Ghosts haunt — and teach — at annual walk
By William F. West
Saturday, October 13, 2018
Some half-dozen spirits from Elizabeth City’s long-ago past made their presence known Friday during the first night of the annual Ghost Walk.
At the Mary Blades Foreman House on Main Street, Ghost Walk attendees got to hear from the woman for whom the house is named. Portrayed by Judi Stuart, Foreman gave attendees a little history about herself as well as the local lumber business her family founded in Elizabeth City.
Foreman said after being born in Maryland, she was orphaned and then ended up in Illinois. After marrying, she and her husband, Clay, became homesteaders in Nebraska; he started a corn farm and she opened a school.
The Foremans fell on hard times in Nebraska, however. They decided to escape the brutal winters of the Midwest after hearing from family members about how well they doing well in the lumber business in New Bern, North Carolina.
The Foremans would later move to Elizabeth City where Clay would found a prosperous lumber business. The Foremans built their first home at the corner of Poindexter and Ward streets and would go on to raise six children.
"It was a great life," Mary Foreman said.
She noted her husband was a kind man who didn't curse. But when he was angry, he had a particular way of expressing his ire: he’d call the person he was angry with “a Democrat.”
"If one of the children misbehaved, he would say, 'Behave, you little Democrat, you.' And we knew when he said that, that he was really angry and that we would tip-toe softly for a minute to make sure he'd calm down," Foreman said.
"He thought that was the worst thing he could ever call anybody," she said. "Hilarious, when I think of it."
The Foreman lumber company eventually would employ about 1,000 men and featured what was considered the most productive sawmill east of the Mississippi River. It also was one of only four of the 12 local lumber businesses not to fail during the Great Depression.
Mary Blades Foreman’s House at 309 West Main is one of eight venues for this year’s Ghost Walk, which is sponsored by the Elizabeth City Historic Neighborhood Association and promotes appreciation for Elizabeth City’s historic structures. Other homes/venues on this year’s Ghost Walk included the Dr. Isaiah Fearing House at 203 West Main; the L.S. Blades Jr. House at 108 East Fearing Street; the W.E. Pappendick House at 601 West Main; the Sanders House at 737 Riverside Avenue; the Messenger-Fearing-Morrisette House at 911 Riverside Avenue; and Arts of the Albemarle’s The Center at 516 East Main.
Amanda Spence was among those lining up outside the Charles O. Robinson house to go in and see Greg Duncan’s performance as Robinson.
Prior to moving to Elizabeth City a few years ago, Spence said her friend, Valerie Person, told her "you have to come" to Ghost Walk. Spence, like many taking this year’s Ghost Walk, said she loves learning about the history of Elizabeth City.
"You get to go through some beautiful houses and learn a lot about the city, learn a lot about the history and also meet some really cool people,” she said. "It connects you here and to the community — and it makes you feel like this is really home.”
Person, who lives in Bells Island and teaches English at Currituck County High School, said she’s been attending Ghost Walks for nearly a decade.
"Somebody invited me to come," Person said of her first experience. "I was just curious and I love seeing the insides of the homes. You wonder what they look like from the outside. And you learn some history as well."
Person said she had no idea that so many prominent people — everyone from George Washington to Robert Frost — visited Elizabeth City at some point in their life. Their “ghosts” have been portrayed at previous Ghost Walks.
"That's really cool," she said.
Outside the W.E. Pappendick House, Terra Fox, a local tax auditor, was waiting to go in. Fox estimated she’s attended eight or nine Ghost Walks over the years.
"I think it's just a wonderful event for the history and a good fundraiser for AoA," Fox said. "And I love to look at the houses and to see all the decorations and learn the history."
Originally from Alexandria, Virginia, Fox said Ghost Walk helps her learn about the place she now calls home.
"It's special because I get to learn so much about Elizabeth City," she said.
Fox said she, like other local residents, probably takes the city’s numerous old homes for granted. That’s why she appreciates being able to go inside and get a peek at each house’s interior.
"That's like the most important thing to me," she said.
The second night of this year’s Ghost Walk begins today at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $15, $12 for military personnel and children younger than 12.