St. Michael’s Cemetery
6 North Alcaniz Street Pensacola, Florida
St. Michael’s Cemetery in the heart of the most historic area in Pensacola, was first used as a burying ground as far back as the early 18th century. It is considered one of the two oldest extant cemeteries in the state with the other being St. Augustine’s haunted Tolomato Cemetery. The oldest graves date to the late 18th century and the cemetery was officially designated as a burial ground by the King of Spain in 1807. When space this eight-acre cemetery was exhausted in 1876, St. John’s Cemetery was established nearby. With so many burials, this cemetery can be considered an open-air museum of the city’s history.
Its age has perhaps led to the many rumors, some unfounded, regarding the cemetery being haunted. For years, some believed the strange greenish glow seen around some of the graves here was paranormal, though it was found to be caused by the neon sign on the nearby San Carlos Hotel. A local grocer bereaved by the death of his wife and two children, gave rise to another ghost story in the late 19th century when he would sometimes spend the night sleeping on their graves. Passersby seeing him rise from the graves assumed he was a spirit. Sometime later, after reports of a white apparition flitting through this ancient cemetery, the local police department investigated only to discover an albino fox had taken up residence here.
According to Mark Muncy, author of Creepy Florida, during World War II, several sailors on leave had a truly frightening experience as they passed the cemetery one evening. The group witnessed a glowing skeleton arise from a grave within the cemetery and begin to charge them. The entity touched one of the young men leaving behind blistered skin. The group fled. Upon return to their ship they were showing symptoms of yellow fever, despite having been inoculated against the viral disease. Interestingly, many of the early burials here were victims of the dreaded yellow fever outbreaks.
In recent years, visitors to the cemetery have reported hearing disembodied voices. Are these just the product of over-active minds or paranormal?
Brown, Alan. Haunted Pensacola. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2010.
Johnson, Sandra & Leora Sutton. Ghosts, Legends and Folklore of Old Pensacola. Pensacola, FL: Pensacola Historical Society, 1994.
Moon, Troy. “Pensacola’s spooky past haunts the present.” Pensacola News-Journal. 15 October 2016.
Muncy, Mark and Kari Schultz. Creepy Florida: Phantom Pirates, the Hog Island Witch, the Demented Doctor at the Don Vicente & More. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2019.
Pensacola occupies land on Pensacola Bay on the Gulf coast of Florida. Starting with the Spanish who created the first settlement in the continental U. S. on this bay in 1559, the city has existed under five different flags throughout its history. Besides the Spanish, the city has been ruled over by France, Great Britain, the Confederate States of America, and the United States, with each leaving their own marks, both physically and spiritually, on the city. This article looks at a selection of the haunted places here.
3 West Garden Street
In the early morning hours of November 1, 1905, fire destroyed several buildings on Palafox Street between Garden and Romana Streets including a building owned by lawyer William A. Blount. Following the fire, Mr. Blount commenced construction on a large, and most importantly, fire-proof seven-story structure to house his firm. The Blount Building, designed in the prevalent Chicago Style, was completed in 1907. In 2015, the building underwent a major renovation and it now houses offices of several firms and businesses. A 2005 article on Pensacola hauntings states that the structure “is no stranger to unusual and unexplained activity.”
Baltrusis, Sam. “Ghost Hunter: Pensacola’s Most Haunted.” inweekly, Pensacola Independent News. 20 October 2005.
Blount Building. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 23 January 2023.
Old Sacred Heart Hospital
1010 North Twelfth Avenue
When it opened in 1915, Pensacola Hospital was the first comprehensive medical facility in the area. Just prior, a citizens committee was set up featuring several prominent locals, including members of the clergy, to bring about the construction of a hospital. The committee partnered with the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul to build and run the large institution. The Sisters insisted on engaging Hungarian-born architect Albert O. Von Herbulis to design the building in English Gothic style. The massive four-story building with two large wings opened in September of that year.
The Sisters operated the hospital as Pensacola Hospital until 1949, when the name was changed to Sacred Heart Hospital. In 1965, a new facility was constructed, and the institution left the large Gothic building. Several years later, the Pensacola Private School of Liberal Arts took over and operated within the building. After a decade of deferred maintenance, the building was condemned by the city for safety reasons. The following year, an investment group took over the old hospital restoring and renovating it for use as a business complex.
Today, the old hospital, now known as Tower East, is home to offices and businesses, with a popular pizza joint, O’Zone Pizza, occupying part of the old basement space. Since reopening, tales have emerged of the building being haunted. Some have suggested that the specter of one of the Sisters continues to glide through the old hospital’s halls, still going about her nursing duties.
Brown, Alan. Haunted Pensacola. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2010.
Queen, Rolla L. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Pensacola Hospital. 16 October 1980.
Romana Street, named for the third Marques de la Romana, stretches from Pace Boulevard to the edge of Pensacola Bay and runs through much of the oldest portions of the city. From its earliest time, the city has been haunted by pirates. In its earliest days, pirates overshadowed the success and prosperity of Pensacola and even now they, and sometimes their victims, continue to the haunt the city in the form of apparitions and paranormal activity.
The legend of the ghost of Romana Street was created through the work of one of these bloodthirsty pirates. One evening in the 1820s a gang of pirates roaming the streets seized upon a young couple. Killing the man, the group tried to kidnap the young lady, but she put up a mighty resistance. With the large diamond ring she wore, the young lady gouged out the eyes of the pirate and he dropped her in pain. Enraged, he began swinging his cutlass blindly. A moment later, he was able to decapitate the young lady.
In the years since the senseless and bloody murder, people walking along Romana Street after dark have seen the specter of a young lady walking along the street without her head. Interestingly, this is not the only headless wraith in the area, a similar specter has been spotted in Government Street, and at a place called Lady’s Walk on Santa Rosa Island, just south of the city.
Brown, Alan. Haunted Pensacola. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2010.
Johnson, Sandra & Leora Sutton. Ghosts, Legends and Folklore of Old Pensacola. Pensacola, FL: Pensacola Historical Society, 1994.
Once St. Michael’s Cemetery, near the heart of the old city, began to fill up, St. John’s Cemetery was opened in 1876. This cemetery now covers 26 acres a short distance from the city’s original municipal cemetery. Supposedly, the spirits of children and the 19th century outlaw Railroad Bill have been spotted here.
One of the most scandalous graves in this cemetery is that of Mary C. “Mollie” McCoy. She was one of the city’s best-known madams operating her upscale bordello on Zaragoza Street. After her death she was buried here, much to the chagrin of more respectable local ladies who eventually had the city remove the grave marker. But not before the marker acquired the reputation of bringing luck to the love lives of those that touched it. A new marker was erected here in 2012.
As the Research Archivist for the Troup County Historical Society, I am regularly asked to write about local history and I was overjoyed to be asked to write about one of our local celebrities. The fact that I’m able to address a figure with a paranormal bent added to my excitement in putting this article together. This article has just recently been published in the October 2022 edition Highland Living Magazine.
“A dollar and a dime—will buy the Spirit’s time!” Miss Mayhayley Lancaster, the Oracle of West Georgia
Lewis O. Powell, IV, Research Archivist, Troup County Archives
For decades in the early 20th century, locals in search of something: an answer, a missing item or loved one, or just sheer entertainment, crowded the rough roads of rural Heard County seeking out the services of Miss Mayhayley Lancaster. Day after day, visitors lined up in her front yard for a few minutes with the self-proclaimed “Oracle of the Ages.” After pressing a dollar and a dime into her sister Sallie’s hand, the guests would be ushered into a room in the cramped cabin where they would meet with the enigmatic seer. Surrounded by walls covered in newspaper, books, knick-knacks, and other detritus, Miss Mayhayley would dole out cryptic advice over the course of about twenty minutes. While the advice was often vague, the patrons would usually leave satisfied, which was only compounded when, more often than not, the customer discovered that she was right.
In these parts, whenever Miss Mayhayley Lancaster is spoken of, her name is often qualified with the Southern honorific “Miss.” Indeed, she was unmarried, but this title affords her a good deal of the hard-earned respect and dignity that she amassed in her long and fruitful life. While she may have not always been successful in her endeavors, many of which extended outside the realm of accepted occupations for a woman of her time, she sought these pursuits with a tenacity that was unmatched, even among her male counterparts.
Miss Mayhayley came from a line of formidable women. Her great-grandmother, Mahala Whaley Lancaster, came to Troup County after drawing several lots here in the 1827 Land Lottery. Her husband’s death while racing horses enabled her and her children two draws in the lottery. With a number of children in tow and imaginably, quite a bit of fortitude, she settled her family in the primeval wilderness that was the county in its earliest days. They persevered and planted roots in both Troup and Heard counties. Decades later, a family member intimated that Mayhayley was not the only family member with that name to tell fortunes.
Mahala Lancaster passed away on the eve of the Civil War. Her great-granddaughter, who was named for her, entered this world fourteen years later in 1875. Miss Mayhayley’s parents were John W. B. Lancaster and his wife, Eliza Harriet Thaxton. The Lancasters and the Thaxtons were neighbors in Heard County and the families remained close after their marriage with John’s sister Nancy Mahala also marrying a young Thaxton boy. Miss Mayhayley was John and Harriet’s third child of eleven, and the only one born with a caul.
In European folk tradition, the caul, a piece of the amniotic sac that is found covering an infant’s face after birth, was taken as an omen that the child would go on to accomplish great things. Some traditions also suggested that the caul indicated the child would be a seer and possess a “second sight.” Miss Mayhayley would proudly proclaim that it was that that provided her abilities. While her abilities were well-known throughout the region, they were not the only things that made Miss Mayhayley special.
Like her many siblings, Miss Mayhayley attended the local public school in the Walnut Hill and Frolona communities of rural Heard County. She proved an apt student and even received an award on her graduation. She always had a mind for business and throughout her life engaged in buying a selling everything from land to livestock to seeds. Throughout her life she would frequent sheriff’s sales on the steps of the local county courthouses and by the time of her death she had amassed nearly 600 acres in several counties. Willis Hemmings, who grew up just down the road from Miss Mayhayley, recalls that he first met her when she visited his mother selling vegetable and flower seeds. Mrs. Hemmings purchased some squash seeds with Miss Mayhayley’s promise that they were the best seeds that money could buy. The fine crop produced by the seeds endeared the eccentric neighbor to the family.
Within her community, Miss Mayhayley looked after many of the children serving as a teacher and a mentor. She would often hire young people, like the young Willis Hemmings from down the road to work for her, paying them with a dime for their services and teaching them the value of hard work and money. After attending law school in Atlanta in 1911, she began to practice law throughout the region and was one of the earliest female lawyers in the area. Running on a progressive platform, she ran unsuccessfully three times for the state legislature. Within her busy schedule, she also found time to write a column for the local newspaper where she expounded on issues of the day. During the infamous 1915 trial of Leo Frank for the murder of Mary Phagan, a young factory employee, she supported Frank’s claims of innocence against the waves of anti-Semitism and public furor aroused by the case, even producing the ire of populist editor Tom Watson. When Frank was ultimately lynched by a mob in Marietta, she was reportedly devastated.
Despite her eccentricities, Miss Mayhayley was a beloved figure in the region. She would often visit town attired in gaudy dresses decked out with costume jewelry and crepe ribbons, fanciful hats, feather boas, with the look rounded out by outdated, high-topped Victorian style boots. At other times her clothing might be confined to an old military jacket and moth-eaten Army hat with an assortment of dirty aprons and colorful feed sacks. Her strange appearance only added to her reputation.
That reputation as a fortune teller and seer got a tremendous boost when she appeared at the Coweta County Courthouse in Newnan to testify against John Wallace in 1948. A frequent customer of Miss Mayhayley’s, Wallace was accused of the murder of one of his sharecropper’s, Wilson Turner. When Wallace consulted the seer to find the whereabouts of a stolen cow, she provided Turner’s name. On Wallace’s orders, Turner was arrested and then released from jail, at which point Turner was chased by Wallace and his cronies down the road towards Coweta County. At a tourist court, just over the county line, Turner was attacked by his pursuers and pistol whipped by Wallace. The body was taken back to Meriwether County where Wallace disposed of it in an old well.
When Wallace discovered that the sheriff of Coweta County was investigating, he revisited Miss Mayhayley seeking her help in finding Turner’s body on his vast property as he had forgotten where he stashed it. As everyone, including miscreants, visited the oracle, law enforcement frequently visited her as well to gather information that was revealed during her meetings with clients. After finding that Wallace visited Miss Mayhayley regularly, the sheriff consulted her and discovered that she knew about as much about the murder as Wallace did. When Wallace faced a jury for his crimes, the seer was brought in as an expert witness for the prosecution. Her testimony was considered key to his guilty verdict and brought her nationwide fame.
Visitors from around the country began to flock to her packed-earth front yard wanting her assistance. Even the rich and famous began to visit her cabin. Alabama-born actress, Tallulah Bankhead visited her while she was staying with a friend in nearby Carrollton. Bankhead had lost a valuable diamond ring and Miss Mayhayley exclaimed “Sunset!” after hearing her story. She went on to describe a quilt in which the ring had fallen. Upon her return to Carrollton, Bankhead quickly packed her bags and returned to Sunset, her family’s home in Alabama. There, in a trunk in the attic was her precious ring folded up in a quilt matching the fortune-teller’s description.
Not only was she instrumental in finding lost rings and murderers, but she was helpful in providing aid to the living. A local sheriff’s deputy and friend recalled seeing a car with Alabama plates pull up to the cabin during World War II. A family stepped out with the grieving matriarch. She had been told that her youngest son had gone missing in Europe. The family was quickly ushered inside and after a long while they emerged looking relieved. One of the family members told the deputy that, according to Miss Mayhayley, the son was alive and that he would call his mother within a few days. Several weeks later, the family returned to report that the son had indeed called and would be returning to Alabama shortly.
During this same time a couple ladies from LaGrange decided to take the journey out to the ramshackle house for fun one afternoon. During their consultation, Miss Mayhayley asked if they knew a particular lady, and one of the ladies responded she was her neighbor. She was asked to carry a message to her to let her know that she needn’t worry about her son, who was serving in the war.
Years of successful business-deals and fortune telling left Miss Mayhayley a very wealthy woman. Just prior to her death in 1955, she built a magnificent new home in Franklin. Shortly after moving in, she experienced a heart attack and died a few days later. A large crowd filled the small Caney Head Methodist Church in the community of Roopville for her funeral and she was laid to rest in the cemetery there.
Her grave still draws visitors today who will leave a dollar and a dime in front of her marker which bears the words, “Neither did His brethren believe him.” Though, even today, people still believe in Miss Mayhayley.
Manassas National Battlefield Park
6511 Sudley Road
Some years ago, a reporter for the local Manassas Journal Messenger poetically described a sighting of the apparition of a Zouave on the Manassas battlefield,
A shadow emerges from the among the trees bordering the barren field. The sky is black, and clouds are scudding across the face of the moon. But the moon provides enough light to make out a figure of a man in loose pantaloons scouring the battlefield, searching for something. In a moment, fleetingly, the field is bathed in light as the face of the moon clears. A chill runs down your spine as you realize the man appears to have no head!”
Under the reign of Queen Victoria, the design pendulum swung in the direction of opulent decoration and exotic elements. Victorians took delight in adapting foreign ideals into the Western design language. Even on the battlefield, some military units adopted the fanciful dress and unique training of the French Zouave regiments.
Originally, these regiments were composed of Berbers in French occupied-Algeria, a group of warriors with a fierce reputation, called Zwawa in their language. Even after dropping the units, the French continued to create units attired in similar uniforms and trained in exotic fighting techniques, calling them Zouaves. The idea spread to many other Western armies and was eventually adopted by various military units during the Civil War, especially a number of New York regiments.
One of the best known of the New York Zouave regiments was the 5th New York Infantry Regiment, under the command of Colonel Gouveneur K. Warren. At the Second Battle of Manassas, this regiment was in the V Division of the Union Army of Virginia under the command of General John Pope.
This regiment was known as Duryee’s Zouaves, as they were sponsored by Abraham Duryee, a prominent mahogany importer.
It was bedizened in the classic Zouave uniform, the rage style of the day: white leggings, baggy red pants, blue jackets with red braid, and tasseled red fezes. Duryee had stocked the regiment with an array of officers of impressive potential; eight of them would advance to the rank of general. These officers drilled the regiment tirelessly, until it rightfully claimed a place alongside the U.S. Regulars in proficiency. Hard fighting and marching on the Peninsula had chiseled the original 848 men down to a hardened five hundred, plus sixty new recruits.
In late August of 1862, just a little more than a year after the First Battle of Manassas or Bull Run (the two sides named battles differently, with the Union naming battles for the nearest body of water—Bull Run Creek in this case—while the Confederates named battles for the nearest town or settlement—Manassas in this case), Confederate troops under General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson captured the Union supply depot at Manassas Junction (now just Manassas) and dug in awaiting the arrival of a wing of Robert E. Lee’s army under Major General James Longstreet.
General Pope, in hopes of “bagging” Stonewall Jackson, sparred with his troops in several small battles before confronting them on the same terrain where First Manassas had been fought. On the morning of August 29, Pope found Jackson dug in along an unfinished railroad line and hurled his men at this position throughout much of the day, though they were time and time again repulsed. That afternoon General Longstreet’s troops arrived to join the fray.
About 4 PM on the afternoon of August 30, the 5th New York found themselves suddenly pelted with bullets after an afternoon of confusion and frustration. Soldiers from Texas and Georgia poured volley upon volley on the nattily dressed New Yorkers, leading one private to remark later, “Not only were men wounded or killed, but they were riddled.” The Federal troops, who had held a hill throughout much of the day, retreated only to be pursued by Confederates who slaughtered them as they fled downhill. Another private noted, “Very few, if any, of that regiment reached the hill beyond. I saw men dropping on all sides, canteens struck and flying to pieces, haversacks cut off, rifles knocked to pieces. I was expecting to get hit every second, but on, on I went, the balls hissing by my head.”
Forty minutes after the assault began, the regiment mustered on Henry Hill, about a mile from where they had been scattered by the Federals. The regiment had counted about five hundred soldiers, though about sixty gathered around the regimental colors. Much of the regiment were “dead, dying and wounded, scattered in the bloodstained stubblefield a mile to the west.” One of Hood’s Confederates, who had been a part of the attack, said it was a “ghastly, horrifying spectacle,” while another reflected that the dead and dying in red pantaloons and blue jackets reminded him of a wildflower dotted Texas hillside in the spring.
Years later when survivors of the Zouave massacre returned to the battlefield to dedicate a monument to their fallen comrades, one posited, “War has been designated as Hell, and I can assure you that where the Regiment stood that day was the very vortex of Hell.” In ten minutes, the New York 5th Regiment had lost about three hundred, with about half of those killed. This was the single greatest number of casualties for a single regiment during the entire war.
In the section of battlefield, now known as New York Avenue, where the New York troops had been decimated, a spate of sightings took place in the mid-1970s. There were so many reports of sightings of a ghostly Zouave that parapsychologist Arthur Berger was led to investigate this phenomenon. He published the results in his 1988 book, Evidence of Life after Death: A Casebook for the Tough-Minded. One witness saw an apparition in typical Zouave dress on several nights. As he tried to approach the figure, it “dissolved.” He returned with his father and they didn’t see anything, though after the witness brought his daughter along, they saw a mysterious figure that seemed to beckon from the wood line.
Another witness, who was part of a reenactor group camping on the battlefield, saw a figure wearing what seemed to be a Zouave uniform in the woods. It raised its hand and appeared to move towards her. She quickly fled. Her husband saw a similar figure later that night with a green glow that was “floating above the ground in figure eights.”
Several of these witnesses returned on a later night and observed forty or fifty Zouaves in the New York Avenue Field through their binoculars. The soldiers were described as having white faces and dark holes instead of eyes. When the soldiers began to approach the group, they fled in terror.
Berger accompanied many of these witnesses to the battlefield one night to investigate these events. While the witnesses saw Zouaves, the investigators did not see them. However, they photographed the areas where the apparitions were reported. When these photos were developed later, they were blank. Other photos taken when nothing was on the field developed clearly.
Do images of the suave Zouaves continue to return to the battlefield where so many of them lost their lives?
Berger, Arthur S. Evidence of Life after Death: A Casebook for the Tough-Minded. Aventura, FL: Survival Research Foundation. Reprinted 2010.
Hennessy, John J. Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma. 1993.
Sandlin, Claudia. “Ghosts march through time at battlefield, legend says.” Washington Post. 26 October 1989.
Quayside Art Gallery
17 East Zaragoza Street
At one corner of Plaza Ferdinand VII in downtown Pensacola is an old firehouse that was converted into an art gallery many years ago. The Germania Fire House was exactly a hundred years old when work began to transform the building into the art gallery in 1973. Since that time, the Quayside Art Gallery has provided space to display and sell the works of many local artists.
The building harbors a spirit that visited a pair of firemen in 1892, a visit that garnered an article in the local newspaper.
Pensacola News 2 December 1892 Page 4
A Haunted Truck House. A Ghost Visits the Night Watchmen of the Germania Hose Company.
For quite a while the boys who sleep at the Germania truck house have been complaining of hearing ghostly noises about their cots regularly two or three nights in the week. They would lock the truck house and hunt in every nook and cranny without finding any visible cause for the sounds, which would be resumed as soon as they would lie down.
The back door seemed to be heavily charged with the spirit presence, and it would crack and shake at such a fearful rate that the boys’ nerves would become all unstrung.
The boys talked the matter over among themselves and came to the conclusion that this must be the ghost of Jeff Lowe, the negro who was hanged in Pensacola several years ago.
Others thought that this could not be; that the spirit was that of some departed member of the hose company.
The matter remained thus all undecided, and the noises continued, but the climax came at midnight Wednesday.
Geo. Saurez and Willie Britson were alone in the truck house lying upon their cot with the doors all tightly locked. The rapping and ghostly sounds were moving about the room from one side to the other and the back door was clattering like the teeth of a man with a severe chill. The town clock slowly tolled out the hour of midnight, then a queer thing happened.
A faint blue light appeared in the room, out of which was evolved the shadowy form of a man arrayed all in white. It moved slowly toward the cot, and as it advanced it seemed to float through the air instead of walking, as a being in flesh would have done.
The boys were paralyzed with fear, being too badly frightened to cry out. They turned over, burying their faces in the cover and clasped each other so tightly around the necks that each one was complaining yesterday of having sore throats.
The ghost came up to the side of the cot and put its icy hands upon their faces and necks, chilling the blood in their veins and leaving them nearer dead than alive.
The boys remained with their faces hid for what they say was fully half an hour before they recovered sufficiently to peep out, then they found that the mysterious visitor had disappeared as silently as he came.
These facts were gathered last night from George Saurez himself by a representative of THE NEWS.
Mr. Saurez says he does not think it was the ghost of Jeff Lowe, for he was not here when Lowe was hanged. He thinks it was the spirit of a white man.
Since the frightening vision witnessed by George Saurez and Willie Britson, there have been no other publicized reports of paranormal activity from the old firehouse, though the gallery seems to sit on an active place in the city paranormally speaking. Across the street is the former Escambia County Justice Center, which originally housed the county’s jail and courts, as well as serving as the site of executions, including that of Jeff Lowe who is mentioned in the article. This building has been converted into the Pensacola Cultural Center though the negative energy and bad juju that accumulates in places like this remains. See my article on the playhouse phantoms of Pensacola for more information.
Besides the art gallery and the cultural center, Plaza Ferdinand VII, a National Historic Landmark, is crowded by sites that all seem to be paranormally charged. These locations include the Pensacola Museum of History which is located inside the old city hall. The old United States Customs House and Post Office is now occupied by the Artel Gallery, a contemporary art gallery, and supposedly the spirit of a woman who committed suicide here many years ago. Seville Quarter, an entertainment complex consisting of a number of bars and restaurants and located just off the plaza, is apparently haunted by the spirit of former bartender who passed away in one of the coolers.
About. Quayside Art Gallery. Accessed 27 August 2022.
SECOND MUSICIAN. A high, grey cairn. What more is to be said? FIRST MUSICIAN. Eagles have gone into their cloudy bed.
–William Butler Yeats, Deirdre (1907)
Kings Mountain National Military Park 2625 Park Road Blacksburg, South Carolina
By many accounts, Major Patrick Ferguson was refined and cultured, hardly the rough, war-mongering hawk as he is described by Americans. He came from a genteel family that was at the heart of the Scottish Enlightenment. As a boy, he was personally acquainted with many of those involved with the flourishing of thought, art, and the sciences that occurred in Scotland starting in the early 18th century. He grew up hearing the discussions between philosophers like David Hume and Adam Ferguson, economist Adam Smith, and writers John Home and Tobias Smollett in his family’s drawing room. He eventually was drawn into the military, which brought him here to meet his death on the unrefined Carolina frontier.
His nickname, “The Bulldog,” played on his small stature coupled with an outsized intelligence and tenaciousness. As the British began ramping up military operations against the rebellious colonies, Ferguson feared having to face skilled American marksmen armed with superior long rifles. From this worry Ferguson began to make improvements to the breech-loading rifle which was put into service by the military, though difficulty in production and the gun’s large price tag led to very few actually being put into service.
During the Revolution, the disastrous 1777 Saratoga campaign left the British floundering for a victorious way forward. Efforts began to focus away from the northeastern colonies and towards the South. Both Charleston and Savannah were targeted, and the British secured the cities for themselves. British General Henry Clinton turned over command of troops in the region to General Lord Cornwallis. Throughout the Carolinas troops sparred and the British were victorious at Camden, South Carolina in 1780. Cornwallis ordered his men into the backcountry to recruit loyalists to assist in the fight and to protect his right flank as he dug in in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Cornwallis underestimated the loyalty of the hardy frontiersmen. In early October, Ferguson entrenched his men on a rocky outcrop called Kings Mountain in what is now the Upstate region. The story of the Patriot’s attack on larger British forces is much better told in old ballad:
Come all you good people, O pray you draw near,
A tragical story you quickly shall hear,
Of Whigs and Tories, how they bred a great strife,
When they chased old Ferguson out of his life.
Brave Colonel Williams from Hillsboro came,
The South Carolinians flocked to him amain,
Four hundred and fifty, a jolly, brisk crew,
After old Ferguson we then did pursue.
We marched to Cowpens—brave Campbell was there,
And Shelby, and Cleveland and Colonel Sevier,
Taking the lead of their bold mountaineers,
Brave Indian fighters, devoid of all fears.
They were men of renown—like lions so bold,
Like lions undaunted, ne’er to be controll’d,
They were bent on the game they had in their eye,
Determined to take it—to conquer or die.
We marched from Cowpens that very same night,
Sometimes we were wrong—sometimes we were right,
Our hearts being run in true Liberty’s mold,
We regarded not hunger, wet, weary nor cold.
Early next morning we came to the ford,
Cherokee was its name—and Buford the word.
We marched through the river, with courage so free,
Expecting the foemen we might quickly see.
Like eagles a-hungry in search of their prey,
We chased the old fox the best part of the day.
At length on King’s Mountain the old rogue we found,
And we, like bold heroes, his camp did surround.
The drums they did beat, and the guns they did rattle,
Our enemies stood us a very smart battle;
Like lightning the flashes, like thunder the noise,
Such was the onset of our bold mountain boys.
The battle did last the best part of an hour,
The guns they did roar–the bullets did shower,
With an oath in our hearts to conquer the field
We rushed on the Tories resolved they should yield.
We laid old Ferguson dead on the ground.
Four hundred and fifty dead Tories lay round—
Making a large escort, if not quite so wise,
To guide him to his chosen abode in the skies.
Brave Colonel Williams, and twenty-five more,
Of our brave heroes lay rolled in their gore;
With sorrow their dead bodies we laid in the clay,
In hopes that to heaven their souls took their way
We shouted the victory that we did obtain,
Our voices were heard seven miles on the plain.
Liberty shall stand—and the Tories shall fall,
Here’s an end to my song, so God bless us all.
–This ballad was found among the papers of Revolutionary soldier Robert Long after his death. The author is unknown. Published in Rev. J. D. Bailey’s Commanders at Kings Mountain, published 1925.
As the battle waged, Major Ferguson rallied his troops astride his horse.
One of Sevier’s men, named Gilleland, who had received several wounds and was well-nigh exhausted seeing Ferguson and his part approaching, attempted to arrest the career of the bold leader, but when his gun only snapped, he called out to Robert Young, one of his comrades: “There’s Ferguson—shoot him!” “I’ll try and see what Sweet-Lips can do,” muttered Young, as he drew a sharp sight, firing his rifle, when Ferguson fell from his horse, and his associates were wither killed, or driven back.
Ferguson was knocked from his mount, and his foot caught in one of his stirrups. Wounded, the Major was dragged by his horse towards the Patriot line. A Patriot soldier approached him, and Ferguson drew his gun and killed him. Moments later, the Major’s body was riddled with a number of bullets, bringing an ignominious end to the illustrious soldier. His body was stripped and urinated upon by the Patriot troops.
After the brief battle—it only lasted about an hour—Ferguson’s remains were buried near the spot where he expired, and a cairn was constructed atop his resting spot. The origins of the cairn extend back into pre-history and many are found throughout the Scottish countryside. Generally, these piles of stones were created to mark the graves of heroes with mourners adding stones to mark their visit. In a practical sense, these stone piles prevented wild animals from reaching the remains. Beyond these uses, a cairn is also supposed to keep a spirit within the grave.
Some years ago, two reenactors were camping on the battlefield and in the evening went to visit Ferguson’s cairn. Both men deposited rocks on the grave. As they began to walk away, both had a sense that someone was standing nearby. They turned expecting a park ranger, though instead they saw a form that resembled the British Major. The figure spoke in a thick Scottish brogue saying, “It doesn’t always work, my lads,” and let out a hearty laugh.
A moment later in front of the frightened witnesses, he fadeded into the darkened forest. If you decide to approach the high, gray cairn of Major Ferguson, just be wary that the spectral Scotsman may be standing nearby.
Bailey, J. D. Commanders at Kings Mountain. Originally published 1925. Reprinted in Greenville, SC: A Press, 1980.
Barefoot, Daniel W. Spirits of ’76: Ghost Stories of the American Revolution. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2009.
Tennessee’s most celebrated haunting is the tale of the Bell Witch. For a period of about four years—from 1817 to 1821—the family of John Bell living on the Red River in Robertson County was plagued by a mysterious and mischievous entity. While the hauntings are supposed to have died down in 1821, paranormal activity has persisted in the area that is still ascribed to the famous “witch.” It is through this area, now the town of Adams, where US 41 passes a short distance from the Bell family’s former property.
US Route 41 cuts diagonally through Middle Tennessee from Chattanooga across the Cumberland Plateau through Murfreesboro and Nashville to cross over the state line into Guthrie, Kentucky. Part of this route was established around 1915 with the creation of the Dixie Highway which ran from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan south to Miami, Florida. This portion of the Dixie Highway was designated as US 41 in 1926, with the announcement of the original numbered highway system. While the road has been supplanted by I-24 throughout Tennessee, this highway provides a much more scenic, and haunted, route through the state.
This article explores US 41 from where the road crosses the Georgia state line into East Ridge and Chattanooga, to Smyrna in Rutherford County just before the road passes into Davidson County and Nashville. Part II of this article will cover the remaining portion of the route from Nashville to the Kentucky state line.
Southeast of downtown Chattanooga, US 41 crosses into Tennessee from Georgia into the city of East Ridge.
Mount Olivet Cemetery
Mount Olivet Drive
Located on a hill above the busy rush of US 41, Mount Olivet Cemetery provides an attractive and peaceful oasis from the hustle below. With graves dating to the mid-19th century, this Catholic cemetery also possesses some spectral residents. According to investigator and author Mark E. Fults, he and a friend saw several specters during a late-night walk of this burial ground some 30 years ago. At one mausoleum, the pair saw “a petite, waif-like woman peering sadly through the barred windows.”
At another mausoleum, the investigators witnessed what Fults describes as “ectoplasm.” “There was a faint phosphorescent green mist directly up against the barred windows with images forming within it. As we watched, a hand appeared and then dissolved into the mass of energy. When a watchful eye materialized, we both were gripped with a sickening ache to the solar plexus…we backed away thoroughly nauseated and eager for fresh air.” Fults reports that his friend “was sick for days afterwards, as the energy tried to possess him.”
After viewing this ghostly light show, the friends saw a large, black dog observing them from the edge of the woods. As they toured the cemetery, this dog was hiding behind monuments and trees and scurrying between them on two legs. Fults believes this was a watcher spirit keeping vigil over the dead who rest here.
Please note, this cemetery is active and well-maintained. Late night investigations are discouraged, and such a visit would likely be considered trespassing by the local authorities.
Fults, Mark E. Chattanooga Chills, Second Edition. Mark E. Fults, 2012.
The passage into Chattanooga is made through the Bachman Tunnels, which were bored through Missionary Ridge in the late 1920s, opening officially in 1929. While there are no published ghost stories regarding these nearly one-hundred-year-old tunnels, I suspect that there is probably some mysterious activity associated with them.
Tennessee’s fourth largest city, Chattanooga is situated on the banks of the Tennessee River at Moccasin Bend. Archaeological excavations have revealed that humans have lived in this spot for millennia. Prior to the arrival of Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto in 1540, the area was a major center for Mississippian culture. In the historic era, the area came under control of the Cherokee People.
White settlers began to filter into the area in the 1830s displacing the native people and creating Ross’ Landing on the river near present day downtown. As they were removed in 1838 on the Trail of Tears, many Cherokee People stopped here before continuing towards the west. As the settlement grew, the town became an important center of river commerce. The introduction of the railroad brought more settlers and strategic importance to the city. The outbreak of the Civil War brought military activity here and the city was captured by Union troops in 1863 after several major battles were fought in the area, including the Battle of Chattanooga, the battle of Lookout Mountain, and the Battle of Chickamauga.
As a result of Union attention during the war, the city became quite industrialized during the latter part of the 19th century. As many of the industries began to move elsewhere towards the middle of the 20th century, the city began to clean up its pollution and remake itself as a tourist town. Today, all of these layers of history have left spiritual marks in terms of ghosts and hauntings.
Ezzell, Timothy P. “Chattanooga.” Tennessee Encyclopedia. 8 October 2017.
After turning onto Broad Street, US 41 runs concurrent with US 11 (the Lee Highway), US 64, and US 72 along the Tennessee River at the base of Lookout Mountain. The site of heavy fighting during the Civil War Battle of Lookout Mountain, the flanks of the mountain are dotted with haunted places including Ruby Falls Caverns.
Still running parallel to the Tennessee River, US 41 passes near Raccoon Mountain Caverns, a short distance outside of Chattanooga.
Raccoon Mountain Caverns
319 West Hills Drive
Tradition holds that locals were first drawn here by a cool breeze blowing up through rocks on the grounds of the Grand Hotel Farm in the 1920s. Local caver and entrepreneur Leo Lambert, who incidentally discovered and developed Ruby Falls Caverns, was tipped off about the possible existence of a cave and began exploring it in 1929. After finding the cave’s famous Crystal Palace Room with its dramatic and impressive formations, he immediately set about opening the cave to tourists. In 1931, Tennessee Caverns opened to serve the tourist traffic from US 41. Later, the cave was renamed Crystal City Caves later and other attractions were added at the cave’s entrance including a sky bucket ride called the Mount Aetna Skyride.
On the night of November 30, 1966, 39-year-old Willie Cowan, the attraction’s night watchman was killed in a fire that destroyed the skyride, as well as the cave’s ticket office and gift shop. In the years since his death, his spirit has been sensed within the cave and the rebuilt gift shop and ticket office. Many guides passing through the cave have smelled Cowan’s cigar smoke, heard his whistling, and several have glimpsed his figure on the route of the cave tours. While touring the cave, author Amy Petulla saw a light during a moment where the lights were turned off to provide visitors with the experience of pitch darkness. The spirit appears to be fairly active around the anniversary of Cowan’s death.
Matthews, Larry E. Caves of Chattanooga. Huntsville, AL: The National Speleological Society, 2007.
Penot, Jessica and Amy Petulla. Haunted Chattanooga. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011.
Just before the road dips south to cross the Tennessee River in Haletown, it passes the now infamous Hales Bar Dam.
Hales Bar Dam
1265 Hales Bar Road
Located on a sand bar extending into the Tennessee River, Hales Bar Dam was constructed to provide hydroelectric power to the area. This sand bar is part of a 33 mile stretch of river made dangerous by a number of whirlpools, so the dam’s construction also included a lock on the river to improve navigation. Work commenced in 1905 and was initially expected to last up to two years. When the dam remained incomplete after two years of work, the first contractors withdrew from the project. Another contractor was selected the following year and construction of the power house, the main surviving element of the dam, was begun. Difficulty with the foundation of the structure led to numerous budget overruns and problems for work crews. Despite the issues, however, the dam was completed and began operation in 1913.
Fissures in the structure’s limestone bedrock and innumerable leaks led to a host of issues plagued the dam as it continued to operate over the proceeding decades. In the early 1960s, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) made the decision to abandon it once construction of the Nickajack Dam was completed to the south. Parts of the dam’s facilities were demolished in the years following, though the power house has remained as a main feature of the Hales Bar Marina.
Over the past couple decades, the abandoned dam has attracted the attention of paranormal investigators who have discovered that it is now the residence of spirits. That attention has led to investigations by television paranormal teams from the shows Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures who have all walked away with tremendous evidence. During filming for an episode of Zak Bagans’ Ghost Adventures in 2011, a sudden storm erupted damaging part of the marina and several boats and vehicles. Bagans presumed that the sudden storm was another manifestation of the curse of Chief Dragging Canoe, which is sometimes blamed for local paranormal activity, though there seems to be little evidence to support this correlation.
The dam is haunted by a variety of spirits ranging from children to shadow people to a former dam foreman. Investigators have reported hearing footsteps, voices, and many EVPs have been captured within the structure and throughout the surrounding marina.
Archambault, Paul. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Hales Bar Dam. 30 May 2008.
Glover, Greg. “Weather provides new twist for Ghost Adventures.” 28 February 2011.
Phipps, Sean. “An overnight paranormal investigation of Hales Bar Dam.” com. 12 March 2017.
After crossing the Tennessee River in Haletown, US 41 continues through Jasper and heads towards Monteagle.
Located at the meeting point of three counties—Grundy, Marion, and Franklin–the town of Monteagle is situated on the Cumberland Plateau. It was on the edge of this plateau that John Moffat, an organizer in the temperance movement, bought a huge tract of land in 1870. In 1882, the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly was created here. This organization, built on the ideas of the Chautauqua Movement, was founded to promote the “advancement of science, literary attainment, Sunday school interest and promotion of the broadest popular culture in the interest of Christianity without regard to sect or denomination.” The assembly constructed buildings throughout town to support and house the masses of people attending and who continue to be drawn to this city on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau.
Turner, William Ray. “Grundy County.” Tennessee Encyclopedia. 8 October 2017.
Goin’ down Monteagle Mountain on I-24
It’s hell for a trucker when the Devil’s at your door
He’ll tempt you and tell you, “Come on, let her roll,
‘Cause the mountain wants your rig, and trucker, I want your soul.”
–Thomas Richard McGibony, “Monteagle Mountain,” released by Johnny Cash on his 1990 album, “Boom Chicka Boom.”
The notoriety of this stretch of interstate highway has garnered the attention of a Johnny Cash song. The song tells the story of a long-haul trucker carrying a load from Nashville to Florida dreading traversing the infamous road around Monteagle. As he starts down the steep grade, his brakes fail, and he is forced to steer the big rig into one of the runaway truck ramps. After stopping on the ramp, and realizes he is alive, and grateful to God “’cause when there’s a runaway on Monteagle, some truckers don’t survive.”
For decades, truckers and other drivers dreaded this scenic, but treacherous section of I-24 just before and after the town of Monteagle. Truckers traversing the steep grade sometimes had their brakes go out and more than a few went hurtling off the mountain highway. Despite improvements by the state’s Department of Transportation, drivers still fear the road.
Historically, the path of the interstate was deemed US 41 dating back to the road’s incorporation as the US numbered highway system, with this stretch dating to the earlier Dixie Highway.
In his 2009 book, Ghosts of Lookout Mountain, Larry Hillhouse includes an oft-told tale from this infamous stretch. As young drivers sometimes eased their trucks down the mountain, some encountered a strange sight. Hillhouse explains that “suddenly a figure appeared in the middle of road. The figure was a man, dressed in light blue overalls and wearing a black cowboy hat, and he was always waving his arms furiously, as if to flag them down.” The drivers downshifted to another gear before realizing there was yet one more hairpin turn that they had to navigate. Having already downshifted, the driver avoided certain danger. Of course, the figure that warned them by darting into the road was nowhere to be seen.
These young drivers would tell an assembled group of older truckers who might nod knowingly and tell them that they had seen the spirit of old Cowboy Lewis. They would explain that he was an unlucky trucker who had lost his life at that curve many years ago and had been buried at that spot. If you happen to decide to test out your vehicle’s brakes on this treacherous terrain and you see the cowboy hat wearing figure dart in front of you, heed his warning, there is a dangerous curve ahead.
“New I-24 lanes opened at Monteagle.” The Tennessean. 12 July 1989.
US 41 enters the town of Monteagle from the east and becomes Main Street for a short distance before heading north. Just before it becomes Main Street, the highway passes the massive DuBose Conference Center.
DuBose Conference Center
635 College Street
Constructed for the DuBose Memorial Church Training School, an Episcopalian seminary, this Mission style structure has provided lodging and facilities for theological students and later visitors visiting the retreat center for almost a hundred years. Over those years, this building may have acquired several spirits as well.
Author Annie Armour documents the experiences of a few visitors here in her book, Haunted Sewanee. One guest witnessed a fog creep into her room in the middle of the night. Slowly, the fog began to form the shape of a young woman who eventually took a seat in a rocking chair and started rocking. The guest watched until the fog faded, though the chair continued rocking for some time. Armour interviewed the daughter of the center’s executive director who would sometimes find herself in the building alone. In those moments, she heard the sounds of footsteps and doors opening and closing, despite the fact that she was entirely alone within the huge facility.
Casteel, Britt. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the DuBose Conference Center. 15 August 1990.
19 Wilkins Avenue
According to authors Robert and Anne Wlodarski, the spirit haunting this 1896 home turned bed and breakfast is called “Uncle Harry.” The home was one of the many “cottages” constructed for the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly. This entity is reported to have been active as far back as the 1930s, when he once flipped a punch bowl during a reception. Decades later, as a team from the Travel Channel was filming in the inn, Uncle Harry levitated a plastic punch bowl and set it down on the head of a producer. This mischievous spirit has been accused of showing his displeasure whenever changes are made within the building.
Wlodarski, Robert James and Anne Powell Wlodarski. Dinner and Spirits: A Guide to America’s Most Haunted Restaurant, Taverns, and Inns. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse Publishing, 2000.
Passing out of Monteagle, the road continues northwest into the town of Manchester, the seat of Coffee County.
Manchester City Cemetery
West High Street
Some years ago, a reporter from the local Manchester Times had an eerie experience in the city cemetery following an evening candlelight tour. He wrote in the paper a few years later, “As we neared the end of the presentation and moved to the newer part of the cemetery, I was stopped by what seemed like the voices coming from a nearby group. There was, however, no group near us. The sounds were faint and at the same time seemed right behind me. Still, I couldn’t pin down any particular direction they were coming from. Later I asked my wife and she too had heard something strange but hadn’t wanted to mention it.”
Coffelt, John. “Haunted Manchester: Times readers details some of the spookiest sites in the area.” Manchester Times. 31 October 2018.
Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park
732 Stone Fort Drive
As US 41 leaves Manchester, it passes by Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park. This state park preserves an ancient Native American site with stone structures and earthworks built at the confluence of the Duck and Little Duck Rivers. The Manchester Times reports that a visitor to the park after hours under a full moon heard the sound of a person running through an open field. The visitor stood there listening to the strange sound, though they did not see anyone around. As the sound passed them they felt a slight breeze.
Coffelt, John. “Haunted Manchester: Times readers details some of the spookiest sites in the area.” Manchester Times. 31 October 2018.
In Rutherford County, the road enters the Nashville Metropolitan area of which Murfreesboro is now the largest suburb.
Now the sixth-largest city in the state, Murfreesboro dates its beginnings to the late 18th century when Colonel William Lytle provided land to build a public square, cemetery, and a Presbyterian church. The town was chartered by the state legislature in 1811 and was deemed the county seat of Rutherford County. A few years later, the first courthouse was built in the center of the public square. This building served as the state capitol for nearly a decade until the capitol was moved to nearby Nashville.
Three battles fought here during the Civil War brought national notoriety to the small town. The second of those battles, the Battle of Stones River fought on New Year’s Eve 1862 until January 2, 1863, brought death and devastation to a huge area north of town. In the 1920s, a small percentage of this battlefield was designated by the National Park Service as a military park. The park is in two portions on both sides of US 41, just north of downtown.
Murfreesboro remained a busy center of trade into the mid-20th century. As Nashville has sprawled beyond its limits, the city has developed as a suburb. In the 1990s, much of that development was centered on land around the battlefield park, making this battlefield one of the most endangered in the country. As this dark and bloody ground has been developed, residents and the employees of businesses built here have reported paranormal activity.
Huhta, James K. “Murfreesboro.” Tennessee Encyclopedia. 8 October 2017.
Historic Rutherford County Courthouse
The first courthouse in the center of Murfreesboro’s Public Square was constructed in 1813. It was in this building that the state legislature met for nearly a decade after the town was deemed the state capital. That first building was replaced after fire destroyed it in 1822. The current building replaced the second courthouse and dates to 1859. During its lifetime it has witnessed a tremendous panoply of history play out within its walls and on the square surrounding it.
During the Civil War, hostilities found their way to the halls of the building as Confederate forces under General Nathan Bedford Forrest raided the Union-occupied town. On July 13, 1862, the Union-occupied courthouse was quickly surrounded by rebel troops who eventually broke their way through the doors. With soldiers from Company B of the 9th Michigan trapped on the upper floors, soldiers from the 1st Georgia Cavalry started a fire to smoke out the Yankees. Trapped, the Michigan soldiers surrendered, and Forrest’s successful raid became a feather in the general’s cap.
During the Union occupation of the city, the courthouse lawn saw several executions as military leaders tried to contain the rebellious local population and deal with Confederate spies and informants. Later, locals lynched a 19-year-old African-American man here in 1881. Houston Turner was arrested for an attack on a white woman and was being transported to Nashville by the county sheriff when the entourage was surrounded by a mob demanding the prisoner be turned over to them for justice. The sheriff, seeing no alternative, turned him over to the mob who immediately exacted “justice” by hanging him on the courthouse lawn.
Another death occurred here in 1923 when a vaudeville actor billing himself as “The Human Fly” attempted to free-climb the building. After reaching the top of the cupola to the delight of the assembled crowd, the man fell as he began his descent, landing on the roof and breaking his neck.
With so many contentious deaths and an accidental one, plus serving as the focus of more than a century of county history, it’s no surprise that specters continue to rove the antebellum halls and grounds of the courthouse. Over the years, county employees in the building have described physical interactions with spirits that sometimes throw books from shelves, upend furniture, open and close doors, push the living, or play with the elevator. One sensitive investigator reported that the spirit of a lonely young Confederate soldier held her hand. The young man had died within the courthouse during a time when it served as a makeshift hospital and sought comfort from the living investigator. Outside the building, people visiting and working in the businesses surrounding the square also deal with spirited activity that may possibly stem from their proximity to the courthouse.
La Paglia, Peter S. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Rutherford County Courthouse. 10 May 1973.
Rennick, Lee. “4 haunted places in Murfreesboro.” Rutherford County Source. 28 October 2021.
When it comes to places that are likely to be haunted, I’m certain that a dry cleaners would be last on most people’s list. Though, in Murfreesboro, a city rife with history and hauntings, even the cleaners has paranormal activity. Situated on the Public Square facing the haunted Historic Rutherford County Courthouse, the business occupies a pair of old commercial buildings that were home to a furniture store, a saloon, a shoe store, and a theater at varying points in the past. A dry cleaners opened in number 7 in the late 1950s and expanded into number 9 sometime later.
It has been rumored for many years that Big B Cleaners is haunted. In fact, employees called in a paranormal investigative team some years ago to pinpoint the reason why they were dealing with activity. During the investigation by the Shadow Chasers of Middle Tennessee, the group captured EVPs and a pair of investigators saw a shadowy figure on the second floor. “All of a sudden, hair started rising up, and I saw a black figure. He was dark. As a matter of fact, he was darker than the dark. He was going back and forth looking at me. I asked my friend if she saw him, and she said she did.” The pair surmised that the figure tended to stay in a corner of the building and that it may be the spirit of a former owner.
Willard, Michelle. “Haunting history in Murfreesboro.” The Murfreesboro Post. 30 September 2012.
Oaklands Historic House Museum
900 North Maney Avenue
Occupied by the prominent Maney family for almost a century, Oaklands began as a simple two-room structure in the early 19th century. Over time, family members added rooms and renovated older sections to create the large home that stands today. During General Forrest’s raid on the town in July of 1862, a skirmish was fought on the front lawn. The family later opened their home to care for the wounded from the Battle of Stones River. When the home faced demolition in the late 1950s, a group of local women saved it and it now serves as a house museum and event space. Visitors and staff in the house have experienced paranormal activity here since the home’s restoration. Disembodied footsteps, voices, and apparitions of the home’s spectral occupants have been reported.
Coop, May Dean. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Oaklands. 9 June 1969.
Morris, Jeff; Donna Marsh and Garrett Merk. Nashville Haunted Handbook. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2011.
Stones River Country Club
1830 Northwest Broad Street (US 41)
According to author Allen Sircy, who has exhaustively catalogued haunted places throughout the Nashville area in a number of recent books, the clubhouse of the Stones River County Club has paranormal activity. Founded in 1946, as the Town and Country Club and later renamed Stones River Country Club, the club occupies property where fighting occurred during the Battle of Stones River. A local legend speaks of the spirit of a nurse that has been seen in the area who may allegedly haunt the clubhouse. Sircy reports that an employee told him that a woman working with the banquet staff saw “a woman in an old-timey dress…multiple times in the ballroom.”
Bombshells Hair Studio
803 North Thompson Lane #105A
The Gateway Village development hosts a variety of commercial enterprises and businesses, including Bombshells Hair Studio, and occupies a section of the old battlefield. According to Allen Sircy, this hair salon and parts of the development are haunted.
In the twelve years the salon has been open, the owner, her stylists, and employees have experienced a plethora strange activity. The shop’s security system detected much of that activity in the first few months the business was open. The owner was frequently summoned to the shop very early in the morning after the system registered that doors were open or that there was motion inside the building. Staff and patrons have seen the image of a dark-haired women who is known to sometimes grab people.
The spirit is blamed for opening and closing doors, odd sounds, and breaking electrical equipment here. One night, the usually mischievous spirit was helpful when a stylist left a candle burning at her station. When the owner tried to set the alarm before she left, the panel noted that there was an issue with an unused back door. When she went to look at the door, she discovered the candle and extinguished it. After that, there were no further problems setting the alarm. The owner told Allen Sircy, “I think they were trying to warn me.” While the identity of this spirit has not been established, perhaps she is the nurse that is thought to haunt the Stones River County Club.
Stones River National Battlefield
3501 Old Nashville Highway
In his memoirs of the Civil War, Private Sam Watkins of the First Tennessee Infantry wrote of the Union’s pyrrhic victory at Stones River, “I cannot remember now or ever seeing more dead men and horses and captured cannon all jumbled together than that scene of blood and carnage…the ground was literally covered with blue coats dead.”
On New Year’s Eve 1862, forces met along the West Fork of Stones River where they fought for control of the town of Murfreesboro. Union forces under General William Rosecrans and Confederate forces under General Braxton Bragg battled for three days with casualties of more than 10,000 men killed, wounded, captured or missing on each side. After the carnage, about 15% of the battlefield was preserved by the National Park Service in the 1920s. Much of the remaining battle-scarred land has been developed leaving paranormal activity in homes, businesses, neighborhoods, and commercial developments throughout the area.
On the preserved portion of the battlefield, there are two primary morbidly-named paranormal hotspots: the Slaughter Pen and Hell’s Half Acre. Battlefield tour stop #2 is the Slaughter Pen where Union soldiers under the command of General Philip Sheridan held out on the first morning of the battle despite suffering tremendous losses. The terrain consists of limestone rocks that form natural knee- and waist-high trenches. Throughout the area visitors have encountered shadow figures, apparitions, strange feelings, and spectral sounds that have been heard amongst the wooded stone outcroppings.
Fighting near what is now tour stop #5, led this section of battlefield to be deemed Hell’s Half Acre. Just six months after the battle, the Hazen Brigade Monument was constructed here, and it remains the oldest Civil War monument in existence. Like the rest of the battlefield, this area is paranormally active and haunted by a headless horseman. During the battle, Union General Rosecrans’ chief of staff, Colonel Julius Peter Garesché was decapitated by a Confederate cannonball while riding his horse near the Round Forest. This horrific moment has been preserved within the spiritual fabric of the battlefield.
Blue & Grey Magazine. Guide to Haunted Places of the Civil War. Columbus, OH: Blue & Grey Magazine, 1996.
Bush, Bryan and Thomas Freese. Haunted Battlefields of the South. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2010.
McWhiney, Grady. “Stones River, Tennessee.” in The Civil War Battlefield Guide, 2nd Kennedy, Frances H. editor. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.
North of Murfreesboro, US 41 passes through Smyrna and La Vergne before crossing the county line into Davidson County and Nashville proper.
Sam Davis House
1399 Sam Davis Road
On November 27, 1863, Union authorities marched 21-year-old Sam Davis to gallows they had erected in Pulaski, Tennessee. On his birthday, this young man bravely faced death as a Confederate spy. In the intervening years, the young man has been deemed a Confederate hero and martyr while his home has been designated as a shrine and preserved as it was when the young man willingly marched off to certain death.
Within the home, visitors and staff have heard the sounds of weeping. Others have encountered the apparitions of Davis’ mother and grandmother. These active spirits have become known for causing mischief within the home. Staff members and visitors alike have noted that the property is permeated with the spirits of Davis, his family, and their enslaved people.
Morris, Jeff; Donna Marsh and Garrett Merk. Nashville Haunted Handbook. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2011.
Ong, Linda. “Spirits still linger at Smyrna’s Sam Davis Home.” 31 October 2019.
Whittle, Dan. “Spirits make presence known at Sam Davis Home.” Murfreesboro Post. 13 October 2014.
Join me for the rest of this haunted journey along US 41 in Part II as I explore Nashville to the Kentucky state line.
Old 97 Wreck Site Riverside Drive (US 58 BUS) between Farrar Street and Highland Court
They give him his orders at Monroe, Virginia,
Saying, “Steve, you’re way behind time,
“This is not 38, but it’s Old 97,
“You must put her into Spencer on time.”
He looked round and said to his black, greasy fireman,
“Just shovel in a little more coal.
And when we cross that White Oak Mountain,
You can watch Old 97 roll.”
It’s a mighty rough road from Lynchburg to Danville, And a line on a three-mile grade. It was on this grade that he lost his air brakes; You can see what a jump he made.
He was going down the grade making 90 miles an hour,
When the whistle broke into a scream.
He was found in the wreck with his hand on the throttle,
And was scalded to death by the steam.
And then a telegram come to Washington station,
This is what it read,
“Oh, that brave engineer that run 97,
“He’s a lyin’ in old Danville dead.”
Oh, now all you ladies better take a warning,
From this time on and learn.
Never speak harsh words to your true-loving husband,
He may leave you and never return.
–“The Wreck of Old 97,” by G. B. Grayson and Henry Whitter
This old, Appalachian ballad obscures the true horror of the events of September 27, 1903 behind a jaunty, cheerful tune and lyrics that hardly echo the true tragedy that occurred in this ravine next to the Dan River. Indeed, the song’s lyrics do not accurately describe the accident.
On that warm Sunday, Southern Railway’s Fast Mail, or “Old 97,” as it was affectionately dubbed, met with several delays leaving Washington, D.C. on its journey south to Atlanta. This did not bode well for the Southern Railway’s reputation or its bottom line. The Fast Mail was generally known for running on time, in fact many residents along the route set their watches by the train’s regular schedule; plus, the company would face steep fines from the U. S. Postal Service for delivering the mail late.
The delays in leaving Washington caused the train to pull into its scheduled stop in Monroe, Virginia nearly an hour late. At this stop the train changed engines and crews. Engine No. 1102, which had been delivered to the railroad just a month previous, was quickly coupled with the rest of the short mail train consisting of a tender (loaded with coal to fuel the engine), two postal cars, an express car, and a baggage car at the end. In the postal cars mail sorters collected the bags of mail along the route and sorted it to insure it reached the proper destination. The express car carried freight including a crate of live canaries on this particular trip; while the baggage car carried additional mail that had been previously sorted, and the train’s safe.
At Monroe, Joseph Andrew Broady, known by his nickname, “Steve,” was put in charge as engineer. Responsible for overseeing the actual operation of the locomotive, he set the speed and operated the brakes when necessary. Steve Broady had been hired by the railway only recently. Despite his greenness to the company, he was an experienced engineer, though there is some contention as to why he was put in charge of the Old 97 train that day. Broady was experienced on this particular route and knew the dangers that he would encounter, especially on the Stillhouse Trestle that led into downtown Danville, but up to this day, he had only handled heavier freight trains which handled much differently from the light mail train he was running on this day.
Despite the opening lyrics of the song, in which Broady is ordered to pull the train into Spencer, North Carolina on time, he was given orders in Monroe to do the opposite. The orders noted that the train was going to run late and that he was not to make up for the lost time.
Broady was joined by fireman Albion C. “Buddy” Clapp and a student fireman, John Madison Hodge, who would feed coal into the engine when necessary. As a result of their hard work, these men would often be covered in soot and grease from the coal, thus the descriptive line in the song, “his black, greasy fireman.” With Broady maintaining the operation of the engine, the train’s conductor would oversee the operation of the train as a whole, and this task was given over to John Thomas Blair. Broady’s crew was completed by the addition of a flagman, James Robert Moody, who rode in the final car and would signal to oncoming trains if the train stalled on the track.
To handle the mail, eleven postal workers were on board. They were Jennings Dunlap, Percival Indermauer, John H. Thompson, Paul M. Argenbright, W. Scott Chambers, Daniel P. Flory, Napoleon C. Maupin, Frank E. Brooks, Charles E. Reames, Louis Spies, John L. Thompson, and express messenger W. R. Pinckney. The train pulled out of the station at Monroe before safe locker Wentworth Armistead could get off. He was in charge of securing the trains’ safes and remained at the station to ensure that the train’s safes could not be opened and robbed en route. The addition of the safe locker brought the number of souls aboard the train to eighteen.
What may have transpired in the cab of Old 97 as it traversed the rolling landscape south towards Danville is unknown. In the intervening years since the accident, much blame has been heaped on Steve Broady, with many (including the song) describing him as reckless and negligible. Historian Larry Aaron seems to think that this estimation is incorrect, and that he was well respected by his peers and that the blame for the incident may be due to his inexperience at handling such a train rather than his carelessness.
The railroad’s southern route into Danville was precarious as the train would have to navigate the Stillhouse Trestle over Stillhouse Creek just before crossing the Dan River. On the approach to the trestle, the train descended a grade of about three miles and could build up a decent amount of momentum. At the side of grade was a sign warning the engineer to slow down and the railway’s rules (which Broady had been tested on) required the engineer to slow the train’s speed on trestles and bridges. The trestle immediately curved to the left, bringing the train parallel with the river and the mill complex that occupied the river’s north bank. After following the river for a short distance, the train would then cross a bridge over the river and directly into downtown Danville.
Even before the train entered North Danville, residents near the track noted the train sped by unusually fast.
One local resident, E. H. Chappell, later described his experience years later saying that he had gone out to his well for a drink of water.
It was a roaring sound and while I couldn’t see the track from where I stood because it ran through a deep fill at that point, I saw a great pillar of billowing dust, moving very fast. It was the train, of course, and she was making a weird, unusual noise. I remember I turned to my mother, who was with me, and said, “She’ll never make the trestle.”
A later author described the piercing scream of the train’s whistle as she roared towards the Stillhouse Trestle.
The whistle…gave a series of blasts on the approach to Lima and finally set up a constant broken wailing down the three-mile grade to the Dan Valley. It was the death cry of a runaway locomotive and it chilled the hearts of all who heard it. People turned in their yards, ran out on their porches, stopped still along the streets in North Danville. All eyes turned in the direction of the approaching train. With bated breath and anxious hearts, they waited.
Of what happened next, one eyewitness simply said, “It just split the curve.” Steve Broady likely realized that the train was moving far too fast to make the curve and desperately tried to apply the brakes and put the engine into reverse. But, it was all too late. The engine jumped the curve bringing all four cars with it as it arced through the air and into the ravine 75 feet below. The engine landed first digging into the ground and the cars splintering on top. The final car rolled onto its side though it remained mostly intact. In a heartbeat, ten lives were snuffed out while all the others were injured, some critically. Within days, one of the injured men passed away bringing the casualties to eleven.
Locals, having heard the tremendous crash, began to rush to the scene. The alarm bell of the mill next to the trestle was sounded and church bells began to ring. Crowds, many dressed in their Sunday best, were greeted by broken and twisted wood and metal piled in the ravine with smoke and steam filtering out from the buried engine. Victims, their bodies mangled and some even scalded by the steam, lay entwined with the wreckage, with the living crying out for aid. The canaries that had been confined to a crate in the express car were flitting about the wreckage lending bright pops of yellow to the surreal scene.
A rescue effort was soon underway as locals began to sift through the wreck searching for the living the dead. Steve Broady was found near the creek at the bottom of the ravine, rather than still in the engine as the song describes. One of his rescuers reported that:
The skin came off his arm just like a chicken that’s scalded. Somebody came from the houses above, and two or three men helped me pick up the engineer and put him on the bank. He drawed two or three breaths and that was the end of him.
Historian Larry Aaron notes that:
The sights and sounds on that Sunday afternoon destroyed not only the train but also whatever charm the day would have held. The crashing sound and shaking ground; the dust, debris, smoke and fire; the mournful cries of wounded and dying men; the sheet-covered bodies on mattresses; the wagons hauling the wounded to the Home for the Sick; the proud locomotive steeped in mud; and the postal cars shredded like paper—all created a surreal scene. For a host of onlookers, that serene Sunday afternoon became a nightmare to remember.
As darkness fell in Danville, “flares and lanterns hung on trees and poles” lent their light to the tragic scene as well as the harsh light of an engine that was parked on the trestle. Within hours of the disaster crews began to repair the trestle, completing their work in time for a train to pass the next morning. The engine was pulled from the dirt and set upright. After major repairs, it was returned to service.
The memories of that horrible day have lingered in Danville for more than a century. The song “Wreck of Old 97” came into existence some years after the tragedy along with questions over its authorship. Musicians continue to cover the jaunty song, repeating the sad story of Old 97’s tragic jump.
In the decades that have passed since the accident the trestle has been torn down and the mill next to it was destroyed by fire recently. Riverside Drive, which carries US 58 BUS, now runs parallel with the Dan River and speeds right by the overgrown ravine where the wreck occurred. US 58, along with US 29, is one of the two major US highways serving modern Danville. In 1947, a historical marker was placed next to the busy road describing the crash as “one of the worst train wrecks in Virginia history.” It also incorrectly reports the death toll as nine.
Perhaps echoes of the wreck continue to be experienced today? A short time after the horrid events, locals began to report that lights were seen in the ravine, moving like the lanterns brought out by rescuers as darkness fell. Even as the spot became treacherous and overgrown, the lights continued to appear. Some reported to still hear the shriek of the train’s whistle on the disaster’s anniversary without a train nearby.
In his Ghosthunting Virginia, author Michael Varhola describes a trip to Danville to check out the site. As he spoke with several locals, he was met with no reports of activity at the site nowadays. Perhaps the echoes of that tragic day have begun, like memories, to fade into the mist of time?
In total, eleven men who lost their lives in the wreck and they were: Joseph Andrew “Steve” Broady, John Thomas Blair, James Robert Moody, Albion C. “Buddy” Clapp, John Madison Hodge, John L. Thompson, Paul M. Argenbright, W. Scott Chambers, Daniel P. Flory, Louis Spies, and Wentworth Armistead.
Aaron, Larry G. The Wreck of the Old 97. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2010.
Taylor, L. B., Jr. The Ghosts of Virginia, Vol. II. B. Taylor, Jr.: 1994.
Varhola, Michael J. Ghosthunting Virginia. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2008.
St. Philip’s Episcopal Church 146 Church Street
Charleston, South Carolina
In 2017, British newspapers broke the story of a visitor to New Bern, North Carolina’s Tryon Palace who captured video of a woman in period clothing walking past a doorway. Exclaiming “Dude, scary lady,” the visitor thought that they had just captured a ghost, though the house museum is staffed with docents in period clothing.
The British papers have again broken a story about ghostly phenomena in the Carolinas, this time concerning the image of a ghostly figure captured within the churchyard of St. Philip’s Church in Charleston, South Carolina. It seems a recent visitor to the Holy City took a photograph while on a ghost tour. This article displays the recent photo as well as its older counterpart.
The tour stopped in a popular location just outside the gates of the historic churchyard surrounding the National Historic Landmark church. There, the guide told the story of Sue Howard Hardy, a Charleston socialite who died and was buried here in 1888 after enduring complications from a difficult childbirth. On June 10, 1987, Harry Reynolds, a local resident, was eager to test out a new camera he had purchased. He stopped by the old cemetery and stuck his new camera through the bars on the gate and took a number of pictures. When he got his developed photos back, he was shocked to see a figure bending over a grave in the photo in an attitude of mourning.
Reynolds sought to identify the mysterious figure and easily located the grave. After doing some research on Mrs. Hardy, he realized that the grave also likely contained the remains of her stillborn child whose birth led to her death six days later. Reynolds had taken his photograph on the anniversary of the child’s unfortunate birth. Over time, the strange photo has been discussed in paranormal circles and shared on many ghost tours as they stop by the gates of St. Philip’s. The articles mention that some pregnant guests have experienced issues after seeing the photo on the tour.
Near the gates where the tours commonly stop, the church has put up a small sign proclaiming, “The only ghost at St. Philip’s is the Holy Ghost,” perhaps in an effort to counteract the ghost tales that have become so popular.
An article appearing in the British Daily Mirror and the Daily Star, has publicized a new photograph that may also be of the wraith of Mrs. Hardy. In the photo, a translucent figure in a diaphanous white gown seems to be strolling with its head bowed through the cemetery. Unfortunately, the photo is quite blurry and has likely been cropped, which make it difficult to identify the angle from which it was taken, though I believe it was probably taken through the fence near the church’s ghost plaque, which would put it within sight of Mrs. Hardy’s grave. Neither papers reveal when the photo was taken, which might aid in identifying the figure. Is this Mrs. Hardy’s spirit or someone or something else?
Containing over 3,000 burials, the churchyard of St. Philip’s is among the many haunted sites in Charleston’s historic district. The church’s congregation dates to 1680 and its first dedicated building was constructed in 1682 on the site of what is now St. Michael’s Church at the corner of Meeting and Broad Streets (which is also haunted). The congregation relocated to Church Street in 1723 and that building was destroyed by fire in 1835. The current building opened in 1838 and has been dubbed the “Westminster Abbey of South Carolina” for the number of notable people buried within its precincts.
The churchyard features the graves of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Edward Rutledge; several members of the Continental Congress, Christopher Gadsden and Isaac Motte; a Vice President of the United States, John C. Calhoun; author DuBose Heyward; and many assorted politicians, governors, and other noted names. Who knows how many of these holy ghosts remain to walk in old St. Philip’s Churchyard?
Brown, Alan. Haunted South Carolina. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2010.
About 10 miles from Vienna (pronounced VY-enna), the waters of the Flint River feed into manmade Lake Blackshear near the community of Drayton. At one of the campgrounds on the shores of the river, a pair of teen boys had a frightening encounter around 2012. One of the young men related his story on the YourGhostStory website. While many of these stories may be fiction, this story does have a ring of truth.
The pair ventured outside around 2 AM and they ended up parking near the campground’s store around 3. As they talked inside the truck, they felt the back-end dip as if someone was standing on the back bumper. Looking back, they saw a dark, seemingly hooded figure. Jumping out, the driver left to see what it was while his passenger locked his door and screamed that they should get out of there. The driver returned to the truck frightened that he didn’t find anything there. The pair did not witness anything else out of the ordinary that night.