Latimer House and Paradise Alley

The Latimer House

Zebulon Latimer came to town in the mid-19th century on the same wave that carried in railroad cars and transatlantic steamers. He made a tidy fortune with stock in the railroad and his enterprise in the dry goods business, met and married Elizabeth Savage and, in 1852, built a 10,000-square-foot Italianate revival house with intricate stone, iron and wood detailing.

Originally the house had a wood fence but at some point the couple went for a carriage ride through Oakdale Cemetery and yanked out the old iron fence surrounding their family plots. After they'd installed the fence around their stately new home, they had nine children, five of whom died before reaching their fifth birthdays.

During the early 20th century an artist named Elizabeth Chant temporarily occupied the house and devoted much of her time to regularly communicating with the spiritual world. It is Hirchak's belief that she—along with the heisted iron fencing from the cemetery—pretty much stirred things up in a historic landmark that would later pass to the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society, to become the LCFHS headquarters open to the public for daily docent-conducted tours.

Some of the dead children have been spotted in and around the house, and from time to time things have gone missing, most particularly a few pairs of glasses. A fire started in the basement in 1981 and contractors went to work removing furniture and repairing smoke damage. They reported strange noises coming from the fourth floor, endless sounds like furniture dragged across the wooden floor, scraping and clattering. And yet there is no furniture on the fourth floor.

A docent found a book of poetry by Emily Dickinson and realized it was a first edition. She consulted with a staff member about the possibility of selling the book to raise funds for the historical society, and they set about typing up some letters and making a few phone calls. When they saw the book of poetry along with a wicker basket levitating and trembling five feet above the floor, they changed their minds and put the book back on the shelf.

The kitchen and dining areas are in the basement, a common practice in old Southern homes to beat the heat, but in this case these areas have been a hotbed of paranormal activity. One volunteer who was vacuuming the tearoom ran up against a chair that hadn't been there one minute and wasn't there again in the next. The smell of pipe tobacco in the after-dinner smoking room is nothing in comparison with a putrid stench that seems to temporarily pervade the kitchen on certain occasions. Some have called it the smell of death itself.

Hirchak has an explanation for this repulsive odor. An enormous cypress table stands at the center of the kitchen, and he contends that this is where the family laid out the bodies of its five dead children. The cellar would be the coolest place to preserve a body and this huge old table would have been ideal. The historical society takes issue with this theory, contending that nobody in their right minds lays out a dead body on a table where they prepare food.

Paradise Alley

In Old Wilmington, known in the early days as New Liverpool, an area between Market and Dock streets, just off Front Street, was a place where attractive young women draped themselves seductively from upstairs windows. Most infamous among these houses of ill repute was a dive known as the Blue Post, run by a six-foot-tall, 350-pound woman by the name of Gallus Meg. Her work as a bouncer was legendary and it is said when she deposited an unruly customer on the pavement in the alley she'd bite off his ear and later spit it into a pickling jar kept for that purpose on the bar.

Luckily there have been no reports of any recent ear biting, but it seems Meg's current mission is to keep men out of the ladies room. Drunks who have stumbled into the wrong restroom by accident have reported a rather large woman moving aggressively to remove them from the premises, and every last one of them has cleared out without letting her do her job.

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Terms: Wilmington Ghost Stories: Latimer House and Paradise Alley

Wilmington Ghost Stories: Latimer House and Paradise Alley

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