The first time Viktor DeJeney came to Point Lookout it was springtime.
DeJeney, a portrait and landscape painter, was captivated. "The honeysuckle was in bloom, and this is what caught me," he said.
"The aroma was so strong you could actually bite it."
DeJeney fell in love with the Chesapeake Bay and the gentle land that shrouds it when he visited here five years ago. A Hungarian immigrant in his 70th year, he decided this should be his home.
So he moved to Riverdale from St. Louis, where he'd built a reputation for his paintings. DeJeney likes to fish, and at first he pursued his only hobby at Matapeake Pier on the Eastern Shore, which is a fine place but somewhat lacking in grace and charm.
Then he found Point Lookout that warm spring day. He went looking no more.
"I think there are some other people that are the same way in love with this place as I," he said. "There are five or six others who come always here and who are the expert fishermen of this place. I am one of the average fishermen, but I alaways catch."
But when the catching is slow, DeJeney finds things to enjoy. He has a special place on the causeway that leads to the sandy point itself. In front of him the Chesapeake stretches as far as he can see, and behind is a marshy backwater of the Potomac where grasses sway and shorebirds come to feed.
It's a tranquil place on weekends, when the crowds are absent, perfect for a man of art. It wasn't always.
In 1864 Point Lookout was a federal prisoner of war camp where Confederate soldiers and sympathizers were held. There were 20,000 prisoners, and 3,000 of them died there, victims of starvation and freezing, according to a historical marker on the point. Chesapeake Bay Notes and Sketches, a book by Carvel Hall Blair and Wilits Dyer Ansel, describes the horror of Camp Hoffman, as it was called.
It was a "compound of 26 acres surrounded by a 12-foot fence," the authors write. "On a catwalk on the outside guards patrolled all hours of the day. Inside the palisade a ditch marked the deadline, so called because a prisoner crossing it would be shot without warning.
"Shelters were army tents, many torn and rotten. Prisoners suffered severly from exposure as winter rains and winds and freezing weather swept across the low, exposed point.
"The men built fireplaces in the tents but there was never enough wood for warmth and cooking. Clothing issues were few and far between; prisoners went barefoot summer and winter. According to one, blankets were in such short supply three men shared a blanket in the freezing tents. Crowding and dirt added to the general misery."
Little of the miserable camp remains today, but there is a tall marker on the road leading to the point that commemorates the death of the 3,000. The skulls of the dead men lie beneath the marker. They were moved there after the war, Ansel and Blair write, "from the prison burial ground (known to the prisoners as the Peach Orchard.)"
The Peach Orchid is no more, and Point Lookout is a peaceful today as it was gruesome a century ago. And now, when the summer crowds of people and insects have abandoned its sandy shores, is the time for a visit.
If, like Viktor DeJeney, you find comfort in casting a line off shore you will find that this is a high season. Schools of bluefish invade the shallow waters off the causeway and off the point itself through October.
A companion and I watched DeJeney, now 75 and hobbled by a variety of physical problems, catch a dozen handsome blues while we failed futilely at the choppy waters.
Finally he had pity.
"Do you want to catch a fish?" he asked. "Come here and I will show you how it is done."
He rigged a line for use, a slip sinker of about four ounces over a stell leader and hook. He attached a piece of fresh-cut spot from a bucket of baitfish he had caught when he didn't have a blue on one of his three big surf rods.
Then he heaved it a hundred yards out to sea. "Wait five minutes," he said, "and you will have a fish."
We did, and we did.