WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — “Three stories,” said Eric Elliot. “Three different time periods.”
Eric Elliott was the archivist for the Moravian Archives of the Southern Province of the Moravian Church. During his time as archivist, he collected stories and histories, relying on old documents and records to paint a picture of life in Salem throughout the years.
But there are some stories, no matter how well-documented they are, that may leave you with more questions than answers.
In 2020, Elliot joined FOX8 anchor/reporter Michael Hennessey on a walk through Old Salem and imparted three stories from long before Winston and Salem became one.
The ‘Little Red Man’
Old Salem has largely gone unchanged since the 1700s, and, as it turns out, the historical town has more than a few skeletons in its closet.
In 1766, the town’s earliest settlers felled the first tree in what would become Salem, North Carolina. It was the third settlement built by the Moravians in Forsyth County with plans to be a church community owned by the church.
“Everybody who lived here had to be church members,” Elliot said. “The idea was that, from here, evangelism would spread, commerce would spread to help support the church and its work with missionaries around the world.”
What you have to know about early Salem is that, unlike a lot of the Moravian communities in Europe that were focused on communal living, the Moravians began building individual family homes. To keep unmarried men and women apart, there was a “single brothers’ house” on one side of the square and a “single sister’s house” on the other.
As the community grew, the Moravians began work to expand the single brother’s house in 1786. Andreas Kremser was one of those single brothers in Salem. While he was a shoemaker by trade, he stepped in to help expand the initial single brothers’ house deeper down, carving a sub-basement in the grounds below the home.
“They had a basement floor, but they wanted to go a little bit deeper for extra storage for the brothers,” Elliott said. “In the process of building that sub-basement, they would undercut a bank, a natural bank, and then let the bank fall over on top of itself. That’s a little dicey because you have to know how much weight is on the bank, how stable the soil is.
“They made a misjudgment.”
Kremser was digging in the trench, undercutting the bank, when it gave away. Soil came down on top of him, burying him. He was pulled free within a few minutes, but not before suffering multiple broken bones and internal injuries. He died a short time later.
“What happened in the years after 1786 is that the brothers, every time they heard a noise down in that sub-basement area, … every time they heard a tapping, ‘Ah, that’s brother Kremser,'” Elliott said.
Generations of young men stayed in the single brothers’ home up until the early 1820s. It became a home for widows, and it was then, in the early 1900s, that the “Little Red Man” was born.
“There’s a tale, then, that a little girl went to visit her grandmother, staying at this home,” Elliot said. “And in the process of visiting her, she comes and tells her grandmother, ‘Grandmother, grandmother, there’s a little man with a red cap and he’s begging me to come to see him.’
“Well, nobody believed her. They went outside, they didn’t see anything, but then somebody put two and two together. Kremser had a little red cap supposedly when he was buried by this fall, this excavation work.”
Her story of the “little man with a red cap” became the “Little Red Man.”
Over the years, women would tell stories of the “Little Red Man” every time they heard a strange noise.
“Now, the story goes that the instances of hearing this Little Red Man stopped about the same time they put electricity in the sub-basement, so maybe the shadows in the wall, coupled with the noise, makes that ghost a little more visible than he might be otherwise.”
‘Something’ at the tavern
Richard Starbuck, a longtime employee at the archives, passed away in 2020 a short time before our interview with Elliot. He tells us that one of the projects Starbuck worked on in his time with the archives was a collection of stories from Adelaide Fries, the first archivist to write about the “Little Red Man.”
One of those stories Elliot describes as an apocryphal tall tale— “it involves somebody from Texas, so, of course, it’s got to be a tall tale”—and it’s one that Fries heard from someone who heard it from a tavernkeeper. “Always a twice- and thrice-told tale has got to be believable,” Elliot said.
In an unnamed year and an unnamed season, a man arrived at Salem Tavern overcome with exhaustion.
“In his exhaustion, he was clearly too ill to be by himself,” Elliott said. “They stayed with him briefly for the night, and during the night he died.”
They checked his belongings but found no identification, and so he was buried in the strangers’ graveyard in the southern part of the Salem community.
“Wasn’t long after that, however, that the help staff around the tavern got very anxious,” Elliott said, “because they were saying: ‘Something’ is making a noise, ‘Something’ with a capital S. ‘Something’ is in the hall.”
Finally, that mysterious “Something” that lurked near the tavern made itself known. A servant came to the tavernkeeper and said, “‘Something’ is here. He wants to talk to you.'”
“So the tavernkeeper goes out and, lo and behold,” Elliott said. “… I’ll let you use whatever Stephen King metaphor for the image which is in your mind, but ‘Something’ relayed to him the identity of this unknown visitor to the tavern, gave him his name and said, ‘He has a brother in Texas. Would you please send his saddlebags to Texas?'”
The tavernkeeper wrote a note to this supposed brother in Texas, and, several weeks later, they received a note back.
“Lo and behold, there was a fellow in Texas,” Elliott said. “They sent the belongings to Texas, and mysteriously ‘Something’ stopped showing up at the tavern.”
The ‘Cold Spot’
The third story is a tragedy about what is believed to be the first traffic death in Salem.
“You might think that might be with a wagon or with an early automobile,” Elliot said. “It actually was with a streetcar in the early aughts.”
Elliott says there was a seven-year-old boy known as D.H., little D.H. or David, and he loved, as many children do, to go sledding.
“And on a winter morning, he came down Bank Street in the early aughts, just at the time that the streetcar was coming through and the streetcar hit him,” Elliot said. “And the tragedy of that is that the guy who was running the street car was a personal friend of D.H. and his family.”
Elliott says D.H. was still conscious when the street car conductor, Ebert, reached his side. D.H. was able to tell the conductor “I know you didn’t mean to do it” before he died there in the road.
That place, what seemingly would be the perfect spot for sledding at the steepest part of the street where Main Street and Bank Street intersect, has come to be known as the “Cold Spot.”
“Because of what happened there, people identify the coldness they feel on a winter day with that little boy and his story of his passing,” Elliot said.
Hear even more
If you’re interested in hearing even more from Eric Elliott, former archivist for the Moravian Archives of the Southern Province of the Moravian Church, we’ve got it all here in the Hauntings in the Piedmont podcast, hosted by FOX8’s Michael Hennessey.