Bigg Lizz, Moll Dyer and other state haunts


Then & Now

October 28, 2006|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN REPORTER

It's Halloween and time for our annual visit with Ed Okonowicz, the Elkton ghost expert and author who enjoys researching and chronicling the kinds of eerie experiences that most of us mortals would rather not have.

He's putting the finishing touches on Haunted Maryland, which will be published next year by Stackpole Books, the Mechanicsburg, Pa., publisher.

While he acknowledges having had only one personal brush with the spirit world after his father's death, Okonowicz takes no chances. A devout Roman Catholic, he carries a bottle of holy water given to him by a priest and has his medals blessed before going to investigate a sighting or hear a ghostly tale.

Several years ago, Okonowicz told me he does one more thing when driving home after one of these sessions.

"I keep checking out my rearview mirror," he said.

"When you do an interview in an old mansion or graveyard, it's a little eerie. I just tell people I'm not a ghost hunter but rather a story hunter," he said.

"While traveling throughout the state doing research, I discovered that a number of women are the focus of ghost stories both on the Eastern and Western Shore, and a number of them are spotlighted in the book," he said in an interview the other day.

"Bigg Lizz has been around since the Civil War and takes place way down on the southern Eastern Shore. If you say her name down there, the locals know all about Bigg Lizz and will gladly take you to the swamp," he said. "She was so large, her name is spelled with two g's and two z's."

Bigg Lizz was a slave, and during the Civil War, plantation slaves were used as spies by the Union Army. Because the Eastern Shore was rife with Southern sympathizers, slaves could pass on important intelligence as to when and where shipments of goods would be made to get through the Union blockade.

Apparently, her role as a spy was discovered by her master, and he lured her deep into Dorchester County's Greenbrier Swamp to help him bury a chest loaded with Confederate gold.

"While she was digging the hole, her master beheaded Lizz with a long tobacco knife. He left her body in the hole to guard the treasure and never recovered the skull in the swamp," Okonowicz said.

Later that night, a headless Lizz paid a visit to her master while cradling her skull in her hands, chasing him through his plantation house.

"He dove through a third-floor window and died on the steps below," he said.

For years, rumors have persisted that headless Lizz roams the backwaters and marshes near Bucktown, hoping to find someone she can give the gold to.

Ghost hunters and treasure seekers, Okonowicz said, are attracted by the legend and the hope of turning up the gold.

"The legend is that if you go to the area at night, flash your car lights three times, and Bigg Lizz will come out," he said. "However, despite local lore, I've never run into anyone who has seen her."

Another story that Okonowicz likes to tell is the sad fate of Moll Dyer, an unsociable old crone who lived near Leonardtown in St. Mary's County, where she grew herbs on her farm.

"She's a big deal down there. They've named roads after her and even a stream that's called Moll Dyer Run," Okonowicz said.

It seems that when devastating storms raked the area ruining crops, cows stopped giving milk or there were mysterious or freakish deaths, suspicion centered on Moll Dyer.

Finally, on a frigid and windy winter's night, villagers gathered and burned Moll out of her secluded hut.

"The next day, they found Moll's dead, frozen body kneeling in the woods beside a rock with one hand resting on a small boulder. Soon bad luck returned," Okonowicz said.

The storms returned, and animals and people began dying again.

And then some rustic noticed what seemed to be the impression of Moll's hand on the boulder.

"It was if Moll Dyer had died while praying, putting a cursing on her attackers and all of the other residents," he said.

Okonowicz says that on the coldest night of the winter, nighttime travelers on the rural back roads have spotted Moll's ectoplasm as it makes its pilgrimage to the site where her old hut once stood and to the rock where she died placing a curse on Leonardtown.

"The rock has been moved and now sits outside of the St. Mary's Historical Society. I have to admit, you've got to look real hard to see the supposed indentation of her hand," he said. "Anyway, ghosts help sell local history."

Okonowicz has listened and recorded hundreds of ghost stories and legends through the years, but the one that gets him annoyed is the so-called Blair Witch of Burkittsville in Frederick County -- which was concocted by filmmakers for a 1999 movie and sequel.

"There are legitimate ghosts because of the great Civil War battles such as Antietam out there, but the Blair Witch isn't one of them. She's nonexistent, yet it's put Western Maryland on the map and in direct competition with Salem, Mass.," he said.

He consigns the Blair Witch story not to American folklore but rather to "American fakelore."

Okonowicz will be celebrating his 59th birthday Halloween, and he reports that he'll be "hiding and not doing anything special," either ghostly or Halloween-related.

"For the first time in 10 years, I have the day off," he said.

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