By Ranger Geoff
Edwards Ferry is a good place for ghost stories, not only in the dead of night, but also as the morning mists rise off the river or the autumn sunset lights the very tops of the sycamores. The boatmen thought so. This part of the canal was known as "Haunted House Bend." I'm not sure why they named it after a house, but there certainly were plenty of people who have said they've seen spirits around this bend.
In October of 1861, Union troops were driven down the infamous Ball's Bluff into the river on the other side of Harrison's Island. Some of their bodies floated downstream all the way to Washington, DC. Imagine being a lockkeeper or boatman and hearing the gunfire over the wooded hills, and then watching the dark shapes float by in the river before ever learning the particulars of battle. News spread a bit differently than it does today.
Boatmen in later years reported hearing strange noises in these parts, including blood-curdling screams and moans. They'd say mules passing through became restless and spooked. I'd always assumed this was just the result of two or three generations of campfire stories and older siblings working on the minds of young muletenders, but I found similar tales in the diary of a Maine soldier. He reported that his company's pickets heard unearthly noises from the rocky shores and woods, only one year after the battle.
Many people have passed by here over the years. Some might have passed by more than once. Some report seeing a red-bearded man and an African American woman. However, on second glance, they would be gone. Trick of the light? Perhaps.
Edwards Ferry holds a lot of history. Long used as a safe place to cross the Potomac River, the community was bustling just a century ago. Going back to the 1830s, the area was packed with immigrants digging the canal with gunpowder and manual labor. At that time, poor hygiene, cholera, and accidents were the norm, and thousands were buried along the canal in unmarked graves. Before that, we know the Conoys, Piscataway Indians, lived nearby on Harrison's Island. Recent park archaeological studies have shown us that people have lived in this area continuously for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
Many ghost stories start with the disclaimer that "I never believed in ghosts, until..." Perhaps the canal's ghosts are best encountered in person, by the edge of the woods, lit fitfully by a dying campfire or in the stone walls of an old house. At Turtle Creek hiker-biker campsite, or the newly-opened Lockhouse 25 Canal Quarters site, you can now meet them on their own ground. Welcome to Haunted House Bend.