By: Sinthu Ramalingam
“During construction, a worker fell. Some say accident, others say maybe murder,” whispers the man, pointing to the tall outline of Wells Fargo Center that stands high above its surrounding buildings. Suddenly, his voice changes into a creepily daunting sing-songy voice. “Welcome to the industrial city of Winston Salem!”
Roy Heizer leads tour groups around downtown and Old Salem for the Winston-Salem Ghost Tour. Heizer started these tours in 2011, when he moved to Winston-Salem from Savannah, Georgia.
Heizer says there is history behind almost all of his stories. “Several of the stories are more or less exactly as they’re told. Some of them have been embellished a little bit for presentation, but yes, there’s a lot of history behind the stories.” According to Heizer, he researched the stories by buying local history and local ghost books. After reading the books, he verified a lot of the stories through newspaper articles and chose the ones that already existed in the local lore.
For example, according to Heizer, local lore says when 100 North Main Street, also known as Wells Fargo Center, was being built in 1995, a construction worker did fall to his death from the top floor of the building. During the investigation, some witnesses claimed that the man was pushed and did not simply fall, and since then, there have been occasion sightings of the man’s spirit wandering the top floor or the apex of the building.
Heizer said he was born and raised in Kentucky, and his mother was a history teacher, which is how he became interested in stories of the past.
“She dragged me to all sorts of historical things all over the place, so I came by the history naturally.”
In Savannah, Heizer began doing history tours, and really enjoyed it. “I’ve always just been a history buff,” Heizer said, “I love a story whether it’s a historical story or a modern story or a love story or a terror story. I see our world through stories, and I see us as a collection of stories, and history is one way of telling that story. Where I was living at the time, Savannah, was incredibly rich with stories.”
Heizer transitioned to ghost tours because they sell better. “I tried doing a history tour,” he said, “I tried doing a garden plants tour, and though I sold a few tickets and had a few people come on the tour, they were very sparse. Tours were few and far between. The ghost tours were immensely popular, and they pretty much sell themselves.”
According to Heizer, he got some acting experience when he appeared as an extra in Robert Redford’s move, The Conspirator, which was filmed in Savannah, Georgia. “I got some acting experience by doing that, and I really liked it, and so I sort of incorporated some acting elements into, hence the presentation.”
When he moved to Winston-Salem, there were no ghost tours, so Heizer started them up. “There was no one doing any ghost tours here, so I learned all the stories and developed them as a presentation, and chose the costume that I wear, and created it from scratch,” Heizier said.
Heizer attributes his love for horror films as a contributing factor to the feel of his ghost tours, and the persona of his character during the ghost tours. According to Heizer, his character is from the 1870s.
Heizer dresses in historically accurate costume that consists of a white shirt, suspenders, and a black vest. He accompanies it with a red ascot, a red scarf, and a black top hat. To finish off his costume and complete the character, Heizer carries around a lantern.
“He’s sort of presented as one of those old time actors where the emphasis was put more on creepiness and mood as opposed to blood and gore and so I watch a lot of old black and white horror movies,” said Heizer.
Heizer sees about 700 customers over the span of a year. Other than leading groups through the haunted history of Winston-Salem, Heizer also writes. “I’ve just turned in a ghost book to my publisher that’ll be out in about a year,” he said. Heizer said that most of the books that he already has out are gardening books, however they’re more than just books with instructions on how to grow plants. “They’re folklore, mythology, stories about the plants as a cultural thing,” Heizer said, “That’s sort of my day job.”
Listen Heizer’s introduction to the ghost tour
Published November 14th 2013