There aren’t any skeletons in Burgaw’s closet, just ghosts- and they’re friendly!
In its fifth year, Pender County’s annual ghost walk, Ghost Walk of Pender’s Past, saw its biggest turnout yet with hundreds of visitors across the county descending on Burgaw cemetery to get a glimpse into Burgaw’s past and channel the spooky season.
Folks are led on a tour through the cemetery featuring historical figures along the way who share the stories of Pender’s paranormal past with local legend, Mr. Johnny Westbrook as the last stop. Mr. Westbrook tells me in order to prepare for the ghost walk he purchased a book of ghost stories, none of which seemed to excite him. “My mama always told me to tell the truth” Johnny exclaims, so he decided to share with the crowd some real stories from his own life instead.
As the current owner of Burgaw Antiqueplace, which features antiques and studio/office spaces, Mr. Westbrook and his family have a long history in Burgaw, North Carolina. Johnny’s father, Hubert Westbrook first opened what we now know and love as Burgaw Antiqueplace back in 1948 and christened it the Westbrook Five and Dime. Since then, the building has been home to many different visions and businesses but has remained in the Westbrook family, surviving ebbs and flows of traffic downtown and natural disasters. Johnny tells me that saving the building was important to him because it was important to his father. Mr. Westbrook proceeds to share a special story with me, the same one he shared with the visitors at the ghost walk.
Johnny tells me the story of a night 23 years ago in the gallery of Burgaw Antiqueplace where he ran into a familiar ghost; his father. At the time, Mr. Westbrook’s wife Carole was looking forward to making and selling fudge out of the front of the shop and in order to do so, the sewer pipes needed repaired. Johnny found himself working on the floor late one night, remembering his days as the head of a large architecture firm, questioning his path and wondering what the future might hold; he shared with me that the moment brought him to tears. “All of a sudden, I felt my daddy’s presence around me,” Johnny says and tells me that he could hear his father speaking to him, “He said ‘son, everything is going to be okay’.” Johnny felt so comforted by this experience that he pushed forward, finishing the building and proudly opening Burgaw Antiqueplace in 1999.
Mr. Westbrook isn’t the only one who has felt a comforting presence while spending time in the shop. A group of local artists who rent studios at Burgaw Antiqueplace and gather there on Friday’s to paint together, recall nights of hearing footsteps and feeling an overwhelming sense of peace and goodwill. “That’s dad!” Mr. Westbrook proudly states.
Johnny tells me of trials and tribulations he has faced since opening and of miracles he has experienced during his journey with Burgaw Antiqueplace. He shares stories of recently tough times during the pandemic and people and opportunities that have blessed him along the way. “There’s a waiting list of studios for the artists,” Johnny tells me, stating his dad was right. “Here we are 23 years later and business is the best it’s ever been.” He ends by sharing a sentiment with me that he shared with those at the ghost walk; “There’s something very beautiful about small towns, but not as beautiful as Burgaw. We are blessed to live in Burgaw.” And that we are; surrounded by the incredible people of Burgaw and the souls who’ve built it.