Built to protect the Virginia’s mainland, Fort Monroe symbolized different things to different groups of people. Regardless of this evolving identity, the importance of this national landmark is undeniable.

A significant and respected national monument, Fort Monroe tells the tale of American history from its earliest days until present day. This structure has served as an important barrier and is actually the largest stone fort to have ever been built in the United States.

Despite Virginia’s allegiance to the Confederacy during the Civil War, Fort Monroe was actually monitored by the Union army. It is one of only four Southern forts never captured during the Civil War. While they may have been successful at keeping the Confederate army out, they have not been able to stop the ghosts from making the fort their home.

The ghost sightings at the fort is a fascinating roster of some of America’s greats. In a plantation-style house, the spirit of Abraham Lincoln was said to have been seen standing by a fireplace appearing deep in thought. Lincoln visited the fort in May of 1862 to help plan the attack of Norfolk. The ghost of General Ulysses S. Grant has also been spotted in the same house.

Another ghost said to be seen is that of Edgar Allan Poe, who in 1829 served for four months at Monroe. While there he wrote The Cask of Amontillado, a story based on the tale of a Virginian military man walled up inside an empty stone building. Poe’s ghost has reportedly been seen in his former barracks, and also in the Hotel Chamberlain.

Inside of a cell at Fort Monroe

Confederate President Jefferson Davis was imprisoned at the fort from May 1865, until May 1867. Davis was taken for walks every evening. His wife would watch from a nearby window to ensure the health and safety of her husband. It is said now that her ghost is seen watching out a window near the casemate. They also claim that the window vibrates when her ghost is present.

Sketch by Alfred R. Waud of Jefferson Davis imprisoned in the casemate (1865)

Davis has also made ghostly returns to the fort, though not in his cell. He is seen walking near the flagpole. But the most well-known hauntings at Fort Monroe don’t involve famous historical Americans. One of these specters is known as the Luminous Lady.

According to the legend, she was the wife of a much older officer who was insanely jealous and often threw fits of rage. She eventually found comfort in the arms of another man until one night when her husband returned early and found them together. The husband drew his pistol and shot his wife dead. She now walks the alley behind the quarters they once shared searching for her lover.

The former Chamberlain Hotel has its own legends. One story tells of a fire which claimed the life of a teenage girl. She was looking for her father, not realizing that he had already gotten safely out. Her ghost has been spotted on the seventh floor, banging on the walls or peering out the windows. Her appearances were so common and so disturbing to guests that the floor was eventually closed.

The Chamberlain Hotel

Numerous other buildings at Fort Monroe also have unexplained phenomena. In the Old Slave Quarters, residents tell of finding furniture moved around and objects mysteriously flying through the air.

On September 15, 2011 Fort Monroe was decommissioned and declared a National Monument by President Obama. It is now open for public visitation. You can visit the Casemate Museum and perhaps encounter Jefferson Davis. Or perhaps capture the Luminous Lady in a picture?