The Witch's Tree & the Selbyville Swamp Monster
A few years ago, on Halloween, I wanted to do something different (and paranormal). I decided to visit the Witch's Tree in Whaleyville, MD, near the southern Delaware border. The tree is located off the beaten path a bit and is technically within the Great Cypress Swamp, a conservation area managed by Delaware Wild Lands. However, it is along the edge of the swamp surrounded by much younger trees--indicating that this section has more recently been logged. The swamp is also called The Burnt Swamp because a vast fire, resulting from a moonshiner's still exploding, burned through it in 1930. The fire continued to burn for 8 months through the peat layers, despite great effort to extinguish it. A previous fire in June 1782 burned 3,000 acres and threatened to burn down homes--it was said that the light from the fire could be seen 70 miles away. It is definitely an interesting area and there is a lot of history here in addition to its reputation as a paranormal location!
Now back to the main story...as a biologist, I found it to be an amazing tree. It is a large chestnut oak (not a bald cypress, as some sites have claimed) and appeared to have been a witness tree. Witness trees were once used to mark property when the site was not suitable for a traditional marker and a large tree was within 10 chains (660 feet) of the point to be marked. In the landscape context, witness trees also were witness to significant historical events, e.g., the Civil War. In this case, the surrounding forest is much younger and contains a wider variety of species than the original forest would have had. Because of these younger trees, the Witch's Tree really is notable - it is larger, taller, and more gnarled that any others in that area. Quite impressive!
The folklore is that brightly colored lights and orbs surround the tree. A man sitting in a truck reading a newspaper is seen behind the tree (and there is no way for a truck to be driven back there, given the 8 foot ditch along the road and in front of the tree). Some have heard a woman screaming or crying, dogs barking, or a car engine starting in the night there. Of course, some of these sounds can be easily explained -- there are farms and homes nearby.
But locals will warn you not to go out there alone, as it's a known spot for vehicles to break down and many claim there is no cellphone signal to be found.
There is also the legend of the "Selbyville Swamp monster" that dates back to the time of the 1930 fire. At that time, an old shingle-maker died in the fire and people thought he haunted the edge of the swamp. Sightings of the swamp monster increased in the 1960s and were highlighted in the Delmarva News on several occasions in the early 1960s.
Many years later, Ralph Grapperhaus, editor of the Delmarva News admitted that it was a hoax, perpetrated by himself and an actor friend, Fred Stevens. Fred crafted a costume that included a racoon hat, scary mask and a club, and jumped out at passing vehicles along Route 54. Despite it being revealed as a hoax in 1987 and Fred admitting that he hadn't used the costume since 1964, this tale lives on. Stories of sightings of the monster continue to suggest to new generations of area residents that there could be a real swamp monster out there.
I have to say that even as a psychic medium, my initial trip to the Witch's Tree was uneventful. It is definitely a foreboding area and one I wouldn't want to visit on a pitch dark night (though I probably will!). The gnarls on the tree and its many broken and dead branches also add to its off-putting silhouette - I can definitely see where it would make people uncomfortable. Having been raised "in the swamps of Jersey" and driven many times through the Great Dismal Swamp on the Virginia/North Carolina border, I know how incredibly frightening these places can be. Yet, as I touched it back then, I did feel something unusual. It felt like a deep sorrow - pain stemming from the treatment of this majestic specimen by people. In the photo (right) you can see the graffiti painted on the tree. Looking down at the ground, there were broken beer bottles and trash. Quite sad.
Worse yet, on my trip this year, the infamous Witches Tree is gone! Taken down by a storm or its own unhealthy condition (it was not in great shape previously), all that remains there is a stump (see photo).
Sadly, someone has spray painted the stump, as well.
That said, I did finally hold a pendulum and Mel Meter session at this location with some interesting results! I spoke with a slave there named William that indicated that he had been hanged on the Witches Tree. He had been wrongly accused of a minor crime and was not aware of who the guilty party might be. When we talked about his family and sharing his story more publicly, the Mel Meter reacted very strongly - in fact, during this session, I felt strong emotion from this spirit and the Mel Meter was quite active, climbing into the 4-5.0 range on numerous occasions. Temperature changes also occurred during this part of the session, as well. I now completely understood the sense of pain I had felt on my previous visit. It felt so heavy as I spoke to William but when I said goodbye to him and assured him I would tell others about what happened to him, I sensed a lifting of a lot of that heavy energy. William could rest better knowing that someone 100 years later or more could reach out to him and offer his spirit some empathy...and an apology. It was a moving experience and I hope I helped him achieve some kind of peace knowing that we care about those people that are not at rest in the after life. I am grateful to be able to do this work - and humbled by it.
There is definitely something to the folklore about this tree - when it stood there, it demanded your respect - it had presence, if you will. It also had pain and I experienced on this latest visit just how moving taking a trip back in history could be. I would encourage you to make the trip and visit this location. Just please be respectful of what's left of the tree and its human neighbors, if you do. I'd love to hear your impressions about it if you do visit!
Dr. Carol A. Pollio
Director, Intuitive Investigations®