Date: Friday, October 2, 2020
Locations: Three sites near the Paw Paw Tunnel, in the C&O Canal Park, MD
WereWoofs Investigating Team:
Lead Paranormal Investigator for WereWOOFS Curtis Wimer
The Woofdriver, Bill Helman
Paranormal Investigator ChrisP
Photographer Doug Sanford
Photographer and Videographer Shamal Halmat
WereWoofs Support Team:
“Dan the Man” Williams
Parapsychology Consultant “Para” Anne, and husban Evan
Coffee with the Dead podcast/YouTube channel
Guide, Local Historian, and Green Ridge Forest expert
Researcher and Post Author: Keith Engle
Once again, Bill Eady would serve as our guide to sites shrouded in history and mystery. Over the course of his life, he has spent countless days and nights hiking and camping in the Green Ridge Forest and the areas around it. He told us of a near-forgotten grave, now marked only by a blank field stone, where three people’s bodies had been buried in the 1800s during construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Their names are lost to memory. Bill told us that until it was stolen in 1984, there had been a small grave stone there which said simply “D.H. 1837”. Perhaps whoever was buried there would help us bring their memory back to life…
Paw Paw Tunnel runs under a series of ridges. Our cars bounced and jounced their way up a dirt road to a peak where two of them meet. We parked, and waited for our guide to show us which ridge we needed to follow. We quickly learned the important difference between visiting a familiar area in the day, and knowing your way around it at night, as our guide had never visited the graves after sunset. In the dark, we could spend hours searching for the site, never realizing we were on the wrong ridge entirely. Suddenly, like Gandalf in the Mines of Moria, he declared that he knew the way, and we set off. One big advantage to having a knowledgeable woodsman as a local guide: he knew things would look different at night and planned ahead. He had come out earlier in the day and marked a path with reflective tape. All we had needed to do was shine our lights into the woods until the woods shined back. A short trek through the woods and we had found the field stone that served as the only marker for the final resting place of three men. According to our historian-guide’s research, these men were construction supervisors who had died during canal construction, and their status was why they were buried on their own in this elevated place, rather than in the mass graves that were all too often the final resting place of the construction workers themselves.
The three pieces of equipment in use at this site were the Ovilus, which tracks variables like temperature and local EMF changes and connects them to words or syllables in its onboard dictionaries, and the Flux 2 Response Device, a motion detector-based device intended for use in answering yes or no questions. Over the course of an hour, the investigators invited spirits to interact, asked questions, and extended their senses in an effort to create a link between ourselves and those who have moved beyond. The only response we received was the advancing chill of autumn. If there were any spirits here, they were staying quiet, so the team packed up their equipment and moved on.
According to an article in the Cumberland Times-News in 2013, early one morning in the 1890s, passengers on a boat exiting the east end of the tunnel were greeted by an unexpected sight; the charred remains of the lock house. The lock keeper’s remains were found in his bed, his skull crushed; he had been murdered for his rare coin collection and the house burned in an effort to cover it up. The murder was unsolved. This led the team to the tunnel entrance.
In addition to the Ovilus and Flex 2, another motion detector-based item was deployed: the paranormal music box. This item is as much atmosphere as instrument: a motion detector housed in a 6-inch long model coffin, on top of which is mounted a music box which plays a delightfully creepy tune when the motion detector is triggered. This was placed on the stairs leading to the top of the canal entrance. Once again, the investigating team began inviting spirits to communicate, asking specifically about the lock keeper’s murder, and more general questions about strife and violence among the laborers who built the canal. At first it appeared that once again, the spirits would choose to keep to themselves. Then, after close to an hour, the music box played briefly, indicating movement when none of us were near it. The team took the opportunity to ask questions.
Brief music. A yes?
“Did you have family here?”
More music. Another yes?
“Did you die here?”
Repeating the question “did you have family here?”
The music box was replaced by the Flux 2, to allow clearer yes or no answers. It detects motion independently on the left and right, lighting up green on one side and red on the other. However, there was no reply when the previous questions were repeated.
The team decided to be silent for a few minutes, and soon the green light on the Flux 2 came on.
“Can you turn on the red light?”
After waiting in silence for a minute or two, the red light came on.
“Can you touch the other side?”
Both green and red lights came on.
“Can you stop touching?”
The red light turned off.
“Now the green.”
The green light turned off
The SLS Camera, which draws stick figures on a video display when it detects a figure, whether human or ghostly, began to display a figure.
At this point, the team decided to set up the Portal. Connected to a Spirit Box, which scans through radio stations to provide sounds for spirits to manipulate, the Portal enhances the Spirit Box output in an effort to make it more easily understood. Because it also makes a fair bit of noise, it isn’t generally the first piece of equipment deployed.
“How many of you are there?”
“What are your names?”
Indistinguishable noise, then what sounded like “Palmer”, an English or Scottish name. In addition to Irish immigrants, many canal workers, particularly in the early days of construction, were indentured workers from England and Wales.
“Do any of you have family who died here?”
“Were they murdered? Was their killer ever caught?”
An incoherent shout, as though angered by the question.
The team continued to ask questions, but received no answers. It was at this point that we discovered that the batteries on a number of devices, in spite of being fresh at the start of the investigation, were drained. Both of our photographers, three cell phones, and the Flux 2 all had dead or dying batteries. Two team members suddenly felt very cold. And as suddenly as it had begun, it ended. Even after batteries were replaced, there were no more responses on the team’s instruments. Having obtained evidence, but no real answers, the team decided it was time to move on to the evening’s final location.
While researching the murder at the tunnel for the purpose of this write-up, the reason why we never received any responses to our questions about the lock keeper’s murder became clear: it never actually happened. The 2013 news article was based almost entirely on the contents of a book by George Wolfe in his book “I Drove Mules on the C&O Canal”. But historians actually don’t give Wolfe’s story any credit. He was prone to exaggeration, and passing on hearsay as though he had witnessed it. His account is so vague that it defies verification. No newspapers of the time have been found that mention the murder, which would certainly have been big news. In some versions, the killer was caught when he tried to make purchases with the coins, in others it “remains unsolved to this day”. Wolfe’s story bears striking similarity in details to other variations on “someone was murdered at the tunnel” stories. One says the lock keeper and his wife were killed in 1924. The closest thing that has been found in reality is a newspaper article from 1930 about a fire that killed a man named six years after the C&O Canal ceased operating. Davis had indeed at one time been a lock keeper on the canal, at lock 61, several miles north of the Paw Paw Tunnel. Davis did indeed have a coin collection, but it was found, largely melted. The cause of the fire was determined to be a lit pipe which Davis had been smoking in bed. Was the angry reply the team received when they asked about a murder the result of a spirit being sick of hearing people talk about a murder that didn’t actually happen? If spirits wish to be remembered, how frustrating must it be to have your own story ignored in favor of an urban legend?
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was constructed between 1828 and 1850, by which time it carried commercial traffic and passengers from Washington, DC to Cumberland, MD. It closely followed the route of the Potomac River, which itself was much too turbulent to carry such traffic. It didn’t actually start in the Chesapeake Bay, and it never made it to Ohio, but grand plans often falter in the face of reality. One reality was the cost of building the canal, and it was a cost that was measured in human lives. Even before the Great Hunger of 1848, Irish men and women had looked to a new life in the United States as a way to escape poverty and unemployment. But often these grand plans too faltered in the face of reality; faced with anti-immigrant bigotry and discrimination, Irish immigrants wound up with no choice but to accept dangerous work in hazardous and unsanitary conditions. Soon after construction began, Irish immigrants formed the majority of workers on the canal. Inevitably, these dangerous conditions turned deadly. The first cholera outbreak among the workers occurred in 1832, near Point of Rocks, MD and the beginning of every summer after that was marked by another outbreak. One of the measures taken to reduce the burgeoning cost of the canal’s construction was to reduce or eliminate medical care for the workers who contracted disease. It’s impossible to know how many workers died while constructing the canal; definitely hundreds, possibly thousands over the 22 years of canal building. Their bodies were dumped in mass graves along the way, sometimes in cemeteries, sometimes in fields that would later become farms. Rarely marked, never counted, never named. Could anybody rest quietly in circumstances like these?
At around 1:30 AM, our guide led us to a field that in the 1850s was part of the Kiefer Farm, which had earlier served as a mass grave for Irish laborers on the canal, as well as a family’s own cemetery plot. There we found grave stones for three children, all of whom had died around 1853, very likely from another cholera outbreak. For the third time that night, the team set up their equipment and began inviting spirits to communicate. After about half an hour of inconclusive responses, and with the night growing colder, several team members were more than ready to call this site a bust. We’d gotten no meaningful responses from the Ovilus and Flux 2. Then a team member deployed the Portal. Soon, one of the researchers heard a dog barking through the portal, and the team began pursuing that line of questions. Asking if the children who lived on the farm had a dog, they heard an answer: yes.
“Is Spot a boy?”
The Portal emitted what sounded like a baby’s cry
“What kind of dog?”
“Yellow. Golden retriever. Puppy”
There followed little meaningful interaction, until an investigator announced “We’re going to go now.”
“Can we come back?”
Of course, after responses like that, it was hard to leave. But it seemed that the child’s spirit with whom the team had been communicating meant it when they said “bye bye”, because they had nothing more to say. While we had had no contact with any of the laborers on the canal that we had come for, the team was happy with the evidence that had been collected, and called it a night.