Photograph by Tom Nutter
Our resident expert of all things paranormal gives the 411 on local phantoms.
Delaware is swarming with its own headless horsemen, swamp monsters and other spooks. Ed Okonowicz
knows. He’s published 19 books on local folklore and the paranormal. Here are his top haunted sites:
Fort Delaware The fort on Pea Patch Island remains much as it was during the Civil War. And that
is why ghosts of the former prison camp like it. “The best ghost stories are related to the history of an area.”
Reliance Crossroad In the 1820s, gang leader Patty Cannon lived at this crossroads where
Delaware and Maryland meet—and routinely murdered travelers. She broiled heads in the fireplace, bashed children’s skulls and tortured kidnap victims. Her ghost is still seen. Don’t mess with her.
Welsh Tract Church During the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge in 1777, when a British cannonball struck the brick facade of Welsh Tract Church near Newark, a young volunteer fighter named Charlie Miller lost his head. His restless spirit still roams the woods near I-95.
University of Delaware UD is teeming with ghosts, including a 19th-century prankster named Edward Roach whose throat was slit by a rival on the steps of Old College. Roach’s killer was expelled, then took work at a machine shop, where he promptly died when a piece of shrapnel from a boiler explosion slit his throat. Roach still haunts Old College.
The Cape May-Lewes Ferry Construction of the ferry terminal in 1964 paved over the graves of dead sailors. Night watchmen report seeing black, shrouded figures roaming the grounds. “On your way to the parking lot or the snack bar, you’re walking over 800 dead sailors,” Okonowicz says.
Woodburn Several ghosts haunt the governor’s mansion. There’s a little girl who floats on the reflecting pool, a foppish colonel who wanders the stairs in a powdered wig, and a tippling ghost who drinks wine out of the decanters. But the scariest is a Patty Cannon crony who inhabits a long-gone chestnut tree. After a slave-napping mission went bad, he hid in the tree—along with his chains. He finally fell asleep and slipped off a branch, accidentally hanging himself. On blustery nights, people still hear the chains rattle.
Rockwood Museum Paranormal frequencies are so strong here, curators enlisted the help of a psychic to communicate with some, ahem, former residents. “There’s a man over here in a wheelchair,” the clairvoyant said, “and he’s stuck.” Indeed, a member of the powerful Shipley family was confined to a wheelchair. The medium found him in a section of the house he rarely visited. Lost and confused, the ghost moaned to come unstuck.
The Great Cyprus Swamp The very bottom of Sussex County is where the Cyprus Swamp Monster makes his home. A disfigured creature, horribly burned by swamp fires, he roams the area stealing chickens and attacking curious travelers who might try to offer him a Stridex pad.
Blackbird Forest Marshy Blackbird Forest is where the fearsome pirate Blackbeard would hide from revenue agents. Treasure hunters search the marsh for some of Blackbeard’s lost loot, but they’re not alone. Blackbeard himself is supposedly working on a reclamation project. —Matt Amis
Tod Harra posed for the 2008 Men of Mortuaries calendar in part to show people that morticians are just regular Joes.
Photograph by Christian Kaye www.transitdesigns.com
His and Hearse
Todd Harra peels down—well, partially—for a great cause.
Whoever said morticians aren’t sexy was dead wrong.
Todd Harra Jr. of McCrery Funeral Home in Wilmington temporarily set aside his regular duties as an apprentice mortician—and some of his clothes—to appear as one of 12 hunks in the 2008 Men of Mortuaries calendar.
That’s right. He’s a pin-up.
“There was an ad for it in American Funeral Director Magazine,” Harra says, “I decided I wanted to do it, and my uncle (director of McCrery for nearly 30 years) said he would pay the entrance fee.”
The calendar originated with Kenneth McKenzie of McKenzie Mortuary in Long Beach, California, as a way to raise money for women undergoing breast cancer treatment. His sister, a breast cancer survivor, was the inspiration. Proceeds help ease the burdens of lost wages and medical expenses.
Harra leapt at the opportunity to help—and to debunk some misconceptions about morticians.
“It’s an opportunity to shed the stereotype that we all sit around in the dark and whisper,” Harra says. “We’re just regular people doing a job, but our hours are a little different.”
Harra is keeping good company. Newsweek magazine named The Men of Mortuaries calendar one of its top 10 picks. Look for the 2008 calendar at www.menofmortuaries.com. —Helen Jardine