the ghosts of autumn
A Season of Light and Darkness
By Michael Bricker
As the summer of 90 degree temperatures comes to an end, the anticipation of autumn with cool crisp days and nights are upon us. The entrance to fall brings with it local festivals, the Dixie Classic Fair, and wonderful color changes in the landscape.
The rites of autumn also bring an event that has touched us for many years: Halloween. As a 60-plus lifelong resident of Winston-Salem, youthful, bright memories of trick-or-treats, Halloween festivals and dances, and the like remain with me.
However, light cannot exist without darkness, and this is where my story begins.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, my first childhood memories were formed on dark evenings in the fall listening and recording ghost stories told by the old-timers, as the adults called them in my neighborhood ma-and-pa grocery store located at the original dividing line between Salem and Winston. The old-timers called the area the Crossroads of Winston-Salem. The Green Front Cash Store at the corner of South Broad Street, formerly the Old Shallowford Road of Colonial Days, and West First Street, formerly North Street of the earlier Moravians, was built in 1926 by John Levin Brietz. The “Booger Stories,” as they were coined by the old-timers, had been relayed by Mr. Brietz as early as the 1920s. In 1958, when my own journey into the unknown began, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Turner were the proprietors and the supernatural stories had continued for more than thirty years.
Researching and authoring five books on Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, I have been fortunate to unearth strange and unusual facts and stories along the way. By matching my “ghost notes” with the research from my previous publications, “Haunted Winston-Salem” was born and published in 2015. World renowned author C. S. Lewis once remarked about his personal search for good and evil. He stated: “There is no neutral ground in the universe; every inch, every split second is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” With this said, our local history is extensive, but so is paranormal history.
One of the oldest stories of the collection involves our first President, George Washington. His documented visit to Salem, North Carolina, in the late 18th century was rewarding for the town and led to the establishment of Salem as a post town of the Southern United States in 1805. Less known is President Washington’s journey to Old West Salem and it’s caves where he encountered three supposed witches of the Papermill Settlement. Charms, poultices and love potions were available to Moravians and non-Moravians alike throughout Old West Salem by these so-called witches. The encounter between the Father of Our Country and three ladies became dark and deadly.
One Halloween nearly 100 years ago, a “stone’s throw away” from the Green Front Cash Store, “old scratch,” the devil, actually came for an alleged wicked woman. Her home place and memory still lingers in those cool dark nights of October. And do not be surprised if your path happens to cross with an old phantom
tobacco wagon headed to market in Old Winston!
Elaborate systems of tunnels and pipes, old forgotten gold, silver and copper mines existed beneath the city. Ghosts of unfortunate matters tell tales of what lies beneath Winston-Salem and can be just as spooky as what lies above. Old lost graveyards and chanting monks played havoc with the locals, especially at this time of the year.
So, remember all: as one traverses the city and its older neighborhoods during autumn, the light of festivals, fairs, dances and games may give way to the darkness as well.
Michael Bricker is a 60+ year resident of Winston-Salem and the historian of Old West Salem and founder of the West Salem Historical Association. He presided over the nomination of West Salem as a historic neighborhood on
the National Register of Historic Places and the Preserve America Nomination for the district as well. He has
authored seven non-fiction, local, history books on West Salem, Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. His books are available at Barnes & Nobles, Arcadia Press, Old Salem Visitor’s Center and online at Amazon.com.