In fairy tales and ghost stories, the two most haunted settings are forests and swamps. The Pocomoke Forest is both. It’s a swampy forest, and it lives up to the eerie expectation. It’s undoubtedly the most haunted forest in Maryland with over a dozen tales of witches, devil worshippers, elementals and human spirits that roam the dark forest – especially at night.
The word Pocomoke is said to be an Algonquin Indian term meaning “black water.” And the Pocomoke River does appear to be black in color because of the sap secreted by the bald cypresses in that line both sides of the River from Pocomoke all the way into Delaware.
The forest flanks both sides of the Pocomoke River and the bald cypress trees – some of them massive in size – can grow right up to the water’s edge. They push their “knees” up through the soil – some of which can stand several feet high. The knees appear in clusters that sometimes looks like a congregation of “little people.”
The imagination can run wild in the forest. It only needs something to set it off. So while I guide people on a 30 minute walk through the Pocomoke Forest – in the dark – I tell stories that hopefully with churn up the imaginations of our guests.
I guided a tour into the Pocomoke Forest in September on a night when there was only a sliver of moonlight. The forest was utterly dark. A citizen group in Pocomoke constructed a beautiful wooden boardwalk that allow walkers to traverse the swampy parts of the forest safely. We make periodic stops along this walkway and have the guests turn off their flashlights and let the “darkness” sink in. Then the guide will tell a ghost story. Then the group walks a little further.
The Cellar House on the Pocomoke River
The story of the Cellar House is probably our most favorite. The old folklore tale tells of a French sea captain who married a local girl. When he went off to sea, she had an affair and became pregnant. When the Frenchman returned and found his wife with child – not his child – he flew in to a rage and tried to kill her. She escaped. But after she had her baby she couldn’t survive so she returned to the Cellar House and threw herself on his mercy. He cast her child into the Pocomoke River and then dragged her upstairs and stabbed her to death. People say he still haunts the Pocomoke Forest – still in an angry rage, and local fisherman have been saying they could hear screams and the sound of a baby crying on the water near the Cellar House.
Ghost Walk Guests Getting “Touched” in the Forest
Personally, I’ve led about a dozen ghost walks into the Pocomoke Forest. We go about a half mile in having the guests stop three times along the way to listen (in the dark) to a ghost story associated with the Pocomoke Forest.
On the first walk I led through the forest, a child asked his mother – as soon as we left the forest, “Did you just touch me?” She said she did not and the child asked her three times again, assuring her that someone had touched him. She said, “How could someone have touched you? You were the last one out.”
This happened another time with a young woman (also the last one in the trail of guests walking the forest path). She thought her girlfriend tapped her on the shoulder. The girlfriend who was hugging her lit flashlight in fear most of the way stated emphatically that not only did she not touch anyone, but was gripping her flashlight with both hands. She couldn’t have touched anyone.
What Touched Me in the Pocomoke Forest?
The last ghost walk I led in the Pocomoke forest was a double header – two walks, one after the other on the same night. I had a guide in training. He said that while we were standing deep in the forest and I was telling the stories (in the dark – all flashlights off), he saw or sensed a shadowy figure come up behind me. He waited until the walk was over to tell me this.
But I had another walk to do right after that one. I was going back into the forest. So my senses were heightened.
About a third of the way in we stopped on the railed boardwalk in the swampy area of the forest. All flashlights were off. There was almost no moon. While I was telling a story one of the guests pointed to some lights in the brush just beside the boardwalk. There were about eight or ten small lights clustered in an area about two feet wide. They looked like lightning bugs, but they didn’t move – and they were more white then yellow.
A guest asked me what they were. I had no idea and was about to admit that when one of the guests started to get very upset and she wanted to leave the forest. So to calm her I said that the lights were swamp gas. This explanation seemed to calm everyone and I quickly moved them forward.
It wasn’t swamp gas. I’ve seen swamp gas. It’s yellowy-orange and generally looks spherical and is way bigger than these tiny white lights. What these lights were is still a mystery to me. I meant to look at them again on the way out of the Forest but I was way too scared by the time we were leaving.
When I got back to the site where the guide-in-training said he had seen a shadowy figure, I was a little nervous but sensed nothing out of the ordinary. As I led the group back I was startled by something moving in the brush directly in front of me – literally about three feet from my face – in a place where the path turned. The rustling was at my eye level – as if someone was behind the brush rattling the leaves just to scare me. The guests behind me asked what it was and so as not to let them see my own fear, I said it might be a deer or a raccoon. But I knew it wasn’t. A deer would have smelled a mile away and not been anywhere near us. A raccoon or fox wouldn’t have been up that high in brush.
It occurred to me as we continued walking how things had switched around. Normally, I’m trying to scare these people with the stories. Now I’m trying to calm them so they won’t be afraid. I decided my imagination had gotten the better of me and dismissed it all as mind tricks.
That’s when I got the tap on the shoulder. Which wasn’t an odd thing. There were about 20 people walking behind me. When I turned around and said, “Yes?” to the guests behind me, they looked puzzled. They hadn’t touched me.
I started to walk faster. I couldn’t get out of the forest quick enough. We hopped up on to the boardwalk which leads out of the forest and things started dropping from the trees. Stones. Pebbles. A guest asked, “What’s that?” I chalked it up to squirrels dropping nuts. Not likely since squirrels aren’t nocturnal. But I rushed past the place with the white lights and was never so relieved to be out of that forest.
As far as the answer to the “what touched me?”question goes …. I haven’t a clue. I guess I’ll never know. And if the tap on the shoulder was an isolated incident, I’d probably have forgotten by now. But the white lights, the rustling in the brush, the stones dropping on to the boardwalk…. that’s a lot of weirdness for one ghost walk.
I haven’t been back since. The guide I was training now does the Pocomoke Ghost Walks and he’s leading the tours now. I anxious to hear about his experiences.
NOTE: The Pocomoke Forest path is closed at dusk. Chesapeake Ghost Walks has permission from Pocomoke City to enter the forest after dark with our guided tours. Please don’t go into the forest after dark without permission from the Pocomoke City. Cameras monitor the forestt entrances, and the Pocomoke City Police Department will pursue trespassers.
The last Pocomoke Ghost Walk for 2014 is this Saturday night – November 22nd.