Haunting the Bars
My guide for the Durham Pub Crawl and Haunted Adventure Tour, Dale was a bearded black man with a gap-toothed smile. The excursion, put on by Tobacco Road Tours, kicked off at 7:30 p.m. with a round of drinks and greasy snacks at Tyler’s Restaurant & Taproom on Blackwell Street in the American Tobacco District. Dale passed around a clipboard for everyone to sign before the tour began, removing any liability from Tobacco Road Tours should anything happen.
After Tyler’s, the tour visited Alley Twenty Six, Whiskey and Bull McCabe’s Irish Pub. Between each round of drinks, Dale led the group to a building and told a few ghost stories associated with the location.
After the first round of drinks, Dale led the group out of the bar and through the Tobacco District. It was already dark and starting to drizzle. In front of an old smokestack, Dale explained that the tour would introduce people to the history of Durham. Many of the ghost stories came from back when Durham was a tobacco town, and are said to have taken place in the old factories and buildings owned by people with prominent names like Blackwell and Duke.
Dale described himself as an actor involved in theater, storytelling and comedy and said he stumbled onto this gig through an ad on Craigslist. As for whether there would be actual ghosts on the tour he was cryptic.
“I tell people to take pictures because sometimes you will see [ghost-like] orbs,” he said. “And we have no control over that.”
The tales introduced a father and daughter who suffered a gruesome fate, the vengeful ghost of a woman who haunts the building where she was raped and murdered, a man who haunts his old office as he waits for his ex-girlfriend to come back to him and other ghostly inhabitants of downtown Durham. Dale tied each story to a historic building in the city and often told them in a tongue-in-cheek tone.
Ashley McDuffy, an engineer living in Raleigh, and her friend Sarah Bradley, an editor at a Durham company, came with their husbands on a double date.
“We’re just looking for a good time, to hear some good stories and drink some good beer,” McDuffy said.
This wasn’t the first ghost tour and pub crawl that Bradley had been on, but she hesitated to call herself an expert.
“I just like ghost tours,” she said.
Senior Rowan Murray said he came on the tour to tag along with his friends but joked, “you can tell that I’m fascinated by the spirit realm.”
The tour was not all ghost stories, however. As the group trooped through Parrish Street, Dale also described the history of Durham’s Black Wall Street.
On the last stop of the tour, and just when it began to rain in earnest, Dale was joined by a fellow tour guide, Brandon Wright. Wright ended the night by telling a story about a factory worker who haunted the lights of a former Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company factory after his untimely death while changing a lightbulb. Murray said he had actually been inside the building—which is now sealed off to the public—a few years ago.
“They cut the power in that building off permanently,” he said as the group trudged its way through the rain to get one last drink for the night.
At Whiskey, a dimly lit cigar bar with blues music playing in the background, I spoke with an imposing bouncer who would only identify himself as “Hebrew” and dismissed the idea of ghosts.
“I believe there are evil spirits among us that cause you to do bad things, just like you have good spirits for protection,” he boomed, his gold fillings flashing in the darkness as he spoke. “Ghosts are a fairy tale. There ain’t no such thing as a ghost.”