Fort Fisher was built by Confederate forces during the American Civil War to protect Wilmington, North Carolina. It fell on January 15, 1865 after hours of brutal fighting. Since then, visitors to the fort’s ruins have reported numerous strange encounters, including sightings of a mysterious sentinel, as well as its commander, Col. William Lamb. Others report hearing disembodied footsteps, phantom screams, and gunshots. In 1961, the site was declared a National Historic Landmark and added to the National Register of Historic Places five years later.
A decaying manor frozen in time, the trappings of opulence stubbornly refusing to fade. It’s the stuff made for Southern Gothic.
The American South has a long and tragic history, where wealth was obtained on the backs of slaves and the scars of war lasted for generations. Relics of the antebellum South are natural incubators for ghost stories, and nearly every mansion and plantation home is believed to have a ghost or two. The following are a few of the Southern mansions I’ve visited over the years. Who can say what lurks there after dark?
Beauvoir in Biloxi, Mississippi
Otherwise known as Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library has an interesting history. It was built in 1852 by a wealthy plantation owner named James Brown. Ex-Confederate President Jefferson Davis did not reside in the house until 1877, twelve years before he died. His daughter Winnie continued to live there until her death in 1898.
The Jefferson Davis Soldiers Home opened on the grounds in 1903 and operated until the 1950s. It was home to around 1,800 Civil War veterans and widows of Confederate soldiers. Roughly 780 of them are buried in the cemetery located on the property. Several visitors have reported encountering someone who they assume is an actor playing Jefferson Davis in the gardens.
These storied homes are valued for their architecture or their role in historical events, but many visitors and residents report that something otherworldly lingers…
Lizzie Borden House
The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum in Fall River, Massachusetts was the scene of a gruesome unsolved double murder, perhaps among the most infamous in the U.S. Thirty-two-year-old Lizzy Borden became the chief suspect, but she was acquitted at trial. Today it’s open for tours and overnight stays.
The Franklin Castle
Built between 1881-1883, Franklin Castle (or the Tiedemann House as it is more properly known) is located in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood. It is rumored to be home to more than a few tortured souls left over from a series of gruesome murders – but are any of those stories true? Only a few people have been allowed inside its wrought iron gates to know for sure.
Remnants of a Colonial-Era jail where prisoners were held in appalling conditions make this centuries-old home ripe for ghostly tales.
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In its early days as a British colony, North Carolina was perceived as a backwoods territory full of crime, indentured servants, pirates, and other rough characters. Many ended up locked behind iron bars in the old Wilmington jail, over which John Burgwin built this home. Today, you can tour the house and see its history firsthand, but don’t be surprised if you hear something unusual.
Wilmington’s original wood, brick, and stone jail, known as a gaol, stood at the corner of Market and Third Streets from 1744 to 1768, when it burned in a fire. Nearby was Wilmington’s historic public courtyard, where debtors and lawbreakers were hanged or pilloried. Sensing an opportunity, a British merchant named John Burgwin purchased the property, along with its stone foundations. He built a handsome Georgian-Style home where he could conduct business while in town.
Ingenious construction methods allowed the home to remain cool over the hot summer months, but the Burgwin family spent most of their time on their plantation outside of town. Joshua Grainger Wright and his wife Susan purchased the house from Burgwin in 1799. The Wright family lived there until 1869. Its rooms are well-furnished with eighteenth and nineteenth century antiques, reflecting how these families lived.
This majestic mansion and gardens offers some guests a glimpse into the beyond for their price of admission.
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Built for a prominent North Carolina slaveholder and his family, the Bellamy Mansion on Market Street in Wilmington’s Historic District is a majestic relic of a bygone era. Today, you can tour the mansion and nearby servant quarters, and purchase souvenirs in the former carriage house. For a few unsuspecting guests, however, this glimpse at a bygone era is a little too real. It’s said some members of the Bellamy family never left.
Designed by Wilmington architect James F. Post in 1859, this 22-room Greek Revival and Italianate-style mansion took nearly two years to build. It was completed in 1861, just as North and South were embroiled in civil war. Dr. John Dillard Bellamy (1817-1896) commissioned the home for his large family and their closest servants and slaves. Dr. Bellamy was an ardent secessionist who owned over one hundred slaves throughout North Carolina.
In early 1865, the family fled Wilmington during an outbreak of yellow fever, but wouldn’t return until the fall because the Union Army had occupied the city and were using their mansion as a headquarters. Union General Joseph Roswell Hawley wasn’t keen on returning the property to an unabashed rebel. He wrote, “having for four years been making his bed, he now must lie on it for awhile.”
Detail from the North Carolina Monument at Fox’s Gap in South Mountain, Maryland. The Battle of South Mountain was fought on September 14, 1862 during the American Civil War and resulted in 5,000 casualties. This monument was designed by sculptor Gary Casteel for the Living History association of Mecklinburg, North Carolina and installed on October 18, 2003. The detail work is superb.
Oakdale Cemetery, 520 N 15th Street in Wilmington, North Carolina, opened on a 65-acre tract of land in 1855. North Carolina’s first rural cemetery, it quickly became a premier burial ground for Wilmington residents. There are several subsections including a Hebrew Cemetery, Masonic Section, and a section for victims of a 1862 Yellow Fever epidemic. It is a lovely and historic resting place.
This lovingly-carved, white marble cherubic angel is dedicated to Katharine Russell “Katie” Reynolds (1978-1993), who died at the age of 15. She was the daughter of Sammie Keith Lauderdale and Frank Russell Reynolds, Jr. Her epitaph reads: “A wonderful child of God.”
Monument to approximately 550 unknown Confederate soldiers who died at the Battle of Fort Fisher, buried in Oakdale Cemetery. The Ladies Memorial Association erected this monument in 1872, consisting of a bronze Confederate soldier standing atop a pedestal made from North Carolina granite. It also features bronze likenesses of General Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Although both were Virginians, North Carolina provided a significant number of officers, troops, and supplies to Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War.