And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. – Luke 2: 13-14 (KJV)
Old Gray Cemetery
543 North Broadway
Like so many Victorian cemeteries, Old Gray Cemetery is adorned with a host of angels guiding us towards heaven, mourning the deceased, or standing silent vigil over the dead. The cemetery traces its founding to 1850 and it was joined by the neighboring Knoxville National Cemetery in 1863, when General Ambrose Burnsides needed a location for the burial for Union troops occupying the city. Since its founding, Old Gray–named for English poet Thomas Gray who penned Elegy in a Country Churchyard–has become the resting place of many notable citizens of Knoxville.
Of course, the cemetery is also the home of specters, otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing about it here. Legends have circulated for decades regarding a “Black Aggie” that has been seen on the grounds. The Black Aggie appears as a figure in a dark robe prowling about the grounds. Initially, the legend sprouted from the Adams Memorial in Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D. C. The memorial features a statue representing grief by the noted sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Since its installation, legends have evolved regarding this haunting figure. However, the name for the specter actually stems from a copy of the statue that was sold to General Felix Agnus in Druid Ridge Cemetery, Pikesville, Maryland, just outside of Baltimore. This statue inspired so many legends and endured so much vandalism it was removed and now graces the garden of the Dolley Madison House in Washington. Since this time, Black Aggies have been associated with numerous cemeteries throughout the world.
When I visited the cemetery last year in early December, it was cold and the stones sat huddled on the hills under leaden skies; skies that would later that day produce light snow. While I did not encounter any Black Aggies, I did see a number of apparently homeless people wandering through. In fact, I was greeted at the cemetery gates by a young woman shouting profanities as she strolled down the street. That, coupled with the homeless people, did add a sense of unease to this otherwise peaceful resting place.
Numerous sources say simply that the Black Aggie has been reported by many people, though there are no specific reports provided. Dr. Alan Brown in his 2009 book, Haunted Tennessee, provides one unique report. In the 1990s, two teenage boys emboldened by beer, decided to try to photograph the spirit. They drove out to the cemetery and drank while hurling epithets towards the wraith. After urinating on one of the graves, one of the young men saw something black begin to ooze from the ground and form into a black shape. The boy fled as the shape began to pursue him and he jumped into the car shouting for the driver to go. The fleeing teens did, however, get a photo of the spirit before leaving, though, according to Brown, no one else has seen this picture.
In searching online, it does seem that some of the local paranormal organizations have investigated the cemetery during the day, though they have yielded little if any, evidence of paranormal activity. If you, dear reader, happen to find yourself in Knoxville, I would encourage a visit to Old Gray, and be sure to watch for the Black Aggie.
- Brown, Alan. Haunted Tennessee: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Volunteer State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2009.
- Brown, John Norris. “Old Gray Cemetery.” Ghosts & Spirits of Tennessee. Accessed 23 September 2012.
- Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. “Black Aggie.” The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, 3rd Edition. NYC: Checkmark Books, 2007.
- Knoxville National Cemetery. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 24 September 2012.
- Welcome. Old Gray Cemetery. Accessed 24 September 2012.