Unveiling Delaware’s Dark Secrets: Exploring the Haunted Fort Delaware and Beyond

Am historic masonry fort is seen at night against a dark and spooky sky.
Fort Delaware is pictured at night before a paranormal tour. (DelawareDNREC/Errol Ebanks)

Delaware may not be known for its paranormal encounters, but that doesn’t mean the state has a shortage of spooky sites.

Chief among these is Fort Delaware State Park on Pea Patch Island in the middle of the Delaware River. Fort Delaware, built in the 19th century to protect the ports of Wilmington and Philadelphia, served as a prison camp for Confederate prisoners of war during the Civil War.

Almost 13,000 prisoners were held at one time, and around 33,000 were kept there in total over the course of the war. Conditions were rough, and some 2,500 men died at the fort. Many of them are now buried at Finn’s Point National Cemetery, just across the river in New Jersey.

A person holds a photograph that shows a blurry blue figure in a doorway.
This “blue man” ghost was photographed at Fort Delaware. (DelawareDNREC/Errol Ebanks)

The fort was abandoned toward the end of World War II and became a state park in 1951.

Today, Pea Patch Island is home to several different species of herons, egrets, and ibises – as well as numerous ghosts.

From the “blue man” photographed by a visitor to the spirits of children that supposedly haunt the officer’s quarters, the fort plays host to myriad specters – or so the stories go. It’s said to be the most haunted place in Delaware.

Diamond State Ghost Investigators (DSGI) leads tours of the fort during the fall, taking visitors back to the 1860s when the site housed thousands of Confederate prisoners. Attendees have the chance to utilize K2 electromagnetic field detectors and dowsing rods, devices that might reveal the presence of something unnatural. DSGI also uses motion sensors, audio recorders, infrared cameras and more to (hopefully) detect ghosts.

While there’s no guarantee that a visit will spot anything supernatural, it helps to go in with an open mind.

The tours sell out months in advance, demonstrating the popularity of ghost tales and the chance to learn from the experts when it comes to hunting spooky spirits.

A group of men and women, wearing shirts emblazoned with "DSGI," pose in front of a brick building.
The Diamond State Ghost Investigators consist of volunteers from around the state. (DelawareDNREC/Errol Ebanks)

For DSGI team members, there’s no doubt the site is truly haunted. They’re eager to regale visitors with stories of paranormal encounters, and a visit to the group’s website offers some evidence of the hauntings at the location. Anecdotes range from the amusing to the bone-chilling.

DSGI investigators can recall doors that mysteriously opened and closed, footsteps when no one was around, strange shadows that lurked in the distance and much more. While some visitors may come with skepticism, the spooky sights and tales of hauntings are enough to make believers out of many.

To DSGI President Gina Dunham, it’s no surprise the tours have become as popular as they have over the 15 years the ghost hunters have been doing them.

A small sensor device and two metal rods with wooden handles rest on a laminated document.
Paranormal investigators use a variety of special equipment. (DelawareDNREC/Errol Ebanks)

“I think because we keep it real as far as the paranormal team goes,” Dunham said. “We’re not going to tell them something is paranormal when it’s not. We’re very upfront with our experiences.”

DSGI is proud to support Fort Delaware and will encourage attendees to return to check out the fort in the daytime.

A lot of participants, Dunham said, are repeat customers, a testament to the enduring power of the supernatural.

There’s no guarantee your visit will prove fruitful, however. But to believers, there’s a good reason for that.

“I tell people all the time, imagine someone showing up to your house unannounced,” Dunham said. “You may not want to answer the door. We are in their house. We have to be respectful.”

She’s witnessed shadow anomalies and heard whispers and footsteps, which made her believe the site is indeed haunted by spirits.

The fort appeared on the SyFy show “Ghost Hunters,” where investigators reported hearing cannon fire, seeing a man through a thermal imaging camera and even having a person physically touched by a ghost.

Though Fort Delaware is perhaps the most well-renowned of Delaware’s haunts, it’s far from the only spooky site. Here are a few more places said to be home to spirits.

An interior space in an old masonry fort seen at night.
Fort Delaware can appear quite creepy at night, especially with the lights out. (DelawareDNREC/Errol Ebanks)

Visitors to Lums Pond State Park have reported seeing the ghost of John Lum, the park’s namesake, who ran a millhouse in the area. The park also is home to the restless spirit of a runaway who was murdered there 150 years ago.

Cape Henlopen State Park is said to be haunted by an old soldier near Tower 12, with his face supposedly showing up in photos and videos.

Bellevue Hall in Bellevue State Park allegedly has ghosts that will tinker with the electricity, shriek and move furniture.

Another location that’s home to ghosts (well, a ghost, at least) is Cooch’s Bridge in Newark. The site of a Revolutionary War battle, it’s supposedly haunted by a headless soldier decapitated by a cannonball.

A night scene showing the entry gate of a masonry fort lit by old-fashioned lanterns.
The entrance to Fort Delaware at night is lit by two lanterns ahead of a paranormal tour. (DelawareDNREC/Errol Ebanks)

Wilmington’s Rockwood Mansion is said to be haunted as well. The site was featured on the show “Ghost Hunters” and received a segment on CBS due to the hauntings. Today, New Castle County offers tours of the museum, giving people a chance to encounter the spirits that call the location home.

Woodburn, the governor’s mansion, plays host to the spirit of its builder, Charles Hillyard III. Woodburn is also said to among the most haunted places in the First State. According to a page on the state’s website about the hauntings at Woodburn, the first instance of a ghost at the house took place around 1815, when a guest reported seeing a man in a powdered wig, knee britches and a ruffled shirt. This, according to the owners at the time, was Hillyard, the original owner. He’s been seen by other visitors in the two centuries since, and the wife of one governor even left out a glass of wine for him on numerous occasions. Alas, the glass always remained full in the morning.

Amateur ghost-hunters can go on tours in Lewes and New Castle as well, presented by the municipalities’ respective historical societies. Dover has also hosted tours at night, letting visitors learn about some of the supernatural elements in the state’s capital city.

This Halloween, why not visit some of the state’s haunted locations? While we can’t guarantee it, maybe you’ll experience something paranormal yourself.