Hauntings of the Seven Hills: Suburban Spooks of Nashville

Howard Pyle's painting of the Battle for Shy's Hill, today part of Green Hills.  In December of 1864 a bloody battle was fought over most of what is now suburban Nashville.
Howard Pyle’s painting of the Battle for Shy’s Hill, today part of Green Hills. In December of 1864 a bloody battle was fought over most of what is now suburban Nashville.

Although I wrote about the ghosts of “The Seven Hills” in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, due to technical issues I wasn’t able to illustrate it the way I would have wished, which is one of the reasons why this blog exists–to update and supplement the true ghost tales I have already related to you.

Green Hills Mall, a modern shopping center located in the center of a battlefield.  Reports of apparitions surface from time to time here.
Green Hills Mall, a modern shopping center located in the center of a battlefield. Reports of apparitions surface from time to time here.

For those not native to Nashville, Tennessee, “The Seven Hills” does not refer to specific hills in the city (there are far more than seven) but to a cluster of suburban neighborhoods southwest of downtown which share similar names: Green Hills, Forest Hills, Hillsboro Village, etc. Although to the casual visitor they all seem pleasant affluent areas (they are) they also hide darker secrets as well: all possess their fair share of ghosts.

Most popular of the neighborhoods by far is Green Hills, and in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee I detail several hauntings there. One of the most interesting is at that mecca of Nashville fashionistas, Green Hills Mall. The mall has had repeated reports of hauntings. Other reports of hauntings in Green Hills come from the homes in the area as well.

Apparently some time back a shoe clerk at The Mall reported seeing an apparition wearing a tricorner hat on a number of occasions. It is thought that this spirit may have been a victim of an Indian attack during the frontier era, when raids and scalpings were commonplace in Nashville.

However, in these neighborhoods an even more common cause of the many reports of haunted homes is the fact that this part of Nashville is where some of the bloodiest fighting of the Battle of Nashville took place. In December of 1864, Green Hills and adjacent Forest Hills saw horrific bloodshed before the Confederate Army was finally defeated. The dead and dying lay everywhere after the battle.

While quietly buried in a modern suburban neighborhood, this old home dates back before the war.  Privately owned, it has had several reports of poltergeist activity, including old coins appearing out of nowhere!
While quietly buried in a modern suburban neighborhood, this old home dates back before the war. Privately owned, it has had several reports of poltergeist activity, including old coins appearing out of nowhere!

While these days on cable television, ghost hunters claim able to not only identify who is haunting what house, but also what they had for breakfast the day they died, the reality is that most hauntings cannot really be pinned to any known person. Residents or owners will report uncanny happenings, mysterious sounds or, more rarely, actually seeing a visual presence. In truth, however, identifying the ghost as a particular individual is mostly speculation. The fact that right after the battle, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dead Confederate were hastily thrown into mass graves in The Hills and never properly buried, is the most probable source of most of these continuing poltergeist activities. As in the movie “Poltergeist,” these subdivisions were often built over the mass graves of the dead without the graves being relocated.

Belmont, home of Adelicia Acklen, Headquarters of US IV Corps during the Civil War and today part of Belmont University.  Open to the public, the ghosts are at no additional charge.
Belmont, home of Adelicia Acklen, Headquarters of US IV Corps during the Civil War and today part of Belmont University. Open to the public, the ghosts are at no additional charge.

One exception to the above rule of thumb, however, is Belmont Mansion. This grand old dame of antebellum architecture stands on a tall hill overlooking Hillsboro Village, a popular destination for both the college crowd and music industry executives. Today Belmont is the campus of a prestigious Christian school, Belmont University. During the Battle of Nashville it was headquarters for the Union Army’s Fourth Corps and the battle lines lay only a few blocks away. While it is thought several ghosts haunt Belmont Mansion, the one most commonly associated with it is Adelicia Acklen, a Southern belle possessed of beauty, brains and lots and lots of money. Despite all that, she suffered the loss of several of her children in the house and it is believed that that is why she still resides there.

Adelicia Acklen, the Phantom Belle is one of several ghosts reputed to reside in Belmont Mansion., and located near Hillsboro Village
Adelicia Acklen, the Phantom Belle is one of several ghosts reputed to reside in Belmont Mansion., and located near Hillsboro Village

For more on the hauntings of The Hills see Chapter 13, Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee; for more about Adelicia and her restless spirit, see Strange Tales, Chapter 26.

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For Whom the Belle Toiled: The Twelve Ghosts of Christmas, Post 11

Adelicia Acklen, whose skill at manipulating men would have made Scarlet O'Hara seem like a schoolgirl.
Adelicia Acklen, whose skill at manipulating men would have made Scarlet O’Hara seem like a schoolgirl.

Many female devotees of the Late Unpleasantness are great admirers of the fictional heroine of Gone with the Wind, Scarlet O’Hara. Her wilfulness, her ability to manipulate men and her all around bitchiness have made her a role model for generations of GRITS (Girls Raised In The South). Outside of Middle Tennessee, however, there are few who know that there was a real life Southern belle whose actual antics put the fictional Scarlet to shame. Her name was Adelicia Acklen, the Mistress of Belmont Mansion.

Not that Adelicia was at all unpleasant or, shall we say bitchy. Oh no; butter would not melt in her mouth; she was a godly woman and prolific progenetrix. And she was very, very wealthy.

Where once rows of magnolias blossomed, today stands Music Row; other vestiges of Adelicia’s estate have also gone with the wind (or kudzu as the case may be) but the mansion she once resided in, Belmont, remains and–at least at Christmastime–so does she.

Adelicia started off her career as a humble country girl in Sumner County, with several thousands of acres of prime farmland and a few dozen champion show horses to her name. Her father was a simple farmer whose wealth could only be counted by a handful of accountants working night and day. However, wealth begets more wealth, and the young and beautiful Adelicia married a prosperous doctor who amplified her estate and sired several children with her. Poor thing, his health was not so strong as her loins and he died prematurely, leaving her a wealthy widow.

Joseph Alexander Smith Acklen, Adelicia's second husband who died in 1863 while looking after their cotton investments along the Mississippi. Adelicia set off through the war torn South to retrieve not Joseph, but her cotton crop. Adelicia's Odyssey through wartime Dixie is the stuff of legends.
Joseph Alexander Smith Acklen, Adelicia’s second husband who died in 1863 while looking after their cotton investments along the Mississippi. Adelicia set off through the war torn South to retrieve not Joseph, but her cotton crop. Adelicia’s Odyssey through wartime Dixie is the stuff of legends.

However, beautiful Adelicia did not long remain a widow.  She remarried, this time to a far wealthier man, Joseph Acklen, who owned large and profitable plantations on the lower Mississippi, all of which produced bountiful crops of cotton.

In due course, Adelicia bore Joseph a bountiful crop of several more children and he in turn built her the magnificent Italianate mansion of Belmont. Sitting on a long sloping hill, one approached Belmont in the old days as if one were ascending Mount Olympus to visit the gods. Downton Abbey would have been a pauper’s hut compared to Belmont in its heyday. All went well, until the War.

Belmont Mansion's modest back yard, ca. 1863.
Belmont Mansion’s modest back yard, ca. 1863.

In February, 1862, Nashville fell to the invading Yankee hordes and the miles between the Rock City and the Acklen cotton plantations in Louisiana were long indeed; for most of the war the area between the two waas a no man’s land in which the various armies marched and fought.

Not long into the conflict, husband Joseph headed south to look after their financial interests along the Mississippi, lest their family fortune be ruined. Adelicia remained home to look after her growing brood of children and her thoroughbred horses.  She was devoted both to her children and her horses.

Then one fateful day came word that her beloved Joseph had died of a fever tending to their cotton (some say it was a carriage accident).

Adelicia sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, saying “What am I to do, what am I to do!” and then it struck her: what about the cotton? Where the hell was it; had it been harvested; was it ready to be shipped—and how?

Adelicia, for all her beauty, was not one to simply fan herself and stand idly by while her family fortune went up in flames. With no further ado, she piled a female cousin and two loyal servants in a carriage and headed into the hundreds of miles of lawless no-mans land, where deserters and robbers and guerillas on both sides would sooner kill you as look at you.

In the end Adelica saved the cotton.  Through cajolery and charm, she shipped it abroad and sold it in England for premium prices, emerging even wealthier than before the war—a feat unique among Southern planters. In the postwar Dixie for many years she was the queen of Southern society and her evening parties and Christmas Balls were legendary. Belmont became the epicenter of the postwar South’s high society.

After she died, the aura of Belmont as a grand and elegant place continued on. It became an aristocratic girl’s finishing school, Ward-Belmont, and ultimately a well respected modern academic institution, Belmont University. But over the years, various alumni and staff have had odd encounters within its august halls, things that cannot be explained by natural causes.

No one has actually seen Adelicia roaming the halls; but on more than one occasion, student, faculty and staff have had fey and uncanny experiences in the mansion, especially at Christmastime, that make them believe she is indeed still inhabiting the old manse.

One of the annual Christmas celebrations at Belmont is called “Hanging of the Green” and the students stage an elaborate ritual revolving around a tall winding staircase. Over the years, students involved in the Yuletide ritual have reported feeling a female presence there, while waiting for the ceremony to begin. Others hear the rustling of crinoline dresses, when no one is there. Other unexplained encounters also occur with uncanny frequency, especially around Christmas.

The front façade of Belmont Mansion, the grand Italianate home of Adelicia Acklen, today home to a Belmont University major Southern University. Adelicia is long dead, but she still roams the old manse's hallways and stairs, especially at Christmastime.
The front façade of Belmont Mansion, the grand Italianate home of Adelicia Acklen, today it is home to a Belmont University, a prestigious major Southern University. Adelicia is long dead, but she still roams the old manse’s hallways and stairs, they say, especially at Christmastime.

So, do Adelicia and other members of her ghostly clan really still inhabit the august halls of Belmont Mansion?

Go there sometime and find out for yourself.

For more about Belmont Mansion and its ghostly guests, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground; Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee will also you tell you more about the areas favorite haunts. Belmont Mansion is located at 1700 Acklen Avenue
Nashville, TN 37212 and is open to the public: cf. http://belmontmansion.com/

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.