Ghosts of Old Salem, North Carolina

Ghosts of Old Salem, North Carolina

by G.T. Montgomery


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Hidden behind the preserved eighteenth-century colonial buildings of the Old Salem Historic District in Winston-Salem is a haunted history of spine-tingling tales. Find the harrowing stories of Salem Cemetery and the anonymous headstones of the Strangers' Graveyard." Learn the origins of the inexplicable sounds at Salem College. Meet the tavern traveler who refuses to check out. Follow the story of Andreas Kresmer's tragic death and the subsequent appearance of the "Little Red Man." Join author G.T. Montgomery on a frightening journey to discover the most notorious haunts to wander Salem's streets."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626194656
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 08/05/2014
Series: Haunted America
Pages: 112
Sales rank: 1,159,940
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

G.T. Montgomery is a graduate of Wake Forest University. He worked for Old Salem Museums and Gardens from 2009 through 2012. Ghosts of Old Salem is his first book.

Read an Excerpt



In the interest of full disclosure, I do want to clarify one thing from the outset of this book. In January 1692, Dr. William Griggs of Salem, Massachusetts, was summoned to examine both the daughter and niece of a local minister, Reverend Samuel Parris. The girls had fallen ill, and their health failed to improve on its own. Instead of providing a simple remedy, however, Dr. Griggs diagnosed the girls as being "bewitched."

The diagnosis would prove to instigate a dark period of time in American history known today as the Salem witch trials. At that time in Massachusetts, the authorities maintained a strong belief in God, not to mention a healthy fear of Satan, and — as history would tell — the combination of those beliefs would claim several lives. Practicing witchcraft was considered a capital offense, and those found guilty were not spared: in total, nineteen men and women were hanged, while several others died in prison awaiting their punishment. When the hysteria subsided, the town of Salem, Massachusetts, would never be the same. Indeed, to this day, the town still serves as a lure to Halloween enthusiasts, either seeking to find new bewitched souls or, perhaps, the souls of those executed at the hands of hysteric fanatics.

That having been mentioned, the Salem covered in this book is not that Salem. Rather, the "Old Salem" mentioned time and again in the pages to come refers to the colonial town established by Moravian missionaries in northwest North Carolina. The Salem covered in this book has no history of witchcraft.

To avoid any further confusion, it may also be helpful to mention that in addition to Old Salem in Forsyth County, North Carolina, there is also a town in Burke County, North Carolina, called Salem and a town in Union County, North Carolina, called New Salem. As best can be determined, the latter two communities also lack histories of witchcraft.



The region of Moravia is located far from northwest North Carolina: the area occupies central and eastern Czech Republic. Like various other Protestant groups in Europe, Moravia's Protestant sect (called the Moravians) experienced persecution for their religion, and by the start of 1792, a group of the Unitas Fratrum, as they called themselves, had made their way to Pennsylvania and founded the town of Bethlehem.

It was from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, that a select group of Moravians made a journey south into North Carolina, establishing a number of communities in the vicinity of present-day Winston-Salem. The first was Bethabara in 1753, the second was Bethania in 1759 and the third was Salem in 1766. Before the Moravian settlers arrived, the land where Old Salem now stands was undeveloped wilderness.

Once established, Salem flourished. It came to serve as the central hub on which other nearby Moravian settlements relied. Settlers began practicing a number of trades from within Salem, and the town developed a reputation as a source of food, tools and other essentials needed by those living in the area. The engineering ability of the Moravians was also unquestionable, as their buildings withstood not only the foundational years of Salem but, in fact, still stand in place to this day.

In that the Moravians also meant Salem to be an outpost for their missionaries, it is no surprise that they chose a biblical name for their town. "Salem" first appears in the Bible at Genesis 14:18: "And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High."

Many, though, consider the name Salem to be a variation of "Jerusalem," which is, of course, found throughout the Bible, including the final book, Revelation. The term "Salem" itself derives from the Hebrew and Arabic words "shalom" and "salaam," respectively. One can extrapolate that Salem's founders must have been quite content with their new settlement for "Salem," in fact, means "peace."

By 1913, both Salem and its neighboring town just to the north, Winston, which was founded in 1849, had grown substantially to the point that the distinct communities had started growing into each other. As a result, on May 9, 1913, the merger of the two towns went into effect, and the resulting city was first called Winston-Salem.

As for the name "Winston," it is has decidedly more American roots: the town was named to honor one of the very men who helped the American colonies break away from British rule: Colonel Joseph Winston. Though not a native of North Carolina (he was born in 1746 in Louisa County, Virginia), Joseph Winston would go on to make a lasting impression on the people of the Tarheel State.

After the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, Winston became a major in the Continental army. It was during the war that then-Major Winston led troops in two pivotal battles in the North Carolina area: firstly, the Battle of Kings Mountain, just south of the North Carolina border in 1780, and secondly, the Battle of Guildford Courthouse in Guildford County in 1781. The former was a clear victory for the Continental army, but it was the latter that — though a loss for the colonists — helped shift momentum against the British.

After defeat at the Battle of Guildford Courthouse, Major General Nathanael Greene (after whom Greensboro, North Carolina, was named) of the Continental army then moved his troops into South Carolina and subsequently undid British military control in the southern colonies. Meanwhile, British commander lieutenant general Charles Cornwallis, the victor at the battle in Guildford County, moved his troops north into Virginia, the place at which he would ultimately surrender to George Washington.

In 1849, Forsyth County, North Carolina, was formed out of land formerly belonging to Stokes County (now Forsyth County's neighbor to the north). At first, the county seat of Forsyth County was simply known as "the county town," but soon thereafter, the name was changed to Winston in tribute to Joseph Winston and his efforts to help establish America's independence. On April 21, 1815, Colonel Winston died in Germanton, North Carolina, just thirteen miles north of the town (and subsequent city) that would come to bear his name.

Ironically, whereas the town of Winston was named to honor a man who fought to turn back British troops from American soil, the name "Carolina," in fact, was a tribute to the king of England at the time of its establishment, Charles I. King Charles I actually provided the original land grant in 1629 that would later become the state of North Carolina. The colony that was established on that land was called Carolina in a nod to the Latin form of Charles's name, "Carolus." Then, in 1729, the colony of Carolina was split into two — an upper Carolina and a lower Carolina, or, as we say to this day, North Carolina and South Carolina. In spite of its name having been initially intended to pay homage to one of Britain's kings, when North Carolina was formally accepted as a member of the United States of America in 1789, the name stayed the same.

Today, the seal of the City of Winston-Salem still showcases pictorial likenesses of the two towns that came together to create the "Twin City." It also contains the Latin motto "Urbs Condita Adiuvando," which translates into English as "a city founded on cooperation." The fact that one town was named to reflect the heritage of its pacifism-practicing Christian founders and the other to honor the heroism of a military commander, and that the resulting city is still solidly united one hundred years later, is a true testament to cooperation indeed.



For those who have never been to Old Salem, it may seem a bit unclear where to begin a visit since the attraction does span the breadth of an entire town. To be sure, there is no right or wrong answer: for some, a visit to Old Salem means nothing more than a stroll down its sidewalks, and for others, it entails touring every available exhibit. For yet another segment of the population, a visit to Old Salem can be built entirely on stopping in Winkler Bakery for fresh bread or sugar cake.

A great first stop for anyone interested in learning more about Old Salem is the Old Salem Visitor Center located at 900 Old Salem Road (not to be confused with the Winston-Salem Visitor Center at 200 Brookstown Avenue). Though the building in which it is located is much newer than most of the structures in Old Salem, the Visitor Center is not any less focused on presenting the history of the town.

As soon as one enters the Visitor Center, one is met with history: a larger-than-life portrait of Bishop August G. Spangenberg, who led the state's first Moravians from Pennsylvania to North Carolina to survey the land, hangs smiling at all those who enter the building. The portrait of Spangenberg (who went on to become bishop of all of North America's Moravian congregation in 1744) is one of thirty-five floor- to-ceiling wall displays inside the Visitor Center that narrate Old Salem's evolution and highlight key figures from its past. The pictures and text are a great introduction to many aspects of Old Salem, including its connection to the Moravian Church, the various trades that thrived in the town and the people who lived in the Moravian settlement. The final of these wall displays hangs by the building's southernmost entrance and features a depiction of President George Washington, who not only visited Salem in 1791 but also spent two nights in its tavern.

Being a modern building with modern technology, the Visitor Center also utilizes film to introduce Old Salem to newcomers. Approximately every ten minutes, a short video plays for visitors on a large screen in the center of the building. The video provides a brief explanation of the town's origins and covers some of the various still-preserved buildings that define the historic district. For those with even more curious minds, the building also houses a bookstore stocked with numerous titles about Salem history, the Moravians and the area that surrounds present-day Winston-Salem. In addition to the film and the books, the Visitor Center is home to the Old Salem Welcome Desk, at which knowledgeable staffers answer countless questions each day about Old Salem, its history and its current offerings. At the Welcome Desk, visitors can also pick up brochures, receive maps and purchase tickets and memberships.

In spite of its modern trappings, however, the Visitor Center does shelter one particularly precious item from history: the world's largest surviving "Tannenburg Organ," one made by the Pennsylvania organ builder David Tannenburg. The massive organ of white-painted wood and gold metal trim was first installed in Old Salem's Home Moravian Church in 1799 but was dismantled in 1910. According to, though the organ does still belong to Home Moravian Church, the experts at Old Salem Museums and Gardens oversaw the fifteen-year restoration of the majestic instrument. After restoration, the organ was then reinstalled, but this time within the James A. Gray Auditorium inside the Old Salem Visitor Center. There the organ resides (in a carefully climate-controlled environment), and for no charge — admission to the Visitor Center is free — the public can view a great treasure from Salem's past.

The Visitor Center is also a draw for many local residents and visiting guests, alike, in that it serves as a home to the Old Salem Candy Shop. The latter is certainly a popular attraction where visitors can find handmade fudge being poured, fresh popcorn being tumbled in caramel and, with luck, authentic Moravian cookies being sampled. Though a late addition to the array of buildings at Old Salem, it is not difficult to see why the Visitor Center is a logical starting point for those new to the historic town.



As one walks south on Church Street in Winston-Salem, moving from the downtown central business district toward Old Salem, there is a house with a black rubber rat lashed to the handrail leading up its front steps. Standing on the sidewalk in front of that house, one can see the northernmost boundary of Old Salem. One can see the stone pillars and the wrought-iron gate that mark the entrance to the so-called Cedar Avenue, a scenic sidewalk so named because of the dozens of ruddy- trunked, green-capped cedars that line it. Though Cedar Avenue is charming, something about passing the black rat suggests a sinister quality afoot as well.

One might convince one's self, however, that the rat is just a fluke. It is, after all, just a rubber toy. One could argue the prop is nothing more than a Halloween decoration that never got taken down before the colder, more blustery winter months set in for the season. Besides, the name of the street on which the house sits is "Church Street" — certainly such a name is indicative of a place more holy than it is sinister. One, thus, continues on toward Cedar Avenue and the quaint, historic town of Old Salem.

Before entering Old Salem, though, one comes to the intersection of Church Street and Cemetery Street. Crossing a road named for the graveyard it hems in also elicits a twinge of unease. On the other side of Cemetery Street, one discovers that the antique iron gate between the stone pillars, in fact, not only marks the entrance to Cedar Avenue but also the entrance to the Salem Moravian Graveyard.

The top of the iron gate is graced with a small heart, but below the heart — about a foot down — the gate is wrapped with a thick chain snapped together with a heavy, weathered lock. As scenic and serene as Cedar Avenue is, one cannot help but wonder what purpose the lock and chain serve. Are they, perhaps, an attempt to keep in the restless spirits of Old Salem? Continue walking, and you will find that some spirits cannot be shackled.



The cemetery on the other side of the chained gate, as is a tradition in the Moravian Church, is more often called "God's Acre." The name God's Acre comes from the ancient German designation of "Gottesacker," which, translated into English, means "Field of God." The Moravians who settled Salem began laying to rest fellow members of their congregation in God's Acre in 1771.

As noted by, the Salem Moravian Graveyard is also called at times the "City of the Equal Dead" in that its tombstones "are all flat and are approximately the same size," and thus no person's headstone calls more attention to itself than does another. Moravian graveyards are also unique in that the faithful departed are laid to rest by "choir," rather than by family, with one's "choir" being determined by gender and marital status instead of parents or spouse. describes the choir system in this way: "[M]arried [men] are buried in a choir and married [women] in another, [whilst] single [men] and single [women] are buried likewise; children are buried together in a [separate choir]."

One would think that a place labeled the "City of the Equal Dead" would be rife with stories of restless spirits. The first spirit one encounters at Old Salem's northern end, however, is just beyond God's Acre. For those who choose to follow Cedar Avenue down the length of the cemetery, they may find a distinct chill waiting at the other end.

On the other side of God's Acre, Cedar Avenue becomes Church Street once again. The street takes its name from Home Moravian Church, which was established on November 13, 1771, just five years after the Moravians began settling Old Salem. As to be expected, the church building, completed in 1800, sits directly on the street. Before arriving at the church, however, one first crosses Bank Street, and it is there that one might experience what has come to be known as Old Salem's "cold spot."

It was a beautiful winter morning in North Carolina. The sky was a bright blue, white clouds drifted by overhead and though the sun had risen and was shining, a fresh snow from the previous night covered everything. Businesses were closed, school was cancelled and across the city people stayed in their homes and waited for the frozen precipitation to melt.

Conversely, David, seven years old at the time, relished the opportunity to go outside and enjoy the winter weather. Unlike Pennsylvania, from whence Salem's original Moravian settlers had come, snow occurs infrequently in North Carolina's Piedmont region. David knew that if he and his friends wanted to go sledding, they needed to get outside as early as possible before the snow could melt. He also knew just the hill down which they could slide: the incline starting at the corner of Bank and Church Streets, emptying out at the corner of Salt and Church.

The boys grabbed anything they could find that seemed like it would glide over the snowy surface. Some of them had pieces of thin metal, some of them had thick swatches of cardboard, but David happened to have an actual sled. Though he did not get to use it every winter, when the occasion did arrive, his possession of the sled made him all the more popular with the other kids in the neighborhood.


Excerpted from "Ghosts of Old Salem, North Carolina"
by .
Copyright © 2014 G.T. Montgomery.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

In Memoriam 7

Preface 13

Acknowledgements 15

A Letter from the Author 19

Introduction 21

Part I An Introduction to Old Salem

1 Old Salem, North Carolina, versus Salem, Massachusetts 33

2 A Brief History of the Town 35

3 Where to Begin a Visit 39

Part II Hauntings in the Historic District

4 Upon Entering Old Salem 43

5 Chill of a Child 46

6 Lingering of the "Little Red Man" 54

7 Mary's Stare 63

8 Gramley's Ghost 71

9 Staub's Spirit 77

10 Specter in the Salem Tavern 82

Part III Addendum

11 Another Mysterious Shooting 89

12 Another Hotel Blaze 92

13 The Moravian Star 94

Afterword 97

Bibliography 111

About the Author 112

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