Friday, March 27, 2009

Spine Tinglers: New Point Comfort Lighthouse

When I was growing up, we had a summer home, a pretty crisp-looking Victorian on little stilts near a quiet inlet on Mobjack Bay in the Chesapeake, a town called Newpoint Comfort. It was rather idyllic. We would go in the springtime and plant a vegetable garden in the sandy soil near the house and then go back to the D.C. area and come back in the summer to find a full-grown garden. There was a dock on "Doctor's Creek" where we kept our cabin cruiser. The house was sold to us filled with antiques and the library room had only books from the 1800s. As a kid it was a musty scary place after being locked up all winter long. Sometimes we'd find dead birds that came down the chimney during the year. We'd air the place out and with no TV or radio to distract us and only old books to read, all of us five kids would take off on a rampage through the beautiful setting.

The house sat directly across from a graveyard that was filled with tall grasses. I didn't even know it was there until I tripped over a headstone cutting through the grass one time. It intrigued me so much I left wildflowers at the graves when we visited. At night sometimes, I would see a bluish glow from the center of it. I would sit in my sister's odd shaped turret room and study the graveyard for an hour or so, my sister brushing her hair and chattering about superficial things while I contemplated the source of the blue light. It certainly wasn't a lightning bug cluster.

We'd drop chicken necks into crab traps and drop them off the dock and have splended crab bakes. We'd gather our own clams and oysters and have feasts with the fresh produce from the garden. I suppose that's where I got my love of gardening and the thought of living off the land.

Admittedly, the house was old and had a very distinct feel about it that was pleasant, like having your grandmother living with you and doting over you. I felt very comforted by the house itself compared to our very actively haunted house up north. What was intriguing were the hauntings related to the water of the Chesapeake Bay.

My father would wake us kids up at 4 am to meet the low tide. We'd get in a rowboat and take off deep into the bay where when the sun was up you would barely see distant land. It was quite a scary thing in the complete dark with only a Coleman lantern on the bow of the rowboat. We'd all take off our shoes and wearing our socks we'd jump into the bay. The water was about 3' deep at this time. We'd dive for anything we stepped on that felt like a clam and fill the bottom of the boat and swim alongside it as we pushed it back to shore at sunrise.

Sometimes while we were out there in the silence of the bay with no light other than the 5' circle around the lantern, the rest of the bay was a dark mystery. My sister used to try to scare me with stories of sharks, but I felt safe knowing that I was the baby of the family and probably the least appetizing of the crowd standing in the water. I would listen carefully though. Occasionally a foghorn might sound from a great distance, the sound carrying across the water, but just about every time we'd go out, we'd hear a woman's distant cries. It sounded so sad and so lonely. Everyone would stand still, eyes darting around nervously, wondering where it was coming from, who was calling. It was a cross between someone calling for a beloved pet and utter anguish. All of us would break into goosebumps. One time, we got distracted and stayed past sunrise, all of us piled into the boat, no longer willing to stay in the water. We watched the distance and saw nothing at all. The cries stopped before sunrise. My brother had theory it was a seaman's wife on a widow's walk wailing for her husband to come back from sea. My sister said it was the ghost of a woman who fell off a boat during a party. The stories went round and round about what it was, but I always had the distinct feeling it was an echo from the past. One time we collectively called back but she didn't respond. My brother pointed out that if it were a live woman calling someone, she would have responded to our calls because if we could hear her, she could hear us. That was an unsettling realization.

Besides the lady calling over the bay, we had a fantastic find for curious children; the New Point Comfort Lighthouse. When we owned the summer home it was when the lighthouse had been completely abandoned. We used to take the outboard motor boat and ride over to the tiny rock island and climb the stairs. There was no railing, so the climb was a nerve-racking one. We would go up above and see the beauty of the water from up high.

I was always a sensitive kid, and I would stop in the opening when we first stepped inside and take a long deep breath. There was something about the place, as if the very stones of its walls had absorbed the power of the constant movement of the bay, the pile of rocks it sat upon, and its circular shape combined to be a conduit for energy. I felt strangely ambitious, driven, and renewed. I would climb the stairs cautiously, one hand on the stone wall, feeling its history, sensing its strength, circular up and up and up until nearly dizzy from the final narrow climb. I would sit down and took a deep renewing breath of the bay.

My brother would pretend to be a lighthouse keeper, but I would sit on my little perch and look down the stairs. The sounds of someone following me up made me alert my brother. We weren't supposed to visit the island alone without adults. We were certain old Captain Hudgins from down the road had followed us. He never missed a thing and treated us like a grandpa when we visited. He told us scary sea stories and gave me a huge starfish he'd pulled out of the water for me. (I still have it hanging on my wall with all its positive energy that a mentor can give). My brother and I sat on the perch, eyes bulging, waiting for the person to arrive, but nothing. No one. Scott raced down the stairs but there was no one there. I raced out onto the rocks to look around the tiny island but only our boat was there.

We snuck out many times over the years to the lighthouse. It was our guilty pleasure. Our parents provided us children with magical places to live and be kids without supervision, so no one ever noted we were gone. Each time we went to the lighthouse, I felt the same sensation upon entering it. I felt wired like no cups of coffee could possibly provide. My senses were keener, the air was cleaner, my mind was open, my muscles were poised, and my imagination could surpass this earthly plane. If I could have bottled it and sold it at spas, I would have cornered the market on renewable energy.

Each time we visited, the steps followed us up. These weren't wooden steps, mind you. There was nothing to make creaking sounds, only the hollow sound of someone's boots clicking on each smooth concrete step, the tip of the boot hitting and then the heel sounding down next. Each time, no one was on the island with us.

We started to affectionally call him "Mr. Keeper" (the lighthouse keeper).

I heard that the lighthouse was refurbished in the past few decades and it's still open to the public, to anyone with a boat who wishes to stop and see it. I wonder if it still has its energy or if the refurbishing made it lose its touch. I like to think that the location, geology, water, and circular shape all made it a conduit that remains as powerful today as it was back then. Some time when I'm back East again, I'll have to go there and get renewed again and maybe say "hi" to "Mr. Keeper."


  1. Beautifully written post! Just wanted to let you know that I've enjoyed your blogging immensely!

  2. I agree with danmorrow Autumnforest-what a great way to create atmosphere and tell your story! I would love to have had a place like that to go to when I was a kid -although the woman screaming probably would have freaked me out along with some other things-I love lighthouses and being near the ocean-any water actually -best to you as always and have a fantastic weekend!!

  3. Thanks ya'all.
    I did have a very idyllic upbringing in the midst of great turbulence. My family had issues and the drama of the 60s affected the elder siblings, but somehow having a retreat like our home in Fairfax and the one on the Chesapeake reminded us that when it comes down to it, it's us an nature. It's hard in the desert, cause I'm a gentle southern gal, but I manage to find my bits of beauty and nature to congregate with and I feel like a kid on a mystery tour through haunted spaces and lush green spaces.

  4. What a fasinating story. The eery woman yelling for her 'pet' would have given me chills. Another haunted place that would be fun to visit. Thanks for sharing....

  5. Excellent atmosphere in this post! It reminds me of the times I went to the mud flats at Bodega Bay when I was on my 7th and 8th grade field trips. We'd go during spring tides when the water was out the farthest and longest, searching through the mud for clams and burrowing crabs. The marine layer drifted between the scattered students and the fog horn on the Head moaned in the gloom. Strangely enough, the forlorn clanging of chains on moored fishing ships made goosebumps crawl across my skin, rather than the foghorn.

    Were there any sea birds that could have attributed to the calling sound of the woman? I've always wondered if a lot of sea life making their sounds encourage legends of ghosts and sea-spirits, but the roosting cormorants by Bodega just sounded like something sick, rather than anything ghostly. Still, that does not explain the sound fading with the light, nor the sharpness of the cries. An animal calling might have paused when your family called out, to make sure it was safe to call again, but whatever it was made no kind of response. Seals and sea lions would sound far too gutteral. Truly, it sounds like something otherworldly. It makes a superb story.