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There's a brisk chill in the air on this pitch-black night in Pocomoke City, Md. The ancient cypress trees look like people moving in the darkness. Author and historian Mindie Burgoyne is carrying a lone flashlight to guide us through Maryland's reportedly most haunted forest.
She says historically, the scariest and best places to find ghosts are swamps and forests. "And in this place you have both," she says. "It's a swampy forest."
Pocomoke is about 40 minutes southwest of Ocean City, and dates back a long time. The original settlement here, a place called Stevens Landing, was founded way back at the end of the 17th century.
And there is no shortage of stories of people having paranormal experiences here. Burgoyne says there are all kinds of spirits in these woods, from former slaves to moonshiners to something called "elementals."
"Elementals are non-human spirits," she says. "We have lots of names for them — fairies goblins, things that aren't human that are on the other side. And the last tour I had here, I talked about the elementals and we were standing right here, and there were people taking pictures of the forest and there were four or five of them that came out, not with orbs or things like that, but actual misty shapes and shadows."
The stories get no less creepy as we walk out of the forest and alongside the deep black and eerily still waters of the Pocomoke River, where Burgoyne says people have seen ghosts walking on the shoreline. There's also the story of a friendly spirit at the Mar VA Theatre on Main Street who helps the volunteers find things they've lost or flips the lights on and off.
As the tour goes on, it feels like every street has a ghost story.
Burgoyne says many locals have told her about experiencing something weird at one old Victorian house on Second Street. John Thomas Rafter is one of those locals. He used to live in that house, and at night, he often realized he wasn't alone.
"There would always be a shadow, like a presence down by the base of the stairs, down by the window," he says. "It just became part of the house. It never freaked me out because I always thought it was a trick of the light or something. But it was always there... it almost became reassuring after a while."
So you might be asking yourself — why does this little riverside city on Maryland's Eastern Shore have so many ghosts?
"Pocomoke has all the elements," says Mindie Burgoyne. "It's got this really dark black river that runs through it, and the forest on either side. I don't mean to say it's a spooky place, but it's thick with presence."
[Music: "Sea of Love" by Tom Waits from Brawlers / "Spooky" by Cal Tjader from Plugs In]