Last night and again the night before that –in the spirit of the Halloween season– Old Salem Museums and Gardens offered candle-lit strolls through the historic district, calling them “Legends and Lanterns” tours. In that the Old Salem historic district dates back to 1766, still has many original 200-year-old buildings, and is sandwiched between two cemeteries (The Salem Moravian Cemetery at the north end and the so-called “Strangers’ Graveyard” at the south end), it is no surprise that the old town has some ghost stories associated with it. Thankfully for present-day ghost hunters, in 1934 Adelaide L. Fries, the Archivist and Chief Historian of The Southern Province of The Moravian Church, took the time to chronicle the most well-known Old Salem ghost stories that had endured through the years. With the help of Fries’ work, tales of spirits unique to Old Salem continue to be passed down through the decades.
There are, however, also some more recent spooky tales from the historic district south of downtown, including one involving a phantom dumbwaiter operator. One of the district’s historic buildings is equipped with a modern dumbwaiter to help move things from one floor to another, but in recent years the dumbwaiter has largely gone unused due to lack of necessity.
No less, relatively recently a gentleman was alone in that particular building, and at about 6:00 p.m. –just as the sun was setting and the interior of the building was starting to darken– he happened to be on the building’s top floor, and in the room with access to the shaft of the dumbwaiter. The man is positive he did not touch the dumbwaiter or any of its controls in any way, certainly not pushing, in particular, the machine’s “CALL CAR” button to the right of its stainless steel door. He was also not standing immediately in front of the machine to the point that he could have brushed up against it or bumped into it unknowingly.
Regardless, as the man was standing there alone in the room and alone in the whole building, a mechanical whirring sound began emanating from within the dumbwaiter shaft. A moment later there was a loud, elevator-like “DING!,” the half-dollar sized “CAR HERE” light suddenly illuminated, and the car of the dumbwaiter could be heard lurching to a stop behind the metal door. Startled and surprised, the man hesitated, but then walked over to lift the handle on the door, and see what might be in the out-of-use dumbwaiter. The machine’s car, it turned out, was empty, as is any attempt to explain who may have sent or summoned it to travel up through the building’s walls that night.
For those interested in joining the Halloween fun at Old Salem, it is not too late: tonight –Sunday, October 28th – there will be a “Trick-or-Treat in Old Salem” event from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.. The event is free and open to the public, and will span from Old Salem’s town square at 600 S. Main Street down to The Horton Museum Center at 924 S. Main Street. Of all the places to dress in costume and collect candy, Old Salem –with its ghost tales, old and new– is a fine place to do it.
• For quadrust.com, I’m Guy Montgomery.
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