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October 2012

Some Halloween Stories

Hurricane Sandy has just passed us by, leaving in her wake a haze in the sky and a chill in the air.  Loathe though we may be to admit it, autumn is here in full, with a promise of winter just around the corner.  As we bid farewell to the joys of a Wilmington summer, we may console ourselves with thoughts of what the cooler months bring: oyster roasts, Thanksgiving feasts, the winter holidays.  But more immediately than these, Halloween is upon us—and now is the perfect time to enjoy a tale of the paranormal.

The Port City is home to a rich and diverse population of spooks and spirits.  Ellen Bellamy still rolls her wheelchair around Bellamy mansion after hours.  The muffled cries of an unfortunate soul, buried alive in the early 19th century, are occasionally heard in St. James graveyard.  Theatergoers from a time gone by reappear in the upper balcony of Thalian Hall, presumably to take in a show. Across the river, the night watchmen on the USS North Carolina report strange lights in empty rooms, and a disembodied voice delivering a stern warning: “Get out”.

Not to be outdone, the de Rosset house has its own spectral visitors, dating back to the earliest days of its existence.  Behold the fate of one Mr. Christopher H. Dall, a builder who died at the age of 49 during the construction of the house in July of 1841.  Perhaps frustrated by the work still undone, he remained in the home.  He is most often sighted in the basement, appearing as a cold spot on the floor or a spectral figure.  To the frustration of City Club staff, he is fond of moving objects around and opening and closing doors. Mr. Dall’s dedication is to be admired as he works to complete the labor he began over a century and a half ago.  One must wonder what he thinks of our recent restoration efforts—are they up to par?

Leaving the basement for the upper level of the house, we encounter a ghost with a story even more tragic.  In February of 1855, little Annie de Rosset passed away at the age of six, the victim of a particularly vicious bout of the measles.  She attained, in death, the dubious distinction of being the first person buried in Oakdale Cemetery.  Like all little girls however, she was apparently reluctant to leave her home and parents and chose to return to the de Rosset house.  She resides to this day in the family’s private rooms, where her laughter is often heard and her light footsteps dance up and down the stairs.  And nothing is more beautiful than a child’s laughter—until you consider its origins.

These are all just stories however.  While the de Rosset house has the amazing ability to capture the spirit of a day gone by, the past is the past.  Ghosts make for wonderful stories, but we live in a world formed by science and reason.  Your faithful correspondent, for example, is writing his entry on a laptop, using City Club’s wifi network.  The 21st century is inescapable.

Speaking of which, the time has come.  It’s getting late, and I must settle up with the bartender and head out into the night for the long walk home, down darkened streets where old homes creak in the dark, on streets overshadowed by lofty trees laden with Spanish moss, moaning as the wind sweeps through—

On second thought, I may have the bartender call me cab.  Until next time, have a safe and happy Halloween!

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The 2012 Great Gatsby Gala at City Club of Wilmington (Recap)

On a warm September evening, I stepped off the sidewalk on Second Street and into the 1920s. Dixieland Jazz filled the air, guests in period dress filled the garden, and—perhaps most importantly—a sharply dressed server handed me a glass filled with champagne.  Thus armed, I made my way up the steps to join the party inside the De Rosset house proper.

The annual Great Gatsby Gala is the largest event hosted by the City Club of Wilmington. Inspired, in part, by the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the party channels the spirit of the Roaring Twenties with period cocktails, costumed guests, and live entertainment. And the club’s members and guests embraced it fully.  The house resounded with the clink of glasses, gloriously energetic jazz, and laughter.  I found myself enthusiastically greeting complete strangers, laughing at corny old jokes, and making my way further into the building.

My press credentials got me into the speakeasy—and no, I won’t tell you where it is.  Greg Matheson, bartender extraordinaire, greeted me with his trademark style and a fresh cocktail. We chatted about the Prohibition era bartending and the party itself while guests milled about.  The highlight of the speakeasy experience was, of course, the burlesque show.  I’ll spare you the details—if you were there, you know—but a beautiful dancer performed a classy, racy routine in the spirit of the occasion.

Dancing of a different kind took place in the main room of the house, as couples jitterbugged their way across the floor to the living music which marked the affair.   I shared a quick drink with Jonathan Weiss, the owner of City Club and a consummate host.  We both agreed that the evening could have gone on forever.

Sadly though, reality returned, the music went silent, and we reluctantly returned to a world of 24 hour news and smart phones.  During the long walk back to the 21st century, I consoled myself with the thought that there would be another Gala next year.

Take a peak at the highlight video below and see you next year!

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