New Tours Highlight Port City’s Past

By Miriah Hamrick, posted Jun 16, 2023
Wilmington True History Tours operates three tours, which are roughly two hours. (Photo c/o Wilmington True History Tours)
Visitors and locals looking to learn more about downtown Wilmington’s rich history have more options for walking tours this summer with newcomers Wilmington True History Tours and U.S. Ghost Adventures. 

Wilmington True History Tours led its first tour this spring as an offshoot of Savannah True History Tours. Brandon Carter, owner of both operations, said Wilmington seemed like a “natural and easy decision” when he began considering opportunities to expand his company’s presence. 

“It’s a place that has a ton of history and amazing stories, a place very similar to Savannah. And being a coastal city, it experienced a lot of the same things: wars and plagues and hurricanes,” Carter said. “So we jumped at the chance.”

Carter, who worked as a National Park Service ranger at Richmond National Battlefield Park before his current career as an attorney and small business owner, leads some of the tours when he’s in town. To anchor his new operation, Carter sought guides with a solid working knowledge of the city. He reached out to local historian Chris Fonvielle Jr., a Wilmington native who taught history at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Fonvielle was “thrilled” with the offer, according to Carter, and he connected Carter to fellow local historian Glenn Tetterton. 

“From there, we ran with it,” Carter said. 

The company operates three tours, which are roughly two hours; cost $25 for adults and $22 for veterans and first responders; and are free for children under 13 years old. The Wilmington History Walk, offered about three times per week, provides a general overview of the city’s history from its founding to the present day. Fonvielle leads a tour focused on his area of expertise, Wilmington during the Civil War, and when Carter can travel to Wilmington for a weekend, he leads a Wilmington Dark History Tour. The latter, Carter emphasized, is not a ghost tour. 

“There’ll be no mention of ghosts whatsoever. It’s all dark, creepy, eerie things that actually happened downtown,” Carter said. 
He listed the yellow fever epidemic that struck the city during the Civil War, as well as tales of pirates and murders as examples of the kind of true stories that are told on the Dark History Tour. 

For those looking to hear spooky tales of ghostly encounters, U.S. Ghost Adventures recently added Wilmington to its roster of more than 70 cities. 

Josef Kruger, director of operations and experiences for U.S. Ghost Adventures, echoed Carter’s motivation for selecting Wilmington for the company’s expansion. 

“Where there’s history and tragic events, there’s almost always reports of hauntings. When there’s enough all together in one area, especially in a beautiful, historic place like [Wilmington], then it’s time to go in and start our research,” Kruger said. 

Launched in April, U.S. Ghost Adventures currently operates nightly tours in Wilmington, which meet on the steps of Thalian Hall at 8 p.m. for an hourlong walk through Wilmington’s haunted destinations. The tours cost $25 per person, with the option to add four more locations for $7. By October, Kruger said the company hopes to start an adults-only, late-night tour. 

When sharing stories of Wilmington’s haunted past, which range from the pre-contact days when Southeastern North Carolina was occupied by Indigenous people to the golden age of piracy during the colonial era to the Civil War and its resulting racial strife, U.S. Ghost Adventures guides are careful to distinguish which parts of the stories they tell are verified facts and which ones were culled from eyewitness accounts. 

“We do try to separate what we know for sure, as far as the history, and what the rumors are,” Kruger said. The goal, he said, is to “let people see and decide for themselves based on all the reports of hauntings and unexplained activities.” 
Inaugural Sun Country flights touch down at ILM

Sun Country Airlines’ inaugural flight from Minneapolis, Minnesota, landed at Wilmington International Airport shortly after 11 a.m. on June 1. The nearly full Boeing 737-800 taxied through a ceremonial water salute on its way to the gate.

Wendy Burt, Sun Country’s senior director of communications, shared brief remarks to a crowd of ILM officials and nearly 200 people gathered at the Sun Country gate to board the inaugural flight from Wilmington to Minneapolis. Burt identified Wilmington’s coastal amenities as a motivation for Sun Country to add ILM to its network of nearly 100 airports. These kinds of destinations tend to be popular with the airline’s Midwestern customer base, she noted.

“We are always looking to add new destinations, and beaches are very popular with our customers,” Burt said. 

Sun Country, a Minnesota-based low-cost carrier, announced the new service connecting the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) to ILM in November. The airline offers nonstop flights to and from Minneapolis on Thursdays and Sundays through Labor Day. Burt said she anticipates the route will remain a seasonal offering, as that’s when the airline sees a peak in demand for travel. Additionally, many of Sun Country’s 118 routes operate seasonally.

Wilmington International Airport offers 17 nonstop destinations, and June’s maiden flights to and from Minneapolis are among five inaugural routes celebrated by airport officials recently. Jeff Bourk, airport director, said officials are working to build on the momentum of new service; he cited upcoming meetings with several airlines in June to pitch new nonstop service out of Wilmington.

“We’re always meeting with airlines, talking to them about this market and trying to help improve their business case for growing service here in Wilmington,” Bourk said.

Among other evidence, ILM uses cell phone data about area travel patterns to bolster its case to airlines for expanded service. The data often shows unmet potential based on the number of locals traveling to nearby Raleigh-Durham International Airport or Myrtle Beach International Airport for nonstop flights not currently offered from Wilmington. Bourk listed Denver, Colorado; Nashville, Tennessee; and Northeastern destinations such as Providence, Rhode Island, and Portland, Maine, as untapped markets for new nonstop service. The airport’s data also indicates demand for flights to more Florida markets beyond the airport’s current flights to Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, West Palm Beach and Tampa.
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