N.B. This article was revised and expanded 7 March 2019.
In time for Halloween, two Tennessee locations–Ruby Falls and Bolivar’s Magnolia Manor (see my coverage in my article “13 More Southern Rooms with a Boo“–have announced that they’ve been declared certifiably haunted after being investigated by paranormal investigators.
Ruby Falls 1720 South Scenic Highway Chattanooga
If you’ve spent any time driving within 100 miles of Ruby Falls, you will recognize this name. Along with Rock City—located just up the mountain—Ruby Falls has engaged in an extensive advertising campaign along roadsides, on barn roofs, and in hotel lobby brochure racks throughout the Deep South. Their advertising campaigns have made Ruby Falls and Rock City synonymous with tourism throughout the region.
Ruby Falls—not to be confused with Anna Ruby Falls in Unicoi State Park in North Georgia—is a cave in Lookout Mountain that ends in a marvelous waterfall. The cave is accessible via elevator from a castle-like visitors’ center above. Earlier this month, paranormal investigators searched for evidence of the paranormal both in the visitors’ center and in the cave itself. After looking at the evidence, Stones River Paranormal determined that there are spirits in the location.
Ruby Falls Cave is actually part of a larger cave system: the Lookout Mountain Caverns. Lookout Mountain Cave was known for centuries by Native Americans in the area as well as early settlers and it was also heavily utilized during the Civil War. Sadly, the natural entrance to the cave was closed off when a railroad tunnel was constructed in the area. In the 1920s, a chemist and amateur spelunker, Leo Lambert, created the Lookout Mountain Cave Company to reopen the cave as a commercial venture. As workers were drilling an elevator shaft into Lookout Mountain Cave, a smaller cave was discovered above. Wriggling into the small cave, Lambert explored the passages and admired the cave’s intricate formations ultimately finding the falls at the end of the cave which he named for his wife, Ruby.
Both caves were opened as commercial, “show” caves but Ruby Falls Cave became much more popular. Tours were eventually ended to Lookout Mountain Cave and over time, lighting and music have been added to “enhance” the cave experience.
Stones River Paranormal discovered the presence of at least five spirits in the cave and its visitors’ center. Leo Lambert and his wife, Ruby, as well as the spirit of a security guard who died after falling down an elevator shaft were named as possible spirits within the facility. Oddly, the spirits of a few children may also be haunting the visitors’ center.
A couple years ago, I corresponded with Amy Petulla, co-author with Jessica Penot, of Haunted Chattanooga (which I reviewed here), and owner of the Chattanooga Ghost Tour. She provided me with a bit more information on the spirits at Ruby Falls:
The security guide that died there has a couple of ways of making his presence known. They say that his spirit is accompanied by the smell of sugar cookies, which his wife used to pack in his lunch every day. He is also a bit of a prankster and is fond of unscrewing the light bulb in a particular section of the cave.
I had a previous guide tell me that while he and his girlfriend were enjoying the fake haunted house that Ruby Falls puts on in October, something invisible grabbed his girlfriend’s glowstick necklace and yanked it up towards her head. There was no one close to them at the time. My guess is this was NOT the security guard, but another entity.
Jenkins, Gary C. “Ruby Falls.” The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. 25 December 2009.
Personal Correspondence with Amy Petulla. 15 May 2017.
Phipps, Sean. “Ruby Falls deemed an official haunted location.” com. 29 September 2014.
Ruby Falls. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 30 September 2014.
Tennessee Brewery 495 Tennessee Street Memphis, Tennessee
I covered the Tennessee Brewery about two years ago as part of an article on abandoned and possibly haunted buildings in Memphis. There have been developments with the Sears Crosstown Building as the local arts community has begun using the building for arts functions. The Sterick Building remains closed and for sale as far as I know while the Tennessee Brewery has been scheduled a date with destiny.
The owners of the building have announced that the building will be demolished on August 1st if no one steps forward to purchase the abandoned structure before then. However, innovative plans have recently been hatched to temporarily use the building ahead of the possible demolition in an effort to arouse interest. Six weeks of events, titled “Tennessee Brewery Untapped,” will be held in the building and expected to draw a crowd. Live music will echo through the aging halls of the brewery while beer—the products of local micro-breweries—will be served in a café that will operated in the building. Other events will include food trucks, mobile retail, movie screenings and workshops.
With so many people expected to crowd into the massive structure, it will be interesting to see how the spirits react. Laura Cunningham in Haunted Memphis states that the spirits “appear to be angry.” This is assumed from the loud noises that can sometimes cause the building to shake while some investigators have been touched, pinched and pushed.
Interestingly, in a 2012 article for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Michael Einspanjer, founder of Memphis Paranormal Investigators states that “the spirits stuck in the building just couldn’t let go in life, they aren’t threatening.” The article notes that Einspanjer’s group has investigated the brewery at least 12 times and he states that the building is “a very haunted place.”
In looking through the material on the haunting of the brewery, it is very interesting to note that most sources do not speculate as to why the brewery may be haunted. Spurred on by the articles relating to Tennessee Brewery Untapped, I decided to check Newspapers.com to see what may be found relating to the brewery’s history. Indeed, I came up with a few very interesting leads.
The first event dates to 1888, just before the brewery’s construction. Papers in early August report a massive fire at the brewery that destroyed parts of the brewery as well as adjacent structures. The current structure dates to 1890. No deaths are reported in any of the articles, though a massive fire may have left a spiritual imprint on the site.
The second event dates to 1903 and involves at least one death. On April 15 of that year, Adolph Heinz, a German citizen and employee of the brewery was shot and killed. The article appeared in countless papers, obviously pulled from wire services and does not state exactly where the shooting took place. Reportedly, an African-American man named Gary Morgan asked Heinz to bring him a pail of beer. When Heinz refused, Morgan—“a negro with a picturesque police record”—shot him. The article notes that members of the local German community assembled to hunt down Morgan to lynch him. As of yet, nothing has turned up to reveal if Morgan was apprehended.
A third event was reported by the Associated Press in 1950. Prior to December 17th, an employee at the brewery fell from a stairway at the brewery and was killed when his head struck the floor. Perhaps his spirit is among the spirits remaining in the building.
Tennessee Brewery Untapped is scheduled to begin April 24th and run through June 1st.
Cunningham, Laura. Haunted Memphis. Charleston: History Press, 2009.
Douglas, Andrew. “Group pushes to save old Tennessee Brewery building.” 31 March 2014.
“FLAMES IN A BREWERY: The Tennessee Brewery at Memphis Badly Damaged—Other Fires Yesterday.” Chicago Daily Tribune. 11 August 1888.
“Killed in fall.” Kingsport Times-News. 17 December 1950.
Meek, Andy. “New Partners Sign On to Tennessee Brewery Effort.” Memphis Daily News. 4 April 2014.
Meek, Andy. “Plans Coming Together for Tennessee Brewery Untapped.” Memphis Daily News. 26 March 2014.
“One of the Kaiser’s Subjects Killed by Memphis Negro.” The Atlanta Constitution. 16 April 1903.
Pickrell, Kayla. “Haunted Memphis: Brewery a piece of history.” The Commercial Appeal. 24 July 2012.
Poe, Ryan. “Tennessee Brewery Untapped gets beer license.” Memphis Business Journal. 2 April 2014.
Engel Stadium 1130 East Third Street Chattanooga, Tennessee
N.B. This article was revised 10 March 2019.
Despite its name—“engel” is German for “angel”—Engel Stadium was not likely built with the spiritual in mind. Though, according to a recent article from the Chattanooga-area news blog, Nooga.com, there may be spiritual activity here.
In the context of baseball stadiums throughout the country, Engel Stadium could be considered hallowed ground. This stadium has heard the crack from the holy bats of baseball saints such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Satchel Paige, and Willie Mays. It bears the name of Washington Senators pitcher, Joe Engel. Engel served as a recruiter and promoter following his Senators career and took over the Chattanooga Lookouts after it was purchased by the Senators’ owner, Clark Griffith.
Engel immediately embarked on a plan to build one of the finest minor league ballparks in the country. Ground was broken for Engel Stadium in 1929 and the 12,000-seat park opened the next year. Engel’s zealous and raucous promotion of the park led to his being nicknamed “the Barnum of Baseball.” He would remain with the Lookouts for 34 years.
The stadium was used as a minor league stadium until 1999, when it was turned over to the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. In 2009 the Engel Foundation was formed to help preserve and restore the old park.
Recently, the park was investigated by Stones River Paranormal (SRP) out of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, a location known for a plethora of spiritual activity, mostly centered on the Stones River Battlefield. The team, in an effort to explore places in Chattanooga that may be haunted, approached the executive director of the Engel Foundation and was granted permission to explore the stadium for paranormal activity.
The group split up into various teams and they explored different sections of the park with a variety of investigative techniques. John McKinney, leader of the newly form Chattanooga branch of SRP, stated that the group found possible activity in a number of places throughout the park. “Definitely, the home locker was more active than I thought it would be at first,” he said. He continued by saying that “the entire right side was active” as well as the baseball diamond. While in the press box, the group believes it may have made contact with the spirit of Joe Engel himself.
The final results of the investigation will be revealed in a few weeks.
Perhaps the Engel has angels after all.
Engel Stadium. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 19 November 2013.
Joe Engel. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 19 November 2013.
Rippavilla Plantation 5700 Main Street Spring Hill, Tennessee
N.B. This post was edited and revised 13 May 2019.
Phantoms and ghosts are very fickle things. Like birding for a rare species, it’s very difficult to find them even in their natural habitat. I was contemplating all of this as I sat alone in a bedroom at Rippavilla around 2:30 AM, towards the end of my first, formal paranormal investigation.
As Nashville, Tennessee sprawls its fingers outwards, it’s beginning to take over middle Tennessee. Small towns like Franklin and Spring Hill have been caught up in the web of development as these charming, and once rural towns are paved over with asphalt and chain businesses. Franklin, just north of Spring Hill and closer to Nashville, has only in recent decades begun fighting back and working to preserve its historic and battle-scarred heart.
Middle Tennessee was one of the areas that saw the brunt of fighting during the Civil War. As the last state to join the waltz of the Confederacy, Nashville became an immediate target for the Union and was the first state capitol to fall into their hands. Those cities and towns south of Nashville—Franklin, Spring Hill and Columbia, among them—were captured and held by armies of both sides during this turbulent period. After Sherman’s capture of Atlanta, far south, the Confederates under General Hood—who had lost Atlanta—attempted to capture Nashville and redeem themselves in the eyes of the Confederates.
Spring Hill and its surrounding estates had seen an influx of Confederate wounded into the small town. Many of the homes—including Rippavilla—had been requisitioned for use as hospitals. According to my guides in the house, the house had seen a smallpox epidemic among the wounded in 1862. During Hood’s Nashville campaign, wounded soldiers once again began to pour in followed by a series of generals, including Hood himself. During the fighting here in Spring Hill, Rippavilla’s fields were the scene of fighting.
Spring Hill saw battle the day before the Battle of Franklin in 1864. While not a major battle, it did leave a few hundred dead or wounded on both sides. Spring Hill was just a stepping-stone in Confederate General Hood’s attempt to dislodge the Union army from Nashville. As the fighting edged on towards Christmas, hope for the Confederacy faltered. Sherman held Atlanta and was marching to the sea destroying much in his path to Savannah, while Hood was defeated at Nashville and routed to Tupelo, Mississippi.
Part of that battle was fought on the grounds of Rippavilla Plantation, just south of town and like so many buildings throughout the South, the house was used as a hospital. This house has many layers of history, each leaving spirits within the house. One source reports spirits from Native Americans, through the Civil War and a smallpox epidemic during that era through to the 20th century, when rumors indicate the house may have seen use as a brothel.
The home is very similar to a number of other remaining plantation homes in the area in its brick construction and Greek Revival design. The columns, however, show the influence of Egyptian Revival design with capitals depicting papyrus but with the addition of the Greek-style acanthus leaf. This adds a unique touch. Apparently, while the exterior of the home has not changed much, the interior has changed greatly. Downtown Nashville’s First Presbyterian Church—now a National Historic Landmark—features Egyptian Revival elements, one must wonder if there’s a connection.
Visitors being shown inside will encounter a dramatic, sweeping staircase that splits at the landing to rise to the second floor. This feature was added in the early 20th century to replace the smaller, less dramatic staircase. Electricity, plumbing and air conditioning were installed in the house as well as bathrooms.
The home was built by Nathaniel Cheairs, a wealthy cotton planter. It was modeled on Ferguson Hall—the nearby home of his brother, Martin. Work was begun in 1851 and it took four years to complete. The large kitchen building behind the house was completed first and the family lived there until the mansion was finished. Legend holds that the mansion’s walls were pulled down three times to correct Nathaniel’s perceived deficiencies in the masonry.
Rippavilla flourished along with other nearby plantations owned by Cheairs, and by 1860, the census reports some 75 slaves working the estate. Though, with the coming war, all that would be swept away.
Many have automatically assumed that I’m a paranormal investigator. That’s not really the case. I consider myself a writer and researcher—more adept at sussing out information and presenting it in a palatable form—as opposed to an investigator tramping through historic places with loads of technology. I can say, that I’m very much a Luddite. Not that I reject technology, but I do grow weary of having to keep up with it.
This brings me to sitting alone in a bedroom at Rippavilla Plantation last weekend as the clock neared 3 AM. We’d been told to pick a room and then just sit for a little while and see what happens. Always being the “different” one, I chose the room that a number of people didn’t “like.” One of the volunteers helping with the investigation had told me that she could not enter this particular room. If she did, she’d usually end up having an emotional reaction.
This bedroom, in particular, had been used as a surgery. Blood stains on the floor attested to that fact. A military style bed had been installed in the room with soldier’s accoutrements sitting upon and around it. I found a single chair within in the room next to the door leading into the next bedroom. Through the door I could see the door of another bedroom, one that had bloodstains from a more recent murder still staining the floor.
All of this did make me uncomfortable. Glancing at the floor around my chair I did see about five drops of something staining the floor. My active imagination envisioned these drops possibly dripping from a surgeon’s knife or a spurting artery as a soldier writhed in pain. In fact, I had nothing to indicate it was actually even blood.
Still, sitting in this room, I found it hard to imagine the air filled with moans and cries, as it would have been during the war. Though, it seems that other, far more sensitive souls had had experiences in this room. Earlier in the evening, as I was awaiting the start of the investigation, a volunteer who had been working in the house that weekend began to report the smell of tobacco in that room along with the smell of an astringent—possibly witch hazel. She’d been one of the first people in the house that morning when it was discovered that the antique dresses so carefully laid on the beds had been moved.
The senses can play tricks on you. At various times through the night, I was convinced that I saw things, but realized my eyes were fooling me. At times I may have heard things, but I was listening so hard my brain could have simply misinterpreted other, more common, sounds. For these reasons it is imperative for ghost hunters to obtain clear evidence and that exists for Rippavilla. During previous investigations, many Class A EVPs have been captured that point to the conclusion that this house is active. A haunting photograph with a couple of possible spiritual images and video of some type of phenomena that was captured on three different cameras also exists.
The investigation’s leader suggested that the site was very quiet that night. A fair had been held on the grounds of the house and many visitors had passed through the house in the days leading up to the investigation. Perhaps the spirits were resting?
The highlight of the evening took place in a small, modern building at the back of the property. Built on part of the battlefield, this structure is used for various meetings and consists of a large room with restrooms and a small kitchen. The entire group of investigators was seated in this room around an empty chair with a ball on it. Dudley Pitts, the lead investigator, encouraged the spirits to move the ball and we waited in earnest for something to happen. Mr. Pitts spoke up again, saying that if the ball moved, we would all leave. Not two seconds after he said that, a very small, male voice was heard from a side of the room where no one was sitting. The voice asked, “All of you?” A gasp went up among the group and, as promised, we made a quick exit.
As the group I was with concluded their first investigation of the second floor I walked through two of the bedrooms: the nursery and the master bedroom. We left the upstairs in the dark. We had not turned on any lights during the time we were up there. We returned to the kitchen and no one else was in the house. We returned to the upstairs about 15 minutes later to discover that lamps in both rooms were on. The lead investigator turned off the lamp in the master bedroom and then as he approached the lamp in the nursery it turned itself off. Were the spirits saying hello?
The evidence is still being reviewed. Personally, the experience was really wonderful. Though, in the words of one of the investigators, a paranormal investigation “is 7 hours of waiting and 60 seconds of a thrill.” To spend time in such a marvelous historic home, quietly contemplating darkened rooms is actually marvelous. Especially in today’s hyper world of fast technology, instant gratification and even quick tours of historic tours, the experience of sitting and listening and imagining is often lost.
This investigation at Rippavilla lead by Dudley Pitts of Innovative Paranormal Research (IPR) and resident paranormal investigator is held monthly. I’d like to thank Mr. Pitts and the investigators for their help and leadership during the investigation and especially Laura Bentley and Lisa Webber for their kindness. For further information, contact Rippavilla Plantation on their website or through their FaceBook page, “Whispers of the Past.”
It’s a gloomy stormy day in the Deep South, a perfect time to check for news of Southern ghosts.
TacoLu Baja Mexicana 1712 Beach Boulevard Jacksonville Beach, Florida
The famous and haunted Homestead Restaurant has gone south, south of the border, that is. Opened in 1947, The Homestead Restaurant was, until a few years ago, a Jacksonville Beach landmark known for its fried chicken and other Southern specialties. Sadly, recent years have not been so kind to the restaurant or fat, sugar and cholesterol laden Southern cuisine in general. The restaurant was closed for a while but then reopened. Evidently, it was not the same and the restaurant closed again. Recently, a local taco joint has taken up residence in this haunted landmark and, according to a recent article in The Florida Times-Union, they’re still being visited by something otherworldly.
After inheriting the 1932 structure, Alpha Paynter opened the building that would become the restaurant as a boarding house. As boarding houses fell out of fashion, Mrs. Paynter opened the place as a restaurant, The Homestead Restaurant. The place became known for its fried chicken as much as its kitschy interior. Mrs. Paynter sold the restaurant in the early 1960s and died that same year, though her indomitable spirit that built the successful restaurant remained.
The tales of ghosts in the building go back many years and have been widely recorded. A spirit, believed to be Alpha Paynter, has been spirits and causes the occasional lighthearted disturbance. But two other spirits in the restaurant may not be so lighthearted. Dave Lapham reports in his Ghosthunting Florida that there may be two other female spirits: the unhappy shades of two former residents who committed suicide in the building 10 years apart.
A glance at the menu shows no sign of a Fried Chicken Taco, perhaps that might be a good idea to pay homage to Mrs. Paynter and her two spiritual companions.
FitzRoy, Maggie. “Local legend lives on at Beaches restaurant.” The Florida Times-Union. 27 January 2013.
Mills, Gary T. “Dining Notes: TacoLu plans move to former Homestead spot in Jacksonville Beach.” The Florida Times-Union. 31 August 2012.
Ijams Nature Center 2915 Island Home Avenue Knoxville, Tennessee
The Ijams Nature Center is reveling in its haunted side. The famed nature center is hosting a ghost hunt for the public this upcoming Saturday. If I didn’t have a previous engagement, I’d love to attend.
This public park, established by bird expert Henry Ijams and the “First Lady of Knoxville Garden Clubs,” Alice Yoe Ijams, serves to preserve nature within Knoxville and educate the public. Except for information on the ghost hunt, I’ve not been able to locate any details on the ghosts of the park, though I’ll be looking forward to finding out more.
“History.” Ijams Nature Center. Accessed 30 January 2013.
News Sentinel Staff. “Ijams Nature Center to host ghost hunt. Knoxville News Sentinel. 23 January 2013.
Longwood Village Inn 300 North Ronald Reagan Boulevard Longwood, Florida
I really want to find out how George Clark died. The owner of the then St. George Hotel, Clark died in April 1923 during an ice cream social he was hosting there for the community. So far, none of the sources have revealed the actual circumstances of his death, though most report that he died at the rear of the building.
The latest news about the Longwood Village Inn is that the building is for sale. Built during Florida’s first railroad boom in 1885, this historic hotel may get a second chance during Florida’s second railroad boom in the very near future. With support from the Federal government, state and local governments, SunRail is being constructed. This rail system will connect Poinciana to DeLand through the heart of downtown Orlando. The station linking Longwood will be constructed just across the street from the inn.
But it seems that George Clark’s spirit is not the only one in the 30 room hotel. The hotel has most recently been used as office space and workers in the old rooms have reported the sounds of giggling and tapping while others have smelled cigar smoke. Strange lights and apparitions round out the paranormal activity.
Busdeker, Jon. “Historic Longwood Village Inn for sale in anticipation of SunRail.” Orlando Sentinel. 17 January 2013.
WATE-TV Studios in Greystone Mansion
1306 North Broadway Street, Northeast
N.B. This article was revised and expanded 31 January 2019 and 13 June 2021.
Throughout the South, hauntings can be found in unlikely places: Walmart stores, fast food restaurants (I’ve covered the haunted McDonald’s in Hermitage, Tennessee), and amusement parks among them. Some years ago, WATE-TV 6, the Knoxville ABC affiliate, revealed that their own studios may be haunted.
The studios occupy a rambling Victorian mansion that resembles a classic haunted house. The Richardsonian Romanesque mansion was constructed for Major Eldad Cicero Camp, Jr., the wealthiest man in East Tennessee at the time. He initially arrived in the area towards the end of the Civil War while he was serving Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Impressed at the region’s untapped mineral resources, he decided to make Knoxville his permanent home
Camp settled here when the city was still reeling from the divisions brought about by the war, and Camp had his own lingering dispute to settle. During the war, a number of men under his command had been held as prisoners of war under Colonel Henry Ashby in atrocious conditions. Camp held Ashby personally responsible for their mistreatment and, after the war, pressed charges of war crimes and treason against him. Ashby fled Knoxville but returned when the charges were eventually dropped.
On the afternoon of July 9, 1868, Ashby ran into Camp on the street. The gentlemen struggled as Ashby struck Camp with his cane while Camp fought back with his umbrella. The following day, Ashby appeared at Camp’s law office near the corner of Walnut and Main Streets. The two took their quarrel outside where Camp drew his revolver and fired. Henry Ashby was struck in the chest and killed. Camp was arrested and charged with murder, but the charges were dropped.
The following year, President Grant appointed him as the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee. Taking advantage of the region’s natural resources, he organized the Coal Creek Coal Company and served as president of two other companies, building a name for himself as a businessman.
With his wealth, Camp began building Greystone Mansion in 1885. The home took five years to construct and featured elaborate woodwork, jeweled stained glass windows, and imported marble mantelpieces. He lived in the house for some 30 years until his death in 1920. He was buried in Old Gray Cemetery not far from where Henry Ashby was also laid to rest. The house remained in the family until 1935 when it was sold and divided into apartments. WATE-TV purchased the house in the 1965, restoring it and adding studio space at the back.
Since moving in, station employees have had experiences throughout the old house. Footsteps and other odd noises have been heard, and a door on the second floor closes by itself. Several years ago, a custodian filmed something moving on the second floor with her phone.
The building has been investigated by Appalachian Paranormal Investigations several times with the group capturing video and audio evidence. According to a WATE, that evidence points to the presence of four possible spirits on the premises.
Booker, Robert J. “Greystone Mansion builder shot, killed man downtown.” Knoxville News-Sentinel. 26 February 2018.
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 Knoxville, Tennessee
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.
It seems that the further I read about hauntings in Memphis, the more I see a city that has been down on its luck for the past few decades. So many of Memphis’ haunted sites are incredible architectural treasures, yet they sit empty and crumbling. Certainly, it reflects the ill fortune of large cities over the second half of the 20th century as they sprawled outwards while their hearts withered. Among Memphis’ haunted locales are a number that have been abandoned (or, in one case, partially abandoned) and legends have sprouted up concerning them.
At least two of these buildings have legends that may have been invented to accompany their lonely states: the SEARS CROSSTOWN BUILDING (495 North Watkins Street) and the STERICK BUILDING (8 North 3rd Street).
Opening in 1927, the Sears Crosstown Building was once the showplace of Memphis. Looming over North Watkins Street, just north of downtown, the enormous Art Deco structure housed retail, catalog, a merchandise warehouse and distribution space for Sears Roebuck and Company, at that time, the largest retailers in the nation. The building’s 11 stories and 17 story tower encompass 1.4 square feet of space. When the building opened on August 8th of that year, many sources say an estimated 47,000 people walked through the doors.
Until the store closed in 1983 (the building totally closed for good in 1993), it was considered the height of retailing in the city. Since that time a single person patrols the monstrous structure keeping vandals and curiosity seekers out. His only companions may be the occasional ghosts that may or may not exist.
Laura Cunningham’s 2009, Haunted Memphis includes a description of some of the activity supposedly witnessed in the building. This includes apparent residual activity such as the sounds of shoppers and escalators as well as doors opening and closing on their own accord. Cunningham also mentions that the parking garage may be haunted by the spirit of a homeless man who was killed there and buried nearby. Unfortunately, there are no specific reports of any of this activity, nor are the witnesses identified, therefore this has to be chalked up to urban legend.
Perhaps, more evidence will come to light as the building is used. An organization is already formulating plans to create an arts hub within the cavernous building. Late last year an artist installed a lighting installation that lit up various windows in an array of colors. We can hope that as the building sees more activity that more reports of paranormal activity will filter out.
In downtown Memphis, the Sterick Building has dominated the skyline for nearly a century. Opened in 1930, the building’s name is a combination of the surnames of its owners, R. E. Sterling and Wyatt Hedrick. The building was the tallest building in the South for some years and a grand jewel in the crown of Memphis. The building rises 29 grand floors in the Gothic Revival Style.
That grand jewel has been tarnished quite a bit over the years and the massive structure now sits empty. Financial issues have taken their toll over the decades. As development in Memphis expanded outward, the building’s tenants vacated one by one until the last tenants left in 1986. It has been empty since. The valuable land that the building rests upon is only leased and the building reverts to the landlord’s ownership at the end of its 99 year lease in 2025. Therefore, the current owners and anyone who tries to do anything to the building before that point will lose most of their investment. The Downtown Memphis Commission has made recommendations, but these may only join the past recommendations that have been nixed as too expensive.
So, for now, this massive white elephant sits on 3rd Street longing for people to fill its corridors and offices again while the occasional spirit may still prowl about. Again, like the reports of activity from Sears Crosstown, the reports from the Sterick Building are somewhat vague. Cunningham points out two specific incidents that may have left a spiritual mark upon the building: both involving people plunging to their deaths. One vague incident involved a young woman committing suicide to “save herself from a loveless marriage.” Another incident occurred in 1981 when a man attacked a woman in the building. As building security pursued the man he broke a window and climbed out onto the ledge from which he plunged to his death. Cunningham notes that employees in the building reported hearing the screams of someone falling outside their windows. Additionally, there are also reports of residual activity including lights on in empty offices and the sounds of people working.
While specific details of the hauntings of the Sears Crosstown and Sterick buildings may be hard to come by, details from the TENNESSEE BREWERY (477 Tennessee Street) are quite prevalent. The massive Romanesque Revival structure looms over Tennessee Street quite close to the muddy Mississippi River. According to Memphis Paranormal Investigations, LLC, this building is quite active and they have captured quite a bit of evidence in their 12 investigations of the structure.
Investigations have uncovered the sounds of footsteps and numerous photographic anomalies. Cunningham mentions that “loud noises, strong enough to rattle windows, can be heard throughout the building.”
Organized in 1877, this massive brewery was constructed in 1890. By the turn of the 20th century the Memphis Brewing Company was the largest brewery in the South and among the largest in the nation. Like most breweries throughout the nation, the brewery closed during Prohibition. With the repeal of the 18th Amendment, the brewery reopened under the auspices of John Schorr, the son of one of the early owners. The brewery’s beer was named “Goldcrest 51” in 1938 and was the most popular brand of beer in the region until the brewery closed in 1954.
Following its closure, the building was used as a scrap metal company until 1982. As the scrap metal company, the building was little changed and it has been a virtual time capsule with few changes made except those to keep the building in compliance with building codes. The city almost demolished the building in the 1990s, but a buyer jumped in and purchased the structure and brought it up to code. However, the building still remains vacant, though plans have been considered for its use as an arts space similar to Sears Crosstown. Certainly, such a magnificent edifice deserves to be cared for and maintained.
Bailey, Tom, Jr. “Towering vision: Project would remake Sears Crosstown into Memphis arts village.” The Commerical Appeal. 13 February 2011.
Cunningham, Laura. Haunted Memphis. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2009.
Lauderdale, Vance. “When the Sterick Building was Supreme.” Ask Vance: The Blog of Vance Lauderdale. 28 November 2008.
McCoy, Chris. “Signs of Life at Sears Crosstown Tower.” Live from Memphis. 21 October 2011.
Patterson, Sara. “Tennessee Brewery has intoxicating beauty, sobering challenges for developers.” The Commercial Appeal. 28 August 2011.
Pickrell, Kayla. “Haunted Memphis: Brewery a piece of history.” The Commercial Appeal. 24 July 2012.
Risher, Wayne. “Memphis officials pushing for plan to redevelop long-vacant Sterick Building.” The Commercial Appeal. 3 May 2012.
Risher, Wayne. “Skyline Orphan: Once the towering jewel of Downtown Memphis, rehabbing of Sterick Building poses tall order.” The Commercial Appeal. 27 December 2011.
Chattanooga Public Library 1001 Broad Street Chattanooga, Tennessee
N.B. This article was revised 20 February 2019.
Most libraries have ghosts, though usually these are confined to the 133 section of the Dewey Decimal System: the section for ghosts and the paranormal. The Chattanooga Public Library in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee has a ghost (or possibly more than one) whose range lies far beyond its Dewey Decimal classification. Over the years, patrons and staff have had a variety of experiences ranging from hearing footsteps and voices to seeing apparitions. According to two recent articles from the Times Free Press, books have been thrown off shelves, and chairs have been moved about.
There has been enough activity to warrant the Young Adult Librarian to bring in a paranormal investigation group, the Global Paranormal Society, to investigate. The group spent six hours investigating the library on March 17. The results were publicized recently.
The staff has named the resident spirit “Eugene,” though the spirit’s actual identity is unknown. The building itself is only 36 years old, and neither article mentions any deaths associated with the building, though the land upon which it was constructed, does have quite a history. It was on here that the city of Chattanooga was originally settled.
Evidence shows that Native Americans lived in the area for a few thousand years prior to the Historic Era: that period following European expansion into the Americas. It was here that the powerful Cherokee chief, Tsiyu Gansini or Dragging Canoe, settled with his followers in 1777. The chief’s father, Chief Attakullakulla, and other chiefs including Oconostota, made the decision to ally themselves with the Patriot cause following General Griffith Rutherford’s destruction of many Cherokee towns the previous year. Dragging Canoe set up a series of towns around the Tennessee River and Chickamauga Creek, with the settlers uniting under the name Chickamauga.
Later, another influential Cherokee, John Ross, settled in the same area and named this stop on the Tennessee River “Ross’ Landing.” The natives living here were forced on the Trail of Tears during the Removals in the 1830s. The name was changed in 1838 by the US Post Office to Chattanooga.
Where the library now stands, one of Dragging Canoe’s villages as well as being near to the actual site of Ross’ Landing. So, it’s possible that the library spirit may be from this period. Indeed, the investigators did find some evidence of activity, though they did not conclusively pronounce the library as being “haunted.” Still, Eugene continues to roam I can imagine the public library is pretty interesting place to haunt.
I’m starting a new regular segment where I’ll briefly highlight hauntings or haunted places in the news and in some of the regular blogs I read.
The NIKAWSI MOUND (Nikwasi Lane), an ancient Native American mound in Franklin, North Carolina, is still stirring up controversy a few thousand years after it was built. The City of Franklin, which owns the mound that is still considered sacred to the local Cherokee people, recently sprayed herbicide on the mound. The herbicide was sprayed because mowing of the mound has lead to some deterioration of it. Local Cherokee, however, are not pleased with the actions, have expressed their opinions and demanded an apology from the city.
The mound’s builders are not known, but scholars believe that it was built by one of the early Mississippean peoples. The Cherokee utilized the site and it became part of Cherokee mythology as one of the locations where the Nunne’hi lived. This was a mythical race of beings that lived underground. Nineteenth century anthropologist James Mooney recorded a story that during a battle near the site, the Nunne’hi emerged to defeat the Cherokee’s enemy. Roger Manley records in Weird Carolinas that the Nunne’hi may have also guarded the town during the Civil War when a contingent of Federal troops attempted to the seize the Confederate stronghold. The Federal troops retreated when they saw a huge number of troops when in actuality there were only a few Confederates guarding the town. Manley also notes that some claim to hear drumbeats within the mound.
The mound is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but there has been controversy about its preservation. Some have considered creating a park, but there is contention as to who will pay for it and control it. Hopefully, the herbicide will not adversely affect this place where the heartbeats and drumbeats of Native America may still be heard.
Dalrymple, Maria. “Nikwasi Mound deed could be transferred to create park.” Macon County News. 3 September 2009.
McKie, Scott. “Chief: Tribe wants apology on Nikwasi Mound issue.” Cherokee One Feather. 21 May 2012.
Mooney, James. History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. Asheville, NC: Bright Mountain Books, 1992.
Nikwasi. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 21 May 2012.
In Chesterfield, Virginia, the Chesterfield Historical Society has announced that they will be hosting ghost tours of MAGNOLIA GRANGE (10020 Ironbridge Road). The magnificent Federal plantation, one among the many famous James River Plantations, was constructed in 1821 and named for the circle of magnolia trees that once, with formal boxwoods, constituted its formal gardens. These gardens were destroyed after the Civil War.
The home is now owned by the county and administered by historical society. The ghost tours are being conducted by Spirited History, a local paranormal group that is working to help local historical sites with funding by investigating and educating the public about the sites’ paranormal history. Among the activity that has been reported in the house is the appearance of a beautiful, blond woman seen standing on the steps. A photographer taking wedding pictures in the house some years ago encountered her and mentioned the woman he had seen in period clothing to the staff. The staff informed him that no one was working in period clothing. Investigations of the house have also yielded a number of EVPs.
Gregory, Donna C. “The past lives on at Magnolia Grange.” The Chesterfield Observer. 26 October 2011.
“Historical Society to host ‘Spirited History’ at Magnolia Grange May 19.” Midlothian Exchange. 17 May 2012.
National Park Service. “Magnolia Grange” James River Plantations. Accessed 21 May 2009.
Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission Staff. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Magnolia Grange. November 1979.
Over at the “eco-gossip” blog, Ecorazzi, two locations in the South have been featured in a list of the top 10 “naturally haunted” places in the world. While I give little credence to such lists (so many of them are just silly, unsubstantiated fluff), I was excited to see these two places in the list.
Adams, Tennessee’s BELL WITCH CAVE (430 Keysburg Road) is probably the most well-known of the two locations. Located on property once owned by the Bell family, the cave is believed to be the current residence of the famous Bell Witch who terrorized the Bell family in the early 19th century. Of the spirits in the American South, this spirits is perhaps the most well-known and certainly one of the most publicized spirits having a number of books written solely on the subject as well as a recent feature film, An American Haunting. Visitors to the cave have had a variety of experiences in and around it. The cave is privately owned and tours are given.
On the western shores of Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain, near New Orleans is MANCHAC SWAMP, home to ghosts and the French Creole werewolf, the Loup-Garou. It was here that a number of small towns were wiped off the map in the New Orleans Hurricane of 1915. Tours now travel through this haunted wetland at night by torchlight scaring up alligators and the spirits of the victims of the hurricane.