Wilmington, North Carolina, is a great seaport town, more than three centuries old. As befits a city of such age, it’s a haunted one. One of my favorite Wilmington ghost stories begins with a fine horse, an oddly beautiful ring, and a disappearance.
Llewelyn Markwick arrived in Wilmington in the early spring of 1760. A twenty-four-year-old Englishman of Welsh descent, he brought with him letters of introduction from a number of titled families back in the old country. He was a charming youngster, immediately popular among the upper classes of Wilmington society.
Markwick had two possessions that interested his new friends, as well. He was the owner of a fine Arabian stallion, so well-trained that all he had to do was turn it in the direction of its stable and tap it on the neck when he was done riding for the day, and it would return to the stable on its own.
The other possession was even more fascinating: a large ring, consisting of two snakes’ bodies twining around each other and, clasped in their reptilian jaws, an immense diamond. In answer to questions, he said that the ring was in the shape of his family crest, and literally the only one of its kind in existence.
One afternoon in the late autumn of 1760, Markwick saddled up his horse and told the attending stablehand that he was going for a short ride and would return by early evening.
The horse came back on its own. Llewelyn Markwick did not return at all.
At first, it was thought that Markwick had stopped to visit friends outside the city limits and decided to stay overnight, but had sent the horse on home. When he had not returned, and no one reported seeing him, for a couple of days, search parties were organized. These parties found no trace of Markwick.
And so matters stood for eight years.
In the summer of 1768, Wilmington was pounded by an immense rainstorm, receiving several inches of rain in a twenty-four-hour period. After the downpour stopped, a gentleman walking along a sandy stretch of what is now the intersection of Third and Dock Streets saw that a large area of road had been completely washed out. As he picked his way cautiously around the giant new pothole, he saw an incongruously shiny object sticking up out of the mud. Curious, he got down in the hole and tried to dig the shiny thing out, but it appeared to be stuck.
Other pedestrians happened along and joined him in the excavation. They soon found out the object was indeed stuck: to the fingerbones of a skeletal hand. And some of them, once the mud was cleaned away, recognized it as a ring–a ring with two entwined snakes clutching a huge diamond in their mouths.
Llewelyn Markwick had been found, but the mystery of how he came to be buried in that spot was never solved.
He appeared to have been shot in the back of the head, and then hit solidly with some heavy object that had split his skull from front to back. Robbery, apparently, had not been a motive; his ring and a purse full of money were untouched, and his horse had, after all, returned to its stall.
Wilmingtonians say, to this day, that Markwick may have died in a case of mistaken identity; his killer or killers, when they realized their mistake, had buried him in a hasty grave–probably in what was then a wooded area by today’s St. Thomas Preservation Hall–and run for their lives, and his horse had made its way home alone.
Markwick was reburied elsewhere. But the story goes that he has never left the area where he was killed and buried in an ignominious grave.
Pedestrians and police alike have reported seeing a man dressed in odd, very oldfashioned clothes, staggering along Dock Street; when approached, he vanishes into thin air.
A married couple once crashed their car into the Confederate war memorial that stands near the intersection of Dock and Third. The husband frantically tried to explain that he had been driving along minding his own business when a man in outdated clothing stepped off the sidewalk and into traffic. Unfortunately, with no witnesses to this event save his wife, and given that it was a Saturday night and the bars had just closed, he was cited for DUI.
Others have reported seeing a man on horseback in the alleyway beside St. Thomas Preservation Hall; the horse rears, then runs wildly about twenty feet down the alley, at which point it and its rider disappear.
It seems to me that this apparition of horse and rider must be repeating Llewelyn Markwick’s last moments; he and his horse are trying to evade their attacker(s), and probably vanish at the point at which Markwick was shot from the horse’s back.
Of all the phenomena associated with the death of Llewelyn Markwick, though, the eeriest is undoubtedly this: from the time his body was found until the day, many years later, that the area was paved with asphalt, his makeshift grave would, no matter how many times it was filled in, invariably fall out: not the entire area washed out by the terrible rainstorm in 1768, but only the space where Markwick had lain buried for years.
The story of Llewelyn Markwick’s strange death is told in John Harden’s 1949 book The Devil’s Tramping Ground and Other North Carolina Mystery Stories. The hauntings associated with his death are recounted in John Hirchak’s 2006 book Ghosts of Old Wilmington.