Considering Winston-Salem’s long history, it comes as no surprise that the area is home to quite a few ghost stories. You’ll find spine-chilling tales in every corner of the county—many of which revolve around historic sites. While we couldn’t hope to list all of the local legends in one story, this sampling should be enough to keep you up a little later than usual at night.
Of all the cemeteries in town, Salem Cemetery is arguably the most impressive. It’s also supposedly the most haunted. Many visitors claim to hear ghastly whispers and see shadowy figures roaming amid the gravestones at night.
One such account took place several decades ago when a group of teenagers went to the cemetery to party. They settled at a cross-shaped marker under an oak tree; the grave of Robah Gray. The teens began joking with Robah, saying things like, “Mind if we sit here, Robah?” and “Want a swig of wine, Robah?” When they were leaving, they beckoned Robah to come with them.
The following day, one of the girls in the group began experiencing strange things at home. Glasses shattered, doors swung open, lights flickered incessantly. Most notably, her TV began turning on and off in the middle of the night, its volume blaring. The girl eventually told her boyfriend about the happenings, and he suggested that Robah had indeed followed her home.
So the next evening, after beckoning Robah to follow them to the car, the couple drove to the cemetery, walked to the grave, and told Robah he was home. Robah apparently listened, as the occurrences in the girl’s home ceased from then on.
To this day, many people claim to feel a static-like charge in the air when they pass Robah’s grave—sometimes even a “pull.” Paranormal investigators have also noted that his spirit is still very active, cautioning would-be partiers against antagonizing him.
Labeled the “strangest house in America,” Körner’s Folly just looks like a place that should be haunted. The estate features 22 rooms and 15 fireplaces spread among its seven levels. It was built in 1878 along Kernersville’s Main Street by furniture-maker Jule Körner. While construction was completed in 1880, Körner kept refurbishing the home for most of his life, turning it into a fantastically odd masterpiece. Körner would die inside the home in 1924, and the Folly briefly became a funeral parlor before turning into a tourist attraction.
While the home has a long history of hauntings, it took a 2009 report to officially put it on the paranormal map. That’s when SPARS, a renowned ghost-hunting team, declared the property was haunted following an investigation. Among their findings were disembodied voices, phantom footsteps, shifting furniture, and lights turning on and off. One investigator also reported getting three consecutive taps on his head—the same thing an HVAC worker had reported a few years earlier. Spooky as it sounds, local paranormal expert Amy
Spease says Körner’s Folly is actually quite friendly. In the book “Ghosts of the Triad,” Spease claimed the spirits there are warm and welcoming, not malicious. Most believe the activity is spearheaded by Jule Körner, who’s simply trying to entertain his houseguests.
The Bahnson House
Long before it became home to the Spring House Restaurant, this magnificent building was simply known as the Bahnson
House. It was built in 1920 by Agnew H. Bahnson, a local industrialist who is best known for manufacturing and selling the Fries humidifier. Bahnson lived in the house until his death in 1966. Less than two months later, his wife was killed in a tragic car accident. Surviving family members donated the home to Forsyth County, and it eventually became office space for the Public Library.
It was in the midst of the renovation process that most of the paranormal phenomena were reported, including shadowy apparitions, eerie footsteps, lights flickering on and off, slamming doors, and floating objects. Most believe the house is haunted by the ghost of Agnew Bahnson, who wasn’t quite ready to leave at the time of his death. (He died of an abrupt heart attack, after all.) The various stories led to the home being featured in the 2002 book “Ghost Tales From the North Carolina Piedmont.”
Do the beautiful grounds at Reynolda have a spooky side? Many visitors think so. The home and surrounding gardens were built in 1917 for tobacco tycoon R.J. Reynolds and his wife, Katherine, along with their children. Tragically, R.J. would die of pancreatic cancer the following year, leaving Katherine alone to manage the estate, the gardens, and the adjacent farm. Katherine would pour her heart and soul into running the estate until her own death in 1924.
Reynolda is now owned by Wake Forest, serving as an art museum and historical attraction. While very little paranormal activity is reported inside the home, the same can’t be said for the surrounding grounds. Most accounts center around a mysterious “lady in white” who’s seen gliding along the wooded trails and wetlands. Sometimes she’s seen on horseback, and sometimes she’s not wearing white, but she’s almost always accompanied by an enveloping mist and a deep cold.
Could it be Katherine is still wandering around the grounds at Reynolda, watching over her beloved estate? Considering she spent hours each day strolling about the estate, especially in the wake of her husband’s death, it certainly makes sense.
It’s a road that almost everyone growing up in Forsyth County hears about at some point—Payne Road, that dark and winding byway that snakes through Rural Hall en route to Stokes County. While the road is shrouded in urban legends, there are a few things we know for sure.
For starters, there was once a rambling farmhouse that sat along one of the road’s sharpest curves. It was here that several violent and mysterious deaths occurred over the years. One particular death involved a man, Frank Edwards, who killed himself in 1954 by putting a stick of dynamite in his mouth. Years later, in 1992, a woman was brutally murdered and tied to a tree near the house.
Because of these deaths, many claim the grounds are haunted, and possibly even cursed. The farmhouse ended up burning down in the 1990s, yet the foundation and several outbuildings remain.
Other supernatural stories involve a cemetery and an old bridge near the house. Reports of strange orange glows coming out of the cemetery are somewhat common. Many also claim to have seen wispy white figures hovering over these areas, and some say they’ve seen phantom dogs dash into the street and vanish while approaching them by car. Legend also has it that if you stopped on the bridge and whistled “Dixie” that your car wouldn’t start back up. Others said simply driving over the bridge would cause their cars to malfunction. Whether this is true or not is hard to say, as the bridge was replaced by a culvert several years ago.
Aside from the house and bridge, there’s another story that seems to have some traction—and it’s perhaps the most chilling. Countless people claim that headlights have suddenly appeared behind them as they drove along the road. The lights would get closer and closer until they were almost touching their bumper before suddenly vanishing. Most of the accounts take place along the Stokes County portion of the road. When the driver crossed back into Forsyth County (where it’s more populated), or if they turned off the road, the lights would disappear.
One thing to note is that the road where most of the activity occurs isn’t actually called Payne Road—at least not anymore. Local officials renamed it Edwards Road a few years ago, supposedly to ward off thrill-seeking teens. (There is still a Payne Road in the area, but it’s not the site of the reported hauntings.) While the lines between factual and supernatural tend to blur, anyone who’s been down the road knows it’s an incredibly dark and eerie place. You can almost feel the tension in the air. Our best advice? Proceed with caution.
The Ghosts of Old Salem
Years ago, Brian Coe was the master woodworker at Old Salem Museum and Gardens. He remembers a slow day when he and two other craftsmen were alone in the Single Brothers House where they all worked. They stood outside Coe’s workshop talking. Without warning, the organ began to play. They wondered how they’d missed someone coming into the building and went down the hall to investigate. No one was there. The organ was controlled by a mechanical switch, but no one had been close enough to push it. Between the three handymen, they couldn’t come up with a physical explanation of why the music played.
Sometime later, on a dark chilly October night, Coe was putting decorations away at the Blum House. Carrying a skeleton dressed as an 18th century printer, he was headed upstairs to put it away when he froze, overtaken by a sense of dread.
“I don’t know what it was,” he says. “I didn’t see anything, I didn’t hear anything, but I was not going up those stairs.” He gives a wry laugh. Instead, he hung the skeleton in a closet, set the alarm and left … which gave his co-workers quite the fright when they opened the door the next morning.
The Blum House is an unsettling place even in broad daylight, as Coe discovered one July afternoon. He was alone in the house, hanging flags out the second-floor windows. He heard what sounded like typing at the computer in the next office. When he was finished he went to say hello to whichever co-worker had come in, yet he found the office empty.
Coe, who is now director of interpretation at Old Salem, is a tall, practical man who looks like he can take care of himself. But experiences like these, most in broad daylight, have given him chills over the years.
While some haunting stories are generations old, those of the Blum House are relatively new. John Christian Blum was a printer and an agent for the Cape Fear Bank in the early 1800s. One night, as he rushed to close his business, he left a candle burning by stacks of money. The resulting fire destroyed $10,000 (roughly equal to $250,000 today). He had to mortgage his home and business to the church in order to pay the debt. Brother Blum passed away in 1854 at the age of 70 and is buried in nearby God’s Acre.
There were no known reports of ghostly activity in the house until Old Salem began renovations in 1995, says Coe, when the museum returned Dr. Blum’s printing press to his shop. Nearly immediately, staff began to note the front and back doors would occasionally open or close while at other times they were nearly impossible to open. Staff members have often reported hearing muffled conversation between a man and a woman, but no one is ever found.
The museum hosts tours in October that detail the ghost stories and folklore of Old Salem. One of the most popular tales centers on the Talking Corpse of Salem Tavern, which begins on a cold November night in 1831. That’s when a stranger came to the tavern looking for lodging. He was visibly ill, and by morning, despite the best efforts of a local doctor, he slipped into a coma and died without ever revealing his name. After burying the man, tavern workers stored his saddlebags inside a wardrobe in the off-chance someone might come to claim them.
Within days, workers began complaining of a chilling presence and unexplained noises coming from the tavern’s basement. These accounts came to a head one night when the tavern keeper was confronted by a shadowy figure. The spector revealed his name and instructed the tavern keeper to write to his family in Texas. The family would reply within weeks and confirm the stranger’s identity, asking that his saddlebags be forwarded to his home. The workers obliged, and the ghastly manifestations immediately ceased.
Another popular tale covered on the tours is that of Andreas Kremser, aka the Little Red Man. Kremser was a man of slight stature who hadn’t been suited to a number of occupations assigned him, but, in 1786, he seemed to have found his niche as the community’s shoemaker. In March of that year, excavating work began inside the Single Brothers House, where Kremser lived and worked. Tragically, a cave in buried Kremser, and, though the brethren dug him out, he died of his injuries a few hours later. Since then there have been stories of the distinctive tapping of a shoemaker’s hammer on leather or of sightings of a small man wearing red. Over the years, the brothers began attributing anything odd that happened to Kremser.
Kremser has been seen by many folks since at least 1899 when such lore is first recorded. One of Coe’s co-workers, a woman he has known for many years, was leaving one afternoon, headed downstairs to go out the back door and lock up. She saw someone she thought was one of the museum’s craftsmen going down the hall into the kitchen. She was so convinced she had seen someone that she called out to him and then went looking for him, only to discover there was no one in the house.
“I saw her about 15 minutes later,” Coe says, “and she was as white as this sheet of paper. I have no doubt she saw something. At night, when we’re setting up for these [Legends & Lanterns tours], it’s hard to not think about those things.”