At the "Home of the Brave"

(from Fort McHenry, Home of the Brave by Norman G. Rukert - illustration by Harry Dierken)

The reenactors of 1812 and Civil War troops are not the only "spirits of the past" at Fort McHenry. There is, for instance, the spectral Levi Claggett. During the September 13, 1812 attack on the fort, a British bomb scored a direct hit on a gun position. Lieutenant Claggett was killed - or so it was recorded. Some people think that he lives on in the fort - they think, that is, that his spirit lives on.

There are those who insist they have seen him - or felt his presence - there. A park ranger reported that one cold and rainy day, he performed his usual tour duty of the star fort. The fort was practically deserted due to the bad weather. As he exited one of the buildings, however, he saw the shadow of a man on a wall. Moving closer to it, he determined that it was not his own shadow. On inspection of the surrounding buildings, he could find no other visitors. Although he mentioned it to no one at the fort, another ranger has a similar experience later in the day, but also heard footsteps. Again, the fort was deserted. Later, when the rangers compared notes, they discovered that the shadow and the footsteps occurred in front of the building that overlooked the spot where Claggett was killed.

But Claggett may not be the only shade haunting the historic bastions, for there is the mysterious matter of Private John Drew. Drew, a 28 year-old native of Richmond, Virginia, had stood guard duty on the outer battery during the night of November 14, 1880. The next morning, when his relief arrived, he was found asleep. Placed under arrest, Drew was taken to the guard-house and told by a sergeant to clean out his cell before being locked in. Drew obliged, but, in the process, he picked up a rifle leaning against the wall and slipped it into his cell. Later, when he was alone, he struck the muzzle into his mouth and pulled the trigger with his toe.

Some speculate that because Drew shirked his responsibility in life, he has been condemned to stand eternal guard duty at Fort McHenry. Indeed, if one small dog belonging to a Park Service ranger could talk, he might give some validity to this story. One evening the dog, out for his tour of the seawall, came upon the exact spot near the outer battery where Private Drew had been discovered sleeping on the job. The dog apparently sensed the presence of someone walking toward him - he growled and cowered, then hurried back to the safety of his owner. Together, they headed back to the fort itself.

Coincidence, hoax, or just plain power of suggestion? There will always be two kinds of people: those who believe in ghosts and those who don't. [As well as two other kinds of people: those who classify them into two types and those who do not - Jonah] At Fort McHenry, it's doubtful that the spirits question their own existence. They surely must know whether they're here or, there.