September-October 2015 | HAUNTED POCOMOKE

TELLING TALES: 'Haunted Mid-Shore' is author Mindie Burgoyne's just-released exposition of ghostly local legend.
DON'T GO INTO THE WOODS!: The notorious Pocomoke Forest is considered by experts to be one of the most haunted places in Maryland.RESTLESS SPIRITS: Chesapeake Ghost Walks' Chris Wright lecturing in front of Dr. Knotts' houseUNCIVIL SERVICE: The Armory has been the site of some very unsettling paranormal activity.HAUNTED POCOMOKEHAUNTED POCOMOKE



Written By: Nick Brandi | Photographer: GRANT L. GURSKY

In the late 17th century, a small settlement sprang up on the south bank of the Pocomoke River. Known then as Stevens Landing, it would be incorporated as Newtown (or New Town) in 1865, only to be reincorporated 13 years later as Pocomoke City. Today, the town of just under 5,000 has been dubbed “The Friendliest Town on the Eastern Shore.”

But is it?

Like so many Eastern Shore enclaves, Pocomoke City has a rich history. But history is often a mixed bag: some of it good, some not so good, and some that is downright creepy. Since Halloween is right around the corner, we thought we’d explore the eerier side of Pocomoke’s personality with Chesapeake Ghost Walks’ Mindie Burgoyne, who is considered one of the foremost local authorities on the Eastern Shore’s haunted history.

Originally a barracks of the Maryland National Guard, the red-brick building known as the armory was eventually repurposed as the town’s police station and jail. During that time, there was a 20-year-old detainee who suffered a tragic death in his cell that may have been a suicide. In the period that followed, numerous reports of ghostly shadows appearing in windows, disembodied voices and light anomalies were documented. Meanwhile, the jail’s security cameras have reportedly captured numerous images of a shadowy figure pacing around the cell the young man occupied, as well as video of the heavy cell door being rattled or shaken by an unseen force. The building is deserted now, but there are many credible witnesses to these events, including one former Pocomoke City police officer who has refused to re-enter the building.

According to Chesapeake Ghost Walks, a Baltimore Sun reporter once said the Pocomoke River “takes one life a year. If it misses a year, it’ll take two the next.” Not altogether unfair for a dark and foreboding body of water that is second only to the Nile as the deepest river in the world for its width. 

Many have learned this the hard way, including a man named Job Emmons. Legend has it that Emmons, the hat-wearing captain of the schooner Arabella, dropped off his 10-year-old son on the dock to fetch some supplies in town.

When the boy returned, he attempted to board the slowly cruising vessel but slipped and fell into the river. When he didn’t surface, his father, an experienced seaman, jumped in after him. Swallowed by the thick, black water of the Pocomoke, neither was seen alive again. Recovering the bodies of the two proved more difficult than hoped, but when the captain and his son were finally delivered from their watery grave after days of dredging the river, witnesses were stunned to find the two wrapped in each other’s arms, locked in an eternal embrace. 

There were subsequent accounts by an employee of a meat-packing plant off the river who claimed he regularly saw a man in a hat and a boy walking along the shoreline, always in the same clothes, regardless of the season or weather. It wasn’t until that same employee was fishing on the river one day that he realized there was no shoreline where he’d seen the man and boy so many times before. In fact, there was nowhere to walk there but on the water itself – which was right at the spot where Captain Emmons and his son were recovered.

This historic Second Empire Victorian home was built by Littleton “Thomas” Clarke circa 1860 for himself, his wife, Amarette, and their five children. Six years later, a breakout of pneumonia claimed Thomas and four of the children. Only the youngest, Edward, was spared, but he was sent away to be raised and educated by the Church.

When a devastated Amarette fled the home, some say she left her dead family behind. Many eyewitnesses — such as Chesapeake Ghost Walks’ tour-guide Christopher Wright — have seen unsettling apparitions, including child-sized shadows scampering around the property, and the unmistakable sound of invisible children playing and laughing together. Today, the house is a lovely and popular B&B called the River Gem Inn, run by Mona Margarita and her daughters, Aurora and Violet.

The Pocomoke Forest is considered by many, including Mindie Burgoyne, to be Maryland’s most haunted forest. On the Eastern Shore, she says, only the Denton Jail boasts more tales of supernatural activity.
“When I led the very first ghost walk in Pocomoke, we had a few children on the tour,” said Burgoyne, who’s authored three regional travel books. “They loved getting scared in the forest, but when we came out, a little boy said to his mother: ‘Someone touched me. Did you touch me?’  She responded: ‘How could I have touched you? You were behind me.’ Throughout the remainder of the walk, the boy kept whispering: ‘I know someone touched me.’

“People kept saying something unseen had touched them — including my very credible tour-guide, Chris Wright,” Mindie continued. “Other things happened, too. Once, when Chris was on a tour with me, he said he saw a shadow behind me — not a tourgoer but something else — standing outside our circle, just behind me, wearing a hat. I’ve personally had that happen three different times. On another occasion, there was an inexplicable series of six or seven sparkling white lights glowing atop the underbrush. After we’d ruled out lightning bugs, swamp gas, flint or any other logical source, the tourgoers grew uneasy, and we all were eager to leave.

“There is Indian folklore claiming the spirits of deceased Indians manifest as bright white lights, while other experts say they are elementals, or nonhuman spirits. Either way, I and the 25 people in the group had had enough. As we made our way out, we began getting pelted by something like small stones while on the forest’s boardwalk. Despite having multiple high-powered flashlights, we were never able to determine who or what was throwing those objects, even though there was nowhere a person could hide — unless they were willing to stand in the swamp. Christopher conducts the Pocomoke walks now because I’d rather not go back in that forest.”

Located down the road from the Littleton T. Clarke House on Second St., the house of Dr. Knotts has been the subject of specter speculation for decades. Sometime following Knotts’ death, the home was converted to an apartment house. Though the landlord had always kept the upstairs door locked, one day a tenant found it open for no apparent reason. The landlord promptly relocked the door, but from that day on, tenants and others have reported seeing a shadow in the shape of a child at the bottom of the stairs, staring out the window — a phenomenon that some claim continues to this day.

Dr. Isaac Costen was a respected physician and the first mayor of Pocomoke. Costen was sympathetic to the Confederacy during the Civil War and would, at great personal risk, run blockades in order to deliver food and other supplies to its soldiers. 

His home at 206 Market St. was built after the war, circa 1870, and was occupied by his family for more than a century. The beautiful Victorian Italianate structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places — but what the register doesn’t reflect is the belief among locals that the house is haunted by Costen’s beloved son William, who, despite his father’s considerable medical skill, died when he was a small child. It is said that on any given day, one may see a young boy staring out from the second floor and floating candlelight that passes from one window to another, carried by something no living person can see.

Across from the Costen House Museum is one of Pocomoke City’s most prized landmarks, the Mar-Va Theater. Built in 1927, the Art Deco structure remains to this day one of the town’s main attractions. Pocomoke City Mayor J. Dawson Clarke played the piano during silent-movie screenings and eventually purchased the theater. A bastion of probity, Mayor Clarke was known for either covering the lens or the eyes of children with his hands during scenes he deemed “inappropriate.” After Clarke died in 1986, theater employees reported that items would inexplicably disappear, and lights would turn on and off for no apparent reason.

Others, however, suspect it’s Clarke’s successor, Mayor Curt Lippholdt, who is the poltergeist responsible for the mischief at the Mar-Va. Mayor Lippholdt is credited with spearheading the effort to repair the Pocomoke River drawbridge, but like his predecessor, he loved the Mar-Va, too. In fact, the last thing Mayor Lippholdt ever saw was the Mar-Va, having suffered a fatal heart attack during an event at the theater. Since that fateful day in 1998, patrons and staff alike report humanlike shadows appearing out of nowhere, gliding ominously across the stage.

There are many more macabre phenomena lurking within the sleepy town of Pocomoke, but you’ll have to experience those for yourself… if you dare.

Editor’s note: With 130 sites on 10 (soon to be 12) walks, ranging from Easton to Ocean City, Chesapeake Ghost Walks offers the largest cluster of regional heritage walks in the U.S. It has been featured in the travel section of the “Washington Post.” Mindie’s latest book is “The Haunted Mid-Shore: Spirits of Caroline, Dorchester and Talbot Counties,” published by Arcadia Publishing/History Press in August. For more information on future ghost tours, visit


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