More Ghosts, Haints, Haunts and Things that Go Bump in the Night
Author: Christopher Coleman
I am an author, lecturer, and consultant with six books currently in print. My my interests span a wide variety of subjects, including Archaeology, History, Politics, Folklore, paranormal phenomena and forteana , as well as anthropology. I work in different literary genres, including investigating things that go bump in the night.
I currently have six books in print: Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, Dixie Spirits, Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, and The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, a factual history of some more esoteric--and hitherto overlooked--aspects the sixteenth President. My most recent effort is Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife, published in hardcover by the University of Tennessee Press and chronicling the wartime experiences of young Ambrose Bierce, noted American author. Bierce has been called many things by many people, but hero and patriot and idealist, should be added to the list after reading this book.
I am currently at work on several projects, some dealing with the American experience but also several fiction and non-fiction works exploring the mysterious recesses of the Age of Arthur.
Some folks say that Monterrey, Tennessee, is a hundred miles from nowhere. But that isn’t strictly true. The town of Monterrey, sitting high atop a pass through the Cumberland Mountains, is a hundred miles from Knoxville, a hundred miles from Nashville and a hundred miles from Chattanooga. So, if you’ve a mind to get away from the strife and organized insanity of big city life, it’s a pretty fair place to go to unwind, a place where the hilltops touch the sky. So, I guess you’d say, it’s more a cozy little somewhere that’s a hundred miles from everywhere.
Today, Monterrey is a quiet rural town of some three thousand folk, give or take. Once’t upon a time, however, it was a bustling railroad junction, where coal or lumber trains rumbled through almost nonstop day and night and you could ride in comfort in a parlor car of the Tennessee Central.
The lone reminder of those halcyon days is the little railroad museum in the center of town, sitting smack dab where the old railroad depot lay in the 1890’s.
A lot of things have changed since those days, but one thing that still abides there is ole’ Whistling Willie, the train station ghost. Nobody right knows who Willie is—or was—but his presence is definitely tied to the old depot, so folks think he lived and died riding the rails.
Willie first makes his presence known to folks near the middle of the museum, which is where the old railway office was located before the depot was rebuilt into a community museum.
It may be that Willie has been haunting this spot for a long time; it’s just that when this was a hustling bustling train station, nobody much paid a never-mind to an odd sound or other uncanny incidents that occurred.
The first documented encounter with Whistling Willie occurred a few years back, when the depot was in the process of being converted into a museum. They were putting in some security cameras and the government supervisor overseeing the project was conferring with them about it when all three started to hear a low but distinct whistling. The building is not large and they searched every corner, but could find no one and no thing that might be the source of the sound.
Some think ole Willie was a military man in his day. Willie only whistles first few bars of the Marine Corps Anthem: “From the Halls of Montezuma/To the Shores of Tripoli.” It’s a song every jarhead knows backwards and forwards.
One time, when the museum staff was putting in some new exhibits, they placed manikins in two corner of the depot, each dressed in different military uniforms. The next morning both manikins had been knocked over, but nothing else was touched. Apparently Willie did not approve of them. Perhaps they were army uniforms.
On another occasion, one of the museum staff was chatting with a visitor just before closing for the day. They were at the front desk when Willie’s telltale whistling could be heard coming from the back of the building. Then they came an strange noise. Next, the museum worker saw a shadow in the hall, near to an old-time wooden school desk.
The shadow came closer and closer until it was right beside them. All the time there was no one to be seen; just an eerie disembodied shadow!
If you head up Monterey way, you might just run into Dale Welch, Putnam County Historian and former Publisher of the Hilltop Express, who nowadays volunteers at the museum most days. He can tell you more about Whistling Willie, plus a few more ghost stories about the haints that abide in the Cumberland Mountains. And who knows, maybe Willie will whistle up a tune for your benefit while you’re there.
In Dixie Spirits and Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground I have previously written about famous haints and hauntings of the Bluegrass State, and over the years have traveled its length and breadth for both business and pleasure. Today we return that fair state to investigate one of the more haunted houses there, Philips’ Folly, in Maysville.
During the Late Unpleasantness, A.K.A. the Civil War, Kentucky was a border state, its citizens divided between loyalty to the Union and a hankering to secede from same. Even before the war, however, Kentucky was very much a region torn between two worlds, the slave and the free. It was officially a slave state and a number of citizens did own slaves, but it was also a land of small landholders, whose livelihood was not so dependent on the exploitation of human bondage as the big cotton plantations of the Deep South–the Slaveocracy.
In truth, a crop of strapping sons (and a wife who was both industrious and fertile) were found more productive for productive farm life in this borderland. If a Kentuckian owned a slave, it was seen as more a sign of status and wealth than an economic necessity.
Over time, many Kayntuks grew less and less accepting of the Peculiar Institution and there sprouted up a number of Underground Railroad “stations” in the state secretly resisting the Slaveocracy, since its northern limit was the wide Ohio River. Over that broad watercourse a runaway slave might find a degree of safety– if they but followed the “drinking gourd” to freedom.
The ambivalence of Kentucky towards slavery can be seen in the fact that the two great leaders of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, were both born in log cabins there, only about eight miles apart; but their intertwined fates took different paths when one’s family moved north and the other’s moved further south.
Today, Maysville remains a charming small town, filled with historic buildings and charming stores, sitting astride the southern bank of the Ohio, and when the great river behaves itself is a wonderful place to visit. Philips’ Folly in many ways reflects the states ambivalent heritage and those who know say that its ghostly heritage also reflects those former days.
Philips’ Folly is a stately antebellum building, two and a half stories high and built in an assortment of differing architectural styles, perhaps reflecting a degree of ambivalence over what it should be. The foundation and basement is built with dry-stack cut stone, but the upper stories are made of well laid red brick. The general outline of the building is in the Federal Style and might have been intended to be a simple “salt-box” shape but ends of the building have a stepped look more typical of Dutch architecture. It also has Greek Revival style windows and Doric columns, although the grand two-tiered portico give the front façade a more Georgian aspect.
Some believe that this eclectic mix of style’s accounts for the mansion’s name. A more common explanation is that it’s builder, William B. Phillips, ran out of money in the middle of constructing the structure. Then he up and disappeared for two years; when he returned one day, he arrived mysteriously with new-found wealth to finish the house. It was said he had gained his new fortune at the gaming tables in New Orleans, although some whispered his money had been gained by even more nefarious means. In any case, the grand but unusual home was finished in 1831 and Phillips went on to become mayor of the town and a respected citizen.
In 1838 Phillips sold the home to John Armstrong, a local merchant, who lived there for a number of years. He could often be seen relaxing on the second story portico with his large and devoted Newfoundland dog. Armstrong eventually died in the house and his dog is said to have pined away for its master day and night until he also died there.
In the later part of the nineteenth century the house was the residence of a local doctor, Dr. John Reed, who conducted his practice in the basement, on occasion performing autopsies there. It may be that some of his less successful patients may still abide in that subterranean basement–which may account for at least some of the oddities reported there.
The best-known ghost—and most visible to passers-by—is John Armstrong, who has been spotted from time to time on the second story porch, with his ghostly dog by his side, quietly observing Maysville’s modern residents passing by. Both ghosts seem content to simply abide in the upper story and pass their afterlife in silent contemplation. But the ghostly duo are by no means the only spirits that inhabit the stately manse.
Some time before the Civil War, it is said an owner with Abolitionist sympathies converted the mansion into a stop on the Underground Railroad. Runaway slaves were secreted in the stone basement where there was a hidden tunnel that led down to the river, whence they would be smuggled across the river and passed to other stations located in the Midwest finally leading up to Canada and freedom.
Curiously, there was also a large wooden cage in the basement—commonly called a slave-pen—where the runaway slaves supposedly stayed before being “conducted” on. The existence of that cage seems somewhat inconsistent with it being a haven for runaways, but that ambivalence is but one of the many mysteries of this haunted home.
One tradition holds that the wooden cage served as the town jail for a time, while others hold that at one point the cage held slaves before being sold at market. Some slaves may even have been tortured or murdered in the dungeon-like basement. Over the years there have been reports of low moans emanating from the basement and what sounds to some like the rattling of chains, though no one has seen the spirits that make the sounds down there. Perhaps that is all for the better.
John Pearce, another old time resident, has also been reported haunting its halls. Some say he committed suicide in the back parlor, others that died fighting a duel. Locals report that the eerie sounds of a phantom duel have been heard emanating from that part of the house as well.
Today, the venerable manse at 227 Sutton Street in Maysville has been fashionably restored and serves alternately as bed & breakfast and wedding venue, and by all accounts its resident spirits, if occasionally restless, are totally harmless.
For more Kentucky tales, see Dixie Ghosts, an anthology of weird and uncanny events in the Bluegrass State and elsewhere. For those wanting to encounter other haunting tales relating to slave days, Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War is a good place to start. There are many macabre and morbid tales to tell in that vein and those whose curiosity is aroused by these books, we have others on tap for you to view.
Like Green Hills and Berry Hill, Forest Hills is one of the storied Seven Hills of Nashville, a cluster of old neighborhoods south of downtown where the past lingers along with the ghosts of yesteryear.
In Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, I chronicled the ghosts of a certain part of Nashville, and in this journal I updated that chapter with supplemental information about the Hauntings of the Seven Hills. Overlooked in those articles was the venerable Longview Mansion, which has sat majestically on the corner of Caldwell Lane and Franklin Pike, since the 1850’s.
When it was originally built, it was not such a grand affair as one sees today. It began as a cozy four room, one story cottage, constructed by Henry Norvell and his bride Laura Sevier, the grand-daughter of the colorful frontier leader and first Governor of Tennessee, John Sevier. Today this modest manse boasts twenty-two rooms, eleven fireplaces, fourteen crystal chandeliers, and luxurious glass solarium.
It survived the Civil War more or less intact and in 1878 was purchased by James Caldwell, then president of the up and coming Cumberland Telephone and Telegraph Company. It remained in the Caldwell family through much of the twentieth century, undergoing several expansions and architectural redesigns. After a further change of owners it was ultimately purchased by the Church of Christ and is now owned by David Lipscomb University to serve as a special event center and administrator’s residence, while the LU soccer team uses the grounds for practice.
Having been in one family’s hands for so long and now owned by a decidedly Christian institution, not a lot of details abound about the alleged ghosts that haunt the house and grounds. In any case, genuine ghosts do not pop up on command for camera crews, much less for yahoos who go around in the dark with flashlights aimed at their faces scaring themselves.
It is thought that the origin of at least some of the alleged hauntings can be traced to the Civil War period. The house, on an eminence overlooking Franklin Pike, was in the thick of the Battle of Nashville on the second day (December 16, 1864) and the area about the mansion saw a great deal of bloody fighting.
Around the beginning of the twentieth century, a cannonball was found in the garden, a testament to the estate’s involvement in the battle. One of the family was moved to compose a poem about that memento of the war.
Whether there are any soldier’s graves remaining on the grounds is unknown, but not unlikely, given its location. After the battle, many Confederate dead were hastily dumped into mass graves on unhallowed ground, their names and the locations of their graves long forgotten. Their spirits are thus doomed to haunt the battleground to this day. The Seven Hills, the heart of the battleground, is awash in ghosts dating to the Civil War battle.
Second hand accounts of uncanny events in the house have circulated for years, although the Caldwell family have never spoken directly about such encounters. Given their long residence there, some of the resident spirits may well be family members. The mansion is so opulent and attractive, one could well understand why one might be reluctant to leave it, even for greener pastures.
One incident that has been given credence by those who know, happened a few decades back before the University took ownership of Longview.
The lady of the house at the time was playing the grand piano, just off the main entrance to the house, one day. It was a tune which she was fond of but which apparently did not meet with one of the resident spirit’s approval. As she was in the midst of the tune, a nearby lamp was knocked over by an invisible hand, falling to the floor with a crash.
The lady of the house, aware of her permanent guest’s mercurial temperament and preferring not to upset the resident spirit, never played that song again.
As with the ghosts that inhabit nearby Belmont Mansion and University, the ghosts of yesteryear choose to linger beneath the enchanted eaves of Longview to moving on to another plane.
The notion that what we call ghosts are material manifestations of a soul that has passed beyond the mortal veil is a nearly universal belief. Paranormal investigators routinely try to talk to these deceased persons, either to get them to stop haunting a place, or else to find out their identity. Occasionally they hear, or think they hear, a response. And who am I to say they have not succeeded?
Another theory, not necessarily opposed to the first, is that an apparition or presence which haunts a locale is, in reality a psychic “memory” bound to the spot where their trauma occurred in life, and that that entity is replaying a particular moment or event that happened at the time of their death, sort of like a metaphysical tape recording.
Old wood-frame buildings, with their solid hard-wood plank floors, seem particularly prone to this type of haint—a phenomenon tied to the ancient Druidic belief that a human soul could somehow occupy the heartwood of some types of trees—oak trees in particular.
But on our present sojourn into the Beyond, I would like to propose yet another type of haint; one that ain’t so common, nor so well known: one which you may have already experienced–but just didn’t know you had! The phenomenon goes by different names and conversely, other phenomena are sometimes confused with it; for want of a better term, let’s call them Living Apparitions.
I am not the first to take note of this phenomenon; accounts of Living Apparitions go far back into history. The idea is of ancient origin that, when we sleep, we exit this fragile jar of clay like a genie released from a bottle, to wander on the night wind.
Where we wander and why on the clear dark air, not even the wise can say for certain. But sleep is not the only time that one’s spirit may leave its physical shell and roam abroad, provided that the situation is urgent enough. That the soul may leave the body to travel abroad is something the ancient Egyptians taught in their schools of magic on the Nile and arcane books of sacred glyphs were inscribed with spells to guide the soul on its journeys. But I digress.
Even in modern times it sometimes happens that people have been visited by those they know, only to find that the person they thought they saw before them in fact lay far away at the time.
William T. Stead, a famed British investigative journalist during the Victorian Era, investigated several first hand experiences of living apparitions in England towards the end of the nineteenth century.
Stead relates one case of a Mrs. Talbot, of Buckinghamshire, who was having tea one evening when she sighted a neighbor, Mrs. Lister, coming up the path. Mrs. Lister was obviously distraught and seemed to coming for help. Yet when Mrs. Talbot went to the door to let her in, the visitor was nowhere to be seen. Intuitively, Mrs. Talbot knew things were seriously amiss at the Listers.
“There is something the matter with Mrs. Lister,” she said, “I am certain there is. Yoke the horse and we will drive over at once to the Lister’s house…and see what is the matter”
Her husband, a man of uncommon sagacity, knew from previous experience that it was futile to argue with his wife, made haste to harness the carriage and they hurried over to the Listers, whose cottage lay only a mile away.
There they found a scene of horror: Mrs. Lister was upstairs in bed, lying in a pool of blood, badly beaten. Her husband was nowhere to be seen, but they later learned that in a maniacal rampage he had savagely attacked her and then drowned himself in a nearby pond. The Talbots had arrived just in time to save Mrs. Listers life, and with prompt medical aid she survived the ordeal. In her delirium, she had imagined running for help, yet all the time lay immobile and unconscious. Had her “ghost” not paid the neighbors a visit, she would never have lived to tell the tale.
Stead, in his essay, relates several other accounts of persons whose apparition appeared to others remote in physical space from them. One thing uniting these diverse accounts of the living “ghosting” someone, seems to be a certain urgency on the part of those who appeared and that the person visited was in their thoughts at the time of the emergency.
We have an even better example of this phenomenon, a case based on first hand testimony which happened to a couple well known to American history.
It is a fact, not reported by modern academic historians, but was well known among their contemporaries, that General Ulysses S. Grant and his wife were both strong believers in the paranormal, due to their own experiences on several occasions over the years.
In the early days of the Civil War, Grant had had some trouble volunteering his services for the army. Although they were in dire need of experienced officers, the Regular Army would have nothing to do with him. However, the Governor of Illinois, who had an abundance of raw recruits but a shortage of officers to train them, had no such compunctions and Grant quickly rose to the rank of Colonel and then General.
In November of 1861, Grant was in charge of the Union command at Cairo, Illinois, in close proximity to large Confederate garrison lining the Mississippi River in Missouri and Kentucky. To forestall a Rebel attack and also to give Federal troops under his command a taste of combat, Grant organized an amphibious raid across the river to the enemy encampment at Belmont.
The main Confederate defenses in the area were actually across the river in “neutral” Kentucky, on the commanding heights of Columbus, where the Secessionists had emplaced 140 big guns, menacing any who dared come within range. Rather than attempt to take that formidable fortress, Grant had resolved to attack the smaller Rebel camp nearby at Belmont, Missouri. His troops were still green and he hoped an easy victory on the small camp there would prepare them for bigger fights to come.
At first, everything seemed to go as planned. The blue-clad troops debarked from the flotilla of steamships and made haste to attack the Rebel camp, while the gunboats Tyler and Lexington fired their heavy ordinance in a show of force. The Secessionists, as green as the Federal troops were, after a sharp initial fight fled their encampment in haste, leaving all sorts of booty to loot.
Grant’s plan had been to move on and secure the entire area, taking advantage of the element of surprise to eliminate all resistance. But his soldiers, still more civilian than soldier and ill disciplined, saw all the spoils of war in the Rebel camp—especially cooked meals ready to be eaten—and they abandoned all thought of the enemy and set to pillaging the Rebel camp and congratulating themselves. Even as the Union soldiers celebrated their incomplete triumph, the enemy was ferrying troops across the river from the Kentucky side and massing for a counter attack.
Soon the tables were turned and the Federal force was in danger of being surrounded. Grant tried to re-organize his panicked troops and make an orderly withdrawal, but when he went to look after his rearguard, he found they’d fled helter-skelter along with the other troops, leaving Grant an army of one with Rebel troops all around him.
Taking advantage of tall grass, Grant calmly led his horse around the advancing enemy columns until he got close to the shoreline. Then Grant made a mad gallop towards an awaiting steamboat, bullets whizzing past his ears all the time. Grant spurred his horse up the last gangplank and onto a departing boat, barely ahead of charging grey ranks, even as the steamer made haste to escape.
This much the histories tell us. But the rest of what transpired that day remains largely unreported, even to this day. Mrs. Grant’s memoirs, although known about for a long time, remained unpublished until 1975 and even since, Civil War historians have been highly selective in what they choose to use from her account.
On the same day that her husband led the raid against the enemy camp at Belmont, Julia Grant was busy packing her belongings to be with her husband at the border town of Cairo, Illinois. Grant had managed to organize the garrison there into something resembling order and located less rough accommodations for his family than had been the case when he first arrived.
That afternoon, Julia was busy packing her trunks in preparation to board the train for Cairo. In the mid of this flurry of activity, suddenly she had an overwhelming sense of foreboding take hold of her.
Julia could not understand why she should feel such dread and thought that perhaps she might be coming down with some disease. Unable to breathe and feeling like she might faint, Julia excused herself from her companion and made her way upstairs to lie down till the spell passed.
When Julia entered her bedroom, however, she was startled to see a vivid apparition. It was no ordinary ghost, but the quite real-looking image of her husband Ulysses.
Julia could see the general’s head and upper torso quite clearly, and the image seemed real enough. However, his upper body seemed to hang suspended in mid-air, with his lower body not visible. It seemed as if he were mounted on horseback, but with the rest of the apparition and background not visible to her eyes.
Julia intuitively sensed that her Ulyss was in grave danger, although she knew not why or how. What she did know was that the vision before her was quite real and very disturbing. Julia let out a shriek, and instantly fainted away.
When Julia awoke, the vision was gone, but her apprehension remained. Unable to account for this vision, Mrs. Grant made haste to get to Cairo, to see what danger her husband may be in. While on the train, Julia received word about the Battle of Belmont that her Ulyss had been in. At the train station she found Grant waiting for her and he seemed well enough.
During the ride to their quarters from the station, however, Julia told her husband all about her waking vision of him and her extreme apprehension for his well being as a result.
After listening to her story, Grant replied, “that is singular. Just about that time, I was on horseback and in great peril, and I thought of you and the children. I was thinking of you, my dear Julia, and very earnestly too.”
In his memoirs, Grant later confessed that throughout the war, he never felt so close to death in any other battle as he did that afternoon at Belmont. It was a singular event indeed.
The record abounds with similar incidents as the chosen accounts above. It is easy enough for the cynic to dismiss any and all such stories out of hand. Only those who actually experienced them first hand can know the truth of the matter, even if they cannot explain the how or why of them.
For his part, William Stead observed that, “if it can be proved that it is occasionally possible for persons at the uttermost ends of the world to communicate instantaneously with each other, and even in some cases to make a vivid picture of themselves stand before the eyes of those to whom they speak, no prejudice as to the…nature of the inquiry should be allowed to stand in the way of the examination of such a fact.”
The Living Apparition should not be confused with other phenomenon of a similar nature. For example, there is the belief in the “Doppleganger.” At its simplest, it is the belief that everyone, somewhere, has an exact double of themselves. Sometimes it is thought to be an evil twin who would do a person harm. Others believe they may come from some other dimension, whether for good or ill.
Another phenomenon similar in nature that has been reported from time to time is that of Bi-Location. This is where a living person is able to be in two places at the same time. Unlike the Living Apparition, the second is not a ghost or apparition, but the exact same person, only appearing far removed from their other self in real time and space. Bi-Location has most often been reported as happening to saints and witches, two very diverse categories, to be sure, but united by this one spiritual ability.
All of these and other similar paranormal activities ultimately lead one to the same question once posed by the wisest of the wise but never adequately answered: how can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?
It was in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, where I published the first modern account of Andrew Jackson’s hauntings. It recounts the encounter by two founders of the Ladies Hermitage Association with the ghost of Andrew Jackson.
In the 1890’s, Old Hickory’s home, the Hermitage, had been in sad condition: the stately manse was in a shabby state, its white columns turned to gray, the grounds gone to seed and overgrown with weeds, with only Jackson’s devoted servant, Uncle Alfred, blind and alone, still residing out back in an old log cabin. The two ladies camped inside the run-down mansion as the first step towards the Association beginning the hard task of restoration, only to find out that, though buried in the garden behind the house, Old Hickory’s spirit still resided within.
Since then, generations of volunteers and full-time staff have restored the venerable estate into the jewel you will see today if you visit it, and I am told the ghost of Jackson still occasionally makes his presence known.
Since my first report on his ghost, others have retold the story of Old Hickory haunting the Hermitage many times and camera crews occasionally visit to sneak a peak, if they can, of his shade. But if you prefer the original account to a rehash, by all means read it in Strange Tales, which also includes Old Hickory’s mostly true encounter with the dread Bell Witch.
Less known than this haunt of Old Hickory’s is the fact that Andrew Jackson’s ornery shade also frequents the hallowed halls of the White House, in Washington D.C., although some say his spirit also makes an occasional visit at another White House—the old stagecoach stand in White House, Tennessee.
Old Hickory’s haunting of Big White is less recognized, one may surmise, because the White House is one of those places awash in hauntings by former residents. For example, I relate Lincoln’s apparition appearing there in a chapter of The Paranormal Presidencyof Abraham Lincoln. And with so many spooks bedeviling staff and visitors, one may be forgiven if Andrew Jackson’s spectral visitations there from time to time get lost in the shuffle.
Although nowadays Jackson is out of favor with the politically correct crowd, he remains one of our greatest presidents in history. After all, how many leaders have a whole age named after them, not to mention a political revolution? Still, even in his own day, Old Hickory was a man who incurred not only deep affection but also intense hatred among people.
His treatment of Native Americans—even those tribes who had allied with him during the War of 1812—was particularly egregious. At the time he claimed it was to protect them from the depredations of whites. His regard for minority rights was less than righteous, which in turn reminds one of an old definition of democracy as “five wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner.”
But Jackson also ushered in an era of greater Democracy in America. Among his greatest reforms was to break the power of the bankers, whose greed and graft was having undue influence over the nation’s politics and threatened to replace the growing movement towards Democracy with an oligarchy of the rich and powerful. Would that we had another Jackson to do that today.
Moreover, when an attempt was made to weaken and divide the Nation, Old Hickory acted decisively to prevent Sectionalism from threatening the Union. During the Nullification Crisis, Old Hickory is alleged to have said, “John Calhoun, if you secede from my nation I will secede your head from the rest of your body.” Unfortunately, that was an empty threat. His eight years in the White House were tumultuous and there was bad mixed in with the good he did, but after his term, the Nation would never be the same again.
A man with that strong a spirit and that iron a will cannot help but leave his mark, and that is perhaps why Old Hickory’s shade still lingers within the walls of the White House.
It’s hard to say exactly when anyone first noticed his presence in the White House. We know that during the Civil War Abraham Lincoln hung a portrait of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office, for though Jackson had been of a different party, like Lincoln, Jackson was a staunch defender of the Union and a great Nationalist. Perhaps Old Hickory’s adamantine spirit was invisibly guiding the rail-splitter from Kentucky through the war to preserve the Union.
It has been reported that Mary Todd Lincoln, who attended a number of seances during the war (many with her husband), claimed that she could hear the ghost of Andrew Jackson “cussing” in the Rose Room and stomping around the canopied bed there. What was the cause of Old Hickory’s cussing, Mary was never able to divine, but her description of the ghost’s behavior certainly fit what we know about Jackson’s temperament.
The next documented encounter with Andrew Jackson’s ghost in the White House was by Harry Truman in the 1940’s. He had only been President for two months, when in June 1945, he wrote to his wife about experiencing a number of paranormal encounters: “I sit here in this old house and work on foreign affairs, read reports, and work on speeches–all the while listening to the ghosts walk up and down the hallway and even right in here in the study. The floors pop and the drapes move back and forth.” Truman theorized “old Andy and Teddy” were having an argument over “Franklin.”
A few years later, longtime White House seamstress, Lillian Rogers Park, had a frightening encounter in the Rose Room: “I remember when I was working at the bed in the Rose Room…as I hemmed a bedspread, I suddenly felt that someone was looking at me. I felt something coldish behind me . . . I didn’t finish the spread until three years later.”
During the 1940’s, a White House maid, Katurah Brooks, also encountered Old Hickory’s spirit. Katurah was busy one day doing chores, when she heard laughter in the Rose Room. She stated the sound had a “hollow” or “otherworldly” quality. She too was more than a little spooked.
The most recent report of Andrew Jackson’s ghost haunting the White House is in 1964. Liz Carpenter, noted Washington pundit, was Lady Bird’s press secretary during the Johnson administration and one day, during a routine visit with the First Lady, reported hearing swearing and shouting coming from the Rose Room. She was convinced it was Jackson’s ghost in an uproar.
Some have noticed a pattern to Old Hickory’s White House visitations. They note that ole’ Andy seems to appear during wartime or times of national crisis: the Civil War, World War II, the Vietnam War era, etc.
It could be that the fiery Andrew Jackson only reappears when the Nation needs firm leadership or is at threat and his ghost is there, they theorize, to provide motivation and moral support. Whatever the cause, the tough old ghost still graces the rooms and halls of the President’s residence.
Curiously though, at least three of the homes he lived in life have had verified accounts of being haunted by one or another Lee family member. While I devote an entire chapter to Lee’s haunted homes in Dixie Spirits,I thought to supplement that with this article and some photos to go along with it.
When one thinks of General Lee and his family, one naturally pictures a dignified Southern gentleman, someone descended from an honored and venerable First Family of Virginia (FFV for short).
While Lee always conducted himself with probity, his family was anything but venerable; in fact, it was riddled with scandal through several generations. For one thing, Lee’s father, “Light Horse” Harry Lee, although a hero of the American Revolution, had the reputation of a hell raiser; he drank heavily and gambled much of the family wealth away, and as a result he was constantly in debt–at one time he was even thrown into debtor’s prison.
After he died, his widow and children were dependent on the charity of other family members–and they too had their scandals–notably their relative “Black Horse” Harry Lee.
The best known Lee home is, of course, Arlington, now located in the middle of the National cemetery. Seized early in the war, it became a last resting place for Union war dead. The mansion itself is also an abode of the dead–who at times get a mite restless. Several family ghosts have been sighted here by visitors.
Stratford Hall, the ancestral home of the Lees, was built in the early 1700’s and so it naturally has several generations of Lee ghosts, including old “Black Horse” Harry who had an affair with his wife’s sister while his own spouse lay sick abed. Robert lived here for a time with his mother and siblings.
Then there is the “Lee Boyhood Home” in Alexandria, Virginia. After their father died in debt, Robert and his mother had to move about a bit due to their financial situation. Nonetheless, General Lee always had fond memories of this place and it was here he returned after the surrender–who knows he may still be there.
There are a few other old Virginia manse’s associated with the general—all of them reputedly haunted. For more on the tragic haunted history of the Lees of Virginia and their stately haunts see the Chapter in Dixie Spirits. Depending on the time of the year most of the Lee homes will be open to the public, where you might even encounter a Lee family ghost for yourself. Happy haunting!
If there is one spot in Nashville that visitors are sure to see when they come to Music City, it that section of downtown Broadway they call Honky-Tonk Heaven, Hillbilly Highway or just simply “The District.”
Consisting of the first five blocks of Lower Broad, plus the side streets branching off on either side, for decades it has been a mecca for lovers of Country music, or those just seeking a good time.
While it has been a favorite haunt of musicians trying to make a name for themselves for as long as anyone can remember, the haunting goes far beyond perspiring minstrels trying to make it in the business.
There abide in the old buildings down there the spirits of old-time country stars, workmen and working girls from another era and even a Civil War ghost or three.
Take Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, for example. It’s smoke-stained walls and beer-stained floors have seen the greats of Country Music pass through its swangin’ doors–not to mention a few Rock stars as well.
Behind it is an ally where the same ghosts are alleged to pass into the old stage door entrance of the Ryman Auditorium–originally the home of the Grand Ole Opry.
Across the street are two old record shops that house hidden gold–golden oldies that is. Ernest Tubb used to house the Saturday Night Jamboree. The Jamboree is alive and well but now broadcasts from Music Valley, just across from Opryland Hotel. Downtown, the original store also hosts a jamboree of sorts: the old time musicians still return there on Saturday and haunt the place, even though they’re long dead.
Nearby by Ernest Tubbs was Lawrence Records until recently. Now transformed into Nudie’s Bar, it too has its resident revenants. Nudie, by the way, does not refer to the undress of the barmaids there–they more or less keep their clothes on most of the time–but to the western clothing designer Nudie, known for the gaudy costumes he designs for Country stars. They can change the name and change what they sell here, but the spirits remain despite the changes.
Truth be told, just about every old building in downtown Nashville has a resident spook or three.
I cover the District’s ghosts in far more detail in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennesseethan here, but as I wasn’t able to include photos in that book for technical reasons, so I thought I’d post a few here as well as on Pinterest. If you prefer to find out about the ghosts of Lower Broad for yourself, there is no better time of year than now to do it!
Grendel and Bigfoot: Big Hairy Beasts and Where to Find Them
While we normally chronicle all things weird and wonderful about the American South, we are not averse to occasional side trips into other realms of the uncanny. Given that there are abundant reports of Big Foot and his stinky-ass cousins all over the South, it is not too far afield to inquire about that most famous monster from Old English literature, Grendel.
Once upon a time there was an obscure English scholar of Medieval Literature who wrote an obscure paper about a long forgotten Old English epic poem. The poem was Beowulf and the eccentric academic in question was J.R.R. Tolkien. His resurrection of the epic poem started a major re-appreciation of the poem, first by scholars, then by literary critics in general and finally Hollywood, running out of comic books to make into movies and TV shows, grabbed onto Beowulf and ran with it. At last count, I believe there have been three movies made about Beowulf and more recently a TV series, all of which play fast and loose with the original story–but that’s Holly Weird for you. So, in case you have to read it for a class this fall, be warned that the Germanic hero does not have sex with a demonic Angelina Jolie morphed into a dragon, or anything like it. Read the book.
What set this latest inquiry into monsters is an article I came across by a Dark Age scholar chronicling all the (allegedly) legendary monsters who inhabited Medieval Lincolnshire. Bear in mind, on a dark and stormy night, jolly old England in the Dark Ages could be a pretty scary place and she lists quite a few wyrd and uncanny beasts. No doubt J. K. Rowling could raid her blog for more stuff for her sequels. The original blog post is here: “The Monstrous Landscape of Lincolnshire.”
She posted an old illustration of Grendel, the monster from Beowulf, in the post which immediately caught my eye. She connects Beowulf with a local monster or ogre called a byrs or thyrs in Anglo-Saxon. The illustration from a 1908 book (see below) which included the story of Grendel versus Beowulf is strikingly similar to what most eyewitnesses have described as Bigfoot. Now, admittedly, a modern artist’s conception is not proof that the ancient creature called a byrs and which was the term to describe Grendel was the same beast, but it does set one wondering.
Anyone familiar with either or all of my books, Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground,Dixie Spirits or Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee will know I have an abiding interest in Cryptozoology. It is my belief that, more often than not, these legends of strange or uncanny creatures do have a basis in fact. Animals though long extinct, such as the Coelacanth, manage to confound biologists all the time and fossil hunter are always uncovering previously unknown extinct species. So whenever a biologist vehemently denies the existence of one or another creature as legendary, they should always add the qualifier “for now.”
Over the years there have been quite a few Bigfoot (Bigfeet?) sightings in the Mid-South, although they do seem to have tapered off in recent years. I live in a suburban county to Nashville and while I can’t claim to have seen any giant ape-men (or man-apes, depending on your point of view) I have talked to a few who have. Modern Hendersonville, Tennessee is rapidly building up and developing, but one long time resident remembers the time he was walking along Drakes Creek, before the sports complex was built up along it, and finding large claw marks high up on a tree. He is a veteran hunter and knows quite well bear signs; he insisted to me these claw marks were far too high up on the tree for any black or brown bear to have made, even if they had wandered down from the mountains.
Dating from about the same time period is a report filed with BFRO (Big Foot Research Organization) of a multiple person sighting in Hendersonville. When many of the old farms were just beginning to be turned into sub-divisions a group of six people caught a Big Foot in their headlights rummaging through garbage can. When sighted the eight food creature walked away. As noted above, even in 1965 Indian Lake was by no means wilderness, although heavily wooded in parts. The BFRO Report is posted here. Even now, with decades of development, there are still herds of deer that inhabit the area, so a large biped could still have plenty of big game available to feed on if it didn’t mind all the people.
Just north of Hendersonville, a resident of the Beech area also reported a Big Foot crossing an open field just off of Long Hollow Pike. This too was some time back, but Long Hollow Pike meanders through a hilly region and sits below the Highland Rim, an area more conducive to large creatures living and feeding, with abundant fresh water and game to be had. Some time back I charted most of the published Big Foot sightings and they tended to cluster either along the Cumberland Mountains and Highland Rim area or else in the Smokey Mountain region. With economic development and the disappearance of natural habitats, it may well be that the Tennessee Stink Ape is extinct, or nearly so.
So the Stink Ape, or Wooley Booger or byrs or Grendel may be gone from the scene, but that does not necessarily mean they never existed, and for some they continue to exist in memory.
In Dixie Spirits we investigated the Custis-Lee Mansion, also known as Arlington House, which still stands near Alexandria, Virginia, but we did not explore the many ghosts and haunts of Alexandria proper. Today let’s take a quick look at a famous Civil War ghost down in town.
They say the first casualty of war is the truth. That may well be true, but in the early days of the war, neither side was much concerned with truth, but more with justifying their own actions, as well as portraying the opposite side as the aggressor. Regardless, by the time that Lincoln was inaugurated, the time for rational discussion was already over and the Secessionists moved quickly to surround Washington, DC in the weeks following his installation as President. Lincoln could call for 75,000 troops—but actually organizing, equipping and fielding them to defend the capitol was quite another thing.
Before the war, volunteer militia units were all the rage in the US. In the antebellum era it was fun to be a soldier and many volunteer groups donned colorful costumes, learned to drill like real soldiers and above all, attract the ladies with their displays of martial virtue. Some militia groups developed a reputation for their skill at close order drill and toured the country performing for the public, especially those units who fashioned themselves as zouaves. The original zouaves had been recruited by the French in Algeria and wore colorful oriental style uniforms, but over the years their ethnic makeup was of less importance than their reputation for élan and aggressiveness.
One of the more famous such show units was Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth’s Cadet Zouaves, originally based out of Chicago. Although he was never able to get into West Point, Ellsworth had studied military tactics with a passion and his fencing instructor in Chicago had been an actual French zouave. Ellsworth was a close personal friend of Lincoln’s and when the call went out for volunteers to suppress the rebellion, Ellsworth wasted no time forming a regiment. He went to New York City, sent out a call, seeking out firemen in particular, and within an amazingly brief time received more than double the number of volunteers than he needed. Although rough around the edges and short on discipline, the 11th NY “Fire” Zouaves were shipped south in short order.
When, on May 23, Virginia officially seceded from the Union, Ellsworth’s regiment was ordered across the Potomac to secure Alexandria and Arlington Heights on the Virginia side of the river. While securing the city, Ellsworth noticed that a Rebel flag was still flying over the Marshall House, a local inn. The flag had been something of a sore point for weeks, being visible from across the river and symbol of Lincoln’s inability to preserve the Union even within the shadow of the capital. Not willing to allow this act of defiance to go unanswered, Ellsworth personally climbed up to the top of the Marshall House and tore down the offending flag from the large flagpole on the roof. As he was descending the stairs, however, the hotel owner, one James Jackson, suddenly appeared without warning and shot and killed Ellsworth with a shotgun at close quarters, for which action he was immediately rewarded with his own death at the hands of Ellsworth’s men. It was still early in the war and the death of a single officer, such as Ellsworth, was still notable news in the North. Ellsworth being a close associate of Lincoln amplified the importance of his death. Soon Ellsworth was hailed as a martyr—the first of many—to the cause of preserving the Union.
In the ensuing months and years following his death, rumors began to circulate that, although dead, Colonel Ellsworth was not really gone from the Marshall House. Some claimed to see him removing the Rebel flag from the rooftop of the hotel, others swore they saw his shade on its stairs, where he was murdered.
It was also said that the ghost of the fire-breathing Secesh James Jackson also haunted the same stairwell in the old inn. The Marshall House and its resident ghosts stood on the same spot until the 1950’s, when it was torn down as part of a modernization trend in the city. Normally, that would be the end of the story, but apparently it is not.
Today the Alexandrian Hotel, a “boutique hotel,” occupies the same space where the old inn stood. It has all the amenities one expects in a modern hotel, plus one more: it is haunted. There are those who claim that it is the restless shades of the Civil War who still roam the new hotel.
Sometimes nothing is actually seen, but people claim to hear the sound of gunshots out in the hallways, as if the Rebel hotel owner and the zouaves who killed him are still having it out in the new building.
On one occasion recently, a couple was riding the elevator when it unexpectedly opened at the fourth floor; no guests were there but they saw a glowing light appear on the wall opposite, then disappear. Later, the visitors found they were not alone in having uncanny experiences there.
According to some, it is the Monaco’s sixth floor that is most haunted, which could be a reflection of Ellsworth’s flag taking venture, although the reports are vague on that score. Regardless, the hotel embraces the site’s haunted heritage and in the past it has offered a “Ghosts of Alexandria Family Package” which includes discounted room rate, a stay on the “haunted sixth” plus tickets for the local ghost tour of the town; check to see whether they still offer that since it has changed management.
In any case, Alexandria and nearby DC are chock full of Civil War era ghosts and haunts, and who knows maybe Colonel Ellsworth will put in a personal appearance.
These days, when someone goes on about pixilation or being pixilated, they are probably talking about problems with their digital photos or some kind of Photoshop software glitch. Before the computer age, however, being pixilated was a polite way of saying a person was a bit soft in the head—delusional, demented, or just plain crazy. But it was not always so. Time was people took pixilation seriously, for it meant the Pixies had put a spell on you—a quite unfortunate turn of affairs generally.
Devotees of the Harry Potter series may picture Pixies as small winged creatures with a bluish cast who are prone towards mischief. While not entirely accurate, that is still a step up from the Victorian stereotype of cutesy winged diminutive females who flit about flowers and such. It was the rather arch things that Victorian children’s writers did to the Fairy Folk that led J. R. R. Tolkien to ban all such things from his portrayal of the Elvenkind. In truth, the ability of the Fair Folk to play with human’s minds in various ways and alter our perception of reality goes far beyond what Tolkien chose to portray. While still relegated to the realm of fantasy literature, there are enough accounts floating about in the literature to make a case for various such fey folk being real—or perhaps more accurately, inhabiting their own reality.
While I normally devote space here to Southern paranormal mysteries and phenomena, since much of Southern culture and belief is derived from the Celtic realms of the British Isles, I hope I shall be pardoned from devoting today’s discussion to a well known case of pixilation from Cornwall—or at least it was well known in the seventeenth century.
Anne Jeffries, we are told, was an illiterate girl who entered the service of the Pitt family of St. Teath, Cornwall, when she was nineteen. She was fascinated by the stories of diminutive fairies common to the region and would venture into the night looking and calling out for them.
One day, in 1645, as she was knitting in an arbor by the garden gate, when suddenly fell into a fit. They carried Anne into the house and put her to bed. She lay unconscious for some time, and it was feared she would die. When she finally came to her senses, Anne told all and sundry a fantastic story.
Mistress Jeffries related to all who would hear how she had heard a rustling in the undergrowth but assumed it was a young man who was sweet on her, so she called out to him. But it was no beau he was in the brush.
Anne heard a tinkling sound followed by a musical laugh, then the sound of the gate opening and shutting as six little men all dressed in green came through the garden gate. She related that the six little men were all quite beautiful. One, with a red feather in his hat, spoke in tender tones to her. Unafraid, Anne reached out her hand and he clambered onto the palm of her hand and when she lifted him onto her lap, he boldly ascended her torso and began kissing her neck. The other imps followed suite; then one of them put his hands over her eyes (how big was he?), and everything went dark. Apparently their size might vary at will. The next thing Anne knew she was swept up into the air and flew to a land far away; opening her eyes, she was Fairyland.
Like Alice in Wonderland, Anne found that she had shrunk in size and she was now the same size as all the wee folk, as well as being clad in their colorful clothing. She later gave a detailed description of this Fairland; it was a realm filled with temples and palaces of gold and silver, bright colored exotic birds and flowers, fish of glittering silver and gold. All about were gaily clad folk dancing, prancing, or strolling through the verdant scenery.
Anne was surrounded by her six friends, but of the six the one with the red feather made her his chosen beloved. They managed to steal away together and while Anne was discreet in her description of his intent, the suspicion is his interest in her was more than platonic. Suddenly the other five barged in, followed by a loud crowd. Her pixie lover drew his sword to defend her, but he fell at her feet wounded.
Then the pixie who had originally blinded her again place his hands over her eyes, and once more she was carried up into the air, finally finding herself on the floor of the arbor surrounded a crowd of concerned friends.
The journey to Fairyland apparently had lasting effects. Anne soon found she now possessed the powers of clairvoyance and healing, with the first person to be healed being the mistress of the Pitt household. Anne became very religious and as fame of here healing powers spread, folk came to her for treatment from as far afield as Land’s End and London. She also appeared to be able to exist without human food. The son of the family, Moses Pitt reported that she forsook the family victuals and was fed by the fairies from harvest time to Christmas.
Unfortunately, she developed her power of prophecy at the height of the Puritan Revolution. One of her prophesies foretold of the King’s ultimate victory, and the humorless Puritans had her arrested and committed to prison in 1646. The Puritan magistrate ordered that she not be fed, but it didn’t seem to affect her at all. In 1647 she was detained in the house of the Mayor of Bodmin and still was not fed; but in the end she was released unharmed.
Anne Jeffries case was in unusual in many respects, not least because her prophecy of the return of the King came true. Some may doubt that Anne was abducted by the wee folk and that she actually visited a magical Fairyland. But then strange things happen when pixies are involved, and Cornish pixies are stranger than most.