(WGHP) — As Halloween draws near, we are reopening our vault of the unexplained. There are countless stories from the Piedmont Triad that may leave you with more questions than answers. They may pique your curiosity or stoke your fear of the unknown — or you may find it easier to dismiss them as tall tales, ghost stories. But there may just be a grain of truth buried within those myths.
It started as a fun idea. In 2020, FOX8 anchor/reporter Michael Hennessey visited some of the most haunted places in the Triad, some well-known and some you may not have heard before. “Hauntings in the Piedmont” was just going to be a mini-series, but then we started doing the interviews and met some incredible storytellers with chilling accounts that will make the hair rise on the back of your neck.
We begin with Chris Wilson. You may know him as Greensboro’s deputy city manager, but in a past life, Chris was a park ranger at Bur-Mil Park, located by Lake Brandt. He’s been working for the City of Greensboro since he was 19 and also happens to have one of the more sought-after ghost stories in the city.
While Chris’s story takes place in the 90s, we’ll need to rewind a bit first to the beginning of Bur-Mil Park.
‘Preserved in time’
Before it ended up in Guilford County’s hands and under the City of Greensboro’s management, the land was owned by some of area’s most prominent families, like Cones and the Morris family.
“I believe the property actually changed hands one night during a card game, so it’s got this really cool history,” Chris said. “But, in fact, you know, with any history of property, there are some pieces of the history where people did pass away and things happened.”
Burlington Industries was the last owner of the 250-acre property before the county bought it, transforming what was Burlington Industries’ private country club into a recreation center and establishing the park in 1989.
“There were still glasses with drink in them,” Chris said. “There were still cigarettes half-smoked. It was amazing. It was just sort of preserved in time, and apparently preserved in time in many ways. There were lots of things that were still hanging around.”
Chris’s job was to maintain the property.
“We did everything from mowing to repairs, building, but we also were responsible for helping out inside the event center,” he said.
Burlington Industries had used the space as a place to serve dinner and host socials. When the county bought the property, they continued that tradition.
When Chris began working at the center, it had already developed a reputation.
“I had not really heard stories so much as some of the other folks I worked with told me, ‘You know, you are going to hear some things here,'” he said. “… I really didn’t have any mind for that kind of stuff, so I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever.'”
Throughout his time there, he saw plenty of strange things while reviewing surveillance tapes, including one night when he saw what he described as a “light anomaly.”
“So this person was walking down the hall,” Chris said. “The light anomaly would follow him. And he clearly knew something was behind him because every time he turned around, the light anomaly would go into one of the pictures. And at that time, the pictures were of old horses that had stayed there because they had stables at one point. And so the light would go into the photo. He’d turned back around and [it would] come right back out and follow him again.”
He says doors would open and close. Later in his career, when he had an office there, he would come in and find his notebooks knocked off the shelf.
“It was a really interesting place,” Chris said. “But this particular event was so compelling that it sort of changed my mind about whether I could explain off the things that were happening.”
‘It was so vivid’
On this particular day, Chris says he and a co-worker came in around 5 a.m. to set up.
“I do remember it pretty vividly, because it was really foggy when I drove in,” he said. “So my drive in, I loved it. I would drive past Lake Brandt. I could see the water. I would come into the park. It’s usually kind of dark, but you usually see wildlife there. On that particular morning, I saw some deer, but it was a little spooky that morning. It was just foggy when I drove in. Didn’t really think too much about it.”
When they arrived, they locked the door behind them and started their work. That’s when, Chris says, “things started to happen.”
“As we were getting that stuff out, I heard—and really felt—something running down the hall, and, at that point, it was so vivid.”
Chris took off after it and shouted out, ‘Hey, you can’t be in here!’
But when he looked around, no one was there.
Then, Chris and his co-worker felt something move by both of them, and they could hear what sounded like someone running with keys jangling from their belt.
“We thought it could have been one of the other people that we work with, so at that point, because it ran by us and we heard the noise, we both thought, ‘Well, this is really strange,'” he said.
They followed the odd noise down the hall.
“Down the hall, there’s a set of restrooms. Well, somebody went in the restroom. Door opened and closed pretty harshly, so, at that point, I was a little irritated because I thought somebody was playing with us,” he said.
Naturally, they decided to get even. They went throught he door and saw the the door to one of the stalls was closed. They looked under the door, but they didn’t see feet.
“I figured they were sitting up on top of the actual toilet, and so we were going to scare that person to get even. We both charge at it, fling the door open,” he said. “Nothing.”
Silence settled in the room, and then Chris says he heard a whisper.
“Then there were multiple voices, and by multiple I mean many voices, not two, many voices,” he said. “We were both petrified. So I tried to gather my composure and I looked at my partner and said, ‘We’re being pranked. And this is a good one.'”
As they were starting to walk out, the door opens and slams shut—and the two sprint out of the restroom. He didn’t have an explanation for it, but Chris was convinced it was all an “elaborate trick.”
When they regained their composure, Chris has an idea: the motion-activated alarm system.
“I was really proud of myself,” he said. “I was like, ‘I figured this out.’ I set the alarm, right? And so I start seeing the motion go off, but it’s very strange. The motion is going room to room. …
“First room. Second room. Third room.
“Then it comes from the opposite end of the building.
“First room. Second room. Third room.
“It converges literally where we are, and we’re looking at each other. … The alarm just goes berserk. And I really can’t explain it. You know, somebody could say is a malfunction, but it was functioning up to that point. It just goes berserk, starts going off. At this point, we are both visibly shaking. And as soon as it happens, as soon as we’re shaking, it stops.
The terror was over. For now. This would not be the last unexplained fright he had in the old building.
‘The freakiest thing I’ve ever seen’
It wasn’t long after that that Chris says that he may have caught “whatever it was” on the surveillance tapes.
“Watching everything be closed down, maybe two hours after that, I see something coming out of the floor,” he said. “… Out of the floor comes what I can only describe as a mist. It comes out straight. It reminded me of the old ‘I Dream of Jeannie.’ But then what happened next is probably the freakiest thing I’ve ever seen. It billows out, and it appears to have two arms. It stands there and then it goes back into the floor.”
Later, he tried to recreate the bizarre scene, but he just couldn’t make it happen.
About a week later, he found a possible answer, “the real nail in the coffin.”
Chris and his partner were back in the room, getting the space set up, when the door opened and an older man walked in. The man stands for a while, just watching them work.
“Eventually I get so uncomfortable, I turned around and said, ‘Sir, is there something I can do for you? Can I help you with something?'” Chris said. “I didn’t get a reaction. He’s just staring.”
Eventually, the man spoke. He said he just wanted to stop by and see the room.
“‘I just wanted to stop by and see the room.’
“I said, ‘Oh, well, somebody can help you with that. You know, we have folks here, that’ll show you the room and tell you all about it.’
“He’s like, ‘No, no, no, no. I wanted to see the room one last time. This is where my wife passed away.'”
As it turns out, a woman had choked to death in that very room back during the Burlington Industries days. Chris estimated that she died in the 1970s or 80s.
And Chris’s research found other deaths that had happened there in the early 1900s.
“It didn’t always like everybody, but for me, you know, I knew it was there, whatever it was,” Chris said. “I heard the noises. I knew when it was around. You could almost feel that presence, you know, like when somebody is watching you or somebody’s behind you, you know that they’re there. I could always feel that. Played it off, get on my phone, have a conversation. I will even admit there were a couple of times I would turn around and say, ‘I know you’re here. I just want to wrap up. I just want to get finished and go home.'”
We did ask Chris what happened to the tape with that figure on it. He says he kept it, but it didn’t store well, and when he went to burn it on a DVD, it completely fell apart.
Hear even more
If you’re interested in hearing even more of Chris Wilson’s story, we’ve got it all here in the Hauntings in the Piedmont podcast, hosted by FOX8’s Michael Hennessey.