Haunted Tennessee, Briefly Noted

Cherry Mansion
265 West Main Street
Savannah

The great Alabama storyteller, Kathryn Tucker Windham, provides the account of three people who witnessed an odd event while sitting on the porch of the Cherry Mansion one evening in 1976. Around 11 PM, the trio watched as a man in a white suit and wide-brimmed hat approached the historical marker in front of the house. The man read the marker and then, in full view of the spectators on the porch, vanished.

Cherry Mansion, 1974, by Jack Boucher for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

The house is magnificently sited on an ancient bluff overlooking the Tennessee River. This home was constructed around 1830 by David Robinson, possibly as a gift to his daughter who was the wife of businessman William Cherry. An ardent Unionist during the Civil War, Cherry offered the use of his home to several Union generals in 1862 who used it in the days leading up to the Battle of Shiloh, which took place about 9 miles south of Savannah. General Charles Ferguson Smith, suffering from a recent leg injury passed away in the house during that time.

On the morning of April 6th, legend holds that General Ulysses Grant’s breakfast was interrupted by an overture of cannon-fire announcing the Confederates’ surprise attack on Union forces camped at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River. Furious fighting over a sunken road where Union Generals Benjamin Prentiss and W. H. L. Wallace defended their position against heavy artillery fire from Confederate batteries gave a head wound to Wallace and the area to be nicknamed, “The Hornet’s Nest.” Wallace was taken to Cherry Mansion to receive medical attention.

Legend holds that Wallace’s devoted wife, Martha Ann, had received a premonition of her husband’s death and traveled to Tennessee in hopes that he was unharmed. Arriving in the midst of the battle, she was stunned to find that her husband had been wounded and took up residence at his side in Cherry Mansion. When her husband died a few days later, she was still at his side. People passing the mansion have reported seeing the form of a gentleman in a uniform looking out one of the upstairs windows. This form is widely believed to be that of General Wallace.

This home is a private residence.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Tennessee: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Volunteer State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2009.
  • Charles Ferguson Smith. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 30 December 2017.
  • Cherry Mansion. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 30 December 2017.
  • Coleman, Christopher K. Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2010.
  • Hammerquist, Gail. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for the Cherry Mansion. February 1976.
  • West, Mike. “Tennessee home to tragic Civil War ghost story.” Murfreesboro Post. 26 October 2008.
  • Windham, Kathryn Tucker. 13 Tennessee Ghosts and Jeffrey. Tuscaloosa, AL: U. of AL Press, 1977.

Cocke County Memorial Building
103 North Cosby Highway
Newport

This unassuming building in the small town of Newport in Eastern Tennessee bears the weight of a tragedy. The sadness of this tragic moment in the mid 1960s still echoes now, more than fifty years later.

Cocke County Memorial Building, 2011, by Dwight Burdette. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Opened in 1931 as an American Legion post, the Cocke County Memorial Building was constructed to memorialize locals who had given their lives in the First World War. The building includes a gym with a stage, as well as office and meeting space for the post and the community at large.

On July 9, 1964, near the Cocke County community of Parrottville, a witness observed a plane with a “violet red light burning on the fuselage.” A short time later other witnesses saw the plane flying low with smoke trailing from it. The plane veered off course and crashed on a wooded mountain slope. Moments before the impact, witnesses observed something falling from the aircraft. A search revealed that one of the plane’s emergency exits had been opened and a passenger had fallen. That passenger, as well as the plane’s remaining passengers and crew, a total of 39 souls, perished in the accident.

As Newport had no large facilities to accommodate the remains of the 39 who had died in the accident, investigators and rescue personnel commandeered the Cocke County Memorial Building for use during the operation. Since most of the bodies were in pieces, remains were spread out on the gym floor to aid in identification. After studying the wreckage of the plane and the remains, authorities ascertained that a fire had broken out in the passenger compartment in mid-air. After two weeks, the investigators and the human remains left the Memorial Building, but spirits have lingered.

Author John Norris Brown, who once maintained the excellent blog, Ghosts and Spirits of Tennessee (the website is no longer extant, though it can still be found on the Web Archive), was one of the first people to document this haunting in Newport. Though some of his facts about the plane crash were incorrect, he described some of the experiences visitors to the building have experienced: “[they have] felt presences, heard voices, as well as the screams of a woman, and the cries of babies. Feelings of being watched are said to be almost unbearable in the building.”

In an article in Supernatural Magazine, paranormal investigator Anthony Justus describes the experiences of him and his paranormal team during a 2008 investigation. While investigating the building’s sub-basement, Justus encountered an entity that he described as “an intelligence without form.” He eloquently continued: “I saw nothing, heard little but I felt it. A deep resonant cold that chilled me to the bone. I felt threatened and oppressed. As I left the area, I felt its heavy presence behind me, following up those rickety stairs, so close I could feel it on my neck. It was death, it was sadness and it was hate, a predatory thing that lurked in the darkness.”

Later, the team members found balls from a Bingo game being thrown from the bleachers in the gym, bouncing and rolling across the wooden floor. During this time, Justus caught a glimpse of a young boy standing in the corner of the room who disappeared as he approached. The most spectacular event of the evening was noted as being a moment when a set of doors that were locked violently threw themselves open gouging the plaster walls and cracking one of the wooden doors. It seems that the spirits from the plane crash are unhappy at being stuck in this plane of existence.

Sources

Cragfont
300 Cragfont Road
Castalian Springs

Cragfont was built to impress. Constructed of stone on a bluff over a spring that feeds into nearby Bledsoe’s Creek, this was the first stone house constructed on the Tennessee frontier. With craftsmen and artisans brought from Maryland, James Winchester began work on his home in 1798, finishing around 1802. Besides providing a fine home for his family, Cragfont served as a gathering spot for locals and as a stop for travelers.

Cragfont, 2008, by Brian Stansberry. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

James Winchester was already an accomplished individual when he built his home, having served as a Patriot officer during the American Revolution. In the latter years of the 18th century, Winchester had served in the North Carolina Constitutional Convention and worked towards the establishment of the state of Tennessee, after which he served in the newly created legislature. During the War of 1812, Winchester left Cragfont to serve his country. He died here in 1826.

A home that has witnessed the whirlwind of history that Cragfont has witnessed must surely be haunted. Caretakers of the home have noted that furniture and objects apparently move during the night when the house is locked up, while beds will appear to have been slept in. Both visitors and staff have reported seeing apparitions and hearing disembodied footsteps and voices within the house.

Sources

  • Brown, John Norris. “Cragfont Mansion Hauntings.” Ghosts & Spirits of Tennessee. Accessed 31 January 2011.
  • Coop, May Dean. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for Cragfont. 16 June 1969.
  • James Winchester. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 31 December 2017.
  • Morris, Jeff; Donna Marsh; & Garett Merk. Nashville Haunted Handbook. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2011.
  • MTSU Center for Historic Preservation. Cragfont, Sumner County, Tennessee, Historic Structure Report. July 2012.

Hunt-Phelan House
533 Beale Street
Memphis

Legend holds that at the height of a yellow fever epidemic in 1873, the Hunt family fled their Memphis home after entrusting a chest of gold to a manservant, Nathan Wilson. Upon their return, Wilson was found dead in his room and the chest missing. The only clue to the whereabouts of the chest being mud on the servant’s boots indicating that he may have buried the chest. Stories have emerged that Wilson’s specter is sometimes seen around the house and will guide fortunate witnesses to the buried fortune.

Hunt-Phelan House, 2010, by Thomas R. Machnitzki. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Marking the Lauderdale Street end of the “infamous section” of Beale Street where Blues music first developed, the Hunt-Phelan House has just as infamous a history. Built in 1832 by George Wyatt, during the Civil War the house was used a headquarters for Confederate General Leonidas Polk while planning the Siege of Corinth, Mississippi and a few months later after the fall of Memphis, the house was headquarters for Union General Ulysses S. Grant while he planned the Vicksburg Campaign. The house then served as a Freedmen’s Bureau and was finally returned to the family by President Andrew Johnson in 1865. More recently, the house was operated as The Inn at Hunt-Phelan featuring four-star accommodations and restaurants.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Tennessee: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Volunteer State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2009.
  • Coleman, Christopher K. Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2010.
  • Lester, Dee Gee. “Hunt-Phelan House.” Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. 25 December 2009.
  • Lovett, Bobby L. “Beale Street.” Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. 25 December 2009.

Orpheum Theatre
203 South Main Street
Memphis

At the other end of the “infamous section” of Beale Street from the Hunt-Phelan House is the dazzling Orpheum Theatre. Opened in 1928, the “New” Orpheum replaced the opera house that originally occupied this site from 1890 until its destruction by a fire in 1923. The Orpheum is among the ranks of hundreds of theatres throughout the country designed by the Chicago architectural firm of Rapp and Rapp, which designed hundreds of theatres throughout the country some of which, like the Paramount in Ashland, Kentucky; and the Tivoli in Chattanooga, are known to be haunted.

The proscenium arch of the Orpheum Theatre, 2010, by Orpheummemphis. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Grand Opera House was added to the Orpheum circuit in 1907. Made up of the finest theatres from coast to coast, the Orpheum circuit featured the top vaudeville headliners, bringing them to Memphis audiences for almost two decades. Following a performance by singer Blossom Seeley on October 17, 1923, the theatre was gutted by a fire causing approximately $250,000 (about $3.5 million in today’s dollars) in damage. A new, state-of-the-art theatre was constructed on the site opening on November 19, 1928. This new theatre continued to bring cream of the crop stars to Memphis as well as films, which were accompanied by a huge Wurlitzer organ.

As any good theatre has a ghost, it’s no surprise that the Orpheum features some very well-known ghost stories. Around the time that the theatre was sold to the Memphis Development Foundation in 1976, Vincent Astor, a local historian, took some friends to the theatre to show them the Wurlitzer organ. While the group was watching him play, someone asked about the little girl they observed playing in the lobby. Wearing a white dress, black stockings, and with long braids, but no shoes, this girl was repeatedly seen in the theatre sometimes sitting in a specific seat in the balcony.

During an investigation by a class from the University of Memphis, a Ouija board was used to contact the playful spirit. At that time, the spirit was identified as “Mary,” a little girl who died in 1921. In a video posted by the theatre, Astor relates that, including Mary, there may be as many as seven spirits within the theatre.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Tennessee: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Volunteer State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2009.
  • Coleman, Christopher K. Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2010.
  • Orpheum Memphis. “Orpheum Ghost Stories with Vincent Astor.” YouTube. 29 October 2012.
  • Orpheum Theatre (Memphis). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 2 January 2018.
  • Williamson, James Floyd, Jr. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Orpheum Theatre. January 1977.

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