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Ghost tour skeletons rattle around this family’s closet

Ryan Copeland
Ryan Copeland

Hurricane Matthew may have delayed the CAPA Ghost Tours start date by a week, but it didn’t stop Cassandra Menning and her fellow volunteers from going ahead with the annual fundraiser.

For the past 16 years, the days leading up to Halloween have found Menning manning a moonlit carriage tour of downtown Beaufort.

“Come October, my entire family knows it’s time for the Ghost Tours,” said Menning.

The retired educator signs up each year to serve as a storyteller on one of the carriage tours. What attracted her initially was the event’s emphasis on helping children within the community. Since the time her own children were young, she has worked to make it a true family affair.

Formerly a baby pirate, her daughter, Neilye, now portrays the haunting “Belle of Beaufort.” Her other daughter and son-in-law, Catherine and Rickey Reinhardt, serve as storyteller and specter, respectively. They are part of a cadre of volunteers who perform as carriage- or walking-tour storytellers, ghostly “visions” that appear at a moment’s notice, security helpers and ticket sellers, all on behalf of a greater cause.

“It’s personally fulfilling, because the money spent on the tour tickets goes straight to the kids,” said Cassandra Menning. “The heart of it is in helping children who need the shelter and helping the community as a whole.”

Still, as noble as the cause may be, there is a definite emphasis put on being entertaining.

“Everything we talk about has been seen or experienced by someone at some time,” said Menning.

Though she is quick to point out that all stories are from documented cases, each storyteller has his or her own emphasis and perspective on veracity. In past years, Menning herself inhabited the character of “Bloody Mary,” a female pirate who knew where the treasure — and the bodies — were buried. It’s always fun to point out The Castle’s infamous dwarf ghost, but with a history as rich as Beaufort’s, a “vision” can come out of any marsh or oak branch representing any time period in any garb. So be prepared.

“We all try to represent the best of Beaufort, whether it’s a story or character from the Old Point or from Land’s End,” said Menning.

In addition to the entertainment and altruistic value, things can happen that are unplanned — and unsettling.

Guided groups walking down Hancock Street have seen streetlights go out at inopportune times.

Some have seen visions of duelers on the green who were certainly not trained volunteers and who seemed to rise out of the fog.

Other guides have felt a tug at their dress that could come only from a child, though the child in question never seems to materialize.

Someday, perhaps, when the Ghost Tour is celebrating its 100th anniversary, a guide will be able to add some 21st century legends to the canon of Beaufort’s stories.

If that happens, it’s likely a Menning family member will be talking about his ancestors as he or she guides another group through the dark.

Ryan Copeland is a Beaufort native. He can be reached at rlcopeland@hargray.com.

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