Meet the ghosts of Fort Delaware


While it is wise to maintain a healthy skepticism about unfamiliar phenomena in general, it may surprise some that three out of four Americans believe in the paranormal. According to a Gallup Poll, high up on the list is belief in haunted houses.

This interest in the supernatural is readily seen in Gettysburg, where a variety of establishments conduct “ghost tours” of the town and areas adjacent to the battlefield. These include walking tours, bus tours, trolley tours and ghost story gatherings.

The popularity of these tours has grown exponentially in recent years. Mark Nesbit’s published series on “Ghosts of Gettysburg” (six at last count) have fueled interest in this pastime.

You do not have to travel to Pennsylvania, however, to enjoy (endure?) communing with Civil War-era spirits. Fort Delaware is allegedly home to its share of spooky residents.

Ed Okonowicz chronicles several eerie circumstances in “Civil War Ghosts at Fort Delaware.” Pea Patch Island, where the fort is situated, in the Delaware River, has had its share of strange occurrences since the fort served as a prison for Confederate soldiers and sympathizers.

A reconstructed Civil War prison barracks housed reenactors in 2001, when it was ready for occupancy. These people returned to the barracks after being elsewhere on the island during this reenactment weekend and found their belongings “had been rummaged through and tossed around [even though] the new structure had been locked, and no one had been inside.”

Some “lost” things, or they had been moved around. Others heard tapping on the roof and under the floor. One claimed seeing “a canteen floating across the barracks.” Okonowitz conjectured that the barracks replica was attracting restless spirits of the prisoners on the island.

A lady dressed in black makes an occasional appearance at Fort Delaware and visits the kitchen area. Observed on more than one occasion, she is apt to look around and open pots cooking on the stove. She nods approvingly and smiles before turning and walking away “into a wall.”

Efforts to escape from Fort Delaware were common during the Civil War. Prisoners who managed to reach the mainland were at times too ill to travel farther.

Sympathizing homeowners cared for distressed fugitives; yet some succumbed and were buried in unmarked graves or thrown into the river. Residents report strange incidences that signify the presence of these troubled spirits.

Given this season of spooks and goblins, one appropriate story is that of the “headless major.” A worker on the island claimed occasional sightings around dusk of a man in Confederate uniform roaming the ramparts with his head tucked in the crook of his arm.

Although this may be too fanciful even for non-skeptics, a possible relationship may be drawn from a light on the ramparts frequently seen from the New Jersey side of the island that remains unidentified to this day.

Fort Delaware State Park sponsors Pea Patch Paranormal Adventures this time of year, the last for the season to occur Friday, Oct. 30, at 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. However, according to their website at delawarestateparks@gmail.com, the later event is already sold out, so call to see if space is available for the 6:30 p.m. session.

Those who attend will join Diamond State Ghost Hunters Inc. and park staff for three-hour recreational paranormal investigations. Participants will use electronic magnetic field detectors, data recorders and techniques to ferret out the truth about Pea Patch Island ghosts.

Reservations are required, and the fee is $40 per person, for those 13 or older. Make reservations by calling 1-877-987-2757. If you are not able to attend this season, be sure to note on your calendar to get your request in early for the 2016 program.

Thomas J. Ryan is the author of “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign,” a History Book Club selection available at Bethany Beach Books. Contact him at pennmardel@mchsi.com, or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.