Halloween Hauntings Part 6: The Happy Hollow Horror


The Happy Hollow Horror

For this Halloween tale, neighboring Kentucky gets the nod. It involves an incident that happened many years back, during the 1930’s to be exact, yet it remains a much talked about and bizarre mystery to this day. 

It happened in the Pennyrile district of Kentucky, where many strange things have been known to happen.

To this day the Ragland house is believed to be haunted.
To this day the Ragland house is believed to be haunted.

Happy Hollow lies just outside of Greensburg, Kentucky and from the name of the small rural community, one might easily imagine it was a place where nothing ever, ever went awry, and where the folk were all amiable and content with their lot in life. One would be wrong

One bright sunny morning, the Raglands were sitting down to breakfast in their farmhouse, and looking forward to their morning repast.  Led by the patriarch of the family, they had said the blessing over the food and were just about to dig in, when suddenly they heard a commotion at the front of the house.

With nary a warning the front door flew open, startling one and all.

For a second he was too startled to move, but before the father could rise from his chair to go see who it may be who had barged into their home, he heard heavy footsteps moving in measured cadence down the long hallway from the front door.

Soon there came into view a ghastly  procession came marching down the long hallway towards the kitchen in the rear of the house.

As it came close, the Raglands could see what looked like a group of pallbearers all dressed in black and upon their shoulders they bore a small coffin. But the men bearing the black box were unfamiliar to their eyes, in a community where everyone knew everyone. Moreover,  no one had died in the family, nor knew they of any neighbor’s death. But that was not the oddest thing about this weird intrusion into their home.

Atop the coffin lay a lamb, the symbol of a slaughtered innocent.
Atop the coffin lay a lamb, the symbol of a slaughtered innocent.

Atop the coffin lay a lamb.  The lamb was white as snow, but smeared with blood, for it was headless and blood was streaming from the ghastly wound.

All the time as they marched toward the family, the apparitions in black said nary a word.  Without turning their pallid faces to look at the Raglands, or say a word of explanation, they marched past the family and out the back door.

Like dreamers suddenly awakened, the Raglands jumped up from the kitchen table to see where the pallbearers had gone.  Nothing was visible in the back yard. The ghastly ghostly pallbearers had vanished.

In due course, the local constabulary were called and they canvassed the house and  grounds for clues to who the strangers may have been. Neither the sheriff nor his deputies could find any trace of footprints front or back.

Apparitions or ghosts don’t always take human form.  There are accounts of black dogs—hounds from hell they call them—that appear out of nothing to bedevil folks.

The raven, a carrion beast, is universally thought a harbinger of death; for not only does it feast on the flesh of the dead, it has even been known to appear before they die—as if it had foreknowledge of their death.

There are also rare accounts of apparitions appearing as a lamb, generally white.  It is thought the white lamb symbolizes the soul of an innocent—a young child—who has died prematurely or violently.  That this lamb’s head was missing was even more curious—and most sinister.  Was this apparition trying to send a message from the grave?

In Happy Hollow and surrounding communities they still talk of that day long ago as if it were last week.  Moreover, the house where it happened has not been occupied for many years and in the area it has a reputation for being haunted.

It is a reputation not totally unjustified.

If you like this and other such strangeness, then you will find a fuller account in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground.

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South
Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South

UFO’s Over Dixie, Then and Now



I had intended to blog today about a classic Dixie haunting, but after having an encounter this morning with a UFO I decided to do something different.

I would have called it a close encounter, but looking up J. Allen Hynek’s categories regarding UFO sightings, I can’t say that what I saw was as close as 500 feet.  However, what I did see was about as close as I’d want to be, considering how rapidly it was descending.

What did I see?  Well, I was driving due east, a little north of Nashville just about six am; the moon was full even through a light haze and low on the horizon when looking ahead just left of it came streaking down a large glowing object, descending at a fort-five degree angle.

Compared to the full moon it looked about a third the size although obviously was much closer, it was about as bright as the moon and whether it left a trail or simply that it moved so fast it created a blur behind it I can’t say.  It was only visible for a few seconds before it disappeared behind the treeline.

Judging by its trajectory it would have either landed in Old Hickory Lake by to Hendersonville, or perhaps it crashed to earth in nearby Madison or Old Hickory.  Now, what it was is anybody’s guess: that’s the Unidentified part of being a UFO.

It could have been a plane crashing, a meteor or some sort of artificial craft.  Since a plane crash would have been on the news that is unlikely.  If it was a meteor it was a very large one; there are probably some very spooked cows right now near Opryland if so.  On the other hand, a craft from outer space can’t be ruled out, albeit that also includes space junk.  Whatever it is it is quite real.  Look to the skies Nashville!

Sorry, but I can’t tell you about seeing little green men, or “grays” or the like; which is not to say that Tennessee and the South haven’t had such encounters in the past.

For example I wrote the Mystery Airship that buzzed Tennessee in the early 1900’s.  “Mystery Airships” was the term they used in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century for the cigar-shaped UFO’s.  In Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground I chronicled the “Cigars from Mars” that buzzed the Tennessee Valley in January, 1910.  It was sighted over Huntsville, Alabama, Chattanooga, Tennessee and Knoxville and was seen by hundreds of people.

While there are those who have suggested it was simply some anonymous dirigible having fun with the populace, I checked Jane’s All the World’s Airships for that period and none of the American craft could have fitted the bill.  At that point in time, before World War I, such craft ambled along at about 10 or 20 mph; your lawnmower engine would be more powerful than the engines these craft had.

This UFO was going at a relatively high rate of speed and at a height which was simply beyond the technology of the time.  Moreover, across the globe there was a rash of similar sightings late in 1909 and early 1910–all of them unexplained.

Then there was the Close Encounter that occurred in West Virginia in 1952 near Flatwoods when some kids playing ball saw an aerial object come down.

Unlike my UFO it descended at a more gradual trajectory and one might have assumed it was just a meteor roaring past; but the boys went investigate and the craft evidently made a soft landing.  Gathering some friends and acquaintances, they went into the woods to investigate and encountered a creature unlike any of the standard descriptions of aliens.

One professional debunker–who wasn’t there–brushed it off as a “screech-owl” after interviewing all the residents of the area who weren’t there that night, which ranks with “swamp gas” as one of the more feeble rationalizations.  Although the craft was gone when the locals came back with authorities, there were signs on the ground that something had indeed been there–what, remains a mystery to this day.

From Pascagoula to Louisville and everywhere in between, weird craft, strange sights, , uncanny lights, red rains, preternatural falls snakes and all manner of other aerial spookiness have been reported for generations.

While many may scoff at those who report such things, don’t count me among them, for I too have seen something descend from the heavens I can’t explain.

Comets and meteors have often been recorded as celestial dragons wreaking havoc from above.

Halloween Hauntings, Part 4: Ghost Lights and Other Frights

Brown Mountain marker
The Brown Mountain Lights in North Carolina are among the most famous of the many spook lights.

The Thirteen Days of Halloween, Part 4


There are those who would say that ghost lights (also called spook lights) are not supernatural phenomena at all and are perfectly explainable.  The erstwhile debunkers have sometimes gone to great lengths to try to explain away the inexplicable.  Take one of the most famous of the spook lights, the Brown Mountain Lights.

There can be no denying their reality for they have been seen by various and sundry folk by the thousands for generations.  No remote trekking into the backwoods, either: travelers often see them traveling at night along the Blue Ridge Skyway.  They rank as North Carolina’s most fascinating mysteries.  In 1913, the US Geological Survey dismissed the lights as the reflection of train headlights; that excuse worked until a big flood washed away the railroad tracks and the light show continued; then they came up with the “marsh gas” explanation; most recently, the ORION project out of Oak Ridge Labs went to great length to try and prove it was light reflected from car headlights.

For one video documentation of the Brown Mountain Lights, go to YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aX3O6EgJ-7U

The trouble with all the pseudo-scientific explanations is that the light show on Brown Mountain dates to long before the white man came to North Carolina.  The Indians told of a great battle on the slopes of the mountain and claimed the lights are the souls of the dead warriors still fighting.  The first whites to see the lights were in the seventeenth century, long before trains or cars.  Locals have their own legend about the lights and it too involves death and tragedy.  I detail both legends in my chapter of the lights in Dixie Spirits.

Devil's Promenade old booklet cover
The original pamphlet is long out of print and quite a collector’s item, but the text has been scanned is available online. Or, you can go see it for yourself.

In western Missouri is another famous ghost light; called variously the Hornet Light, the Neosho Lights, the Tri-State Lights or simply the Devil’s Promenade.  The so-called experts have tried to dismiss it too as a reflection of lights from the interstate; here again that doesn’t wash as the lights have moved over the years.  Located along the state border with Kansas, the Hornet spook lights have been known to chase bus-loads of children, much to their terror.  These lights too have been around since frontier days and perhaps much longer, and are still active today. This tale too warranted inclusion in Dixie Spirits, due to its great fame.

Artists image of Chapel Hill ghost light
The Headless Trainman of Chapel Hill still roams the rails through town, it is said. Whether it’s a he or an it, the Chapel Hill Light is real.

Finally, we have the Chapel Hill Spook Lights.  These seem to concentrate at night along the CSX railroad tracks that run through Chapel Hill, Tennessee.  While one might easily assume these to be train headlights; but so many witnesses have seen them and yet no train follows, that this can’t be the case.  Here the legend is that it is the ghost of a local railroad lineman, who lost his head–literally–when he fell afoul of the tracks and a passing freight.  Viewing the spook lights got so popular at Halloween that  the local police started arresting people for trespassing on railroad property. For more on this well documented phenomenon, see the relevant chapter in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground.

These three Dixie lights are but a sample of this strange and unexplained phenomenon; there are other spook lights, not only in the South, but all across the country.  Since I first wrote about them, I have corresponded with one gentleman who actually had one of these things actually pass through him!  While he was not physically harmed, the memory of that night affected him deeply and it still gives him chills when he remembers it.

They are not headlights, nor swamp gas, nor anything within our ken and despite all their pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo, the professional debunkers have failed to explain these phenomena.

Whether they truly are ghosts, I can’t say.  They truly are spooky though, and for the foreseeable future, I think we can safely say they will remain an unsolved mystery of Dixie.

For Tennessee’s spook lights you can confer Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and more about them in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee; for the other ghost lights, Dixie Spirits will give you the lowdown on those.  Happy hauntings!

The Restless Dead of Fort Donelson

October 28, 2012    The Thirteen Days of Halloween, Blog 10

While I have devoted a whole book chronicling Civil War ghosts and parts of two others, in truth, true accounts of encounters with the restless spirits of those who died during the Late Unpleasantness could fill a whole ‘nother volume and then some.  As I live within driving distance of the sites of six of some of the biggest battles of the war, I have had ample opportunity to explore them–and that doesn’t count the many skirmishes, raids and lesser actions that dot the Mid-South.  Many of these sites come with some lore attached and I have often collected tales of the spirits which still haunt them.  One site which I haven’t yet chronicled in print is Fort Donelson.

Before there was Bloody Shiloh, there were the twin battles of Forts Donelson and Henry.  These were the twin Confederate bastions which guarded the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers at the border with Kentucky.  The Rebels had fortified the two rivers where they came close to one another–called Land Between the Rivers then and now, thanks to the TVA, is Land Between the Lakes.  Here in the winter of 1862 a Union amphibious force came to break the Confederate defences.  Led by General Ulysses S. Grant, the Yankees first bombarded Fort Henry on the Tennessee into submission and then, in a bold move, Grant took a small force overland and besieged Fort Donelson from landward, catching the Johnnies off-guard.  The Rebels had all their big guns pointing down-river, in the direction they thought the Yankee fleet would come.

It was a bitter cold winter and both sides suffered terribly; the wounded in the no man’s land between the two forces suffered as much from the cold as they did from their wounds and many died a slow and agonizing death.  The Rebel troops were ill-prepared for a winter campaign and suffered even more than the Yankees from the cold.  Ultimately, Grant bluffed the incompetent Rebel commanders into surrendering, assuring his fame and opening the way to  conquering the heartland of the Confederacy.

Although the dead of both sides were quickly interred, their undead shades lingered–they linger still at Land Between the Lakes.  After my first book, Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, which chronicled a few of Shiloh’s ghosts and haunts, I talked with several re-enactors who had camped at Fort Donelson at various times, trying to re-create conditions as close to January, 1862, as they could.

The re-enactors I spoke with told me it was not uncommon for one or another of their ranks to have uncanny encounters at Fort Donelson.  One lady, a sutler, describes awakening in her tent in the dead of night to fight all her wares and her tent violently shaking and rattling.  There was no wind or storm or any natural event that night to explain it.  But apparently there was something supernatural that could.

Another re-enactor told of performing picket duty at night while his unit was there.  Many re-enactors try to get into the spirit of the period not just for visitors during the day but at night as well and an onlooker might well mistake them for the real thing.  This re-enactor was on duty late at night when he saw a light coming up the hill in the distance.  The dim glow grew larger and larger as it approached him and at first he could not make out what it was.  Then it came close and passed him; in the eerie glow he could see the torso and head of a man–seemingly an officer, wearing a broad-brimmed hat and smoking an old-fashioned stogie; it was the phantom cigar that illumined the figure.  It almost seemed as if the phantom officer were making the rounds, checking on the bivouac to see all the guards were on duty.  But the cigar-smoking figure was no re-enactor; he had no lower body, just a materialized torso and be-hatted head.  Was it the ghost of General Grant? Or was it the shade of some other tobacco-loving commander, North or South?  Who knows?

To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill about another war, Fort Donelson was not the beginning of the end of the Rebellion; but it was the end of the beginning.  And they’re those who say that many who met their end there abide on the grounds of the battle-field still.

For more Civil War ghost stories see my Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War; Rutledge Hill did the original editon which is still in print, although Barnes & Noble, Lone Pine and Sterling have come out with economy hardcovers in addition to the paperback editions.  My first book, Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, also chronicles the battlefield hauntings of Shiloh, Chickamauga and Franklin.

Halloween Hauntings, Part 3: Charleston Ghosts & Haunts

The Thirteen Days of Halloween, Part 3:


courtesy, Battery Carrige House Inn
The South Battery at night, when the ghosts come out

Out of curiosity, I recently looked up one of my relative’s old antebellum home located on the South Battery, only to see that it was for sale.  It’s been a number of years since last I visited the manse and the city, but its sale nonetheless made me a bit wistful—not only for the time when my uncle gave me the tour of the majestic old home, but also for the many ghosts that reside in Charleston–some of them next door to the home.

Mind you, Charleston being an old city, and being Southern, it has quite a gaggle of ghosts—far more than I could ever chronicle in Dixie Spirits, much less here.  So I will only highlight a few of its most singular spirits here.  First off, just a few houses down from my Uncle’s old home on the South Battery, facing Charleston harbor, is the Battery Carriage House Inn.  Like all the grand and gracious homes lining the Battery, it is a large place with a courtyard leading to the carriage house in the back—the actual bed and breakfast.  And like most of the homes lining the battery, the place has a brace of ghosts–and ghost stories–attached to it.

Located at 20 South Battery, it offers a cozy place to stay while visiting, plus the added bonus of one or two friendly ghosts, who may or may not show up to keep you on your toes.  There is the Gentleman Ghost, who from the accounts of past visitors, has a certain affection for the ladies; then there is the Headless Torso, thought to be a victim of the Yankee bombardment of the city during the Civil War; and then there is the unnamed female ghost who resides in Room 9 who was photographed by one hotel guest.  All in all, a very interesting place to stay.

The entrance to the Battery Carriage House Inn, an elegant place to stay. Some guests check in and never check out.

Elsewhere in Charleston, other spirits of the restless dead also may their appearance at various times.  In the heart of the city, where once a military hospital stood, in the dark hours before dawn, late night revelers have occasionally seen a phantom army marching through the streets.

Ghost Soldiers perhaps from Gettysburg
Do phantom armies march along the streets of Old Charleston? Who’s to say; some claim to have seen them late at night, marching off to defend the city against the Yankee invaders.

They are marching, it is said, out of their death beds to defend the city against the invading Yankees who are besieging the city.  No one can tell them now the war is over.

The Old Jail, Charleston, still haunted by former inmates
Old print of the Old Jail, a historic site in Charleston, SC still very much inhabited–by ghosts.

Then there is the Old Jail, that old gothic looking structure that in its day not only housed murderers and other criminals, but runaway slaves and Yankee prisoners—many of whose restless spirits still abide there.  Tour guides report heavy objects moving on their own inside, “shadow people” have been reportedly sighted there, plus the ghost of one notorious murderess—Lavinia Fisher—who haunts the cavernous prison dressed in her wedding gown.

And then there is the Charleston tale about the “Doctor of the Dead” which seems too creepy to be true. But in Charleston, the outlandish is normal, don’t you know. At any rate, that strange story of necrophilia and spirit possession is a bit too long for this brief survey, so we’ll save it for another time.

Moonlight Magnolias and Mayhem
Moonlight, Magnolias and Mayhem: a characteristic Southern combination that one will find in abundance in the haunted highways and byways about Charleston.

While Halloween is a fine time to visit Charleston, it really don’t make no never mind to the city’s restless dead. As far as the spirits are concerned; they’ll still be there whatever time of the year you go.

For more about Southern ghosts and haunts, grab a copy of Dixie Spirits, with a listing of haunted hotels you can stay at, as well as more detailed accounts of the ghosts of Charleston. Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, the first and still the best account of uncanny doings in the Mid South, is still in print and easily purchased.

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South
Dixie Spirits via Sourcebooks
Dixie Spirits: true tales of the Strange and Supernatural south of the Mason-Dixon Line.


The Prophet and the Three Weird Sisters


While his name is not well-known nowadays, Andrew Jackson Davis was a man of great renown in early nineteenth century America.  His works–dealing with prophecy and the paranormal–were read by Abraham Lincoln and other notable men of the day. 

Davis’s ideas were heavily influenced by the works of the eighteenth century philosopher Swedenborg, who had once had a Near Death Experience and believed in the paranormal.  Like Joan of Arc, the witch turned Catholic saint, Davis claimed that spirit voices talked to him, guided him and told him of many unknown things.  Davis came from a part of upstate New York called “The Burnt-Over District” because so many radical spiritual and social movements arose there and then spread like wild-fire across the rest of the  country.

In 1843, Andrew Jackson Davis attended a lecture on “Animal magnetism” (an early form of hypnosis) and soon thereafter the spirit voices came to him, advising him of his mission in life.  Shortly thereafter Davis had an epiphany of sorts.  He went into a deep trance, and when he awoke three days later, Davis was on a mountaintop forty miles away from where he had fallen asleep, seemingly transported there by supernatural means.

Davis through his writings and lectures developed a large and devoted following.  Edgar Allan Poe heard his lectures on mesmerism and was inspired to write “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” in 1845 as a result.  Edgar Cayce, the “sleeping prophet” of Kentucky, was later inspired by his ideas as well.

At this point, enter the Fox sisters.  In 1848 the two younger sisters, Kate and Maggie, had just moved into a home that locals said was haunted.  Soon knocking sounds were heard around the house, but mainly focused on the sister’s room.  The father tried to nail and tighten every loose board and window in the house, to no avail.  They even sent the two young girls to their older sister Leah’s home, hoping the mysterious spirit would leave them alone.  It did not.  The ghostly activities not only continued in the parents home but the poltergeist activities also started up in their sister Leah’s house.  Leah, it turns out, was a dedicated follower of Andrew Jackson Davis, and she saw in her sisters paranormal activities the fulfillment of some of Davis’ prophecies.  Through trial and error the sisters devised a way of communicating with the spirit—a method which came to be called the seance.  Soon the girls went public and put on public displays of their abilities as mediums and the Spiritualism movement was born.

The Fox sisters became celebrities and put on public performances in New York City and elsewhere; politicians, publishers and leading intellectuals of the day attended and were impressed.  Spiritualism also began to take on the aspects of a social reform movement, with leading spiritualists also championing political and economic ideas of the day, such as Abolitionism.  Spiritualism also had a strong theatrical aspect to it, with many mediums performing before audiences on stage.  While many bereaved families used seances to get in touch with loved ones, it was also widely regarded  by many people as a sort of parlour game.  Individuals high and low tried for themselves and found that it worked.

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and his wife attended a number of such seances, some by genuine mediums, and others held by charlatans.  While historians dispute that Lincoln was himself a spiritualist, many around him definitely were.

After the war, the two younger Fox sisters fell into alcoholism and also resented their older sister’s controlling influence on them.  When a newspaper offered one of them a bribe to “expose” Spiritualism and say it was a fake, she took the money; she later recanted, however.  The three sisters’ legacy remains controversial to this day.

For more on Abraham Lincoln’s relationship with seances and Spiritualism, see my new book, The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln (Schiffer, January, 2013).  If you want t read more about battlefield hauntings of the Civil War, then I recommend my Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War from Rutledge Hill.

Halloween Hauntings Part 2: OLD HICKORY & THE BELL WITCH

Halloween Hauntings 2:


Andrew Jackson visits the witch.
Andrew Jackson attempted to solve the mystery of the Bell Witch, but even he was no match for the Mysterious Spirit.

“A volume might be written concerning the performance of this wonderful being, as they are now described by contemporaries and their descendants. That all this actually occurred will not be disputed, nor will a rational explanation be attempted.”

—–Albert Goodpasture, 1886

John Bell, patriarch of the Bell clan, who were bedeviled by the
John Bell, patriarch of the Bell clan, who were bedeviled by the “Mysterious Spirit”

Much has been written about the supernatural doings between 1818 and 1820 in Adams, Tennessee.  In Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, I devoted two full chapters to the Bell Witch, and in my latest effort, Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, I discuss her along with other Tennessee witches.  Although referred to as the Bell Witch, it was neither a witch, nor did it belong to the Bell family, although they were the ones mainly bedeviled by it.

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground chronicles true stories of unexplained phenomena in the Mid South.
Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground chronicles true stories of unexplained phenomena in the Mid South.

It began innocently enough; knockings and scrapings at night; then strange creatures were sighted in broad daylight.  John Bell, the patriarch of the family, at first thought it was just some local youths playing pranks on his family.  But soon it became clear to him and his family that no humans were causing the sounds and other physical phenomena.  Then one night it began to attack members of the family—notably John Bell and his beautiful daughter Betsy.  Quilts were pulled from the bed in the dark of the night, and Betsy and the others were violently assaulted by unseen hands; scratching and slapping and biting.  Yet there was nothing and no one to be seen.

At first the Bells only discussed the incidents among themselves, calling it “Our Family Troubles.”  Eventually word got out about the malevolent poltergeist haunting their home.  First their neighbors visted to see what was up; then the curious came from farther away came to see it for themselves.  Fame of the Mysterious Spirit spread far and wide.

At times the spirit was just mischievous and amusing; but it could turn vicious at a whim.  Moreover, it seemed to be aware of goings on over the whole community, traversing great distances unseen.

This image is the closest we have as to what the Bell Witch may have looked like. Here she is terrorizing the Bell children.
This old engraving is the closest we have as to what the Bell Witch may have looked like. Here she is terrorizing the Bell children.

The unearthly phenomenon even attracted the attention of the famous General Jackson, who mounted an expedition to get to the bottom of the haunting.  He arrived with a wagon and an entourage of skeptics.  First Jackson’s wagon became frozen on the road–until he acknowledged the Witch’s reality.  Then that night, one of Jackson’s entourage thought he could outsmart the invisible spirit–instead the would be witch-slayer became the object of the entity’s wrath and was driven out of the house.  Although Jackson was all for staying, his followers decided to flee for the safety of Nashville–the first time General Jackson was ever forced to retreat!

Many of the disturbances focused on the beautiful, buxom Betsy Bell, and the spirit—by now called The Bell Witch—took a personal interest in the girl, to the point of telling her to break up with her fiancée, and threatening violence if she didn’t.

Betsy Bell, called the Queen of the Haunted Dell; even after she married and moved away, rumor has it she was beset by paranormal events in Mississippi.
Betsy Bell, called the Queen of the Haunted Dell; even after she married and moved away, rumor has it she was bedeviled by paranormal events in Mississippi.

Ultimately Betsy married the local schoolteacher and moved to Mississippi with him.  As for her father, it was said he was poisoned by the witch; but who the witch really was, no one could say.

It is alleged that the Mysterious Spirit murdered John Bell by poisoning.
It is alleged that the Mysterious Spirit murdered John Bell by poisoning.

A local matron of common birth but ample girth, Kate Batts, was named by some as the culprit.  While Kate Batts had a number of personal oddities in her behavior, for all of that she was a God-fearing woman and no one dared accuse her to her face. Indeed, her modern descendants I have talked to say she was more sinned against than sinning by John Bell. The Bell family today has a different story, needless to say.

Kate Batts, accused of witchcraft, was a god-fearing woman, shown here going to church.
Kate Batts, accused of witchcraft, was a god-fearing woman, shown here going to church with her entourage.

Still, when Kate died, cats howled around her grave in a most uncanny way and such a dread fell on her resting place that no one dared approach it.  Her grave became overgrown and forgotten and to this day its location is not known.

As the historian Goodpasture declared, a book could be written about the Bell bewitchment—and have.  In fact, quite a number of books, plus two plays and an opera at last count.  Still, no one has fully plumbed the mystery—nor can it be said that the Bell Witch has ever truly gone away from Adams.

This frontier home where most of the poltergeist activity took place. The Bell homestead near modern Adams, Tennessee is gone but the Bell Witch Cave is open to the public and is allegedly still haunted.
This frontier home was where most of the poltergeist activity took place. The Bell homestead near modern Adams, Tennessee is gone, but the Bell Witch Cave is open to the public and still haunted–so they say.

This brief post cannot hope to tell you all you need to know before you go to Adams; for further reading see, Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and my more recent Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.

Go there, if you dare, and see for yourself

Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. True haunting tales of the Mid South. Witches, Haints, Strange Lights & Sights, Uncanny Creatures; and where to go to experience them.

Halloween Hauntings, Part 7 David Lang & The Difficulty of Crossing a Field

   The Thirteen Days of Halloween, Post 7


In the 1880's in Sumner County a man disappeared in broad daylight before eyewitnesses.  Since then many have tried to solve the mystery.
In the 1880’s a Sumner County Tennessee man disappeared in broad daylight before eyewitnesses. Since then many have tried to solve the mystery.

In the late nineteenth century, famed American author Ambrose Bierce penned a classic tale of the paranormal, called “The Difficulty of Crossing a Field.”  In it he tells the tall tale of an Alabama farmer, named Orion Williamson, who one day disappeared into thin air while walking across a pasture in the 1840’s.

Although Bierce’s story is a work of fiction, he based it on a story emanating out of Tennessee. It was originally published in the 1880’s by a famed teller of tall tales whose pen name was “Orange Blossom.”

In the original version of the story, the farmer’s name was not Orion Williamson but David Lang.  Orange Blossom—also known as Joe Mulhattan—was renowned as a teller of tall tales.  He was such a good spinner of yarns that “Mulhattan” became synonymous with a tall tale.  In fact, there are those who believe that Joe Mulhattan, or Orange Blossom, was a fictitious creature created by bored newspaper editors to fill space in their papers.

Joe Mulhattan, who wrote under the nome de plume of "Orange Blossom" was a traveling salesman who became famous as a teller of tall tales in the late nineteenth century.
Joe Mulhattan, who wrote under the nome de plume of “Orange Blossom” was a traveling salesman who became famous as a teller of tall tales in the late nineteenth century.

However, legend though he became, Joe Mulhattan was a real person, if larger than life at times.  The story of David Lang’s disappearance, which first appeared in the Cincinnati Inquirer in the early 1880’s, certainly fits in with Mulhattan’s modus operandi.  What made Orange Blossom so good at what he did is that he threw in a grain of truth with his puffery to make his tales plausible.

Ambrose Bierce, who had a certain perverse affection for humbug and hoaxes, took Mulhattan’s tale and crafted his own version of it.  Since that time, the legend of David Lang has been added to by various hands, notably a version of it in Fate Magazine in 1953, by mystery novelist Stuart Palmer.

Ambrose Bierce as he appeared in his later years, when he penned "The Moonlit Road."
Ambrose Bierce as he appeared in his later years, when he penned “The Moonlit Road.”



But is there any basis to the tale of a farmer disappearing into thin air?  Well, maybe.  Joe Mulhattan was a drummer—traveling salesman—who traveled all across the country.  He would hear a story from locals, then after a few drinks, would spin it into a yarn that even a master of humbug such as P. T. Barnum would be amazed at.

I had read the tale of David Lang as a boy in New York. By a curious coincidence, some years back, when I moved to my present abode, it was only a few miles from Gallatin, Tennessee, where the real David Lang disappeared.  Contrary to what others have written, neither Stuart Palmer nor Ambrose Bierce invented the story; and neither did Joe Mulhattan.

It turns out that while engaged as a traveling salesman, Joe Mulhattan once stayed at a hotel in Gallatin. It so happens he was forced to stay in town a few days longer than planned by torrential rains.  While holed up in the hotel, he heard the story of David Lang from locals. With time on his hands, he penned a letter to the Inquirer and the story has grown in the telling from then till now.

Researchers have tried to track down David Lang and verify the story, alas with no success.  They therefore deemed it a complete hoax; census records prove there was no such person as David Lang or any Lang family in Sumner County, Tennessee in the 1880’s.  True enough; but pouring through the county archives, I fact-checked the tax rolls for that period and found a notation for a man named LONG with the notation in parenthesis (Lang); apparently the Yankee drummer’s ears heard the name pronounced one way, although it was written another.  There were no Lang’s near Gallatin in the 1880’s but several families of Longs.

In the decades since Mulhattan spun his yarn and Ambrose Bierce turned it into a classic tale of the Unknown, the story has not only grown in the telling and re-telling but inspired an opera based on the Uncanny Occurrence in Sumner County, Tennessee.

The Ambrose Bierce story has been turned into a modern opera. The author? Why David Lang of course!
The Ambrose Bierce story has been turned into a modern opera. The author? Why David Lang of course!

So, did a man go walking across a field in rural Sumner County one summer day and disappear into thin air?  Like I said: well, maybe.

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South
Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. For more haunting tales of the Mid South

Strange Tales of Music City’s Morgues

Located on Second Avenue South, the old Vanderbilt Medical School building once housed a morgue–and reportedly is still haunted


In my book, Ghost and Haunts of Tennessee, I devoted a chapter to some of the creepiest hauntings that Nashville has to offer.  Regrettably, you have to be dead to get into them!

There have been three morgues in Music City’s history, all located within a short distance of one another.

The first, and oldest, was once located atop the original Nashville General Hospital.  The top floor of this old Victorian structure was called “The Haunted House” by nurses and attendants who worked in the old municipal house of healing.  So many workers had creepy encounters there that it became more and more difficult to get staff to go up there and properly file the newly deceased away.

While the hospital has since moved on to newer digs, the original building still stands on Rolling Mill Hill overlooking the Cumberland River as imposing as the House of Usher must once have been.

The venerable medical building is now a series of luxury digs that recent transplants to Nashville have snatched up like grave-robbers finding a freshly planted corpse.  I wonder if the posh new residents have yet had encounters with the previous tenants?

Just out front of the old Metro General stood the New Morgue for many years; this too acquired a spooky reputation.  By the time they built the New Morgue was built, the city had acquired a Coroner to do autopsies, as well as more professionally handle the growing number of murder victims, suicides and other violent death that came their way.

A number of first hand accounts verify that the New Morgue was every bit as haunted as the old.  Sadly, the squarish stone building is now gone from Rolling Mill Hill–but that doesn’t mean the ghosts are.

Now upscale digs, the old Nashville General’s morgue used to be referred to by staff as “The Haunted House”

Just a block over from these two spots on Hermitage Avenue is the old Vanderbilt Medical School building.  Back when the school originally opened, it was located on Second Avenue South in a suitably spooky looking Victorian building.

Today it is a private residence, so while you can gawk from across the street, and hope to see a specter at the window, don’t trespass!

In its day, however, the old medical building had its own morgue. It housed patients who did not survive the medical student’s healing hands, plus cadavers in cold storage awaiting dissection by the aspiring young doctors.  The cadavers are long gone–but not their ghosts.

For a fuller account of many ghosts of Music City, grab a copy of Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee; in the meantime, for a sample chapter see: .http://www.scribd.com/doc/40421658/Excerpt-from-Ghosts-and-Haunts-of-Tennessee

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South.
Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. True haunting tales of the Mid South

Sumner Spirits, Halloween Hauntings, Part 8

Halloween Hauntings, Part 8:

Sumner Spirits

“And all we see and all we seem/Is but a dream within a dream”  EDGAR ALLEN POE

There are those who say that ghost are just a figment of the imagination, or delusion of the masses; that those who see such things are hallucinating or having a “waking dream.” 

Then there are those like Mark Twain, who said “I don’t believe in ghosts, but I’m still skeered of ’em.”  Perhaps such doubting Thomases may want to take a day trip to Sumner County some October eve, just a few miles north of Downtown Nashville.

Gallatin, Tennessee, the most haunted town square in the state.

Downtown Gallatin, Tennessee, is home to several resident ghosts, all of which are fully documented in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee

Crossing over Mansker’s Creek, the first place you come to is Monthaven–the old Fite place.  It used to sit in splendid isolation on a hill overlooking the creek, where Gallatin Pike and Centerpoint Road meet.  Nowadays it has a cluster of apartments and condos nestled all about it.

During the Civil War, the mansion was the site of a dust-up between General Morgan’s Rebel raiders and some Yankees, and the mansion was used as a temporary field hospital. Moaning in pain and begging for some laudanum or whiskey, wounded soldiers were carried upstairs to a room where a door panel had been converted into an operating table and their limbs were sawed off to the sounds of them shrieking in pain. Several of the soldiers died there and their ghosts still haunt the place.

Monthaven, the old haunted Fite House in Hendersonville
Monthaven,  otherwise known as The Fite House, sits on land which dates back to frontier days. It was also used as a temporary hospital after a cavalry skirmish during the Civil War and some of the casualties still haunt the house.

A little farther up the buffalo trail that is now Route 31E is Hazel Path.  Like Monthaven, this old antebellum home used to sit alone on a hill; now it is the center of an office complex and not lived in–but the dead still reside there and in the adjacent school built over the old pioneer cemetery there.

Edging up several miles more, just before Gallatin proper, is the entrance to what they now call “The Last Plantation.”  At one time, Fairvue Plantation would have put Scarlett O’Hara’s Tara to shame.  It was once the home of the fabled Adelicia Acklen–the original Steel Magnolia.  Opulently wealthy and stunningly beautiful, Adelicia knew how to wrap men around her dainty fingers.  She went through three husband, bore  a number of children and managed to come out of the Civil War richer than when she went in, despite the depredations of the Yankees.  While today a gaggle of upscale homes cluster around Fairvue, the old manse still stands–and is haunted by multiple ghosts,

Fairvue, once the abode of the Famed Adelicia Acklen, is now a wealthy subdivision--but not so exclusive that ghosts don't haunt it still.
Fairvue, once the abode of the Famed Adelicia Acklen, is now a wealthy subdivision–but not so exclusive that ghosts don’t haunt it still.

We would be remiss not to mention the old downtown of Gallatin itself–alleged to be the most haunted town square in Tennessee.  Surrounding the county courthouse are a cluster of old buildings, some dating back to before the war.  Some of them are occupied by law offices, others by retail stores, some are vacant; but all are occupied by ghosts of one description or other.

In this short space I cannot begin to list all the spooky spirits of Sumner: for a more complete accounting of the unaccountable, I refer you to the chapter in my Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee by the same name as this blog, where more details are available.  In the meantime–good haunting!

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South
Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South
Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee offers all things spooky in the Mid South and covers the favorite haunts of downtown Gallatin plus other Country spooks.