Preserving Haunted History–Tennessee

N.B. This article originally included a section on the Tennessee State Prison in Nashville. That has since been moved into a new article.

Temperance Building
Walden and Roane Avenues
Harriman, Tennessee

Historic preservation and hauntings go hand in hand. Most often, those places known for their paranormal activity are also places that have preserved a great deal of their history: Savannah, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; St. Augustine, Florida and Natchez, Mississippi would most certainly qualify. This notion has made strange bedfellows at times with historians, scholars and preservationists teaming up with ghost hunters and paranormal investigators to help preserve historic locations. This was recently seen in an article from Britain’s Daily Mail, though the author takes it in more of a tongue in cheek fashion.

Temperance Building, 2010. Photo by Brian Stansberry, courtesy of Wikipedia.

I’d be interested to know how the citizens of Harriman, Tennessee and their efforts to restore their city hall reached the ears of the British Press. One wonders if they hacked the cellphones of the local city government in order to extract some of the details. Really, a story made the rounds via the Reuters News agency in a more respectful article by Tim Ghianni.

Harriman, Tennessee is a quiet town in East Tennessee, just off of Interstate 40 near Knoxville. The town was founded in 1889 by leaders in the Temperance Movement, the Victorian movement to free the country from the vise-grip of the vice of alcohol. Hopefully this utopia would provide a cleansing presence among the moonshiners of Appalachian Tennessee. In the Panic of 1893, the East Tennessee Land Company, which had been established to create the city, was forced into bankruptcy, though the Temperance leaders involved in the town marched forward. The large Romanesque revival structure on Roane Avenue was constructed to house the land company and with its closure, the building became the main hall for American Temperance University.

In the second year of the university’s existence (1894), it boasted some 345 students but that number dwindled by 1908 and the university shut its doors. The large building then served as a jail and went through a number of other uses before being occupied by the City of Harriman as a City Hall. Recently, the over 120-year-old building has required more and more maintenance; work that a city in the grips of the economic recession that has plagued the US can ill afford.

Locals have described the antique edifice as haunted for quite some time. The building is listed in John Norris Brown’s encyclopedic Ghosts and Spirits of Tennessee website. Brown mentions that shadowy apparitions have been reported in the structure which have been identified as some of the early city leaders. These reports brought out the investigative team from G.H.O.S.T., the Ghost Hunters Of Southern Tennessee to investigate the building recently.

During their investigation, the team captured possible video evidence of spiritual activity as well as EVPs which they presented to the city council. In displaying this evidence, they have suggested that the city consider hosting tours and paranormal investigators with the city taking half of that revenue for use in restoring the building. This is a concept which has been employed successfully elsewhere including the Old Jail in Charleston, South Carolina.

Sources

  • American Temperance University. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 18 January 2012.
  • Brown, John Norris. “Temperance Building.” Ghost & Spirits of Tennessee. Accessed 18 January 2012.
  • Ghianni, Tim. “Ghost Hunters to raise money for ‘haunted’ Temperance Building in Harriman, Tenn.” The Huffington Post. 15 January 2012.
  • Harriman, Tennessee. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 18 January 2012.
  • Keneally, Meghan. “Modern-day ghostbusters hoping to save their haunted house with guided tours may have a problem: lack of scary ghosts.” Daily Mail. 17 January 2012.

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.

Blazing Trails Through History and Lore—Review of “Haunted Chattanooga”

Research is a form of trailblazing. There are mountains and unexplored regions of data and information. A researcher combs through this wilderness, marking the trail and finding their way to the most scenic and interesting vistas. In publishing, the researcher is publicizing that trail and permanently marking it for their readers and other researchers to follow. In publishing a book, a researcher is establishing a grand trunk line that many will follow and they enable those other intrepid explorers to blaze their own trails from that.

Chattanooga, Tennessee stretches out before Lookout Mountain along the banks of the Tennessee River. Photo 2077, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

When I first started researching the paranormal a few years ago, I was amazed to find that there were many places where authors had blazed few trails. Major Southern cities like Chattanooga, Tennessee; Montgomery, Alabama; Jacksonville, Florida and Columbia, South Carolina, among others, lacked books and in some cases, even basic resources on their ghosts and hauntings. However, that list has recently gotten shorter with Jessica Penot and Amy Petulla’s recently published Haunted Chattanooga. A trail has finally been blazed through Chattanooga, a city whose ghosts had, until recently, not been fully explored in print.

Penot and Petulla are marvelous guides to Chattanooga’s spiritual side. Among the the locations they discuss are places that have been explored elsewhere, but they include quite a few locations that I’ve not seen discussed. They explore Hales Bar Dam which has very recently become a hotspot for paranormal investigation along with the ghosts of the Chattanooga Campus of the University of Tennessee which could be just as much a hotspot. Here the Hunter Museum’s elderly wraith is documented with a singing spirit in the Thurman Cemetery.

The authors have done a good job at plumbing the depths of Chattanooga’s history of hauntings as well. Legends and stories of haunted places that no longer exist are woven in with modern experiences. Stories of the old Hamilton County jail, which no longer exists, rub shoulders with modern hauntings in the Raccoon Mountain Caverns.

Both authors have a marvelously readable and relaxed writing style. This contributes much to the readers’ journey through the text. Overall, Penot and Petulla have carved a wonderful trail to be followed by future researchers into the haunted heart of Chattanooga.

Haunted Chattanooga By Jessica Penot and Amy Petulla is a part of the Haunted America series by History Press, $19.99.

Southside Spirits–Chattanooga

Southside Saloon and Bistro
1301 Chestnut Street
Chattanooga, Tennessee

Until quite recently, Chattanooga was a city whose ghosts were ill documented. Jessica Penot and Amy Petulla’s recent book, Haunted Chattanooga, has helped to fix that. I’ve only just gotten my copy of the book and will review it as soon as I’ve finished reading it. It doesn’t seem to include this location, though it’s noted that many stories were not included in this book due to space constraints. Therefore, I’m also quite happy to see this recent article. Adding locations to my list always is a joy!

The Southside Saloon and Bistro is located in an unassuming brick building in downtown Chattanooga. A bit over a century old, the building was built initially as a saloon while the upstairs included cubicles for use as a brothel. Over the decades, the building has seen a number of other uses including use as a bottling company. Some spirits still linger here as well. The article mentions three ghosts believed to remain in the building including a man whom the staff has nicknamed George. Activity has included apparitions, swinging pots and other moving objects.

So, next time you’re in Chattanooga, check out the Southside Saloon and Bistro for good food and a variety of spirits.

Sources

A Crying Shame—Bethesda Presbyterian Church

Bethesda Presbyterian Church
Russellville, Tennessee

Pardon my absence, please. Initially, I was busy working on some new articles, but after lightning struck and killed my router and Internet; my time for work was limited. I’m getting back to work now. Since I haven’t done a good newsbyte in awhile, I’m doing one now; and boy, it’s a doozy.

You may notice that I have not included the exact location of this church, there’s a good reason for that. After recent events, I have a feeling the people working to protect Bethesda Presbyterian Church really don’t want ghost hunters around.  According to an article and video from KSDK in St. Louis, Missouri, the church was vandalized recently by teen “ghost hunters.”

This is utterly ridiculous. Unfortunately, these teens have given real ghost hunters and others with an interest in the paranormal a bad name. Two teenage boys spent time in this historic church overnight burning candles on floors that once held wounded from the Civil War. Windows were shattered and they spray-painted and toppled a number of monuments in the adjacent cemetery. As the idiots did leave a bicycle on the property, the police were able to apprehend these young hooligans.

Reading about such an event makes me livid, especially when “ghost hunting” is involved. A ghost hunter should have utmost respect for the places they investigate as well as for the dead. Part of that respect for the dead is by protecting the places where they once walked or are buried.

Please do check out the video for some wonderful shots of this historic structure. The reporter does state that the church is on the “National Registry of Historic Landmarks.” This is incorrect. It is called the “National Register of Historic Places.” There are places that are known as National Historic Landmarks, but that is a step up from the National Register and reserved for those places of national importance.

Sources

Legends of Long Island—Long Island of the Holston

Long Island of the Holston
Kingsport, Tennessee

Had this four mile long, half mile wide island been located in any other river in Tennessee it would not possess the significance that it has. This spit of land could be called the birthplace of Tennessee and even Kentucky for the treaties signed with the Cherokee that opened their lands to settlements by the white man. One possible origin for the name for the state of Tennessee, from the language of the Yuchi Indians, “Tana-see,” possibly meaning “the meeting place,” may be derived from this island. It is no wonder that the Federal government named Long Island a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

Aerial view of Long Island of the Holston, 2009. Photo by Worldislandinfo, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The island is located near the junction of the North and South forks of the Holston. The Holston flows southwest towards Knoxville where it meets the French Broad River creating the mighty Tennessee River. Nearby, the Great Indian Warpath, a major trail leading to the northeast from central Tennessee, brought many natives past this island. This island served as an important ceremonial site for the Cherokee Indians who occupied this area until the late 18th century. The island was a sacred ground for rituals but also for councils and treaties. So sacred was this island that, according to a number of sources, it was forbidden to kill or molest anyone on this sacred ground.

The first major intrusion of whites into the area occurred with Colonel William Byrd’s expedition in 1761 which constructed Fort Robinson near the river junction. When the outpost was abandoned a short while later, the Cherokee resumed control of the area. However, the building of the fort only emboldened white incursions into the area. Hunters, explorers and the occasional courageous settler were soon found in the lands surrounding the island. When Daniel Boone, that great trailblazer to the Kentucky territory, arrived in March of 1775 with an axe-wielding crew to cut a trail to the new territory, the real trouble began. Long Island became the starting point for Boone’s Wilderness Road, bringing hundreds of thousands of white settlers through the area.

With the outbreak of war, many of the Cherokee sided with the British due to the increasing pressure from frontiersmen and by the middle of 1776 they had worked to free the area from whites. Colonial soldiers set out from Eaton’s Fort near the junction of the Holston’s two forks and crushed the Cherokee in battle at the Long Island Flats on August 20. The next year, a treaty was negotiated on Long Island ceding much of the Cherokee lands in East Tennessee and everything east of the Blue Ridge to white settlers. However, the Cherokee still maintained possession of Long Island, though Joseph Martin and his Native American wife, Betsy, established a trading post there; the first white settler on the island.

While many Cherokee had cleared out of the newly claimed area, there were still attacks on white settlements. A peace was negotiated at Long Island in 1781 just before the end of the Revolution. The activity of settlers increased and a boat yard was established on the river, opposite the western tip of the island. The year 1805 saw a number of treaties ceding the remaining Cherokee land in the area to white settlers including Long Island. Legend says that among the natives to leave the island for the last time was a medicine man who laid a curse on the island that no white would be able to comfortably settle on the island. Around the island, the city of Kingsport was created with the merger of Christianville and Rossville in 1822. The island was later incorporated into the town.

Parts of the island were developed and residences sprang up, but, according to the legends, insanity and crime occurred on the island in higher rates than elsewhere in Kingsport. Perhaps the curse was beginning to take its toll? Over time, the legend has been oft-repeated receiving additions on occasions such as the addition from the era of World War II.

Folklorist Charles Edwin Price recounts this tale in his Haints, Witches, and Boogers: Tales from Upper East Tennessee; this tale is recounted in a few other sources, but apparently based upon Price’s version of the tale. The tale, according to Price, tells of Amos Ross, whose son was a Marine in the war. On leave, his son and his son’s girlfriend at the time, went out to Long Island one evening to spend some time together. Ross, a fine upstanding Christian, worried that his son was committing a mortal sin followed the couple out to the island. Finding the couple in flagrante delicto, Ross became enraged and attacked, killing them both. After the incident, legend says, he was never seen again, though couples necking on the island, which may have been a “Lovers Lane” were occasionally attacked by the enraged man or at least his spirit. While this is a marvelous tale, it does leave some questions. Unfortunately, without access to the Kingsport papers of the World War II, era, I cannot prove this is just a legend or if it is grounded in fact.

Besides this violent morality tale, there are other incidents occurring on the island. Again, these tales are told without specific reports of incidents. After dark, it is said that Native Americans have been seen on the island. Campfires are seen blazing with natives dancing about and performing rituals. In the early morning mist on the river, warriors have been seen gliding along silently in their canoes.

Sadly, much of the historic nature of the island is now gone. In 1996, the historical integrity of the island had been so depleted that the National Park Service, administrators of the list of National Historic Landmarks, suggested that the island be delisted. While the landmark designations has not been removed, much of the island is now heavily industrialized. Viewing the island via Googles Maps, it appears that most of the island is now paved over and covered with industrial development. The western portion of the island is now the location of a park and baseball fields are quite obvious, but little of the island’s original sylvan nature remains. The city of Kingsport, realizing the enormous value of having this marvelous landmark in town has done some work towards attracting visitors.

In 1976, a mere three acres of the island were given to the Eastern Band of Cherokee. These acres are a part of a park on the western end of the island, but the island still remains heavily industrial. It’s not hard to imagine that spirits returning to this haunted island, paddling around in the morning mist, don’t even recognize their spoiled sacred island.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Tennessee: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Volunteer State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2009.
  • Brown, John Norris. “The Long Island Curse.” Ghosts & Spirits of Tennessee. Accessed 14 July 2011.
  • Lane, Matthew. “Tribes discuss role of Long Island in King’s Port on the Holston.” Kingsport Times-News. 17 May 2007.
  • Long Island (Tennessee). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 14 July 2011.
  • McGuiness, Jim. “Tales of paranormal activity abounds in Tri-Cities region.” Kingsport Times-News. 28 October 2007.
  • Mooney, James. History, Myths and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. Asheville, NC: Bright Mountain Books, 1992.
  • Price, Charles Edwin. Haints, Witches, and Boogers: Tales from Upper East Tennessee. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1992.
  • Rettig, Polly M. National Historic Landmark Nomination form for Long Island of the Holston. 4 June 1976.

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.