Old South Tour Company treks through Southport’s haunted history.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Time 2 Remember
The large swath of land that’s now called Brunswick County is a hotbed of history that includes early Spanish explorers, revolutionary battles, Colonial plantation life, Civil War blockade runners, German U-boats off the coast and many more fascinating events. With such a rich history, it is not surprising that many people believe that this area is rife with apparitions, eerie activity and unusual orbs.
If you haven’t discovered them on your own. Old South Tour Company in Southport provides organized walking tours along with long-forgotten tales of mystery and intrigue.
Katie Boyd founded Old South Tour Company when she was still a student at UNC Wilmington. A history major, she has a special place in her heart for the antebellum era and focuses her research on her hometown of Southport. Her stories are based on archives and newspaper accounts.
“I spent days at the archives in Raleigh and at the Carolina Room at the Cape Fear Museum in Wilmington,” she says. “These stories are real and accurate accounts of our local history.”
From Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, Boyd runs tours six days per week, donning a replica of an antebellum widow’s gown complete with a mourning locket containing an ancestor’s hair. “Hair jewelry was a real way to remember a loved one who passed,” Boyd says, holding her heirloom piece. “And this little locket has been handed down for generations.”
Her Southport Ghost Walk begins at the Whittler’s Bench, where Howe Street ends at the waterfront. As the crowd gathers in the dark night, a solitary figure approaches, walking by the light of a lantern.
The walking tour follows Howe Street to Franklin Square Park, circa 1792, where the first historic tragedy is told about a mother who, after a very long winter, promised her daughters a picnic in the park, which she lovingly called “the Grove.” The mother died of consumption that winter, but the three daughters fulfilled her last promise and shared a spring picnic in her honor. That summer, the girls brought old ballast stones from the river and laid a stone fence along the edge of the park to honor her. Townsfolk joined in and on Saturdays during that summer of 1821, the work continued. Sadly the work ended, when at the end of the summer and one by one, the girls each died of pneumonia and were laid to rest in the burying ground beside their mother. “To this day, the stone fence remains incomplete,” Boyd says. “Locals still call it the Grove and swear that you can walk through here on a dark summer night and hear the giggles and peals of laughter from the girls as they play games of chase and tag.”
The one and a half hour tour includes seven original stories, ranging from the eccentric but true tale of Dr. Dosher’s annual school holiday in which he would remove the tonsils and adenoids of the students for free. “Every local knows that story,” Boyd says. “And some show you their scars to prove it.”
There are stops at Old Brunswick County Jail and, of course, Old Smithville Burying Ground. The 2-acre site is home to thousands of former Southport residents — from the 3,000 victims of the yellow fever who were buried in a mass grave to the mother who mourns her dead babies. The tour ends with a stop at the famous Brunswick Inn along the river, with the popular story of the Italian harpist who drowned the night of a ball. “Tony plays tricks on the owners,”Boyd says. “Sometimes guests even hear the faint sound of a harp playing.”
Boyd says the tour is family appropriate. “I present the stories in a way that I would want my own child to hear them,” she says. “Nothing is too morbid. In fact, my 4-year-old joins the tour quite often.”
For the past 14 years, Old South Tour Company has hosted thousands of guests a year, many of whom return with their families every summer.
“I have seen some of my regulars grow up from little girls in pigtails to young ladies bringing their teenage friends along,” says Boyd.
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Old South Tour Company