Investigation Team: Shane Miller, Dave Miller
Investigation Date: 2011
We found incredible, compelling evidence that I cannot explain. We were camping and scuba diving in Key Largo, Islamorada and Key West. Shane and I booked passage on the Yankee Freedom II for the 70 mile (almost half way to Cuba), 2 1/4 hour ride to Dry Tortugas from Key West traveling at 30 knots.
HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE: The first European to see the eleven small keys was Ponce de Leon in 1513. He caught 160 sea turtles there and called the islands “Tortugas” meaning turtles. They are called “Dry” owing to the absence of fresh water. Dry Tortugas is famous for abundant sea life, coral reefs, birdwatching, shipwrecks and Fort Jefferson, a massive but unfinished coastal fortress. The fort is the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere with its 8 foot thick walls composed of over 16 million bricks. The second tier of the fort was left unfinished as the weight of the bricks in some sections made the fort sink in the small key. The fort is accessible only by boat or seaplane.
Fort construction started in 1846. A lighthouse was added as this dangerous but lucrative shallow shipping channel between the Gulf and the Atlantic Ocean was an important waterway but a navigational hazard for ships. The fort served to protect shipping lanes with its 1,700 military personnel and hundreds of cannons. It also served as a Civil War prison with some famous prisoners arriving in July 1865 – Dr. Samuel Mudd and three others convicted of conspiracy in the assassination of President Abe Lincoln. Dr. Mudd had set the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth and harbored him overnight. Soldiers marched and trained in the broiling sun. Surrounded by death, disease and suffering, one officer’s wife described Fort Jefferson as “a dark, mean place”.
At the end of the war in 1865, the fort’s dwindling population was 468 soldiers and 527 prisoners. All food, water and supplies had to be shipped in. In Sept. 1867 the yellow fever (mosquitoes) epidemic hit the fort as 275 of the 400 soldiers and prisoners were affected with 38 dying. Dr. Mudd provided much-praised medical care and was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson. Due to hurricanes, the hot climate, yellow fever and no water the fort was abandoned in 1888.
PARANORMAL CLAIMS: Shane and I and all of the boat passengers took the ranger led educational tour of the fort. Since I was Parks & Recreation Director for 30+ years I made quick friends with the National Park staff. After the tours, the group had four hours to hit the small football field sized beach for swimming, snorkeling and relaxing in the 85 degree weather. I stayed behind, interviewed park staff and read some soldier and prisoner diaries. Fort Jefferson was a summer only job. National Park staff worked six days straight sleeping in the fort, took the ship back to Key West and then had six days off while eight new staff took over. The four staff I interviewed had worked the fort at least four summers or more. They had interesting, unexplainable ghostly encounters. In the old bakery area, smells of bread, clanging of pots and footsteps; in the wooden barracks where military officers and their families lived they hear children laughing and footsteps running through the fort; partial apparitions or full body apparitions of both soldiers and prisoners are often seen; voices coming from Dr. Mudd’s cell; near a grave on the grounds inside the fort where a popular young officer was buried, a full body apparition of him in seen, plus the crying of a female and children; footsteps heard day and night down the long corridors.
The Investigation: After the interviews, Shane and I headed to the small beach and snorkeled. We saw some nice size barracuda, angelfish and lots of smaller, colorful fish. I returned by myself to the fort (as Shane wanted to snorkel more) with two hours remaining before the 4pm boat departure back to Key West. No other tourist was in the hot fort during this time. Everyone was on the beach or in the water. The prison walls were so thick it was dead quiet. I sat on the floor in the former bakery (Photo#5 – looking out the bakery window at the moat), snapping an occasional photo and tape recording but no findings. The fort was six sided with each of the six bastions (Photo#3 & #4) or end rooms projecting farther out. I sat in the darkened bastions and took random photo’s. Some hallways were very dark, some lighter as the sun’s rays glistened through the small windows or gunnery holes. It was quiet and creepy. I sat just outside Dr. Mudd’s cell (Photo#6) and closed my eyes and listened. I heard two footsteps ten feet away. I slowly turned and took several photos down the darkened hallway. The time was around 3:05pm. No one was there. It wasn’t until two weeks later when my photos were developed (I was using disposable cameras with film and not digital cameras) that I noticed a girl in period clothing (circa 1860’s) standing with her back to me down the long corridor between bastion #3 and #4 (see photo number 1). My best visual evidence ever. No one from the tourist group was even back in the fort that afternoon while I was there. That apparition of a girl is not a national park female staff member either. I had no other evidence from my afternoon investigation.
I returned back outside and Shane and I sat on the bow of the boat for the 2 1/4 hour ride back. We saw hundreds of flying fish and at least four sharks on the way back.