Crowd-pleasing cemetery ‘Ghost Walk’ brings Salem history to life

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Guests listen to the ghost Charles Johnston tell his story. He went on to write a book about his harrowing adventure, which is believed to be the first book written in this area. It’s available in the Museum’s gift shop.

Hundreds of guests visited East Hill Cemetery last weekend to meet characters from Salem’s past and learn about the region’s history as part of the Annual Salem Museum Ghost Walk.

A family friendly event, ghosts featured included: The Deyerle Brothers, Confederate officers; Brigadier Gen. Andrew Lewis, a Revolutionary War hero; Susan Price, a resident of the African-American Water Street neighborhood; Charlie Hammitt, a silent film star; William Williams, who built the home at the heart of the Salem Museum; Knox Martin, a daring, early aviator; and Thomas Cooper, who built “Salem’s Castle,” known as Longwood.

Rob Laing’s character was Charles Johnston, a man who was captured by Indians from the Shawnee nation and several other tribes on the Ohio River in 1790. “Charles Johnston wrote about his adventures, and his work was published in 1827,” Rob said. “I read the book about ten years ago. This may have been the first book written here in the Roanoke Valley.”

Judith Painter served as a tour guide, something that she greatly enjoyed. “I was thrilled by the reactions to the Ghost Walk by the guests. Our ghosts were fantastic in ‘reading’ and tailoring to each group,” the Salem Historical Society board member said. “Our ghosts also knew their persona quite well and that was obvious as they were able to tweak and adapt.”

 

“I played the role of Katherine Dillard Robertson – longtime Salem resident. She lived to be 99 and is buried in East Hill,” Aimee Hall said. “I felt that this year’s walk was probably the best yet! Having participated as a patron, a guide and now as a ghost, I felt it was well organized, advertised and attended.”

Salem Museum Executive Director Fran Ferguson agrees. “Our guests loved getting out in the cemetery at night under the big, full moon and hearing the first-person stories of characters from Salem’s past,” she said. “For the Salem Museum, the Ghost Walk hits on the most important aspects of our mission: to preserve local history and to educate people of all ages.”

Now in its 18th year, proceeds from the Annual East Hill Ghost Walk have gone on to benefit the Salem Museum & Historical Society.

Missed last weekend’s Ghost Walk? There will be another one this week. “The Ghost Walk at Sherwood Memorial Park takes place October 12, Friday the 13th, and 14, with performances in the Amphitheater each night at 7 p.m.,” Fran Ferguson said. “Instead of walking through the cemetery, guests will be seated—they are encouraged to bring cushions or folding chairs. The ghosts will be all new, too. The ghosts at East Hill are all buried in East Hill. The ghosts at Sherwood all haunt Sherwood Memorial Park and its Amphitheater.”