The Point Lookout Lighthouse

Point Lookout Lighthouse

Overview Keepers Pictures Timeline Interviews
Overview Pictures Sounds Stories
About this Website References Links
Visit the Lighthouse Point Lookout State Park Website

Historical Overview


On May 3, 1825, the Federal Government decided that a light was needed at Point Lookout to warn ships of the shoals and to mark the entrance to the Potomac River and appropriated $1800 for the project. After a lengthy battle with the land owner, Jenifer Taylor, over a fair price for such a small, barren piece of ground, the government finally settled on $1150, a considerable sum. Due to the cost overruns for the land purchase, Congress appropriated $4500 dollars on May 23, 1828, and awarded a contract on July 22, 1830 to John Donohoo for $3,350. Donohoo built many lighthouses in the bay area, including the similarly styled Blackistone Island lighthouse that burned down in the 1950s. The lighthouse was built before the deed to the land was obtained. Apparently, Jenifer Taylor offered to sell the land for a lower price, if he would be named the first keeper. Jenifer Taylor and his wife Elizabeth were buried in what is now the picnic area of the park.

The lighthouse began operation on September 20, 1830.

On July 2, 1830, the Fifth Auditor of the Treasury, Stephen Pleasonton, appointed James Davis to be the first lighthouse keeper at Point Lookout. Mr. Davis held the appointment for only a few months until his death on December 3, 1830 (some references site December 7, 1830; death records were not commonly kept in the early 19th century). In 1800, Mr. Davis is listed as having 2 slaves; after 1800, no slaves are listed. According to census records from 1820, Mr. Davis had 6 females and 3 males living with him. Presumably, one of the women was Ann Davis, his daughter. No census records are available for 1830; they were destroyed when the Leonardtown Courthouse burned down.
Ann Davis was the first female keeper at Point Lookout Lighthouse. She took over the duties of her father James Davis, after he died during his first few months of duty. Much has been made about the notations on Ann's early contract that prohibited her from selling liquors on lighthouse property. Apparently, Miss Davis went on to be a well regarded keeper after the selling of liquor was resolved. In a report made in 1840, Miss Davis was complimented by a supply boat captain: "Miss Davis is a fine woman...and I am sorry she has to live on a small naked point of land".

Ann Davis earned the same salary as her father James: $350 per year.

Ann Davis is presumed to have died in 1847.

William Wood succeeded Ann Davis and earned a reputation for being clumsy. It has been written that he had his pay withheld for a year because he broke most of the light's mirrors and allowed a cat to fall into the lantern oil barrel. The lantern oil was contaminated and had to be replaced. William Wood had his salary listed as $350.

From 1853 to 1869, the keepers at Point Lookout were a family affair. Richard Edwards was appointed keeper in April 1853, but unfortunately he died in office in July of the same year; Samuel Cullison was nominated but later withdrawn as a replacement. Richard Edward's daughter Martha assumed the responsibility after his death. In 1855, his other daughter Pamelia Edwards assumed the duties from her sister Martha, presumably because Martha was getting married.. Rumors persisted that Pamelia kept prisoners during the civil war, and there is a notation in the records for January 6, 1862 about the disloyalty of a keeper (further information will be included once the official records from the US Archives are examined). However, Pamelia was kept on as keeper beyond the Civil War. Note the unusual spelling of the name Pamelia; some books refer to her as Pamela. An 1860 census list Permelia (spelling different from other government reports), age 44 as the sole keeper of the lighthouse and an assistant keeper as Elkanah Edwards, age 23. The head nurse at Point Lookout's Civil War hospital described Elkanah as a rebel sympathizer.

Some psychics have claimed that people were held against their will in the lighthouse, possibly during the Civil War period.
The following article appeared in the St. Mary's Beacon to announce Mr. Edward's appointment as lighthouse keeper:
St Mary’s Beacon, 5/12/1853 (page 2, column 2) Appointments for the County Richards Edwards, Keeper of the Point Lookout Lighthouse, Vice Wm A. Baxter

The local newspaper, the St. Mary;'s Beacon, often wrote about William Yeatman and referred to him as the polite and efficient keeper. Also during his tenure, the steamship Express from Baltimore broke apart off of Point Lookout in 1878. A small smoke house (just north of the lighthouse) was built during William Yeatman's tenure as lighthouse keeper by his son-in-law Henry Christian Ardeeser; Henry was married to Virginia Jackson Yeatman. The smoke house has been previously mis-identified as Spaulding's Photographic Gallery from the Civil War era. (Most of the Civil War era buildings were destroyed shortly after the war, as they were a painful reminder of that dark period in American Hisory). Many shipwrecks occurred near the point, but the Express was one of the more famous wrecks. The Express headed out of Baltimore but did not know that storm warnings were posted. As the steamer made her way down the Bay, a gale began to blow and eventually sank the ship in the bay off of Point Lookout. One of the ghost stories involves a Mr. Haney who was supposed to have attempted to row to shore to gain assistance from the lighthouse keeper at Point Lookout, but because of the raging storm never made it to Point Lookout. Someone living in the lighthouse said that one night he saw a man at the back porch who looked like he was in trouble and was wearing clothes from a long time ago. When this person opened the door, the figure floated across the lawn and disappeared toward the Bay. The following article appeared in the 1930 edition of the government publication Lighthouse Service Bulletin on page 17.

Centennial Improvements at Point Lookout, MD An important feature of the remodeling of the old dwelling at Point Lookout Light Station and Depot, MD., is the installation of a wind-electric generating plant. While such generating plants are already in service in Kalae, Hawaii, and Areeibo, P.R., this is the first on to be put in service by the Lighthouse Service in continental United States. If it is found that there is sufficient wind to properly charge the batteries, the two dwellings, as well as the tower will eventually be lighted from the same system. A 200 watt lamp will be used with the electrical system, increasing the candlepower of this light from 490 to 3,300. The main features of the electrical installation are a windmill tower, generator, a set of 16 storage batteries , and the lighting fixtures in the tower. A water pump supplying the dwellings will also be operated from the storage batteries. Point Lookout was considered to offer favorable conditions for testing out the reliability of wind-generated current because its exposed situation and the fact that there are no adjacent buildings to reduce or deflect the wind. The wind-electric system is one feature of the complete modernization of the light and the quarters of this station which was established in 1830. The original brick dwelling inclosing tower has been remodeled to accommodate two families in separate apartments, each of six rooms and bath. The exterior of the building has been coated with cement stucco and roofed with red asbestos shingles. A hot water-heating system, hot and cold running water, artesian well, and up-to-date sanitary system combined with the electric installation to make striking contrast with the primitive conditions of a hundred years ago.

George Gatton, the last civilan lighthouse keeper at Point Lookout Lighthouse stated in an interview that he did not believe in ghosts. No official records prior to Mr. Gatton's service in the early 1960's indicate that anyone had any paranormal experiences in the lighthouse. The lighthouse was tended by Raymond Hartzel until January 11, 1966, when the light was extinguished for the last time. Once the Navy and subsequently the State of Maryland took possession of the lighthouse and rehabilitated it, tenants of the lighthouse began reporting their experiences of unexplained voices, sightings and other phenomena. Gerald Sword moved into the north side of the lighthouse and and Anna Carpenter moved into the south side in the late 1970's and experienced strange and unexplainable events. Gerry lived in the lighthouse for a few years until he vacated the lighthouse due to a promotion to Park Superintendent. The article below contains an interview with the last keeper of the Point Lookout Lighthouse, George Gatton. Enterprise, September 17, 1980 Lighthouse was Sailors' Friend Much as modern technology heralded the end of the sailing ships so has it extinguished the man operated lighthouses that guided them. The lighthouse was the sailor's friend. Its light guided him at night. Its bell cut through the thick fog warning of hidden dangers. Sept 20 marks the 150th anniversary of the lighting of the lighthouse at Point Lookout. The lighthouse remained active for over 135 years at the mouth of the Potomac River. Its light was switched off for the last time in January 1966. For the last nine years of its active life, the lighthouse had George Gatton of Ridge as its keeper. Gatton, who had already spent more years working with lighthouses than most people have in whole careers when he came to Point Lookout, was at the end of his own career. Now 78, Gatton remembers the lighthouse and is saddened that it is no longer in service. "I am like thousands of others," Gatton said during an interview in the dining room of his house in Ridge last week. "I don't know why they gone and closed it." "They closed and tore down all the damn lighthouses," Gatton said, sadly shaking his head. "And it cost them, it is hard to tell, it must have been a fortune just to tear a lighthouse up." But the Point Lookout lighthouse wasn't one of the lighthouses that was torn down. Since its closure, the building has been used as a private residence or leased to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. This summer it was returned to the Navy and it is again being used as a residence. Gatton spent over 40 years working with lighthouses. He joined the old Lighthouse Service in 1925 serving on lighthouse tenders in the Chesapeake Bay out of Baltimore. He originally went into the service because he needed work. "I had to go to work. I was living in Ridge at the time so I went up to Baltimore and went on a ship." Gatton's wife Alma also has ties to the Lighthouse Service. Her grandfather was also a keeper of the Point Lookout Lighthouse. As she remembers it, the service was a popular means of employment for boys from the southern portion of the county in 1925, "Going in the Lighthouse Service seemed to be the thing with the local boys down here," Mrs. Gatton recalled as she reminisced with her husband. "So many of them went on the ships (lighthouse tenders)." Gatton hadn't really intended to make lighthouse work his entire life's vocation when he went to Baltimore. He chuckled as he describes only going up for a week or so until another man came to relieve him only the man never came. "I wound up there for over 40 years," he chuckled. Being lighthouse keeper at Point Lookout wasn't the solitary existence that many associate with the guiding lights. The lighthouse was actually a duplex with a family living in each half of the house. A third family lived in another house on the point. The arrangement had three keepers each taking a turn at the watch. By the time Gatton became keeper of the lighthouse at Point Lookout the task was not as arduous as in the earlier years. There were automatic alarm systems to tell if the light went out and mechanical means to ring fog bells. It wasn't always that easy. Mrs. Gatton recalls her mother telling tales of the entire family taking turns ringing the fog bell in bad weather. "If they had foggy weather for a week," she explained, "somebody had to ring that bell constantly by hand, the whole family would take turns." Later a windup mechanism was introduced that rang the bell. It had a spring and had to be wound each hour, Gatton said. Gatton scoffs at the notion that the lighthouse at Point Lookout might be haunted (see boxed story at lower left). "Haunted?" Gatton said, repeating the question. "Naw, I don't believe it. I have lived here (Ridge area) nearly all my life and I ain't never seen nothing- I never seen nothing, never heard nothing." George Gatton, the last lighthouse keeper at Point Lookout Lighthouse stated in an interview that he did not believe in ghosts. No official records prior to Mr. Gatton's service in the early 1960's indicate that anyone had any paranormal experiences in the lighthouse.

Once the Navy and subsequently the State of Maryland took possession of the lighthouse and rehabilitated it, tenants of the lighthouse began reporting their experiences of unexplained voices, sightings and other phenomena. Gerald Sword moved into the north side of the lighthouse and and Anna Carpenter moved into the south side in the late 1970's and experienced strange and unexplainable events. Gerry lived in the lighthouse for a few years until he vacated the lighthouse due to a promotion to Park Superintendent. Gerald (Gerry) Sword- who lived in the lighthouse before Laura- told Laura that he became very interested in the rich history of the Point Lookout area. An unexpected bonus of living in the lighthouse was the ghostly visitors who frequently made their presence known to him. Gerry wrote to Dr. Hans Holzer while he was living in the lighthouse and invited Dr. Holzer to Point Lookout to investigate the source of the paranormal activity. Dr. Holzer, a renowned parapsychologist based in New York, performed psychic investigations and discovered a hot bed of activity. Anna Carpenter lived in the south side of the lighthouse when Gerry lived in the north side. Unfortunately she did not live there for long and another commitment forced her to move within a month of Laura moving into the lighthouse. In the short time that she lived in the lighthouse, Anna reported hearing someone walking up in the attic and frequently heard furniture being moved around in the north side when Gerry was out. Gerry wrote about some of his experiences and related the following events to Laura:

* The kitchen wall started to glow one night for about 10 minutes

* Every night for 2 weeks he heard someone snoring in the kitchen

* During storms, he often heard voices outside and inside the lighthouse

* He frequently heard someone walking up and down the hallway and up and down the stairs

* He heard loud voices outside - he would search and could never find anyone

* His dog was locked in the screen-in porch in the evenings. One night he heard the dog barking and came outside to find the dog outside the porch but the door was still locked from the inside

* He smelled an odor in the living room

* He experienced lights turning on and off and doors banging

More of Gerry's writings can be found by clicking here GeraldSword.html

The first paranormal investigation occurred at Point Lookout on January 14, 1980 at Gerald Sword's invitation. Dr. Hans Holzer and his team from New York as well as members of the Maryland Committee for Psychical Research conducted the investigation while Laura was living in the lighthouse. Laura's personal notes from the lighthouse include the following observations: First Paranormal Investigation, January 14, 1980 North Side Kitchen/Dining Room areas Nothing observed Living Room The medium felt very sick with a bad headache. She could hear voices in the living room when we went upstairs. Guest/Middle Room (upstairs) Again the medium felt sick; she had chills and felt cold and weak. She felt that someone had experienced agony in this room and had been held against their will. Later discussions suggested that maybe some Civil War prisoners had been held there. Top of the Stairs The medium felt a woman's presence and felt that this woman had contemplated throwing herself down the steps many times. Steps to Cupola Medium felt a young blond man with blue eyes had been murdered within the last 50 years South Side Living Room The medium felt unusual weird feelings. The second paranormal investigation was held on February 16, 1980 with the Maryland Committee for Psychical Research with natural medium Nancy Stallings. The investigation continued into the evening. Second Paranormal Investigation, February 16, 1980 North Side Hallway Nancy felt a presence. A woman's voice was recorded hear singing "living in the lighthouse" South Side Front Bedroom Nancy felt a definite presence. Basement We all saw a figure in the farthest back room and recorded a voice that stated either let me out or get out. Dining Room Held a séance in this room - many photos revealed spirit lights. Many other unexplained voices were recorded during this investigation. The third investigation occurred on June 28, 1980. Gerald Sword invited quite a few people and this investigation was held during the day. This day proved to be much quieter and that tends to be the case when crowds converge on the lighthouse. A visit to the basement on the south side did produce another figure that many witnessed. The séance was uneventful due to the crowd. The fourth and last investigation while I lived in the lighthouse occurred on August 22, 1980. A séance was held in the front bedroom of the south side where an earlier visit had yielded a photo of someone in this room. There were many whispered voices picked up on the tape. Again, another figure was seen in the basement. We all heard breathing and felt cold spots throughout the lighthouse. In the mid 1990s, others have performed paranormal investigations and some of their findings have been published. The most recent investigation was held on March 26, 2001. Another medium, Carol, was invited to get her thoughts on who was haunting the lighthouse. Robert Hall, Laura Berg, Carol and Paula were in attendance. The weather was incredibly cold which made concentration a bit difficult. But Carol was able to sense some of the spirits inhabiting the lighthouse. She did feel one woman was still there who was quite angry and a female family member was also with her. In the south side basement, Carol was pushed by an unknown entity and felt unwelcome. Robert, the only male in the lighthouse at the time, felt the heaviness when he left the back 2 basement rooms, but did not feel unwelcome. Robert notice the heaviness lightened as the group proceeded up the basement stairs. However, Robert's welcome was not extended to the north side basement where he felt uncomfortable and unwelcome. The group did record some voices which will be available for interpretation in the sounds section of this website. The medium also sensed a man who had lived in the lighthouse for a long time frequently paced up and down the north side hallway.

The Laura Berg Years: December 1979 -  October 1981

The following is Laura's introduction to the lighthouse in her own words.

I heard through the grapevine that the Point Lookout Lighthouse was available to rent and scheduled an appointment to see the house. I had never been to Point Lookout State Park prior to that. After falling in love with the house and being assured that the State of Maryland had a long-term agreement with the Navy to lease the lighthouse, I signed a lease in November, 1979. The only drawback to the place was the lack of fresh water. The water that came out of the pipes in the house was from the Chesapeake Bay. We couldn't drink, cook or launder with it. Other than that, the lighthouse was perfect - beautiful, large and private. After signing the lease, the cleaning and moving in process began. The lighthouse was cleaned from top to bottom. I noticed mouse droppings everywhere and cleaned thoroughly. Unfortunately, the very next day, the kitchen countertops were again covered in droppings. I knew that my three cats would probably take of the problem naturally. After moving in officially on December 6, 1979, I never saw another mouse. The next night however, I had my first ghostly experience. I heard someone walking up and down the hallway just outside the bedroom door. That same day I noticed an odor in the middle room on the north side. The odor was strongest at night and would basically disappear during the day. On January 14, 1980, the hauntings were confirmed by the experts. In March, 1980, the Navy and the State of Maryland had a disagreement over repairing water lines. The State relinquished their 100-year lease which would become effective June 30, 1980. I was able to negotiate a new lease with the Navy and began a letter writing campaign. I next received a lease extension but that was only temporary. By October, 1981, I was told to I had to leave - the Navy could not longer rent to a civilian. Declining Years The following is a chronology of events since Laura moved out of the lighthouse.




1981 Laura Berg was the last inhabitant of the lighthouse
1984 Laura visited the lighthouse - nothing had been done to it since leaving 3 years prior. A magazine article appeared in Maryland Magazine. The D.C. based show - Capital Edition - taped a show about the lighthouse in which Laura was asked to participate and be interviewed.
1985 Laura visited the lighthouse - there was a bad storm later that year that flooded out the area.
1989 Wrote to Delegate Ray Huff after hearing about a Maryland Lighthouse Commission
1990 First time the lighthouse was opened to the public (October 27)
1991 Maryland Lighthouse Commission officially established
1992 Laura visited the lighthouse for the first time since 1985 and noticed that the roof was leaking into the interior of the house; many broken windows and evidence that wild animals had been in the house. Other than that, no visible interior damage.
1994 Laura visited the lighthouse - only saw exterior on this visit. The exterior at this point was visibly deteriorating.
1995 Laura and daughter D'Arcy scheduled official interior visit through Navy. Met Heather Hunter, Public Affairs. This was the first time I noticed holes had been placed in the walls. Heather had never seen the lighthouse prior to this and suggested making it a project for the Christmas in April program. She agreed to file the necessary papers.
1996 Heather was successful and in April, Laura and D'Arcy as well as hundreds of other volunteers came to the lighthouse and completely fixed up the exterior. Some cosmetic things were done to the interior. Plans were made to work on the interior the following year.
1997 The Navy decided not to proceed with the interior renovations.
1998 The Learning Channel approached Laura Berg for an interview for the show, Haunted Lighthouses. Attended the open house as a guest of the Chesapeake Chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society. Interior of the lighthouse was much worse than in 1996 - many more holes in the walls and ceilings.
1999 Laura visited the lighthouse a couple of times including attending the open house as a guest of Department of Natural Resources - no additional damage noted.
2000 No new damage was noted at the annual open November house. Laura was contacted by the Navy and was informed of their intention to rehab the lighthouse to a level where it could be turned over to a willing agency who would take care of it.    the website was launched.
2001 Laura Berg and Robert Hall visited the lighthouse in March 2001. Met with Navy personnel and noted some improvements had been made. Doug Lister stated that the lighthouse was determined to be structurally sound. font>