Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Little Red Man

Images of Old Salem: Then & Now
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Found memories of my childhood are jogged as I often observe school classes touring Old Salem. In the late 50’s and early 60’s, as an elementary school student, part of our curriculum was a special day visiting Old Salem. This was, for most, the first time we were immersed in the daily lives of our ancestors. I recall riding a bus (probably one if not the first time), walking through Salem’s streets, having a bag lunch, touring the Wachovia Museum (at that time in the Boys School building), seeing the stage coach (no longer there), sharing a love feast bun and coffee (probably my first coffee) in the basement kitchen of the Single Brothers House. The memory most entrenched in my mind is the tour guides story of “The Little Red Man”. The reason I remember is that it haunted by mind on sleepless nights and tainted my future visits to Salem with the fear of stumbling into “The Little Red Man”.

Single Brothers House
The tour guide shared with us that “The Little Red Man” was killed in a cave-in accident during the construction of the addition to the Single Brothers House in 1786 and was seen often in the building following his death walking up the very halls and stairs we had just transversed. We were told that if we were to visit at night that we may experience a visit from “The Little Red Man”.

I don’t recall if she shared details of who he was, his accidental death or his hauntings. She probably did, I simply don’t remember. Fortunately, the Moravians are meticulous keepers of records and the details of the untimely death of Andeas Kremser on March 26, 1786 and his haunting of the Single Brothers House are available for consideration. I would learn later in life that The Little Red Man is one of the areas oldest and most enduring ghost stories.

The appearances began following the death of shoe maker Andreas while helping his Brethren excavate the foundation for the basement for a new addition to the “Brothers House”.  The Single Brothers House was a communal home and trade school for unwed boys and men of the Salem area similar to the trade guilds of Europe. As Andreas was working late, around midnight, digging, working on his knees, he was crushed by falling red clay.

Rear Basement Entrance to the Single Brothers House
His brothers quickly dug him out, but his injuries were severe. Although conscious when extracted, he died soon after from his injuries. His time of departure was recorded at 2 AM March 26, 1786. Due to the means of his death and his involvement with the community, Brother Andreas Kresmer’s was much mourned by his Brethren. Apparently, Andreas was somewhat of a prankster. Shortly following his death, the frightening activities began. Strange sounds, noises like that of the tapping of a shoemakers hammer, footsteps in the hall and on the stairs were heard in the night along with a short person in a red cape, resembling the one he was wearing the night he died, was seen scurrying through the halls.

Over the years the large building eventually became a home for Widows. Betsy, deaf from an early childhood illness, knew nothing about the ghost or the accident. While visiting her grandmother Betsy ran excitedly in from the garden telling of a little man in a red cape beckoning her with his finger to come play. Once, two gentlemen were being shown around the house and as they were hearing the story of The Little Red Man they came face to face with the ghost. Agreeing to catch the red caped man they lunged for him only to catch nothing but air with the Little Red Man grinning at them from the door.

Sadly, the little red man hasn’t appeared in the building in recent times. Legend says that he made an ill-advised manifestation before a significant member of the community as he was showing an important visitor around the cellar. A minister visited the building and upon hearing the story claimed to be able to get rid of the ghost. After invoking the holy trinity he spoke the words "Little Red Man, go to rest!" The ghost has not been seen since.

The Little Red Man’s final vanishing act inspired archivist and author Richard Starbuck in his Ghosts of Salem and Other Tales to pose an “open question” to his readers in: “whether one should be grateful to the clergyman who exorcised him, or to the electric lights which have driven the shadows from the sub-cellars of the one time Brothers House.”

You will find this tale in North Carolina Legends by Richard Walser, in Burt Callaway and Jennifer Fitzsimmons Triad Hauntings and Richard Starbuck’s Ghosts of Salem and Other Tales.

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