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Originally published Monday, April 4, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Hunters on prowl for haunters

There was no sign of the flock of sheep said to hover several feet off the ground of a field in St. Mary's County, Md. There were no sightings...

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — There was no sign of the flock of sheep said to hover several feet off the ground of a field in St. Mary's County, Md. There were no sightings of the "giraffedoman," with its human face, dog ears, neck and legs of a giraffe, which has been rumored to prowl the county's dark woods.

The home of John Wilkes Booth's doctor and the graveyard at one of the oldest continuously active parishes in the United States did yield some strange, glowing "orbs" in the digital photographs, but nothing dramatic or conclusive.

The ghost hunters, however, were undeterred. Well after midnight, five hours into investigating the occult in southern Maryland, the intrepid hunters arrived at the local Mecca of incorporeal possibilities.

"Here we go, ladies and gentlemen," said Thomas "T.J." Stalcup Jr., 20, as he pulled to a stop inside Point Lookout State Park. "The lighthouse."

"I don't feel like getting arrested tonight," said Tabitha Deibler, 21, Stalcup's fiancée and a founding member of SoMd Ghost Hunters, whose Web site (ghost.tjstalcup.com) proclaims their mission to be "providing proof of spirits in Southern Maryland and beyond."

"Stay in the car, then," Stalcup said.

He got out. The hunters slipped silently around the fence as moonlight cast their shadows on the grass. Stalcup approached the old lighthouse slowly, holding his camera above his head. He snapped off photos and looked at the readout. "Dude, check it out," he told a friend, passing the camera.

Then, out of the darkness, a glowing light. The hunters froze. Stalcup stared, eyes wide.

Run!

Officially, Point Lookout State Park and its lighthouse are closed after sundown, but this doesn't keep people from showing up. The stories are too good to ignore: 50,000 Confederate soldiers were held prisoner there during the Civil War; nearly 4,000 died, according to park histories.

British troops raided the site during the Revolution and the War of 1812. Shipwrecks are said to litter these waters. State employees tell tales of footsteps in the night, mysterious apparitions, the lingering stench of death.

"I do believe Point Lookout is haunted," said Laura Berg, a procurement officer at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. She was the last person to live in the lighthouse.

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"On several occasions, I have witnessed a man running across the road through Point Lookout," Don Hammett, a former ranger at the park, wrote in his pamphlet, "True Tales of the Bizarre and Unnatural." "Could the figure have been the spirit of a Confederate prisoner ... ?"

For Stalcup and his friends, such fascinations so close to home beg for further investigation. So in early February, after researching local myths in the library in Leonardtown, Md., the group began what has become a weekly tradition, venturing out Saturday nights in a back-road caravan for as much as eight hours of poking around at rickety houses, old graveyards and spooky churches.

The first stop on a recent Saturday night was St. Ignatius Church in Charles County, a Catholic parish founded in 1641 that overlooks the Port Tobacco River. A cold wind scoured the bluff, and a low, yellow moon shone through the trees. The four friends crept through the graveyard flashing photos at random.

"You always get activity in cemeteries," Stalcup whispered. "There are so many souls, you're guaranteed."

By activity, Stalcup primarily is referring to "orbs," small, circular spots that show up on some photos they take. The conventional wisdom, among those who don't believe in ghosts, is that orbs simply are dust or other airborne particles revealed by the flash.

But to ghost hunters, the orb is akin to a spirit car, the shape ghosts assume when traveling. A larger, cloudy shape might be "an ectoplasm," said Beverly Litsinger, president of the Maryland Ghost and Spirit Association. "That's the form [ghosts] take just before they turn into a full body."

But no luck on the ectoplasm, so off they drove, Deibler smoking cigarettes and Stalcup drinking cream soda. They stopped at a Waldorf, Md., home once occupied by Dr. Samuel Mudd, who set the broken leg of Booth as he fled after killing President Lincoln.

The hunters could barely wait for Point Lookout, where visitors and residents have reported ghostly occurrences for years.

The first night Berg moved into the lighthouse in 1979, she said, she heard heavy footsteps in the second-floor hallway. Also during her stay, she heard a woman's voice singing from the top of the stairs and saw a figure of a woman in the basement.

Berg, who lives in Baltimore, is still an active ghost hunter and has a hunt planned at Point Lookout this month. She uses a digital-voice recorder, and her daughter bought her a TriField electromagnetic detector for Christmas.

The detector would have been useless on the light that Stalcup and his friends spotted that night by the lighthouse. As the light got brighter, it became clear to the hunters that they were seeing the headlights of a sheriff's cruiser.

"You all know the park is closed," the officer told the group. "You look like intelligent people who can read a sign."

He let them go, but after that excitement the hunters decided to head for home. Not a bad night, though. "Cheaper than the movies," Stalcup said.

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