Ghosts of Brunswick County, NC

by Wendy Murwin

Welcome to North Carolina, home to sunny beaches, historical landmarks and wayward ghosts. Ghosts? If the legends have it right, North Carolina is divided into two worlds; the living world where residents and tourists sun themselves on the beach, eat, drink and generally go about the business of living, and the other world - the spirit world, where the souls of the dead who could not cross over to eternity remain, locked in limbo and doomed to walk the world forever, frequently colliding with the still living. According to believers in the paranormal, North Carolina has more ghosts and hauntings than you can say boo to, and Brunswick County is no exception. Here are a few Brunswick County celebrities of the spirit world.

Mt. Misery Road in Brunswick County
Mt. Misery Road in Brunswick County

Moans of Misery
If you are ever driving down Mt. Misery Road you might want to roll up the windows and drive a little bit faster. Aptly named, during the days of slavery this long stretch of road used to be a disembarking point for newly minted slaves; the spot where those fortunate enough to have survived their brutal voyage were forced to embark on a ninety mile walk to Fayetteville, only to perish along the way from heat exhaustion. Here countless slaves took their first agonizing steps in a long line of many more to come.

Many motorists claim to feel overcome by dread as they drive along Mt. Misery Road. Could it be the terror felt by those slaves facing the unknown still poisons the air, long after their bodies have ceased to exist, continuing to infect others decade after decade later? Others passing through swear they have heard the sounds of clanking chains and moaning slaves still marching to their tragic fate, unaware their time of bondage ended well over a century ago. Perhaps the pain and suffering endured by some while living is so great that it takes on a life of its own, that long after the body is gone the agony that was felt continues to linger and manifests itself as a spirit. If so, this area that was once the site of unspeakable suffering is ripe for haunting.

Antonio Caselleta's Tombstone
Antonio Caselleta's Tombstone

The Helpful Harpist
One of the more benign spirits of Brunswick County is the ghost of The Brunswick Inn in Southport, NC, believed to be the spirit of Antonio (Tony) Caselleta, a young man and avid harpist who drowned in a freak boating accident on April 23, 1882.

One day, with time on his hands before an evening dance at the Inn, nineteen year old Tony decided to take a boating trip around Bald Head Island. He kissed his wife and child goodbye at the dock of Wilmington, waved from the deck of the Passport and sailed straight into North Carolina legend. The weather that day was gorgeous, the waters pristine, yet inexplicably the boat sank like a rock. All escaped but the unfortunate Tony. His stone monument can still be seen today in the Old Smithville Burying Ground in Southport.

The Brunswick Inn
The Brunswick Inn

Today visitors claim to hear him walking around and playing his beloved harp in the old Brunswick Inn, owned by Mary Stuart Callari and her family since 1949. Mary describes the sound of his harp as melodic, if rather metallic, and notes that it sounds as if it is coming from a great distance. She also claims when her children were young she would head upstairs to tuck their covers around them, only to find Tony had beaten her to it. Her mother, Alice Harrington, also claimed to hear the ghost of Tony playing his harp. She loved to entertain visitors to the Inn with tales of Tony’s antics, such as his helpful habit of closing the windows during storms before she could get to them herself.

Could it be that Tony’s youth and new family made him reluctant to leave the world of the living, or was his attachment to his beloved harp so great that it held him here, to play throughout the decades, oblivious to the changing world around him and his own death over one hundred years ago? Whatever the reasons, Tony seems to have taken up permanent lodging at The Brunswick Inn.

Train Tracks in Maco
Train Tracks in Maco

The Lingering Light
In the town of Maco, at the Maco Station, a light flickers across the nearby railway crossing, its basis a mystery that has baffled both scientists and witnesses for over a hundred years. If its origins are open to speculation however its existence is not. Hundreds, if not thousands have witnessed the eerie light, and at one point a machine gun attachment from Fort Bragg was even encamped at the site to observe the phenomenon. The mission failed to resolve the mystery, and the light continued.

The story of the Maco light dates back to 1867 when a man named Joe Baldwin, a conductor for the Atlantic Line, noticed his car, the last one on the train, was slowing down; it had become uncoupled. Joe frantically ran out onto the rear platform and waved his signal lantern to get the attention of the engineer of the train behind him, who, oblivious, crashed into Joe’s car anyway, decapitating him and sending his head flying into a nearby swamp along the tracks. A witness to the accident claimed Joe stood fast, waving his lantern right up to the moment of impact, until it was inexplicably torn from his grasp and hurled to the ground. It rolled over several times until it came to rest right side up, on the opposite side of the track from Joe’s head.

Shortly after Joe’s death, the Maco light began to appear regularly along the train tracks and since then has been witnessed by thousands, including former president Grover Cleveland. Observers often note that the light frequently appears to be very small initially and then grows to the size of the lantern that Joe Baldwin had been carrying. Could this ghostly light be the beam from his lantern, still burning after all these years in a desperate but futile attempt to ward off a tragedy that happened almost one hundred and fifty years ago?


Whether they are real or the products of over active imaginations, ghosts and the stories they engender are a vital part of North Carolina and Brunswick County legend and American folk lore as a whole. Fact or fiction, they have added color to our literature and traditions. What would Halloween be without the tale of the Headless Horseman? So the next time you are traveling along a long dark stretch of road or touring the hallways of an ancient Inn, or perhaps waiting for a train in a rusty railway station, stop and listen for a moment, you might not be as alone as you think, you might be walking with ghosts.

Copyright © 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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