Orton Hotel and Cotton Exchange

Orton Hotel

A fire in January 1949 completely destroyed the city's grandest hotel built in 1888. Guests were evacuated, most of them through the front door but some of them were rescued by aerial ladder from the roof. At the time it appeared there was not one single fatality but, after further consideration, rescue workers conceded that one or two unregistered guests must have perished in the flames.

One of the hotel's guests was on his deathbed at a nearby hospital, and his brother arrived that day by train to sit at his bedside. He must have decided to use the hotel room that night without notifying the front desk. During the fire guests reported seeing a man trying to find his way through the smoke-filled hallway, always walking away when they called out to him, and weeks later after the debris of a five-story collapse was cleared away, the brother's burned body was found face down on a charred mattress.

Another mysterious victim was a young tugboat hand seen entering the hotel on the night of the fire, and never seen since. Workers extracted a portion of his skull from the rubble and eventually found approximately one-third of his body. Much speculation has been focused on what might have happened to the other two-thirds.

All that remained of the hotel was a basement and during the 1980s it was renovated into two basement pubs, one of them with a seemingly charmed pool table where balls looked to be guided by some unseen force to the pockets. Disembodied voices were fairly common, muffled and indistinct, footsteps echoed through vacant hallways, toilets flushed themselves and faucets turned themselves on. An apparition has on various occasions introduced himself to bar patrons as Bill—the name of the brother whose body was found intact—and he's been known to excuse himself from conversations in the pool hall to go attend to some business on the fourth floor. The current structure is a one-story building.

The Cotton Exchange

Downtown's most fashionable shop-and-restaurant complex sits in a low-lying area that once abutted an old horse pond and paddock. It was known as Paddock's Hollow or, after a couple drinks, Paddy's Hollow, inhabited during the 1700s by a rough lot of squatters living in lean-tos and rickety shacks. A fire in 1886 wiped out the den of iniquity along with a couple of nearby churches, and the churches relocated and rebuilt, claiming to have taken their graveyards with them.

In the 1970s some entrepreneurs renovated a cluster of old buildings, some of them formerly related to the booming cotton trade of the early 20th century, to become a quaint mix of shopping and dining venues. The complex of stairs, halls and courtyards absolutely reeks of history, but without Hirchak pointing out the less than obvious you might not notice the trap doors, secret passages, earthquake bolts and 19th-century tools of the cotton trade straight out of an old Lon Chaney movie.

The German Cafe is in the old Granary Building, and is frequented by an elegant apparition dressed in flowing Victorian clothing. On the floor above, a carpenter working late at night in the Avon Boutique heard a woman scream and saw a window slam shut—not once but twice. The owner has found her shop redecorated on some mornings and she has named her ghost Henrietta.

The Top Toad is across the hall, and employees have heard hangers clattering on display racks, footsteps walking through the store and muffled voices. Security cameras have caught a shadowy figure more than once and whoever this is—Henrietta or someone else—occasionally tears down signs and throws them on the floor.

Paddy's Hollow is an Irish pub and restaurant located on the northeast corner of the Cotton Exchange about as close to the old church graveyard as it can get. When the bar was closed for renovations the manager saw a tall man with black hair, dressed in black, who swiftly turned and exited through the kitchen. He gave chase and, when he got to the rear kitchen door, found it had boxes stacked in front of it and would have been impossible to open.

The Scoop is upstairs from Paddy's and its many ice cream flavors apparently entice a mischievous little girl ghost who runs her fingers through the wind chimes, presses all the buttons on the kitchen equipment, sweeps napkins off the counter and has even shoved off a few stacks of dishes. Employees have seen her image in the glass case and in a clock that hangs high on the wall. The owner was forced to shout at this child one afternoon when the girl was playing with the owner's hair and pulling the tag out of the back of her shirt.

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Terms: Wilmington Ghost Stories: Orton Hotel and Cotton Exchange

Wilmington Ghost Stories: Orton Hotel and Cotton Exchange

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