W: What is your favorite scary story about Greensboro?
T: It’s hard to pick my favorite from the haunted historical locations in Greensboro because each place has its own flavor and own story unique to its location. The Biltmore Hotel has a great history and a spunky ghost—or three. Purgatory Mountain, the current location of the North Carolina Zoo, has a ghost who hates children—that sounds like a SY-FI Chanel movie just waiting to happen. Of course there is Lydia, everyone has heard her tale. I did some profound research for the Devil’s Stomping Ground and got hold of the original soil sample tests, something no one else has ever done. But, if pressed to pick one story, my very favorite, I would have to say the Vampire Beast of Greensboro. Not only am I a professional vampirologist—a mythologist who specializes in cross-cultural vampire studies—I suspect it has the best chance of being proven “real.” I have personally seen a mountain lion when I was living just south of Greensboro in a little town called Robbins, and in spite of what the Wildlife Commission says, there are big cats living among us. Also, the eyewitnesses for the most recent sightings are not only still with us, but one is a city official. Historical sightings of the beast are also fairly well documented, so researching it is not difficult. Although I would like to see this creature brought to the light of day, I am afraid for that to happen someone would have to shoot and kill it; providing a body to prove it was real.
W: What led you to want to explore the paranormal nature of Greensboro?
T: Many and many a year ago, when I was active on the con circuit, doing the rounds and giving lectures on the historical and mythological vampires (as opposed to the fictional and Hollywood type), I kept running into Schiffer editor Dinah Roseberry. Every time our paths crossed she would ask me when I was going to write a book for her and I would always tell her I didn’t believe in ghosts, so never. Then, one convention when our paths crossed, Dinah told me I could have full control over the content, take whatever angle I liked. Intrigued, I considered her offer and spoke to my mom about it. At the time I was taking care of her (she had stage four cancer) and told her about the proposition. My mom, a profound believer in all things that go bump in the night, asked me to do it for her. So, the next day, I sent a proposal to Dinah at Schiffer describing a book about historical locations in and around the city of Greensboro that were also alleged to be haunted. Dinah said to go for it, so I did. As a lover of history, it was easy to visit the numerous historical sites in and around the city of Greensboro; it’s a treasure trove of historic locations.
W: How did you go about collecting stories? How did you choose what to include and are there any stories that didn’t make the cut?
T: Initially, collecting ghost stories was easy: I just asked around. Folks were willing to talk to me about their paranormal experiences only because I have a reputation as a researcher and historian. No one wants to talk to a crazy person, so being an established professional in the field with other books under my belt was a plus. Also, many of the locations in “Haunted Historic Greensboro” are businesses and owners do not want to attract the attention of “crazies.” Because I was taking the angle of writing a history book which was including any ghost stories attached to a particular location, I had little trouble getting the information I needed.
I will tell you one way to NOT go about getting stories for a ghost book—placing an ad on Craigslist. Not only is there no way to filter out who calls you but eventually, if something sounds like a story you could use, you have to go to the place where the complete stranger said to meet them. All in all, my assistant at the time, Skuttles, and I did okay filtering out the legitimate calls from the highly suspect ones. However, there was one call we took that had all the ear marks of being legitimate; the person gave off all the right signs and signals, said all the right things to put us at ease and we fell for it. No sooner had the front door closed than I thought to myself, “this guy is going to kill us.” The man who was nice and normal on his lawn was a different creature behind closed doors, walking around with a butcher knife in hand, ranting about the voices in the walls and trying to get us to drink this murky-looking water from a mason jar. It is literally by the Grace of God that my next interview was with none other than Sherriff BJ Barnes who called to see if we were still on for his interview later that afternoon. I said, “Yes we are, Sherriff Barnes. In fact I am at—” and gave him the address of the house, telling him, only sorta kidding, if we were not there in fifteen minutes to send a car to come get us. When we arrived at the Zekne building, Sherriff Barnes was at the front door looking at his watch, waiting to see if he needed to send a car or not.
Moral of the story: If you go looking for monsters, you’ll be sure to find them. Carry pepper spray and be in tight with the local sheriff.