Encounter with a face—Sweetwater, Tennessee

The Lost Sea
140 Lost Sea Road
Sweetwater, Tennessee

My post on Sweetwater, Tennessee’s The Lost Sea got an anonymous comment a couple weeks ago, “By the way there is nothing haunted about the cave. I work there and I can tell you half of the stuff above is a lie.” Just a day later, I received an interesting report from a visitor who had an experience.

In writing about haunted places, I regularly encounter people who will attest that a location is not haunted while also encountering people who have had experiences in that location they truly believe are paranormal. Who to believe? No one perceives the world around them in the same exact way. This becomes even more complicated when you factor in psychic sensitivities.

A passage within the Lost Sea Cave from my visit in 2011. Photo by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

To say that a place is not haunted because you personally have not experienced anything is short-sighted and loses sight of people who may be able to sense things where you may feel nothing. It’s for this reason that physical evidence is very important. In this case, the reader who wrote to me about her experience also included two photographs. While I’m not expert on photographic evidence, both photos do contain some odd things. I cannot say for certain whether the photographs are paranormal or not.

This reader from Lakeland, Florida related her experience as follows:

Hi, I had an encounter at the Lost Sea Caves in Sweetwater, TN this past December. I also have pictures that I took. At the time of our visit, I told my husband that there was a young man following me (I have always been “sensitive” but because it scares me, I have never really given it any thought). All I could see of the young man was his face, and that he had a blue hat on. He was not threatening to me, but curious. I did some research when I got home and I learned of the young union [sic] soldier who was spying on the caves and was killed. I am positive that this is who my encounter was with.

I asked her to describe the face and the hat further.

As far as the description of the face and hat. He was young, had a thin, although not super skinny face and a mild complexion. His hat was a medium blue, what I would call a classic union battle cap. [from this description, I would venture it was a Union kepi] What stood out to me the most is that he was young, definitely not over 25. He also seemed kind and curious. I felt like he knew that I knew he was there.

I then ventured to ask if she saw him with her eyes or sensed him. She responded that she “sensed it, but it was the first time that I ever saw clear features.” She continued, “all of the other times, I could definitely sense the energy, but I couldn’t put a physical description on it.”

In my own entry from 2011, I alluded to the legend from the Civil War regarding a Union spy who attempted to sabotage the Confederate saltpeter mining and gunpowder making operation that was located in the cave. Since I wrote that article, I have discovered that there is quite a bit more information on that topic. Larry E. Matthews’ book, Caves of Knoxville and the Great Smoky Mountains, includes this story in their history of the cave.

The first of the reader images. This was taken on the Lost Sea with the sea’s rainbow trout beginning to mob the boat. There are two orbs in the photo, both of which could be water vapor, though the orb that was caught in motion seems quite curious to me. All rights reserved.
My photograph of the fish for comparison. Notice the water vapor “orbs” appear stationary. Photo by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

The story comes from a diary kept by the Rev. J. H. Coltharp that was discovered before 1934. Sadly, the diary has been lost, but the details of the gunpowder production and the death of the Union soldier were recorded. According to this diary, the cave was the only location in the Knoxville area where saltpeter was mined for Confederate use. This gunpowder was surreptitiously carried to Knoxville and throughout the South by young men who would carry 50-pound cans of it.

The diary relates that the men working this operation felt relatively safe in the cave as Union troops—this region was occupied by Union troops starting in 1863—wouldn’t enter the cave for fear of getting lost. One Union soldier did manage to sneak past the Confederates stationed throughout the area to guard the cave and was discovered after he had placed dynamite in the cave to destroy it. “He was tied to a large gum tree near the cave and shot.”

The second reader image from one of the dry cave rooms. There is both a light anomaly and an orb in this photo. The light anomaly is human shaped, though a flash in a cave like this can cause many anomalies. Again, this orb is in motion, which is curious. All rights reserved.

Is this soldier the face that the young lady from Florida saw? We may never know.

I’d like to thank the young lady from Florida for sharing her story and photographs.


  • Coleman, Christopher K. Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2011.
  • Matthews, Larry E. Caves of Knoxville and the Great Smoky Mountains. Huntsville, AL: National Speleological Society. 2008.
  • Powell, Lewis O. Correspondence with a reader from Lakeland, Florida.9-14 March 2015.
  • Powell, Lewis O. “A sunless sea—Craighead Caverns and the Lost Sea.” Southern Spirit Guide blog. 6 December 2011.

2 Replies to “Encounter with a face—Sweetwater, Tennessee”

  1. Hi there!

    My husband, 18 month old I visited the caverns today on our way back home. We were at the very back of the tour group and I was holding our daughter. My husband was busy taking video and my daughter was busy talking and playing with her hands. I felt what seemed to be a couple fingers poke me on the back of my neck. They were super cold and almost wet. For a second I thought water had dripped on me, but that wasn’t the case. I quickly turned around an of course nothing was there. I mentioned it to my husband and he simply said, “That’s weird. Let me know if it happens again.” I shook it off and walked over and kind of put my back towards the railing. It happened again two more times. So I kind of worked my way in front of a few people and it stopped. There’s definitely something down there. Just wish we knew more about it.

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