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Montgomery, G.T. Ghosts of Old Salem, North Carolina. Haunted America. The History Press, 2014.
This is another book where the author is a professional in the field. In this case, as with Karen Lilly-Bowyer, he’s a ghost tour guide. So, he operates in the industry of dark tourism, as Tiya Miles would put it. Montgomery puts a tour guide’s zest into discussing the area’s history and its ghosts. Needless to say, he also works at giving some inside info that someone who does not work in the dark tourism industry in Old Salem might not know. And he gives the best and most detailed account of the Little Red Man of Old Salem that I’ve encountered yet. Contrary to how it sounds, this ghost is of a Moravian brother who was accidentally killed when part of a cellar fell on him. Not only is he not demonic, he’s not even malevolent, just mischievous.
That said, this is a very short book, even with the padding toward the end of unrelated history and what is probably a straight-up fictional tale at the end. It’s 112 pages and that includes the introduction, the author’s bio, and the end pages. This is one from The History Press, back when they were putting all of their regional ghost story books into a series called “Haunted America.” Those are always a bit short.
Montgomery does recount quite a bit of history with his ghosts, so it makes it easier to give these tales a time and place of origin. However, he does tend to fictionalize at times. There is no way, for example, he could accurately tell us the thoughts of someone about to commit suicide decades ago who didn’t even leave a note, but that’s exactly how he tells one story.
Old Salem, NC, in Forsyth County, is very different from Salem, MA. Old Salem was founded by the Moravians (one of three such settlements in NC), a German Protestant sect who sought refuge in the Americas in the 1800s. The Moravians were not unlike the Shakers. They emphasized hard work and segregation of their members (both married and unmarried) into age and gender cohorts, living in different buildings and even being buried separately. They seem to have retained a good reputation over the years. But their devotion to God has not left the town unhaunted. No surprise, then, that one of the first stories is about their cemetery.
Interestingly enough, there is another Salem in Burke County and a New Salem in Union County.
Old Salem prospered. It eventually grew so much into a later nearby community, Winston, that they were merged in 1913. Winston-Salem is now one of the largest and most prosperous regions in North Carolina. Old Salem, however, remains an historic district in the city. Montgomery sets most of his tales in Old Salem. He, rather apologetically, mines some from the greater area of Winston-Salem, as well, later in the book.
The most unusual of these spirits is the Little Red Man. The rest tend to follow familiar tropes. There’s a “haunted” portrait of a society dame where her eyes appear to follow you everywhere. There’s the ghost of a young boy (largely manifested by a cold spot in the street) who was hit by a trolley car. There’s a ghost of a young college student who committed suicide, a haunted tavern, two shootings, and a hotel fire.
As I said, the book is pretty short, so there’s not as much there as I might like. Even so, Montgomery does spin a good yard. Even if the last tale is probably fictional, it’s also quite creepy.
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