It was a Dark and Stormy Night…

David has relinquished his writing privileges this month to me, his wife, Sandy. He’s nursing a little headache right now, bless his heart, for reasons that will soon become evident and having nothing to do with the stock market. Anyway, after years of generic autumn harvest articles, we thought we’d be a little more proactive this October. We decided to do a little ghost hunting.

Wilmington, NC is one of the top fifteen haunted cities in the country according to the Travel Channel, so how hard could it be? Of course, we knew it would be smart to enlist the help and knowledge of an expert, so we checked out the plethora of ghost tours available. We had never taken a Wilmington ghost tour before, even though pirates and ghouls parade through the streets of our neighborhood nightly with large groups of tourists scurrying nervously behind them. We nixed the “G” rated version as not adventurous enough, and decided on the Haunted Pub Tour (perhaps you now understand the origins of David’s headache?). Can you believe the lengths to which we will go to inform and entertain our clients?!

So on a dark and stormy Saturday night, we met our guide, Stan, in front of Fat Tony’s. Stan is a formidable character, decked out all in black—a tall, dark looming figure of a man. He immediately made certain we had signed our liability waiver so that he would not be held responsible for any drunken foolishness we might commit. David and I are always extremely well-behaved, but Stan wouldn’t take our word for it so we signed the form. And we were on our way...

According to Stan, the name “Cape Fear” automatically self-selected for the type of scoundrels who roved the riverfront of early Wilmington, apparently a terrifyingly violent place with three jails within 21 square blocks. As we approached our first stop, Firebelly’s, we learned that our ghost was associated with the general area of N. Front Street rather than this specific pub but, hey, the pub was there and so were we—and it was a “pub” tour, right?

The ghost has been seen repeatedly in the area and has been described as a tall, ominous man in black, old English clothing. (Frankly, that sounded a lot like Stan; I eyed him warily.) One sighting involved the upstairs loft area in what is now The Basics, located in the Cotton Exchange on Front Street. The tall, dark man met the waitress at the top of the stairs, then vanished abruptly. As the people at the first-floor tables watched, the waitress was hit by a strong blast of cold air, nearly pitching her over the railing. Somehow, Stan managed to connect this ghost to a number of ghoulish murders he described in graphic detail, then with a man named James Maybrick who also might or might not have been Jack the Ripper. It all sounded reasonable at the time, but Stan talked so fast and all in the present tense (The knife slashes . . . the body drops to the ground!), so I’m not sure how he tied it all together.

We learned about a less frightening ghost at Cape Fear Wine & Beer. On that site, the British soldiers would line up each day for their shot of rum. But each day for 2—3 weeks, they were picked off by a rifle shot from someone across the water and up in a tree. Eventually the British got smart and cut the tree down, but at least one disconsolate British ghost continues to look for his ration of rum, knocking, rummaging in the cooler and snapping the neck off an 1825 Porter in the cooler. We call him Walter for some reason, so the tour members hoisted their glasses and cried out: “To Walter!”

We made four spooky stops in all. Our local ghosts seem to be, by and large, more colorful than terrifying. That’s okay with us. We returned to our starting point in the rain. I looked around to thank Stan for the evening, but he had vanished into the night.

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