On a recent trip to Wilmington, I took Belle to Oakdale Cemetery. Full of beauty and history, it’s one of my favorite spots in the Port City. It feels more like a garden than a graveyard, especially in the spring. There’s not much in the way of flowers so close to winter, but this time, I was more interested in tracking down the grave of Captain and Boss.
Captain and Boss are local legends in Wilmywood. Kids are introduced to the tale on the Tar Heels Go Walking tour – or on the Ghost Walk of Old Wilmington. Then they huddle up at sleepovers and whisper about the ghost dog, Boss, who haunts the corner of Dock and Front.
I’ve never seen the ghost dog, myself, but whether Boss haunts downtown Wilmington or not – the underlying story is 100% true.
The True Story of Captain and Boss
Wilhelm A. Ellerbrock was born in Hamburg, Germany on, July 18, 1855. Immigrating to Wilmington around 1872, he took up residence with his maternal uncle, Henrich T. Lemmerman, on Princess Street. His Uncle Henry co-owned Lemmerman & Coney Tugboats, and William apprenticed under him. After mastering his trade, William became a tugboat captain for Heide & Company.
Active in the Wilmington community, Captain Ellerbrock volunteered with the Howard Relief Fire Company. The HRFC was organized by German and Irish citizen volunteers who served without pay. Their clubhouse stood at 14 S. 4th Street.
Accompanied by his Newfoundland, Boss, Captain Ellerbrock was a familiar face around downtown. By all accounts, William was well-liked, which makes his ending feel all that more tragic.
After midnight on April 11, 1880, fire alarms rang out when J. H. Ahrens’s storefront at the corner of Dock and Front went up in flames. Captain Ellerbrock answered the call.
Ellerbrock entered the burning building, leaving Boss outside with an onlooker. Unfortunately, nothing could prevent Boss from running inside when the walls collapsed, and Ellerbrock’s screams reverberated in the streets.
The bodies of Captain and Boss were found the next day. Boss laid near Ellerbrock, with cloth from his clothing still in her mouth – proof that she attempted to pull her master to safety.
Captain Ellerbrock was buried in Oakdale Cemetery, with Boss at his side. The pair are inseparable in death – just as in life.
Some say Boss haunts the corner of Dock and Front, night after night attempting to save the Captain.