the tumult of the early nineteenth century, American decided to finally stand up against British bullying and declared war. It was this action that brought intense military scrutiny to the region and then action in 1814. Brevet Lt. Col. George Armistead commanded the fort during the day-long bombardment and saw only four casualties among his men. Following the war, the fort resumed its duties standing guard over the harbor until the nation it kept intact was torn apart by Civil War. As Maryland remained neutral there was fear that those with Southern sympathies would try to secede, thus leaving Washington, D.C. surrounded by enemy territory. Politicians suspected of having rebel sympathies were imprisoned in the fort including Baltimore’s mayor, city council and police commissioner. Legend states that the fort’s guns were even trained on the city it had so dutifully protected.

After the Civil War the fort resumed its regular duty and when war once again tore Europe apart during World War I, the fort became a 3000 bed hospital for American troops. After medical duty, much of the fort was restored and it was named a National Park in 1925. On the eve of the Second World War, the fort was named both a National Monument and Historic Shrine, a unique designation from a grateful nation. Once again, the fort resumed duty, like many historic coastal forts. The fort was used by the Coast Guard who worked to protect American shores and shipping from German U-boats.

Under the purview of the National Park Service, the typical line is taken: there are no ghosts at Fort McHenry, though many experiences have been documented. Ed Okonowicz in his masterful Baltimore Ghosts catalogs the numerous spirits that have been witnessed through the old fort. Among them are one, possibly two spirits from the British bombardment in 1814. During one of the engagements, the British scored a direct hit on a gun emplacement on Bastion 3. The explosion killed two Baltimore merchants serving in the Maryland Militia, Lt. Levi Clagett and Sgt. John Clemm. Visitors and staff near “Clagett’s Battery” as it is now called, have spotted the visage of a soldier in period uniform. Visitors sometimes inquire at the visitor’s center as to the identity of the reenactor in that area when none are present. During preparations for a visit by President Gerald Ford, the Secret Service spotted a uniformed soldier walking the same bastion where Clagett and Clemm died.

One of the fort's gun emplacements. Photo by sneakerdog,
released under Creative Commons licensing.

The barracks hosts a female spirit who has been spotted looking out the window and who may be responsible for two “attacks” that have taken place there. An artist who was exploring the building walked through a doorway and was knocked out cold by an invisible something. He stated that it felt like he was hit in the face with a frying pan. He was discovered a short time later by a park ranger who escorted him from the building and who did not seem surprised by the artist’s experiences, replying that he had had a woman in nineteenth century clothing try to push him down the stairs. According to Okonowicz, the identity of the woman may be that of a military officer’s wife who lost both her husband and children to an epidemic sometime after the War of 1812.

The parade ground with barracks and the sally port. Photo
by David Smith, released under Creative Commons licensing.

Perhaps one of the saddest spirits of the fort is the pathetic form of Private John Drew. Drew was on guard duty one evening in 1880. He was arrested the following morning when he was found to have fallen asleep on the job. Unable to deal with this horribly embarrassing episode, Drew shot himself in his cell. Drew’s form has been seen near where he was supposed to be standing guard on that fateful evening. Others have felt a chill within the cell where Drew took his life.

The statue of Orpheus with the Baltimore skyline in the background.
Photo by pwbaker, released under Creative Commons licensing.

One of the more interesting experiences reported on the grounds of the fort comes from near a large statue of Orpheus honoring Francis Scott Key. The large statue stands on the grounds outside the fort and it was here that one visitor saw the figure of man in uniform seemingly floating in mid-air. It was discovered later that that particular area had been the scene of an execution in 1862. A young private had been found guilty of murdering another soldier and it was here that he made his “air-dance,” in other words, he was hanged. Most likely, this is just a sample of the spirits that roam the historic battlements of Fort McHenry; battlements that still witness “the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” every Fourth of July when fireworks celebrate the freedom this place helped maintain.

Fort McHenry. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22 November 2011.
Francis Scott Key. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22 November
Okonowicz, Ed. Baltimore Ghosts: History, Mystery, Legends and Lore.
     Elkton, MD: Myst and Lace Publishing, 2006.
The Star-Spangled Banner. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22
     November 2011.
Varhola, Michael J. and Michael H. Varhola. Ghosthunting Maryland.
     Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2009.