By: Drew Wysocki
Have you ever heard stories from friends or family about a place and always thought I should really go and see what everyone is talking about, but just never got around to it? When this assignment was presented to us there was no hesitation in knowing where that one special place I wanted to visit was. That place is Point Lookout in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.
I moved to Maryland just over nine years ago from California, and from the early months of living in Maryland to now, I have been hearing about this incredible place called Point Lookout; I would hear so many different types of stories. First I would hear about the awesome fishing spots just off the coast of the beach because I have always really enjoyed fishing. Those stories moved into history lessons when school started because of the great amount of different history lessons that can be taught from Point Lookout. These history lessons moved to more intense non believable stories about ghost and paranormal activity, that was until I started to hear all kinds of different stories about these ghost and strange occurrences happening in the most southern part of Maryland.
These stories are what honestly intrigued me the most. You always hear about different places and how they are “haunted,” but how many of these stories are true or is the place even haunted? So I became curious about Point Lookout just like any other fifteen-year-old kid, wondering what if there really are ghosts or weird things that would occur, would I be able to see anything? Would something follow me? I would have these thoughts of how my experience going there might be, but like everyone else, we all have schedules, and in high school mine was extremely busy with sports and school, so I never made time for it.
During the school year, I would always have school work to do on the weekends and practices during the week. Then during the summer months, I was always going to different football camps for colleges or visiting family, and next thing you know, school is starting again and it’s back into the same cycle as the previous. By this time the thought of ghosts or going to Point Lookout was long out of my head unless someone were to bring it up but by this time my small obsession or desire to go visit for a lack of better words had passed. Now nine years have passed, and I was given an assignment to travel somewhere, experience it, and write about it for a course I’m taking in travel writing. My first thought about Point Lookout is it’s located in St. Mary’s county, which is about 45 minutes from where I live in St. Mary’s County. It sits on a peninsula, which is not how it originally was, because it has been formed by the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River over time from corrosion. Most of what Point Lookout was from the 1800s is now under water because of this. It received its name because the area was a “lookout” post during the war of 1812 against Britain when they were coming over and anchoring their ships in the Bay. It was a Civil War prisoner of war camp and held up to 50,000 people at one point. I will go into more detail about all of this later on. These are just a few of many different important beginnings that brought Point Lookout to what it is today.
Before I go into my own experience talking about everything I saw and learned, I would like to talk about what I thought was the most interesting aspect of Point Lookout, which has very little to do with the history reported are even more intriguing. There are paranormal activities that go on and ghost sightings that have been reported. I will say I did not see or hear of any types of occurrences while I was there. If you ask they will say yes, there are reports, and that is about as much as you will get out of any working there. I think the people who work there want to keep the park historic about the American Civil War and everyone feeling safe instead creating some type of horrific park where people are scared to visit because a ghost may come kill you or any crazy non sense like that. Which I completely understood and respected this while I was there because that is what the park is; it is a very incredible part of our past with endless amounts of history stories and lessons to be told about it.
My experience from going to Point Lookout was incredible. When I first stepped foot out of the car I had this feeling come upon me almost like getting the chills because I knew where I was stepping something from history happened hundreds of years ago where I was stepping. One of the first things upon arriving at Point Lookout was the amount of people who were there that day. It was almost like I was at Disneyland with the amount of people who had cameras taking pictures of themselves or others in front of signs or the ocean. I’m not sure why my first thought was to compare Point Lookout to Disneyland because the more I looked around the more I saw people with more of an attitude of respect. What I mean by that is they weren’t taking pictures jumping around with joy, but taking pictures in more of a serious type of tone because they knew just as I did how much history was actually in one spot. Not only history but how many people lost their lives in just this one area. I think that is another reason for people’s seriousness. I’m not saying everyone was walking around with a straight face and no emotion, but people were very respectful of where they were if that makes any type of sense.
One of the first things I noticed was this huge pole which honestly looked like a miniature Washington monument. It stood probably around 70-90 feet tall and it was actually a Confederate memorial for everyone who lost their life during the Civil War. It was just a small way to show respect to those people. I also thought it was interesting that there was not only an American flag next to this monument, but also a Confederate flag and everyone who works there says the confederate is purely hung there to show respect to the confederate soldiers who lost their lives in the prisoner of war camp.
Point Lookout is actually a very environmental attractive place; I tried to make that sound as manly as possible without using the words beautiful and pretty, but in all honesty, it is very peaceful and quiet. If you went there without knowing anything, you would want to start building your home right away. It overlooks the water which you can see Virginia from where you are standing and all of the trees, bushes and grass are so green it’s really incredible.
As you start to walk around it all starts to settle in even more than it did when you noticed everyone’s attitude just in the parking lot. Where I am standing someone may have lost their life hundreds of years ago, and your mind just starts to race with so many different thoughts of all kinds of scenarios. When walking through the park and talking to people who work there you feel as if your learning a part of U. S. history all over again. What I learned that I thought had the most historical value were the details of the prisoner of war camp that was once there.
The camp was established after the battle of Gettysburg to imprison Confederate soldiers. It was first put into place in August of 1863 all the way to June of 1865. It was the largest Union prison camp for Confederates. Point Lookout was one of the most secure prisoner of war camps. This being because it was surrounded on three sides by water from the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River. The Union also had heavy artillery to help with guarding the camp. The main weapon they used were cannons pointed toward the prisoners from Ft. Lincoln and guns of Union ships anchored in nearby waters. Only an estimated 50 escapes were successful which, a major accomplishment for a camp this size was.
Because of the large amount of prisoners that were kept in this camp, prison conditions would be terrible. It has been said that 50,000-52,000 prisoners have gone through this camp. Prisoners were deprived of the proper clothing; they often had no shoes in winter while also maybe only one blanket among sixteen or more housed in an old torn-down Union tents. In the year 1863, that winter 9,000 prisoners were crowded into 980 tents that winter. Point Lookout’s weather played the biggest role with the prisoners. Because of it’s location as I keep mentioning, it’s extremely cold with icy wind in the winter and a very strong sun reflecting off the water and sand in summer. High tides from the water would often flood the tents in the camp area which would result in knee-deep mud. The uncontrollable and unobtainable marshes were home to many mosquitoes. Mosquitos would often cause Malaria or typhoid fever, and smallpox was very common here.
Overall, the experience of this trip is something that I will never forget. I will definitely be coming back for another visit because one of the best things I remember hearing while visiting was “You can read about anything on the internet but what you learn is what you personally experience” a park ranger and that is so true because I learned more actually being at the park than I would ever remembered from just reading from the Internet or gaining facts from the Point Lookout website.
The best part for me from this project is, yes, many of these knew history lessons and about a new area I can always go visit but most of all that I should always find a way to make time to visit anywhere I feel worth visiting. That’s what we constantly hear about in every travel piece or lecture, is not to get caught up in your everyday routines, but instead control your life and always make sure your enjoying it to the fullest. This is how most of these people we learn about became travel writers. They weren’t enjoying their life and needed something spontaneous. What better ways than going to a country you don’t even speak the same language. I know my trip was nowhere near to the extreme of that but it’s the point as I mentioned so many times before. It has been nine years I have been hearing about a place only 45 minutes away and somehow have never got around or had the time to visit until a travel writing project my senior year of college. I will now if coming across this same predicament in the future I will take full advantage of making sure I make the trip to that one place I think will be very special, because that’s how I felt about my entire visit at Point Lookout, very special.