Winston-Salem's Most Haunted Sites
From Old Salem to Reynolda, come along as we explore five of the city's most haunted historical sites.
Winston-Salem is a city with history — a whole lot of history. So, it’s hardly surprising that it’s also a city with ghosts — a whole lot of ghosts (reportedly). From the "Lady in White" at Reynolda to the “Little Red Man” at Old Salem, the city’s most famous ghosts tend to haunt our most historic sites. If you’re a ghost hunter or lover of spooky stories, consider these five locations as must-visits this fall (all of them are open to the public.) And if ghosts aren’t your thing, fear not — these sites offer enough culture, history, architecture, and scenery to keep your mind happily occupied.
With a rich history that spans three centuries, Old Salem has long been shrouded in ghostly legends and eerie tales. Settled in 1766 by Moravians, a group of German-speaking religious migrants, the meticulously preserved village is rumored to harbor lingering spirits from days gone by. Visitors and employees have reported mysterious footsteps echoing in empty corridors, phantom figures appearing in period attire, and inexplicable cold spots that defy logic. These spectral encounters have only added to the mystique of Old Salem, where each cobblestone street and historic outpost seems to hold secrets from the past. While we can’t possibly cover all of Old Salem’s haunted history, we can tell you about its two most notorious ghosts.
The Talking Corpse: The story begins on a cold November night in 1831 at Salem Tavern, an inn for overnight guests passing through town. That’s when a stranger dressed in black came to the Tavern looking for lodging. He was visibly ill, and despite the best efforts of a local doctor, he slipped into a coma and died the following day, never having revealed 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 in the Tavern. Things came to a head one evening when a shadowy figure confronted the innkeeper. The specter revealed his name and instructed the innkeeper 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.
The Little Red Man: Old Salem’s most famous ghost story begins nearly 250 years ago inside the Single Brothers House, where single men in the Salem community lived. One of those residents was shoemaker Andreas Kremser, a man of slight stature known to be a notorious — and often reckless — prankster. To keep Kremser busy, town leaders often assigned him laborious tasks such as cleaning chimneys and laying bricks. In 1786, he was asked to dig a cellar for an addition to the Single Brothers’ House. Days into the excavation, tragedy struck as the cellar floor beneath Kremser caved in, completely blanketing him in earth. A rescue effort ensued, and he was eventually dug out alive, but he’d die within hours and was buried in God’s Acre. After his passing, unusual phenomena began manifesting within the Single Brothers House. Some claimed to hear a shoemaker’s hammer tapping, while others claimed to have seen a small man in red floating through the hallways. Could this be Kremser? Most believed it was, especially since he was dressed in red the day he passed. Over the years, the brothers began attributing anything odd that happened to Kremser, nicknaming him the Little Red Man. This tradition continues today — as do the reported sightings — as the Single Brothers House now houses the offices for Old Salem Museum & Gardens.
OLD SALEM HALLOWEEN TOURS: Explore the spectral story of the "Little Red Man" this October along Old Salem's Legends & Lanterns tour. This year's Halloween tour, “Kremsernacht," is an escape room-type experience within the Single Brothers House. For dates, cost, sign-up details, and more, go here.
HISTORIC WEST END
Looking for the spookiest neighborhood in town? Look no further than West End, the historic neighborhood just west of downtown. You’ll find some of the city’s oldest and most beautiful homes here, along with the city’s only year-round ghost tour, WEST ENDINGS, a nightly ghost walk hosted by Carolina History & Haunts. “You can’t throw a stone in West End without hitting something historic,” says tour leader Dan Riedel. “No matter where you’re standing, there’s a story.”
Like the tale of an age-old curse that hovers over the Zevely House (now home to Bernardin’s Restaurant). Or the paranormal phenomena reported at the old Bahnson Mansion (now home to the Spring House Restaurant). Or the story of the last public hanging in town — the result of a romance gone awry — which occurred near the site of the ill-fated Hotel Zinzendorf, a grand resort that burned down less than a year after opening. But our favorite story involves a small carriage house near the intersection of Fifth and Summit Streets, the former site of the Frank Miller House. (As Reidel tells it...). The story starts in the early 1900s when a massive Spanish flu outbreak led to overcrowded hospitals. With no hospital beds available, local officials were forced to shelter many sick patients in private homes such as the Frank Miller House. (At the Miller House specifically, living patients were quarantined inside the home while dead bodies — dozens of them — were moved to the small carriage house out back and stored for days.)
The Miller House no longer stands today — it was taken over by neighboring St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in the 1970s, razed, and is now the site of a cemetery, fittingly enough — but the carriage house remains. Many passers-by have reported seeing strange activity around the carriage house, mostly shadowy apparitions, and strange orbs in photographs. “I’ll have tour-goers say, ‘Something feels very off here,’" Riedel says. "And a lot of times, they feel it before I've even started telling the story."
Learn more about Carolina History & Haunts' WEST ENDINGS Ghost Tour here.
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, Katharine, along with their children. Tragically, R.J. would die of pancreatic cancer the following year, leaving Katharine alone to manage the estate. Katharine would pour her heart and soul into running the property 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 and gardens. 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 Katharine 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.
Situated just a short distance from Old Salem, the Historic Brookstown Inn has stood here since 1837. Originally established as a cotton mill, notorious for its harsh labor conditions and exploitation of child workers, it holds a history marked by several tragic fatalities. Given its extensive chronicle of troubles, it's hardly surprising that the Brookstown Inn is widely considered to be, if not the most, one of the most haunted sites in Winston-Salem.
The hotel's fourth floor is reportedly the epicenter of paranormal activity, with the renowned apparition of Sally believed to traverse this area. In the 1800s, Sally met her demise after a confrontation with a co-worker led to her tragic fall down an elevator shaft. Room 401 holds her most concentrated spectral presence, as it once served as the dormitory for the toiling cotton mill laborers. Additionally, the hotel seems to be a haven for numerous child spirits. Eerie echoes of their footsteps reverberate through the corridors, accompanied by occasional bouts of ghostly laughter. Among the hotel's spectral residents, there's also the ghost of Eddie, whose heavy steps resonate through otherwise vacant rooms.
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, at least one local paranormal expert says the spirit at Körner’s Folly is quite friendly. In the book “Ghosts of the Triad,” writer Amy Spease claimed the spirits there are warm and welcoming, not malicious. Like most, she believes the activity is spearheaded by Jule Körner, who’s simply trying to entertain his houseguests.