Quick History of a Ghost Town: Wilmington, NC

Optional Audio Transcript

Every town has a ghost story. The old mill had a man die and now he wanders around. That 90-year-old inn had 4 deaths and you can see them every now and then. A road used in war has a plethora of soldier wisps wondering about. You have heard those stories of your town in the gossip pool, gliding through the water like a wandering shadow in the corner of your eye. Today, we talk of my own hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina. This place has stories galore, with the battleship, the coup, and a downtown of horror movies.

As always, a short back story that takes up way too much space. Wilmington because a town in 1739, named after the Earl of Wilmington Spencer Compton. 25-ish years later, the town was in full warzone during the Revolutionary War, with the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge in 1776 and that one time the British occupied the town for a spell in 1781.

For a while, the town was stagnant. That is, until the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad opened doors for the shanty beach town in 1840. Those railroads are still here today and yes, there is a ‘yield to trains’ sign. They move slowly, though.

Fort Fisher, Carolina Beach

Fort Fisher, south of actual Wilmington, below Carolina Beach, was a major strength during the Civil War, allowing trade to the Confederacy via the port (it is the south, after all). This stopped in 1865, when Fort Fisher was occupied by Federal troops. The south lost, Wilmington had some finance issues, then bounced back with cotton of all things.

Fort Fisher Historical Battle Site from Town of Southport, NC, from wilmington
Fort Fisher Historical Battle Site from Town of Southport, NC

Then, the town had a bit of a setback, making history at the same time. The Wilmington Coup of 1898. No one is proud of this. No one should be proud of this. I honestly didn’t learn about the coup until a couple of years ago, and I’ve lived in the area for a long time. It isn’t taught in schools, and it was really buried in the town’s history.

So, the Emancipation Proclamation happened on January 1, 1863. The Civil War ended April 9, 1865, which really isn’t that long ago considered how long our current species has been on this planet. Black business was booming, and Wilmington was no stranger to this great time. Well, some white supremacists did not like that. Not one bit. Took it a bit too far if you ask me.

It started with a fire on November 10, raging for 7 blocks east of the Cape Fear River. The Daily Record was burned to the ground and about 60 people died. They marched 6 blocks and overthrew Wilmington’s local government. 

Marker installed in 2019. Photo by Vince Winkel, WHQR News, Wilmington
Marker installed in 2019. Photo by Vince Winkel, WHQR News

The town talks about it now.

Battleship, Eagle Island

Oh, and the battleship. It docked on October 2, 1961. You can do ghost walks on it. I did one when I was 14 with my sister and her friend and got the caretaker of the ship to sign his book for me. During the tour, he stated that the USS North Carolina had three ghosts:

  • A nice ghost
  • A mean ghost
  • A trickster

He then proceeded to tell us a story about something flying through the room in near total darkness. He then banged on the hulled, which echoed so loudly that I may have joined those ghosts right then and there.

Battleship from NC Beaches, Wilmington
Battleship from NC Beaches

So now we get to the rest of the haunts. In a town that has had so much happen to it, there must be more ghosts. And there are!

Latimer House, Wilmington

The next place is the Latimer House. It was built in 1852. Slaves did work at the house (remember the timeline), and after the emancipation, many left but kept in contact, as one does, I guess. The house is historical, and employees have noted a bad odor in the basement, missing items, and levitating books. Oh, and sometimes you’ll see someone in the window. They had 9 children, and 5 died, so there have been reports of children lurking about. I’ve personally seen this house, and it is as beautiful as it is creepy.

Latimer House from Intracoastal Realty, Wilmington
Latimer House from Intracoastal Realty

Price-Gause House, Wilmington

Another home is the Price-Gause House, and it is known for its creepy stature. Built in 1843, the land it sits on is also known as Gallows Hill, because why not. Apparently, there were executions conducted at the site. A bedroom upstairs has been reported to have the word help on it. This has also been in a movie, but for the life of me, I cannot find it. Visitors also sometimes feel a pressure on them and sometimes can smell tobacco. It’s now an office. I bet they got a good deal on the rent.

My absolute favorite haunting is one that is rarely seen, but it is still fascinating. Blackbeard, yes, that Blackbeard, sometimes haunts the Cape Fear. Although he is primarily seen north of New Hanover County, there have been times folk find him sailing around. This is sadly the most doubted one as many pirates have sailed the Cape Fear and during a foggy morning, you can expect someone sailing out or in the Cape Fear, probably drunk. It happens more than you would want it to.

Saint Joseph Episcopal Church, Wilmington

Another notable mention is, of course, a graveyard, the Saint James Episcopal Church’s graveyard to be exact. Two ghosts are reported to reside here, possibly yellow fever victims from the 1700’s. In the same graveyard, a man in 1810 was supposedly buried alive and now haunts the area. Graveyards are always going to be on the list of hauntings because of the, well, you know, dead people. Those who died too soon and those who just didn’t want to go even though their time was up.

Poplar Grove Plantation, North on US-17

An oldy and not so goody, the Poplar Grove Plantation was built in 1850 and was the home to many slaves. It was a plantation of sweet potatoes and peanuts and fed both sides of the Civil War. It was owned by the Foy’s, and it is reported that they never left their home. Furthermore, it has also been reported that there are spirits in the farmhouses as well, making the guess that their slaves didn’t leave either.

People have reported seeing David Foy, the eldest son of the first Foy’s, haunting the main house, including Mary Ann and Nora Foy. This one I could see being truly haunted as it did not have a great past. Being built at such a stressful and dangerous time in U.S. history, it was probably home to some very angry people who want to stay behind.

The next is animal ghosts. Yep, we have them, too. Cats in random homes lurking about, dogs in the street, and even one runaway elephant spirit. Do you remember Topsy from a few blogs back? Well, another elephant with her name had her time in Wilmington, North Carolina. Remember, Edison’s Topsy died in 1903, while this happened in 1922.

Topsy the Elephant from Wilmington Star News
Topsy the Elephant from Wilmington Star News

If you ever come to visit here, remember that this place has a sordid history of violence and racism, but it comes with some interesting characters from after. The city has grown substantially, with many different cultures and sides, some questionable and some that thrive. Its hauntings show that anyone can die here stay because of unresolved problems. There are so many more places full of supposed haunts, but that is what the ghost tours are for.

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