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A Galax native has explored his hometown’s darkest corners to reveal tales of terror and the unknown.
Brandon Ayers hopes these legends, extracted from locals and presented by professional storytellers and guides, will educate and enthrall during the Ghosts of Galax Haunted Historic Walking Tour.
Ayers, who grew up in Galax, says he got the idea after taking similar ghost tours in Abingdon and in Beaufort, N.C. “Why not here? People are always looking for something to do, and this is an hour of live entertainment that includes ghost stories and the history of our city.”
Ayers began compiling stories, and figured he’d accumulate a handful to fill out a brief tour. At last count, he had about 40 stories — 15 of which are included in the hour-long ghost walk. “I’ve lived here all my life, and I’d never heard most of these stories,” Ayers said.
Ayers launched the ghost tour last year, and is bringing it back each night this week to coincide with the Galax Old Fiddlers’ Convention. He will also offer the tours on weekends in October.
He said there are six new stops and new stories added to this year’s tour.
Ayers read a half-dozen history books about Galax, then began talking to anyone who’d listen. Just about everyone had a story to tell, some passed down through their families from before the city’s founding in 1906. While collecting spooky tales, he discovered a fascinating history of Galax and those who used to live here.
The hauntings are the hook, but the true spirit of the tour is a history lesson peppered with weird happenings and funny stories, like the Sunday morning when a cache of dynamite exploded right in the middle of a fire-and-brimstone sermon, leading the congregation to believe the end had finally come.
Each candlelit tour will be led by a guide who has been schooled in the history and hauntings of Galax. Ayers is using one tale in particular to tie the tour together — the story of a spectral nurse who doesn’t so much haunt as help those in danger.
“The story of Nurse Alice begins back in 1904, when the Hotel Waugh stood on the site on North Main Street where Macado’s is now and what used to be the Galax Post Office,” Ayers says.
“While she was staying at the hotel, it caught fire. Alice got out, but she ran back in to check on others — right as the building collapsed around her." Alice’s story didn’t end there. Like a guardian angel, she turns up when another fire breaks out years later.
“The Central Hotel caught fire some time in the early 1900s,” Ayers said. “The guests kept asking what happened to the nurse, who they said knocked on their doors and told them the building was on fire.”
Ayers said 11 guests all described the same incident — a woman in white came to get them, told them she was a nurse, and led them to safety. “There was no one that matched that description staying at the hotel, but she exactly matched the description of Alice — a white dress with a Victorian collar, her hair in a bun and holding a handkerchief.”
Legend has it that, one foggy night at the city’s old bus stop, a woman getting off the bus stepped around the front to smoke a cigarette, tripped over some luggage and fell into the street, where she was hit by a car.
Tour guide Jason Vaught said that, years later, a driver reported “hitting” a woman at that spot on a foggy night.
“He felt the impact, but the woman disappeared and he felt a cold wind blow through the cab of his truck and smelled cigarette smoke.”
Looking at old photos of Galax, Ayers was struck by how busy downtown was in the early 20th Century. “I want to see it thrive, I want Galax to become everything it can be. There’s so much potential here, and we need to embrace our history.”
He stresses that the tour is about life, not death — the goal is to bring vitality back to downtown.
In those fading photos, the streets are filled with people, shoulder to shoulder. “My wish is that we could be just as bustling and thriving as Galax was in its heyday.”
Ghosts of Galax Haunted Historic Walking Tour
The tour is six-tenths of a mile long, and begins each night at the Galax Farmers’ Market on North Main Street
Hours: Nightly through Aug. 11, with tours departing at 7, 8, 9 and 10 p.m. Starting in October, tours are on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, at the same times.)
Prices: $12 for adults; $8 for students with ID, senior citizens and active military; and free for children age 5 and younger. This week, the ghost tour is offering a $1 discount for those with paid admission to the fiddlers’ convention.
Reservations: recommended, but not necessary.
Contact: (276) 235-5264