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These 7 Haunted Spots in Delaware Have the Spookiest Histories

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Do you believe we coexist with the spirit world? Read on to discover seven iconic landmarks in Delaware where ghosts reportedly roam—and make themselves known to visitors./Photos by Joe Del Tufo

Rumor has it that spirits—many disturbed like a headless horseman and former inmates—still roam these seven locales in Delaware.

Based on books, national TV programs and the number of ghost tours this time of year, Delaware has no shortage of things that go bump in the night. Perhaps that’s not surprising, considering that the state boasts historic properties, a grim Civil War prison and a treacherous, shipwreck-laden coastline. From north to south, here are seven places that are reportedly home to mischievous spirits.

Rockwood Museum: Mary and the Mysterious Men

Built between 1851 and 1854, the Rockwood mansion was initially the retirement home of Joseph Shipley, a distinguished merchant banker who designed the house to resemble an English country estate. But as anyone who’s seen it can attest, the ornate Gothic Revival architecture has all the makings of a classic haunted house— complete with a pet cemetery.

Over the years, staff have seen the spirit of a man in a red smoking jacket and the ghost of Shipley’s great-niece Mary Bringhurst, who was 100 when she died in the home in 1965. “Sometimes you’ll smell lilacs, which was one of her favorite perfumes,” Louis “Dr. Lou” DiMieri, a parapsychologist, told a CBS reporter in 2017. Her old bedroom occasionally dips in temperature, he added.

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At Wilmington’s English country-style Rockwood mansion-turned-museum, staff and visitors have reported changes in temperature, scents of lilac and even seeing apparitions of its late residents./Photo by Joe Del Tufo

The basement is supposedly home to a spirit called The Shadowman, and some have seen the ghost of a dog. Other unexplained occurrences include floating orbs and the disturbing sound of shoes on the stairs.

News about the possible hauntings became so widespread that in addition to the CBS segment, the property appeared on the SyFy show Ghost Hunters in 2015. The museum plans to hold ghost tours this Halloween season, pending COVID-19 restrictions.

4651 Washington St. Ext., Wilmington; 761-4340, nccde.org/431/Rockwood-Park-Museum

Cooch’s Bridge: Delaware’s Grim Battleground

By September 3, 1777, about 4,000 British and Hessian soldiers had marched from Maryland into Delaware. Unbeknownst to them, about 800 militia and Continental Army soldiers waited in ambush. The goal: Slow the British advance to Philadelphia and collect information.

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Near the Cooch’s Bridge battlefield in Newark, passersby have spotted a headless horseman on moonless nights, believed to be either an American or British soldier decapitated by enemy fire during the Revolutionary War./Photo by Jim Coarse

Initially, the Americans were victorious. Then the British pushed back, driving their enemy from Aiken Town, now Glasgow, over Iron Hill to the Welsh Baptist Meeting House. There was severe fighting at Cooch’s Bridge, a property along the Christina River named for the Cooch family.

Out of ammunition, the Americans retreated, and the British took Philadelphia on September 26, 1777. Many Delawareans who fought at Cooch’s Bridge wintered with Gen. George Washington at Valley Forge.

Before the battle, American sentries reported seeing an ominous white spectral horseman. They fired, but the apparition was unharmed. Legend has it that he was a British soldier wearing armor underneath a white sheet. One sensible sergeant aimed high and put a shot in the rider’s head. That, as they say, was the end of that.

The story of the specter appeared in a 1975 issue of The Morning News, but it is not the most famous ghost tale attached to the brutal battle, which took place along present-day Old Baltimore Pike.

On foggy, moonless nights, a headless British soldier is said to wander along the road near the battle site, looking for the head a cannonball struck from his shoulders. Since the Americans did not have cannons, he would have encountered friendly fire. (No wonder his spirit won’t rest.) Others maintain that the ghost is American Charlie Miller, who was decapitated by a British cannonball.

Today, the Pencader Heritage Museum’s collection includes the painting The Ghost of Cooch’s Bridge. Visit the facility to learn more about the only Revolutionary War battle on Delaware soil.

2029 Sunset Lake Road, Newark; 584-4570; pencaderheritage.org

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More than one ghost is believed to linger at Lums Pond, a popular recreation site in New Castle. Some visitors have reported hearing screams, thought to come from a girl murdered here in the 1800s. Others say they’ve seen the late John Lum himself, accompanied by his son, also a spirit./Photo by Joe Del Tufo

Lum’s Pond State Park: A Victim’s Last Cry

Lums Pond is a popular destination for campers, picnickers, paddlers, bikers and hikers. Few, however, know about its resident ghost. According to Delaware Public Archives, a runaway girl met her end in the 1870s when she encountered a murderer. So, if you hear high-pitched screams and muffled shouts near the Swamp Forest Hiking Trail, you might wish to turn the other way.

The woman’s unfortunate demise isn’t the only spooky campfire story you can tell in the park. Its namesake is John Lum, who ran a millhouse along the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. Visitors have reported seeing the miller and his son roaming the grounds and hearing the phantom sounds of a water wheel.

1068 Howell School Road, Bear; 368-6989; destateparks.com/PondsRivers/LumsPond

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If you pass a man wearing a powdered wig and knee britches, it’s likely Charles Hillyard III. Delaware.gov dedicates a whole web page to the well-known Woodburn ghost./Photo by Joe Del Tufo

Woodburn, The Governor’s Residence: A Persistent Homeowner

The Woodburn ghost is so well-known that Delaware.gov devotes an entire page to him. The old spirit’s origins date back to Charles Hillyard III, who built the circa-1798 Georgian house. Son-in-law and daughter Dr. Martin W. and Mary Hillyard Bates purchased the home from his estate.

In 1815, the Bateses were entertaining a Methodist preacher at breakfast when the hostess asked him to lead them in prayer. He suggested they wait for the other guests. Puzzled, she told him there were none. The preacher, however, had passed a man in a powdered wig, knee britches and a ruffled shirt. He’d seen Charles Hillyard III.

Since then, others have also seen the ghost, who during his life loved his wine. If you leave him a glass at night, it will be gone by morning, many have vowed. Governor Sherman Tribbitt’s wife, Jeanne, decided to test the theory by pouring a glass for Hillyard on several occasions. Alas, it was still full in the morning. At some point in the past 200 years, perhaps Woodburn’s ghost discovered a 12-step program.

151 Kings Highway S.W., Dover; 739-5656; woodburn.delaware.gov

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At Crabby Dick’s in Delaware City, the spirit of a maid named Sandy—who allegedly worked here back when the building was the town’s namesake hotel—is the one in a crotchety mood./Photo by Joe Del Tufo

Crabby Dick’s: The Memorable Maid

People who love blue crabs head to Crabby Dick’s, which serves Delaware’s favorite crustacean with a waterfront view. Paranormal enthusiasts, however, head to the building because it’s reportedly haunted.

John Buchheit is a believer. In 2005, shortly after Buchheit and Dale Slotter purchased the old Delaware City Hotel for Crabby Dick’s, Buchheit slept in one of the rooms and dreamed a chambermaid told him to leave. A year later, Nancy Myer of Court TV’s Psychic Detectives channeled a spirit who said a former maid named Sandy was haunting the building. For more things that make you go “hmmm,” a restaurant customer recalled that a maid had died in the hotel. The ghost is said to flick the lights on and off to keep people from the fourth floor.

If you see a face peering down at you from an upper story, relax. It might be one of the dummies Buchheit moves around the hotel during Halloween. But do take a second look. It might be Sandy.

30 Clinton St., Delaware City; 832-5100; crabby-dicks.com

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As if Fort Delaware isn’t a spooky enough presence on its own, visitors to Pea Patch Island, where the historic prison is housed, claim to see its former inmates idling about the grounds./Photo by Jim Coarse

Fort Delaware: Misery Loves Company

The mere mention of the intimidating fortress on Pea Patch Island once instilled fear in Confederate soldiers’ hearts. It was “spoken by all who have been confined there as a perfect hell on earth,” wrote the Confederate prisoner who counted himself lucky to be interned in Ohio.

After battles in Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the prison population topped 12,000. In all, more than 2,650 people died here. Many fell victim to the 1864 smallpox epidemic, but prisoners also succumbed to poor living conditions.

There are so many ghost stories surrounding the fortress that local author Ed Okonowicz wrote the book Civil War Ghosts at Fort Delaware. He noted that some people have seen men in damp gray uniforms wandering around the coastline on misty nights. The lost souls are likely the escapees who drowned in the Delaware River’s swift current. Okonowicz long led ghost tours on the island, and he reported that many participants heard strange noises and saw a man in a cloak carrying a lantern.

In 2014, park historian Laura Lee was camping on the island with a Boy Scouts of America troop when she heard steps approaching her quarters. When she went to investigate, she was alone. But in the meantime, someone had balled up the sleeping bag she’d carefully spread on a bed.

Fort Delaware State Park plans to offer ghost tours in 2022. Check the website for details and up-to-date information, and to book ferry tickets for a visit during opening hours. 45 Clinton St., Delaware City; 834-7941; destateparks.com/History/FortDelaware

Cannonball House: The Capricious Poltergeist

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The Cannonball House, built in Lewes in 1765, has been a restaurant, laundromat and the private home of pilots—one of whose family members perished in a fire and whose presence can still be felt through mysterious happenings at the house./Photo by Alex del Tufo

Owned by the Lewes Historical Society, the Cannonball House is named for the cannonball that struck the foundation in April 1913 when the British bombarded Lewes. Built around 1765, it’s been a restaurant, laundromat and the private home of pilots, including Capt. David Rowland. Reportedly his family member Susan lost her life when her skirts brushed against the hearth and caught fire.

Since the society bought the property in 1963, there have been some mysterious happenings. One door won’t stay shut, even when it’s been nailed closed. In another incident, a worker left his tools on a bench at the day’s end. The next morning, they were on the floor, as if someone had carefully placed them there.

A key once went missing from the lock of a displayed 16th-century Spanish chest. Since workers had accidently shut the lid, everyone assumed the key had fallen inside the chest, which had locked. While cleaning the property, a maintenance man stumbled upon a coiled rope no one had noticed before. The key was underneath.

Susan is a playful spirit, but a more aggressive specter might occupy the society’s nearby Ryves Holt House. While investigating the structure’s basement, the late Rick Coherd, founder of Delmarva Historic Haunts, felt something— or someone—touch his arm. “Someone is up close and in your personal space,” he said after the experience, “but you can’t see anyone.” He found the experience hard to forget.

Lewes Historical Society, 110 Shipcarpenter Square, Lewes; 645-7670; historiclewes.org

Related: Girard Craft and Cork Brings More Than Wine and Spirits to Delaware

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