BIG POOL —
It was a harrowing time to live in Western Maryland. As the French and Indian War raged, hapless settlers found themselves in the midst of raids so fearsome that a fort was needed — one with stone walls 4 feet thick and 20 feet high in places — in which they could take refuge from the terrifying attacks.
Today this fort — now part of Fort Frederick State Park — is host to many activities designed to get folks acquainted with the history of the area. But on Saturday, Oct. 20, some of Fort Frederick's darker history will be explored when the park holds its annual Ghost Walk.
What can brave visitors expect who dare follow in the footsteps of the early settlers of the Fort Frederick area?
"They can expect to take a journey through a haunted fort where they'll experience things that happened at the fort or in the area over the past 250 years," said Bob Study, park ranger at Fort Frederick. "We know it's going to be scary, and hopefully it's going to get people's hearts racing."
The very nature of a fort on what was then the frontier of the Colony of Maryland lends itself to many, shall we say, unsettling stories, not the least of which was the conflict between settlers and Indians. Many of these macabre tales will be part of the Ghost Walk experience.
"It was a pretty scary time out here," Study said. "You can imagine being out here on the frontier when the Indian raiding parties came through. Unfortunately, what happened a lot of times, because of customs and rituals associated with battle, prisoners became the victims of quite grotesque torture, like disemboweling. And the Indians would leave messages — like shooting a body full of arrows as a sort of calling card. There are a lot of gruesome stories."
Study also told of several bodies which were found on the roadside near the fort. "No one ever really knew who killed them,"he said. "There was a lot of fear here."
The grim history of Fort Frederick also includes a smallpox epidemic, which, in 1758, killed numerous people. "There are legends of a smallpox cemetery here," Study said.
On a more ghostly note, the fort is said to be haunted by the "Woman in White."
"There's a legend of a woman who came looking for her husband who had died while in the fort," Study said.
The woman supposedly still haunts the fort, looking for her long lost husband.
Study noted that the Ghost Walk, which was instituted around 1995, is a collaborative effort. Sponsored by the Clear Spring Lions Club, the event also receives helping hands from park staff, volunteers, historical interpreters, naturalists and Boy Scouts.
Study said though he's lived and worked in several supposedly haunted locations, he has yet to see a ghost. But that doesn't mean he's not open to the idea.
In fact, Study thinks it would be a good opportunity to ask some questions.
"I'd like to know that we're doing them honor and that we're doing the history correctly," he said. "That's why I'd like to meet a ghost."
If you go
What: Ghost Walk
Where: Fort Frederick State Park, 11100 Fort Frederick Road, Big Pool, Md.
When: Saturday, Oct. 20. Program begins at 7 pm. Visitors in line by 9 p.m. will be admitted to the Ghost Walk
Cost: $5 for ages 6 and older. Free for those ages 5 and younger