Is Haunting a Sign of an Unhappy Landowner?

Some believe that the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office is haunted by the spirit of Otto Zenke, whose home and business were taken by eminent domain to build the sheriff’s office.

According to, the goings-on are creepy, but harmless:

Footsteps echoing where no one’s walking. Employees hearing their names called from empty rooms. Objects that are left in one place at the end of the day and show up somewhere else in the morning. Faucets and lights turning on and off at random.

“I don’t know whether it was haunted or not, but I did hear and see some weird things,” said Maj. Tom Sheppard, who retired from the sheriff’s office two years ago.

During his time in the office, Sheppard had pencils move around on his desk and saw full pots of coffee mysteriously go empty.

Otto Zenke was a famous and wealthy interior designer. He had worked on the Biltmore Hotel, mansions in Palm Beach, and an 18th-century house in Ireland. The location in question, at 400 W. Washington Street in Greensboro, was both his residence and his furniture showroom.

In the late 1960s, officials of the city of Greensboro decided to “revamp” the downtown area, and Zenke’s home was in the middle of the proposed construction site. Despite a valiant fight, Zenke lost his bid to keep his property, and the land was condemned for government use.

In 1968, Zenke’s sister-in-law made what may have been a prophetic statement:

“If you condemn it, you will be condemning not only this property but yourselves.”

Spooky, right?

Zenke died in April 1984 at the age of 79, and his design business folded not long after. Employees of the sheriff’s office say that the epicenter of all the ghostly activities seems to be Zenke’s master bedroom, now used as an administrative office.

“I’ve had employees that said they’ve had furniture move and things have fallen,” Col. Randy Powers said. “They’ve heard voices. It’s usually down in the front part, the older part, where (Zenke) actually lived.”

Why would Zenke hang around the sheriff’s office? Some believe that he is there trying to protect his property. He never wanted to give it up, and he’s still fighting the good fight.

The lesson for anyone facing land condemnation today? You probably won’t be able to keep your property, but with enough passion you might be able to leave your spiritual mark on the place for generations to come…if you believe in such things.



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