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Salisbury ghost tour doesn’t disappoint history, paranormal seekers

Tasnim Shamma

SALISBURY, N.C. — When John Tucker begins his ghost tour in front of the Rowan County office building on West Innes Street, he wastes no time in whetting the appetite of anyone interested in the paranormal.

He explains that the tour, which covers several blocks of downtown Salisbury and addresses both commercial and residential homes, is as much a history lesson as it is a ghost tour. But lest anyone be disappointed, he quickly says he will share, before a first step is taken, both photos and voice recordings, called EVP or Electronic Voice Phenomena in the paranormal world.

Tucker began the tours in 2010 with partner Karen Lilly-Bowyer, who went on to pen the book “The Wettest and Wickedest Town,” which is a nod to Salisbury’s history with prohibition and the lack of effect it had on the town. Tucker’s small business received the governor’s award for sustainable tourism in 2011 and the Best Walking Tour from Downtown Salisbury in 2008.

And Tucker takes his work seriously. He has numerous photographs of shadows and ghostly images that can, depending on your level of skepticism, look exactly like people. There are recordings of answers to questions that are allegedly not spoken by anyone in the space where he and others were investigating. At one point an investigator asks a spirit if he is with his family, and there is a clear reply: “I am.” And he shares much of his collection with the audience.

So by the time the tour itself begins, those in attendance are ready to see and hear some specters. But the tour is not one that enters any of the structures, so there is less of a chance that any interaction will happen. Less, but not impossible.

Tucker tells the audience about the three ghosts that reportedly haunt the county office building, which is “the only white Italian marble federal building outside of Washington, D.C.” He notes that, in addition to the ghosts inside, there have been photos taken and spottings of a soldier walking through the intersection of West Innes and Church streets.

Some of what Tucker shares is African-American history, information he says audiences often did not know, and sometimes question, but which he says is well documented.

“Downtown Salisbury was two blocks in every direction from where Main and Innes streets cross,” he said. “It was a merchant town, which meant within that two-block radius, or downtown, there was no slavery — ever. There were servants, but those servants were given days off to go and work for merchants, for which they received a paycheck. So the African-American community had money in those days. An African-American barber named William Valentine operated his barber shop on East Innes, and over time, he saved enough money that he built a home of his own. Now the Sessions House, Valentine is the one who haunts the house. I think maybe when he died, they told him it was time to go to heaven, and he looked around and said ‘I’m already there,’ and decided to stay.”

The tour travels down Main Street to the Meroney Theatre, and Tucker talks about the underground tunnels that run along under the sidewalks, and describes items left behind by the men doing the construction. Walkers pass the Empire Hotel, which is one of the most talked-about haunted locations in town.

The tour winds its way along portions of the historic district where soldiers were garrisoned and where shadows in uniform have reportedly been seen. Walkers stop for a minute outside Josephus Hall’s house, now a museum, and Tucker encourages people to take video.

“There are lots of orbs captured out here among the trees,” he said. “So go ahead and take some video and see what you capture.”

The tour then makes its way to the Wrenn House on the back side of the Bell Tower Green Park. Known as the Wrenn Building, the structure was named for Jimmie and Mollie Wrenn, members of the Presbyterian Church. The building was home to the Salisbury Academy along with several other Presbyterian schools through the years. According to history books, a number of Salisbury’s future leaders and Presbyterian ministers received their secondary school education at the Salisbury Academy before it closed sometime before the Civil War.

The tour ends at the Mission House beside the actual bell tower, underneath which are buried the bodies of the family of Salisbury’s Maxwell Chambers. Chambers donated two entire city blocks to the First Presbyterian Church with the understanding that after his death, he would be buried with his other family members and the Mission House constructed on top. All but one of the graves, which can be viewed through a wrought iron gate, are covered with concrete slabs.

The tour is educational, intriguing and is enough to have several visitors planning on returning to particular locations for more tours and maybe even a paranormal investigation of their own. Not a bad idea for October.

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