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Old November 1st, 2005, 03:59 AM   #1
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Winston-Salem: The Ghosts of Historic Old Salem District

I visited Old Salem a year ago around Halloween. A guard at Salem College told me several great ghost stories, including some he had seen during his time there. He said some of the girls at the college are afraid to go out late at night due to the ghosts and many dorms are actually haunted. I've also read of different houses there that are haunted. I didn't know the Blum House was haunted until I saw this story today. I do know Winston-Salem is one of the most "haunted" cities with its huge collection of old buildings and houses. Several houses and buildings there are over 250 years old.

Travel Channel Photo of historic Blum House

Ghostly sightings at Old Salem now part of Halloween tour, book

By Phoebe Zerwick

"Welcome to the house of John Christian Blum."

So begins the story that Tracy Jacobus tells of the man who built the creaky old house where she manages the bookstore for Old Salem.

Jacobus shows off the press that Blum used to print the town's first newspaper and tells the story of how Blum, an agent for the Fayetteville Bank, lost $10,000 in a house fire and spent the rest of his life trying to pay off the debt.

It is all typical stuff for an Old Salem tour.

Then comes the strange part, the part about the muffled voices and the footsteps, about the doorknobs that turn on their own and the ghostly figures that appear only to vanish.

"I'd be in this room, and it sounded like someone was having a conversation on the other side of the house," Jacobus said.

She walks across the room to the heavy wooden door that opens onto Main Street and continues the tale.

"One day, I watched the doorknob turn, and the door would open and there was nobody there," she said.

There are other stories of haunted houses in Old Salem. Some tell of seeing the figure of the Little Red Man, who died in a construction accident in the Single Brothers House. There's also the story of the traveler who died at the Old Salem Tavern and returned in spirit to tell the innkeeper where to send his satchels.

Until recently, these stories were not part of the official tour of the restored 18th century village. The people who ran Old Salem discouraged tour guides from speaking of ghosts and spirits for fear of offending the Moravian Church, which owns the archives on which much of the museum's historic research relies.

But Old Salem and its research partners at the Moravian Church Archives have decided that a little superstition is good for business. Think of colonial Williamsburg, with its popular candlelit tour with stories of ghosts and other mysteries or the Tweetsie Railroad ghost ride through the mountains. If Williamsburg and Tweetsie could do it, why not Old Salem?

Welcome to 21st century historic tourism, where historic accuracy meets the public's appetite for encounters with the spirit world.

Three years ago, the archivists published a book, The Ghost of Salem and Other Tales, figuring that if they didn't do it themselves, someone else would. The book has sold almost 2,000 copies.

"The Moravian church has never been into superstition or apparitions," said Daniel Crews, the head archivist. "Folks everywhere like this kind of thing. So we would take in that spirit rather than as communing with the netherworld."

Over the weekend, the museum put on its first series of Halloween activities, with spooky music, a lecture on local murders and candlelit tours of haunted places, with stops at the Single Brothers House, the tavern and the Blum House. The tour Friday night sold out, with 135 tickets sold at $15 each.

"These stories have been documented," said Renee Shipko, the director of marketing for Old Salem. "We are still upholding our authenticity when we present these stories to the public because we're not making anything up."

Jacobus' ghostly encounters began as soon as she started working in the store in January 2003, but at first, she kept them to herself. As the daughter of a psychic, she said, she was accustomed to such encounters but feared that her colleagues would think she was crazy.

She said she heard footsteps upstairs and conversations in the next room. One afternoon in January, she sat on the stairs to catch up on paperwork. From her perch in the hallway, she could see into the room where the press is displayed.

"I looked up, and there was a man in early 19th century clothing in a leather apron," Jacobus said. "He looked up at me like, 'What are you doing in my shop?' And I looked at him like, 'What are you doing in my shop?'"

They locked eyes, and then she heard the bell over the front door ring, and a customer came into the store. She rose to greet him. When she turned again, the figure by the press was gone, she said.

Eventually, Jacobus got up enough nerve to ask co-workers about what she was seeing and hearing. Another woman thought she'd also seen a figure standing by the press, Jacobus said.

Ellen Perryman, a part-time clerk for the last 15 years, hasn't ever seen the figure, but she knows he's around.

"I've just heard him walking around upstairs," Perryman said. "I don't know him as well as the rest of them do."

Blum was born in Bethabara in 1784 and came to Salem in 1787, where his father ran the tavern. Blum briefly ran the tavern himself, then turned to banking and printing. He built a house next to the tavern in 1815, shortly after marrying, and had two sons, Levi and Edward.

A fire in his house financially ruined Blum in 1827. To pay back his debts, he founded the Weekly Gleaner, followed by a series of other newspapers. He also started Blum's Farmers' and Planters' Almanac, which is still in print. Blum died in 1854, leaving his printing business to his sons.

Jacobus said she doesn't know what could be disturbing Blum, or even whether the spirit she sees and hears is Blum's or someone else's.

"I think this house, being so old, would have a lot of place memories," she said. "But I think we definitely have some sort of spirit that's interacting with us at some level."

Last summer, the appearances increased - to the point that few who worked in the store or the administrative offices upstairs could ignore them.

The blacksmiths, silversmiths and other tour guides have their offices upstairs in the Blum House and often come into the shop before it opens.

In June, three of them heard footsteps downstairs, but when they went to investigate the sounds, they found no one. In early July, the front door to the store would lock itself, Jacobus said. And more recently, the back door opens, on its own.

Jacobus said she would like to speak to the spirit. She and others who work in the store have even talked about holding a seance to see if they can get the spirit to explain his appearances.

Even the skeptics wonder about the sounds they've heard. Blake Stevenson, a gunsmith and silversmith, has spent 10 years at Old Salem.

"I'm probably the skeptic of the bunch," Stevenson said. "What I can say is, there are noises in the house that you can't explain."

• Phoebe Zerwick can be reached at 727-7291 or at [email protected]

Photos below of 250 year old buildings and houses in Winston-Salem's Lower Downtown from the Star Tribune newspaper travel section:

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Old November 1st, 2005, 05:49 PM   #2
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Excellent thread, Matthew Old Salem would make an EXCELLENT setting for a Halloween-oriented horror movie. Has anyone done such movie in Old Salem?
Raleigh MSA

Visit this thread on my hometown (Kalamata, Greece) and this one, too.

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Old November 2nd, 2005, 01:46 AM   #3
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that would be awesome
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