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Historical Sites Offer Ghost Group Fertile Turf

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 3, 2005; Page C04

There was no sign of the flock of sheep said to hover several feet off the ground of a field in St. Mary's County. There were absolutely no sightings -- not even a long shadow, a spotted suggestion -- of the "giraffedoman," with its human face, dog ears, neck and legs of a giraffe, that's been rumored to prowl the county's dark woods.

The home of John Wilkes Booth's doctor and the graveyard at one of the oldest continually active parishes in the United States did yield some strange glowing orbs in the digital photographs, but nothing conclusive or dramatic.

Thomas W. "TJ" Stalcup Jr. and Tabitha Deibler search for spirits in the St. Ignatius Church cemetery in Charles County. (Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)

The ghost hunters, however, were undeterred.

Well after midnight, five hours into investigating the occult in Southern Maryland, the intrepid hunters arrived at the local mecca of incorporeal possibilities.

"Here we go, ladies and gentlemen," said Thomas W. "TJ" Stalcup Jr., 20, a graphic designer, as he pulled to a stop inside Point Lookout State Park. "The lighthouse."

"I don't feel like getting arrested tonight," said Tabitha Deibler, 21, Stalcup's fiancee and a founding member of SoMd Ghost Hunters, a group of friends whose Web site proclaims their mission to be "providing proof of spirits in Southern Maryland and beyond."

"Stay in the car, then," Stalcup said.

He got out. The hunters slipped silently around the fence, as moonlight cast their shadows on the grass. Stalcup approached the old lighthouse slowly, holding his camera above his head. He snapped off photos and looked at the readout. "Dude, check it out," he told a friend, passing the camera.

Then, out of the darkness, a glowing light. The hunters froze. Stalcup stared, eyes wide.


Officially, Point Lookout State Park and its lighthouse are closed after sundown, but this doesn't keep the youth of Southern Maryland from showing up. The stories are too good to ignore: 50,000 Confederate soldiers were held prisoner there during the Civil War; nearly 4,000 died, some of smallpox and starvation, according to park histories. British troops raided the site during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Shipwrecks are said to litter these waters. State employees -- presumably no-nonsense, credible sources -- tell tales of footsteps in the night, mysterious apparitions, the lingering stench of death.

"I do believe Point Lookout is haunted," said Laura Berg, a procurement officer at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. She was the last person to live in the lighthouse.

"On several occasions, I have witnessed a man running across the road through Point Lookout," Don Hammett, a former ranger at the park, wrote in his pamphlet, "True Tales of the Bizarre and Unnatural." "Could the figure have been the spirit of a Confederate prisoner . . . ?"

For Stalcup and his friends, such fascinations so close to home beg for further investigation. So in early February, after researching local myths in the library in Leonardtown, the group began what has become a weekly tradition, venturing out Saturday nights in a back-road caravan for as much as eight hours of poking around at rickety houses, old graveyards and spooky churches. The first stop on a recent Saturday night was St. Ignatius Church in Charles County, a Catholic parish founded in 1641 that overlooks the Port Tobacco River. A cold wind scoured the bluff, and a low yellow moon shone through the trees. The four friends crept through the graveyard flashing photos at random.

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