A Sunless Sea—Craighead Caverns and the Lost Sea

In Xanadu did Kublai Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
–Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Kublai Khan” (1797)

The Lost Sea
140 Lost Sea Road
Sweetwater, Tennessee

Many moons ago a large, prehistoric jaguar stumbled into this cave in eastern Tennessee between the modern metropolises of Chattanooga and Knoxville. The large cat may have wandered in but it never saw the light again. Lost in the inky darkness of the cave, the cat stumbled, fell and died. Its remains and a couple paw prints remained undisturbed until two curious cavers discovered them in Craighead Caverns in 1939. Since then, according to Christopher Coleman’s Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, “visitors have felt something akin to the tail of a large animal brush against them. Locals swear that a phantom jaguar haunts the cave.” 

Visitor’s center. Photo, 2011, by Lewis Powell, IV, all rights reserved.

On a weekday morning in early December, I was visiting the cave long past the usual tourist season. The visitor’s center was quiet with a few employees putting up Christmas decorations. As a child, I always collected travel brochures when I went on family vacations and brochures for The Lost Sea were always available. I was thrilled to be finally visiting and even more thrilled to see that I was getting a private tour as one of the few visitors that morning.

The modern entrance to the caverns. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

I descended the futuristic tunnel with my guide to the caverns and he began his spiel: explaining the stalagmites and stalactites and how they were formed. We entered a round room called the “Council Room” where the Cherokee who once owned the cave may have gathered. The ceiling of this room bears beautiful and rare ornamentations known as “anthodites,” a fragile, flower-like formation. The Cherokee were among the earliest explorers of the cave and they left behind some artifacts. In the 1820s, the property was owned by a Chief Craighead for whom the cave was named. At some point after this time the cave was “discovered” by the white pioneers moving into the old Cherokee lands. Initially, families living in the area used the large, cold and dark cave rooms for food storage, but eventually an operation was set up to extract saltpeter for gunpowder.

A cave formation. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

As with so many caves throughout the South, during the Civil War the cave’s saltpeter works became strategically important. In fact, the ceilings still bear signatures that were left there by soldiers and visitors. According to an old diary from the period, the cave’s guard was infiltrated by a Union spy who intended on blowing up the whole operation. Once discovered, the spy was dragged out of the cave, tied to a large gum tree and shot. Of course, some have tied this story with the spirits that may haunt the cave, though, as of yet, there’s no real evidence to make that connection.

Replica of a saltpeter leeching vat. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell, IV, all rights reserved.
A date smoked into the ceiling. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell, IV, all rights reserved.
A soldier’s name smoked into the ceiling. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell, IV, all rights reserved.

Following the tumult of the Civil War, the cave saw a variety of uses including mushroom farm, a setting for moonshine operations and as a fallout shelter during the Cold War. In 1947, the cave opened as the Cavern Tavern, a nightclub in the Big Room just inside the historical entrance of the cave. The tavern owners installed a bar and a dance floor with a band in an adjacent room which aided the acoustics. Patrons entering the tavern would traverse a steep staircase to descend into the club and once they’d had a few drinks and danced the night away, would again have to traverse the staircase again. According to the guide, resulting injuries from drunk patrons forced the closer of the club after a few months.

A cave formation. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

We were standing in the Hanging Rock Chamber (a round room created by a whirlpool with a ceiling of jagged rock) as the guide told me about the club in the adjacent Big Room. The room is not usually open during regular tours, though it is used as part of the Wild Cave Tours and groups spending the night within the cave stay here. No mention of legends had come up at this point, so I decided to ask about ghosts.

“I’ve read that there are a few legends of ghosts associated with this cave.”

The guide looked rather uneasy so I added a postscript, “I’d be interested in hearing anything you may know if you’re not forbidden to talk about it.” The guide relaxed a bit.

“I’ve had some experiences here.” He went on to explain that he had had an experience in the Big Room. He was in the cave with a group spending the night and was seated on the infamous staircase reading. He was startled by a sudden drop in temperature at which point he said he heard voices around him whispering. He jumped up and went outside for a little while.

“The Hell Hole” within the upper portion of the cave. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

He went on to relate the experience of a maintenance man who was gathering bags of trash in the same room. The maintenance man heard the sound of footsteps following him as he moved through the room. As he began to leave, a voice uttered his name from just behind him. He fled.

The guide and I began to leave the Hanging Rock Chamber, but I wanted to get a photograph of the entrance to the Big Room. Since we were on a private tour, I was allowed to venture into the room to see the dance floor and the staircase. The way into the room was steep and I was out of breath by the time we were inside. The room felt colder and there was an odd, possibly chaotic energy there. My instincts said, “You shouldn’t be here.” I ignored them and took a few pictures, though I could tell the guide wanted to go as well. As we hurried out, I remarked on the energy. He felt it too.

The best picture I could get of the old dance floor in the Big Room. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

I recalled something a guide said when I was visiting Kentucky’s monstrous Mammoth Cave last year. After turning out the lights we were treated to the pitch black darkness that can only be found in caves and at the deepest reaches of the ocean. The guide spoke of how caves can wreck havoc on the senses, especially where there is the sound of water: the ears can be tricked into hearing voices. In the case of Craighead Caverns, the cave is quite humid and there are large amounts of water, though mostly in the lower reaches. In the upper reaches, I occasionally heard water dripping, but it was fairly sporadic and not noisy enough to be mistaken for voices.

Anthodite “flowers.” Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

We discussed spirits as we moved through the caverns towards the Lost Sea. My guide mentioned that he occasionally saw shadowy figures dart through the caverns. I inquired about the spirits of the ancient jaguar and the Union spy. He had heard the stories but didn’t elaborate any further.

The guide returned to his spiel about the discovery of the Lost Sea. As it turns out, the sea really was lost for quite a time. A young man playing in the cave in 1905 was the first to discover the large, flooded chamber. When he told others about it, they tried to find the room, but were met only with passages that were flooded. As Ben Sands grew older he continued to tell about the lost sea that only he had seen. It wasn’t until many years later that the sea was found and the entire cave developed as a commercial “show cave.” It opened as The Lost Sea in 1965.

The sea itself is immense. The only words I could utter when it was first revealed were, “Oh my!” As we got out on the second largest underground lake (as they call it) in the world, I did feel a bit of a chill peering into the darkness beyond the boat. The lake is lit with occasional lights along the edge and this allows visitors to see the large Rainbow Trout that have been stocked within the lake, but it is still fairly dark. Seeing the large, dark shape in the water of the first trout approaching the boat was a bit disconcerting and soon the water around the boat was swarming with them. They’re fed on every tour and that has contributed to their large size.

The Rainbow Trout in the sea. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

After exiting the boat the guide and I began our ascent back to the entrance. We paused for a moment near a dark, narrow passage that was another part of the Wild Cave Tour. The guide mentioned that he didn’t like to walk that area alone and he offered to let me take a quick look. We walked a few yards into the passage and something in the back of my mind kept repeating, “You don’t need to be here.” My guide remarked that he felt another energy change and felt a heaviness in his chest. I didn’t sense any of that, but it felt warmer in the space, a feeling that I somehow equated in my mind with hot breath. I knew I did not want to go any further so I took a quick picture and we returned to the trail.

Overall, the cave tour is quite pleasant. Where some cave experiences can be overdone (using music, colored lights and other nonsense), this cave is perfectly lovely and it has been left in its mostly natural state. The wonder of nature’s creation and the cave’s unique history shows through. My guide (and he knows who he is) was friendly and very interesting. I’m grateful he shared his experiences with me. If you’re looking for an interesting tour in East Tennessee, be sure to stop at Exit 60 for The Lost Sea!

A reader of this blog provided me with a fascinating encounter she had at the Lost Sea.

Sources

  • Coleman, Christopher K. Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2010.
  • The Lost Sea Adventure. The History of The Lost Sea Adventure: America’s Largest Underground Lake. Sweetwater, TN, No date.
  • Matthews, Larry F. Caves of Knoxville and the Great Smokey Mountains. Huntsville, AL: National Speleological Society, 2008.

Atlanta’s Great Cemetery—Oakland Cemetery

Oakland Cemetery
248 Oakland Avenue, SE
Atlanta, Georgia

On March 14, 2008, Oakland Cemetery was awakened from its eternal slumber. A tremendous tornado bore down on downtown Atlanta damaging landmarks such as CNN Center and the Peachtree Plaza Hotel. After ripping its way through downtown, the twister ripped through peacefully dreaming Oakland Cemetery, one of Atlanta’s oldest and certainly its grandest burial ground. The winds toppled many majestic namesake oaks which toppled and broke fragile marble monuments. The Archangel Gabriel, trumpet in hand to summon forth the sleeping masses for Judgment Day, atop the monument for Governor Joseph E. Brown, was thrown to the ground along with obelisks and columns throughout the cemetery.

Hundreds of monuments were damaged, but the Historic Oakland Foundation immediately went to work repairing and restoring the cemetery. Since the cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Place in 1979, the foundation has worked to maintain Oakland’s peaceful slumber. In fact, they have worked to improve the beauty of that slumber.

Lush plantings at Oakland, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.
An attractive gravesite at Oakland, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

I knew nothing of this when I visited today to photograph this haunted cemetery and I was very pleasantly surprised. It’s been a very hot summer in the South and I expected to find an ancient, baking cemetery with dry patches of grass in the plots. To my relief, the cemetery is being transformed into a garden with lush plantings surrounding the ancient monuments. The effect is quite lovely. Lush magnolias and oaks (those not completely taken out by the tornado) shade lovingly restored memorials with rose bushes, juniper and flowers covering and in between the graves. Birds fill the trees and peer from perches atop statues and mausoleums. While only part of the cemetery has been restored to its garden-like setting, the work continues. 

Oakland, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.
One of the many mausoleums, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.
A MARTA train passes by Oakland, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Founded in 1850 as the Atlanta Graveyard or City Burial Place, the cemetery began on just 6 acres and over time it expanded to the current 48 acres. Much of the expansion took place during the Civil War when the city’s military hospitals required a place to bury the dead. Following the fierce fighting around the city, space was needed as bodies were recovered from the battlefields. Confederate dead, both known and unknown found their final repose in the cemetery’s garden-like grounds. Near the south-east corner of the cemetery, the seven Union operatives who participated in the famous Great Locomotive Chase were hung before they were buried on the cemetery grounds.

A pigeon peers down from atop a statue pointing towards heaven, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.
Monument to the Confederate Dead, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.
Rows of Confederate dead, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

In 1872, the name of the cemetery was changed to Oakland to recognize the majestic oaks that shaded the grounds. Statesmen, governors, businessmen, generals, clergy and their families found their final rest here side by side with unknown military dead and the indigent that were laid in the potter’s field. African-Americans and Jews also found their place within the walls of Oakland. But with the arrival of the mid-20th century, vandals and neglect began to take a toll. Now in the loving hands of the Historic Oakland Foundation, the cemetery has passed into its third century and its beautiful and peaceful slumber continues.

Grave of Confederate General John B. Gordon, Oakland, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV,
all rights reserved.

In such a grand cemetery, a place with some 70,000 interments, it’s no surprise that spiritual activity has been reported. Most of the stories seem to revolve around the Civil War. The most famous story is that of the roll call of the dead. A young man visiting the Confederate portion of the cemetery on a December day reported hearing soldiers’ names being called with faint voices answering “heah” and “present.” According to William Bender, the young man even heard his own name called. Alan Brown reports that one visitor witnessed the blue-clad figure of a soldier hanging in a tree, possibly one of the Union conspirators in the Great Locomotive Chase, while another witnessed a bleeding Confederate lying atop a grave.

Mausoleum of Confederate Vice President, Alexander Stephens, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.
The lion guarding the unknown Confederate dead, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV,
all rights reserved.

Bender also relates a legend of the spirit of Jasper Newton Smith, a real estate investor whose likeness now sits in a chair atop his mausoleum. Legend tells that his spirit climbs out of his chair at night and walks the grounds, though Bender found no eyewitness accounts of this activity. Reese Christian does report a shadowy figure that was seen in the cemetery by a cemetery staff member at night.

The Brown Monument, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV,
all rights reserved.

In October of 2008, the statue of the Archangel Gabriel was restored to its perch atop the Brown monument. He stands, trumpet in hand, to call the dreaming citizens forth. Until that moment, he silently watches over the gardens of Oakland.

Statue atop a child’s grave, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Sources

  • Bender, William N. Haunted Atlanta and Beyond. Toccoa, GA: Currahee Books, 2005.
  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Georgia. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.
  • Brown, Robbie. “Atlanta Saves Battered Gem, a Home for the Dead That’s Prized by the Living.” New York Times. 10 October 2008.
  • Christian, Reese. Ghosts of Atlanta: Phantoms of the Phoenix City. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2008.
  • Davis, Mark. “Heavenly herald of restoriation.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 11 October 2008.
  • “History.” Historic Oakland Foundation. Accessed 29 June 2011.
  • Oakland Cemetery (Atlanta). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 29 June 2011.
  • Roberts, Nancy. Georgia Ghosts. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1997.

Of Fowl and Phantoms–Haunted Dauphin Island, Alabama

Whenever I visit the coast, I find myself thinking about the impermanence of things. As someone who has always believed in historic preservation, I’m always saddened when I see historic places destroyed, especially through the ignorance or perhaps the arrogance of man. Of course, when the destruction is wrought by nature, it’s sad as well. Along the coast, there’s always a threat of hurricanes and now add the threat of rising sea levels with global warming and I’m deeply saddened for beautiful places like Dauphin Island.

Hurricane Katrina roared ashore at Dauphin Island in 2005 and decimated the western end of this barrier island. A further barrier island, Sand Island, protected the eastern end of the island from the devastation. When I visited the island in 2008, the western end had been mostly rebuilt and I could only shake my head and wonder if these homes would survive the next big hurricane. Of course, since my visit, the sugar-white sands have been spoiled by oil from the BP spill, though I hope much of that has been cleaned up.

On the lush eastern end of the island, the section that survived the wrath of Katrina, Dauphin Island boasts nationally known birding habitat. The island is one of the first bits of land spotted by neo-tropical migrants as they migrate from their wintering grounds in Central and South America and take flight over the Gulf of Mexico. Many of these species alight to rest in the parks and bird sanctuaries among the vacation homes and birders flock to the island to see this plethora of warblers, tanagers, vireos and thrushes. There’s a large Audubon Bird Sanctuary adjacent to Fort Gaines that attracts birders throughout the year and where I saw my first pair of Black-throated Green Warblers (Dendroica virens); two perky brightly colored fellows that had attracted a good deal of attention from birders who had gathered nearby.

Indian Shell Mound Park
Cadillac Avenue

While my interest in ghosts predates my interest in birds, I didn’t do any research on the island’s legends before my trip. The purpose of the trip was solely to add birds to my life list; otherwise, I would have paid more attention to the island’s more historic and haunted features. I’m sure the thought passed through my mind that there might be more to the Shell Mound than just history and birds. I have a distinct memory of feeling an odd chill upon arrival. As birds are most active in the hours just before and after dawn, I arrived fairly early at the Shell Mound to start birding. Stepping out of the car into the cool of an April morning I was flabbergasted by the sound of calling owls.

 

One of the ancient oaks at Indian Mound Park, 2010. Photo by Jeffrey Reed, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The owls, it turns out, were cooing Eurasian Collared Doves (Streptopelia decaocto), a non-native species that has begun spreading through the Southeast.

Even in full daylight, the park is a bit creepy. The mounds are covered in dense undergrowth and massive ancient oaks laden with Spanish moss. I realized fairly quickly that I was apparently alone in the park and I felt a bit of trepidation exploring the winding park paths by myself. After reading one of the historical signs, the thought that here I was among hundreds of years of history sent a chill down my spine. My attention was quickly diverted (ADD perhaps?) by some slight movement near the top of one of the looming oaks. Picking it up with my binoculars, it was my first Blackpoll Warbler (Dendroica striata), the first bird of a day that would add some 40 new species to my life list.

The shell mounds are evidence of hundreds of years of human visitations to Dauphin Island. These mounds are known as middens, which are basically ancient trash heaps. The island was visited by Native Americans beginning during the Mississippian period (roughly 1100 to 1500 C.E.) who harvested oysters and fish probably during the summer months. Both the oysters and fish could be consumed on the spot or dried for later use. The oysters would be steamed by wrapping them in seaweed and placing them on heated coals. The steam would cause the oysters to open and the shell would be discarded near the fire. One writer suggested that one of the mounds of the six in the park may have reached a height of 50 feet.

With them, the natives also brought a variety of plants to the area, many of which, while not native, have thrived in the semi-tropical environment of the island. Even centuries after the native’s final visit to the island, these plants remain. The magnificent live oak trees on and around the middens are believed to have witnessed the native’s oyster and fish roasts and the first arrival Spanish in 1519. Over the centuries, these branches have hosted nearly 400 different species of birds as they passed the island on their migrations.

Certainly, the oaks may still witness the spirits of natives who still stalk the humid nights. There are tales of strange goings on after dark in the park, though I have not been able to locate any specific reports of these nocturnal activities. Indeed, there is a possibility that native spirits and others may be still rambling about, but I have found no distinct evidence of this.

While the idyllic life of the natives could have continued for centuries, the Mississippian period ended shortly after the Spanish began exploring the Southeast hacking their way through the forests and the natives. Around this time, the Mississippian peoples were replaced by the Choctaw and Muskhogee (also known as the Creek) Peoples who visited the island like their previous brethren. The French first visited the island in 1699 under Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, who would establish the city of Mobile and the entire Louisiana colony. Upon arrival, d’Iberville encountered a number of human skeletons and named the island “Massacre Island.” Some historians speculate that a hurricane had eroded a burial mound exposing the skeletons that the French discovered. The name would stick for some time but was later changed to honor the son of the French king, the Dauphin. Of course, the pronunciation has been eroded over time with the final nasal syllable being replaced by an anglicized “fin” so the name sounds more akin to the word “dolphin.”

Fort Gaines
51 Bienville Boulevard

After visiting the Shell Mounds and seeing a few birds, I moved on to try my luck at the Audubon Bird Sanctuary. My path took me through the forest of the sanctuary and through the campground on the opposite side and towards the eastern tip of the island around Fort Gaines. While the fort may look intimidating from both land and sea, the real threat is the sea. When construction on the fort began in 1819, the project quickly ran over budget and the plans had to be redrawn as the fort sat too close to the water and high tides would flood the construction.

Aerial view of Fort Gaines, 2002, showing its proximity to the sea, rock breaks, and jetties protecting it. Photo by Edibobb, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Over time, the threat from the sea has been constant. Hurricanes have eroded the beach next to the fort causing parts of the masonry to collapse. The collapsed portions have been repaired, but the fort is still under threat from nature just as it was under threat from Admiral David Farragut’s Union naval forces in August of 1864.

With the tide of war turning against the Confederacy, the Union fleet under Farragut set out to capture the ports of Mobile thus tightening the vice grip they held on the Confederacy. Fort Gaines to the west and Fort Morgan to the east guarded the entrance to Mobile Bay. Mines or “torpedoes,” as they were called in that period, were scattered in fields across the entrance forcing ships into a narrow channel near the heavily fortified and gunned Fort Morgan. When the Union fleet arrived on the morning of August 5, the guns of Fort Morgan opened fire. Even losing the USS Tecumseh, the Union fleet continued into the bay with Farragut famously lashed to the rigging of the USS Hartford yelling, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”

Painting of the action at Fort Morgan by Louis Prang, ca. 1884. This is similar to the action Ft. Gaines experienced.

Upon entering the bay, the specter of the ironclad CSS Tennessee loomed ahead. Fighting just a mile north of Fort Gaines, the Tennessee and a number of smaller gunboats took on the Union fleet. Finally, exhausted and basically dead in the water, the Tennessee surrendered. The fight turned towards Fort Gaines and volleys of ammunition were poured onto the masonry structure for almost three days. It is said that at one point in the fighting, the monitor gunboats fired upon the fort from almost point blank range. On August 8, battered into submission, Colonel Charles Anderson surrendered the fort and the nearly 800 men inside.

Since that day of defeat, the fort served as a military post through World War II, but it has not again seen action. The cries of men and the boom of guns have been replaced by the gentle susurrant sea breeze and the cries of wheeling seabirds. But still, spiritual elements still linger.

In researching the haunting of Fort Gaines, I’ve only come across one specific sighting. Many sites online describe Fort Gaines as being haunted but don’t venture into specifics. An article by Michael Baxter, “Ghostly Getaway to Dauphin Island,” describes the experience on one island resident driving past the fort at night. The resident and a friend witnessed the apparition of a woman walking along the battlements. She walked for a bit, stopped, looked at her observers and faded slowly. A number of sources also speak of paranormal investigations on the fort, but I can find no actual reports of such. Like Shell Mound, there is certainly a reason that Fort Gaines could be haunted, but little specific evidence.

There are other stories of ghosts walking the beaches and streets of Dauphin Island, but again, little that is verifiable or specific. Michael Baxter’s article, really one of the best sources of island tales speaks of a number of wandering spirits but these are hard to pin down. Of course, as the island continues into another century eroded by wind and sea I wonder if the birds or even the spirits will remain.

Sources

Orange Spirits–University of Tennessee

University of Tennessee Campus
Knoxville, Tennessee

Ghosts rarely receive official notice. The National Park Service, for instance, usually states that park service properties, including some of the bloodiest battlefields of the Revolution and the Civil War, are not haunted. Therefore, it’s interesting when an official organization or agency acknowledges a haunting. Such is the case of the myriad ghosts on the campus of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Not only does the University website host a page detailing its ghosts, but the website of the Tennessee State Archives includes information not only on the UT campus, but other haunting in the state. The campus’ ghosts span the range of history of the region from Native Americans whose burial grounds were possibly disturbed to Civil War soldiers who fought and died in battle on the campus to students who recently committed suicide.

HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSITY

The history of the university begins in 1794, shortly before Tennessee became a state, when it was founded as Blount College. The state legislature changed the school’s name to East Tennessee College in 1807 and it became a university in 1840. The school was founded initially on Gay Street in Knoxville, but the location was moved to a large site near town with a hill that offered a commanding view of the city. This hill, now known affectionately as “The Hill” became a main feature of the campus and one that the Pride of the Southland Band plays homage to on their march to the stadium on game days. This same hill, during the Civil War, became Fort Byington which looked northwest to a nearby hill with a large entrenchment called Fort Sanders (originally it was Fort Loudon but the name was changed when Brigadier General William P. Sanders was killed in action nearby).

Much of Eastern Tennessee did not owe much allegiance to the Confederacy. The area was not sprinkled with the slave-operated plantations that dotted the rest of the South and Union forces found little resistance when they moved in to occupy in 1862. When General James Longstreet led his Confederate forces to recapture Knoxville, they met with the forces of General Ambrose Burnside who had created a line just west of what was the university campus at that time. This line, stretching from the Tennessee River to Fort Sanders then around the northern edge of Knoxville to the fortified eastern side of the city, held the Confederates as they laid siege.

A map of the defenses of Knoxville from the US War Department’s The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, published between 1880 and 1901. Note the defensive line that cuts across the present campus west of the city. Fort Byington was constructed at the top of what is now “The Hill.”

Before dawn on the morning of November 29, 1863, Confederate forces charged up the hill to Fort Sanders losing over 800 soldiers (about 120 were actually killed) in the twenty minute battle that followed. Many of these casualties occurred when the Confederates tripped on telegraph wire that had been strung between stumps around the fort. The ditch that surrounded the fort also claimed many. Longstreet’s gamble in Eastern Tennessee did not succeed and Burnside held Knoxville until the conclusion of the war.

A later depiction of the Battle of Fort Sanders from a lithograph published by Kurz and Allison, 1891. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Having been laid waste by the Siege of Knoxville, the University reopened after the war and began rebuilding. The state legislature named the University a land-grant university under the terms of the Morrill Act and renamed it the University of Tennessee when it reopened in 1868. The University has grown in size and respectability since and it consistently ranks among the top universities in the nation.

Besides the two online sources I mentioned previously, there are a few published sources on the ghosts of the University of Tennessee as well. Perhaps the best source is Daniel Barefoot’s Haunted Halls of Ivy: Ghosts of Southern Colleges and Universities, which appears to be one of the main sources for the two online sources. Barefoot, a North Carolina lawyer and former member of the state legislature, has written five books on ghosts and is an authority on North Carolina’s folklore. Alan Brown, professor of English at the University of Western Alabama and another noted author on Southern ghosts, includes the ghost of the Hoskins Library in his Stories from the Haunted Southland. Charles Edwin Price, who has written heavily on Tennessee folklore, also includes the University in his book, Mysterious Knoxville, though I don’t have this book in my library, yet.

CAMPUS GHOSTS

ALUMNI MEMORIAL BUILDING

Fanny’s first home, the Old Science Hall, razed in 1979. Photograph originally published
by the Detroit Publishing Company. Courtesy of the Library of Congress,Prints and
Photographs Division.

Ghosts sometimes may travel when the buildings they inhabit are demolished or destroyed. This is believed to have been the case for the Alumni Memorial Building. When the Old Science Hall was razed in 1979, Fanny, the building’s ghost, appears to have travelled to its replacement.

Originally, Fanny’s ghost was at home in the auditorium of the Science building where plays were performed, lectures given and chapel held. She had dreams of being a Hollywood actress and had supposedly gotten a contract with a studio but before she could head off to California, she contracted tuberculosis and died. Her spirit is said to appear during theatrical rehearsals in the Alumni Memorial, though no source provides specific descriptions of her activity or sightings of her.

GENERAL COUNSELING CENTER

According to Barefoot, the only author to mention this location, the General Counseling Center was located in an old house on Lake Avenue. The house, once owned by the Dean of Education, Dr. John A. Thackston, was willed to the University on his death. Barefoot states that the ghost of Dr. Thackston has been encountered in the house and blamed for doors opening and closing by themselves. After consulting the campus map, it appears that the counseling center has been moved as the building on the map is not on Lake Avenue.

HESS HALL

Blood-curdling screams are heard in Hess Hall which, according to legend, are from a student who committed suicide in the 1970s.

THE HILL

The heart of the University, “The Hill,” is crowned by Ayres Hall with the old South College building nearby. The rest of the hill has been left as green space where two specters have been encountered: a large creature and the spirit of a man.

Ayres Hall which now crowns The Hill. It is around this building that a
spectral creature and a man from the 1930s are seen. Photograph by
Wikipedia user Gragghia.

The creature encountered here has been described in varying ways. Some descriptions have indicated it is possibly canine, while others describe it as feline. Barefoot, Brown as well as the website, Ghosts and Spirits of Tennessee, describe a phantom wolf that is heard howling. The University website differs a bit and describes the creature as “a barghest (very large dog with huge claws and teeth).” In Rosemary Ellen Guiley’s masterful Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, Guiley states that the barghest is a product of English folklore and is a “spectral hound that exists in Cornwall and northern England.” She continues that it is a death omen manifesting as a large dog or bear and making a shrieking sound.

It’s interesting that the barghest is possibly a death omen as the feline description of this creature usually uses the term “wampus cat” which is also a death omen. Alan Brown in his Haunted Tennessee provides the legend of the wampus cat and an aside about the University’s hill creature. The wampus cat is found in Cherokee legend where a young woman with a desire to hunt with the men cloaked herself with a mountain lion skin and followed them. After being undetected most of the day, she bumped into a tree branch and was discovered. The men, angered by this discovery, consulted with a shaman who bound the woman to the lion skin forever.

Brown recounts a modern encounter with this creature on The Hill. In the early part of this decade a young female student had moved into an apartment at the intersection of 16th Street and Cumberland Avenue quite near The Hill. One evening, she glanced out the window and saw a “human-size, cat-like being that was walking on its hind legs.” He also mentions that the creature had glowing eyes, a characteristic also noted on the University website.

As for the male spirit seen on The Hill, the University website describes him as:

The apparition of a young man wearing a Celluloid collar and bowler hat sometimes joins students in the evenings as they walk up the steps to the top of The Hill. He is generally seen walking with his head bent and his hands behind his back — and he does not acknowledge those with whom he walks.

The legend told is that man is a student from the 1930s who committed suicide after his girlfriend left him to marry someone else. The site notes that the spirit’s bowler hat hides a gaping head wound.

HOSKINS LIBRARY

Built in 1931 with additions dating from the 1960s, the Hoskins Library is possibly home to two spirits. One spirit may be a former library director while the other is a bit more well-known, even being given the odd name “Evening Primrose.” Ms. Primrose, the female waif, is reported to play with the elevators, knock books off shelves and she may also be responsible for the smell of food cooking. Alan Brown quotes the director of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Division who had smelled food cooking in the basement stacks of the library, certainly a place where cooking food would be wholly out of place. The identity of Evening Primrose is unknown, but the University website opines that she may be the ghost of “a poor graduate student who secretly lived — and died — in the Library while researching her dissertation.

McCLUNG MUSEUM

The Frank D. McClung Museum, with collections covering anthropology, the arts, and natural history, opened in 1963. Two sources, Daniel Barefoot and John Norris Brown (author of the Ghosts and Spirits of Tennessee website) assert that this structure was built atop Native American burial mounds and their spirits now roam its halls.

PERKINS HALL

Blount Hall, replaced by Perkins Hall in 1979. Photograph originally published by the
Detroit Publishing Company. Courtesy of the Library of Congress,Prints and Photographs Division.

Home to parts of the Engineering Department, Perkins Hall was built near the site of Barbara Blount Hall which was demolished in 1979. When the foundation for Blount Hall was being dug in 1900, graves of soldiers were discovered which were then reinterred in the nearby National Cemetery. The spirits of these soldiers was said to roam the corridors of Blount Hall. These soldiers possibly relocated to the green space next to Perkins when Blount Hall was razed. The University website reports that eight Union soldiers are sometimes seen conferring among each other.

REESE HALL

One of the mid-20th century dormitories, Reese Hall, like the McClung Museum, may also have been built atop Native American graves as well as an early 19th century cemetery. John Norris Brown states that early maps indicate this site as the location of a cemetery, yet records do not indicate the graves were moved. Reports of shadow people–dark, shadowy figures—have come from students in and around this building.

STRONG HALL

Of the haunting on the UT campus, Strong Hall is perhaps the best documented. The original core of the building opened in 1925 with five wings, each named for the first women to graduate from UT, being added in 1939. Strong Hall was built as a women’s dormitory with a sizable gift from financier and alumnus Benjamin Rush Strong on the site of his grandparent’s home. The gift was granted with the stipulation that it be used to construct a women’s dormitory named for his mother, Sophronia Strong and that the site would also include a flower garden. The building has served as a women’s dormitory until 2008 when the last female student passed through its rooms. The building is slated to be remodeled into instructional and laboratory space for the Department of Anthropology.

One wonders as to what “Sophie,” the structure’s resident ghost, may think of this decision. After all, her son’s gift included the stipulation that the building always house female students. These same female students have told stories for decades of a stern female spirit that would appear to stem heated arguments and confrontations. The antics of Sophie, who may possibly be Sophronia Strong, included more lively things such as locking girls out of their rooms and appearances in the mirrors of the bathroom around the time of her birthday.

TYSON ALUMNI CENTER

Acquired by the University in 1954, the Tyson House was owned by General Lawrence Tyson, a World War I General and U.S. Senator and his wife Betty. When the house was purchased, the University agreed to maintain the back yard grave of the Tyson’s beloved dog, Bonita (or Benita, sources differ). Bonita still appears in the house as well as the shades of her owners, the Tysons. It is said that Bonita is still heard howling at night, or is this the barghest or wampus cat? With the numerous spirits of the University of Tennessee, it could possibly be all three.

Sources

  • Allen, Angela. “Strong Hall’s ghostly caretaker continues to entertain.” Tennessee Journalist. 20 October 2008.
  • Barefoot, Daniel W. Haunted Halls of Ivy: Ghosts of Southern Colleges and Universities. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2004.
  • Battle of Fort Sanders.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 25 September 2010.
  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Tennessee: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Volunteer State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2009.
  • Brown, Alan. Stories from the Haunted South. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi. 2004.
  • Brown, John Norris. “University of Tennessee.” Ghosts and Spirits of Tennessee. Accessed 20 September 2010.
  • Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits. NYC: Checkmark, 1992.
  • Knoxville Campaign.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 25 September 2010.
  • Lawrence Tyson.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 25 September 2010.
  • Shearer, John. “Last day of use as a women’s dorm is at hand for historic UT building.”Knoxville News. 8 May 2008.
  • Tennessee State Library and Archives. Ghosts. Accessed 20 September 2010.
  • University of Tennessee. Ghost Stories: Is our campus haunted?” Accessed 20 September 2010.
  • University of Tennessee.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 25 September 2010.