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Hunting Ghosts (the Academy, Pt. 1) - Wilmington, NC

"Never trust the living! We cannot have a routine haunting like yours provide proof that there is existence beyond death." -Juno, "Beetlejuice"



Leading up to "Ghost Hunters Academy", I had spent two consecutive Halloweens working on the "Ghost Hunters" live shows in Kentucky and Delaware. As a result, I got to know the original show's main cast, Jason and Grant, and their regular support staff. One day, still fresh out of college and dreaming about what the future may hold, I received a call from a Los Angeles number. This was before the daily car warranty and student loan robocalls, so I immediately picked up. "Heyyy, Justin, we're developing a 'Ghost Hunters' spinoff," said the voice at the other end of the line. "We'd like you to be a part of it - are you interested?" Uh, yeah! Most important of the scant details was that I would need to fly to the east coast in a week. Working at a TV station at the time, right away, I scheduled a meeting with my boss. I had recently started juggling between editing news stories and running the cameras during nightly news broadcasts, so I wanted to make sure a one-week notice wouldn't, somehow, shut down the entire operation. My boss, Mike (who is a broadcasting legend in the "Great Lakes Region" and has been recognized as such by the TV Academy) saw the significance of the opportunity and suggested I jump on it.

One week later, and during a very chaotic 24 hours, my final assignment for the TV station was mixing live sound in a broadcast truck (yeah, I tend to dabble in all things tech) for the annual Jerry Lewis MDA telethon:

Justin J. Kilmer mixing sound for a live broadcast

That same night, while leaving work during a torrential downpour, I wrecked my car and likely fractured my right foot. In the morning, I was already on a flight to North Carolina, so my amazing girlfriend at the time/wife-to-be took care of the car. The following series is from my time out on the road with a team that was hunting ghosts.




Touchdown! Welcome to Wilmington, North Carolina. I'm really excited about this opportunity... yet a little concerned about my throbbing foot. Hopefully this limp isn't as noticeable as it seems. Just outside the airport, a passenger van is reserved in my name. Once I collect the keys, back into the airport I go, to wait for the show's contestants ("the cadets") to land from all over the U.S. Once they trickle in from various flights and we make our introductions, we head to the hotel to get settled in. There, in the lobby, I spot and catch up with a couple of my co-workers from the Halloween live shows. It's so great getting to work with them again. Later on, our whole entourage heads out, hitting up a bar (or maybe two). Along the way, a few cameras flash as we walk by, and some bar patrons seem a little starstruck meeting the Ghost Hunters cast members with us, Steve and Dave. Those guys are awesome, so it's fun seeing them interact with fans. The only flub during this introductory time is being late for the first crew meeting in the hotel lobby: I ride the elevator down to the first floor, then the doors don't open. The "open" button does nothing, nor does hitting any other button, even the alarm! I pull out my phone to try calling my boss - "no service." A number of worst-case scenarios from movies and TV immediately come to mind. Am I going to end up climbing up into the elevator shaft, like this is "Mission: Impossible"? Before reaching that level of desperation, I try prying open the seam between the doors with my fingers. That actually works! With ease, the two doors glide apart. I walk past the work meeting already-in-progress, holding up an index finger to my boss, to say "Hold on a second." I head straight to the front desk and give them an earful about what just happened. Apparently this isn't the first time they've had elevator issues. Joining the meeting a minute later, my disdain must have carried far enough that no one ever ribs me about being late on the first full work day.

The subject of the first Ghost Hunters Academy investigation is a battleship, USS North Carolina (BB-55). Without being in the production office, it's always a guess how and why filming locations get picked. We do know, however, that five people died on this ship during a Japanese torpedo strike at Guadalcanal in 1942.

USS North Carolina Battleship - photo by KilmerMedia

Getting to the work at hand, we shoot exterior footage from a flooded parking lot. In the water next to the ship, we see an alligator that either wants to say "hi" or is hoping one of us falls over the railing. On board, below deck, whew, it gets hot. In the middle of the night, it's lonely and creepy, with random clinks and clanks coming from who knows where? Our walkie-talkies hardly work among all this metal. The investigation is scheduled to conclude at sunrise. It doesn't. The sun has long been burning in the sky before we are able to tear down the equipment and head back to the hotel for some much-needed sleep.

Battleship North Carolina with the Ghost Hunters Academy RV - photo by KilmerMedia

Aside from it just being a unique opportunity, another neat thing among all this? It's a full-circle experience for me; in the late 80s or early 90s, I toured the ship during a family vacation. Here's a pic of my bro and me from that visit:

During the day, the "investigators-in-training" sift through the previous night's footage, and we also shoot green screen interviews, asking the cast about their experience. Flipping that switch is tough - the nighttime investigations, then daytime interviews definitely take a toll on your circadian rhythm. Sometimes the on-camera talent just happens to be a Wookiee.

Green screen setup - photo by KilmerMedia

I'm not a ghost hunter but welcome unusual experiences, as indicated by some previous posts about the topic. Here, though, nothing felt particularly ominous or spooky or strange - at least for me.

From here, we caravan to Rhode Island. Previously, I had never ventured anywhere near our smallest state but, for what it's worth, can soon say I have...


Coming Up:

Warwick, Rhode Island / Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Buffalo, New York St. Augustine, Florida Cedar Grove, New Jersey


"Hunting Ghosts (the Academy, Pt. 1) - North Carolina" (2009) Written by: Justin Kilmer Edited by: Janine Kilmer

Unless otherwise noted, all media and text on this page are copyrighted © by Justin Kilmer.

For more Battleship North Carolina history and tour info, check out:


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