Halloween Hauntings, Part 9: Rugby Tennessee: Tom Brown’s Ghoul Daze

 

Thomas Hughes, author of Tom Brown's School Days and high minded founder of Rugby, Tennessee.
Thomas Hughes, author of Tom Brown’s School Days and high minded founder of Rugby, Tennessee

Halloween Hauntings Part 9

TOM BROWN’S GHOUL DAZE

First off, let me reassure folks who go to Rugby: despite the title of this essay, there are no ghouls in Rugby, Tennessee, none. No flesh-eating beings of any sort–at least not any I know of–reside there.

That out of the way, let me assure all those in search of a paranormal encounter, there is a gaggle of ghosts that inhabit the place, more per square mile than any town I know of. So, while I can’t guarantee a ghostly good time, your chances are better here than anywhere.

As I chronicle in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, this quaint rural village has been called “The Most Haunted Town in America.” It may, in fact, be the most haunted town in the world, although proving either assertion would be difficult, since the census bureau does not keep record of such things.

Early settlers of Rugby. The indolent sons of English nobility largely found Hushes' work ethic uncongenial and soon left Rugby; the middle class Englishmen who settled there did not and stayed.
Early settlers of Rugby. The indolent sons of English nobility largely found Hushes’ work ethic uncongenial and soon left Rugby. The middle class Englishmen who settled there, who did not mind honest labor, stayed on and their descendants reside there still.

Rugby,Tennessee, is located high in the Cumberland Mountains, a wild and scenic area that while by no means backward, has not been subject to the massive influx of commercialism and corporate tourist development that the equally scenic Smoky Mountains have.

The Cumberlands are located between Nashville and Knoxville: to go from one to the ‘tuther, one passes through this area; travelers rarely stay there for their vacation, however, and mostly just pause in the region long enough for a lunch or brunch at one of the many restaurants and rest stops just off the interstate. This is a pity, since they are missing quite a lot; untrammeled wilderness, scenic heights, clean air and not a few frights and sights at Rugby.

To give an idea of the difference between the two mountain regions of Tennessee, in the summer when one goes fishing in a beautiful mountain stream in the Smokies, one is generally doing so with dozens of other fishermen, all elbow to elbow enjoying the same stream. When you go fly fishing in the Cumberlands, you can cast your reel without worrying about snagging another anglers fishing hat in the process. In all likelihood, the only being within sight of you also fishing is the occasional black or brown bear–or maybe the rare Bigfoot (otherwise known as the Tennessee Stink Ape).

So while Rugby is not hard to get to, being about an hour and spare change from downtown Nashville and a similar distance from Knoxville, it is not a heavily traveled spot, which suits the ghosts just fine.

In this brief review of the spirits of Rugby, we can but hit the highlights. I have covered the subject in greater depth in Chapter 2 of Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground.

To recap from my chapter on the town, Rugby was founded by Thomas Hughes, the novelist famous for Tom Brown’s School Days. Hughes, who actually attended the English “public school” (in the US we call them private schools) named Rugby, was a high minded sort and his intent was to found a town to provide a haven and gainful employment for the younger sons of titled English nobility. In Victorian England, the family wealth and title of an aristocratic family went to the eldest brother, leaving his siblings dependent on handouts from the family patriarch; on the other hand they were prohibited by strict English social custom from seeking gainful employment on their own. So, with little to do except mooch off their eldest brother, these younger sons often whiled away their days drinking, gambling and whoring and hoping big brother would kick the bucket some time soon.

Hughes thought to provide in America a place where they could learn a trade and be productive members of society, so he funded the construction of this little Victorian English village in the Southern highlands. Unfortunately, while the village of Rugby perfectly served Hughes’ purpose, it turned out that the younger sons of English nobility actually preferred to drink, gamble and go wenching instead of soiling their soft hands with any sort of gainful employment. What this late nineteenth century social experiment left behind was a village of quaint and beautiful Victorian homes and a number of mostly English ghosts in the heart of Dixie.

The first Tabard Inn, which burned under mysterious circumstances on Halloween, 1884.
The first Tabard Inn, which burned under mysterious circumstances on Halloween, 1884.

One of the most famous haunts was the Tabard Inn, where a murder most foul took place in Room 13. Alas, one can not stay here, as the building went up in flames some years back. But I talked with Rugby Executive Director, Barbara Staggs, soon after Strange Tales was published, and she had interviewed eyewitnesses who testified that as the building burned, they could hear screams coming from the vacant Room 13. Some locals believed it was the ghost that haunted the hotel who set the fire herself.

The second Tabard Inn, scene of a grisly murder, burned under even more eerie circumstances and was not rebuilt.
The second Tabard Inn, scene of a grisly murder, burned under even more eerie circumstances and was not rebuilt.

Much of the Victorian furniture from the second hotel was salvaged from the fire however, and repurposed to homes throughout the town. Some say cursed furniture was the cause of supernatural phenomena spreading throughout the rest of the town. Others in Rugby disagree on this; but no one doubts that as towns go, Rugby has more haunts per capita than any other town in America.

More fortunate in its fate was Newbury House. Its owner was an English gentleman of high esteem but low birth who found the town quite congenial and sent for his family from England. Sadly, he died before they came and now his ghost resides in Newbury House, still waiting for them to arrive.

The Newbury House in Rugby, home to its own resident ghost.
The Newbury House in Rugby, home to its own resident ghost.

Then there is the old Victorian library, which looks for all the world like something out of Harry Potter–if Harry was a book nerd. It has signed copies of Charles Dickens’ novels. No gnarly ghost of Jacob Marley though. Some call it the “Rip Van Winckle” library, because it seems as though when one enters it, one has entered a sort of time warp. Although there is a phantom librarian reported present there, its presence is mostly unseen. You, however, may have a different experience when you visit.

The old Victorian Library is thought to be presided over by the unseen ghost of a former librarian. Its presence is more felt than seen. Ssssh!
The old Victorian Library is thought to be presided over by the unseen ghost of a former librarian. Its presence is more felt than seen. Ssssh!

There are a number of homes in the town with ghosts, some more active than others and over the years eyewitnesses have reported encounters with them all. There is Kingston Lisle, Thomas Hughes’ sometime residence; there is Roslyn, a two story mansion with several spirits, including the wild carriage driver who thunders up to the front door in a black carriage and the tale of the “weeping girl” in the front yard. Then too, there is Twin Oaks, allegedly once home to a witch, although whether she was simply what the Irish call a “Wise Woman,” knowledgeable about healing herbs and such, or of the more wicked sort, we know not. Appalachia has had its fair share of both sorts.

Again, for more in depth accounts of Rugby’s many ghosts one is better off consulting the chapter in Strange Tales. Then after reading, you will be armed with enough knowledge to tackle Rugby for yourself. The living residents are friendly and helpful to visitors and the spectral residents are mostly harmless—even if the occasional encounter with them is a bit startling. By all means, if you visit Dixie in your travels, Rugby is worth the trip.

For more of Tennessee’s ghosts and haunts, witches and monsters and things that go bump in the night, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee; the two combined are essential reading for any interested in paranormal Dixie and Southern spirits.

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
Happy Halloween!
Happy Halloween from THE GHOSTS & HAUNTS OF TENNESSEE!

 

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“WITH ER’ ‘EAD TUCKED UNDERNEATH ‘ER ARMS” Christmas Spirits

 

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Ann Bolyn, who lost her head at the king’s whim. She haunts many an English palace, but only appears at her home of Hever at Yuletide.

Next to Charles Dickens’ famed spectres, the most notorious of English ghosts has to be the beautiful but ill fated Ann Bolyn.

One of Henry the Eighth’s less fortunate ex’s, he had her beheaded, supposedly because of her infidelity. Ever since, she has been reported to wander the Tower of London, her beautiful visage relocated under her right arm.

In truth, however, there are a number of places in England where Ann Bolyn’s ghost has been sighted–in most cases still lacking a head on her shoulders.  Ann has on occasion been sighted at Hever Castle, her childhood home; Blickling Hall, her alleged birthplace;
The Tower of London, where she was executed; Hampton Court Palace and Windsor Castle, where Anne and Henry resided during their marriage; Salle Church in Norfolk, where Anne’s body was allegedly moved after her original burial in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London and secretly buried under a black slab near the tombs of her Boleyn ancestors; and Marwell Hall in Hampshire, a residence of the Seymours between 1530-1638.

Wherever she may roam throughout the year, one thing is certain: at Christmastime she returns to her ancestral home of Hever Castle, in Kent.

Whether she haunts this castle, “with er ead tucked underneath er arms” is not certain; but we prefer to think not. She comes home to Hever for the holidays, so perhaps that is why she is on her best behavior here.

What is certain is that on Christmas Eve she can be seen walking across the bridge of the River Eden and onto the castle grounds. She has also been sighted under an ancient oak tree where she and Henry first courted. Perhaps for one night out of the year she may find a place to rest–her head still attached–in her ancestral home.

For more true ghost stories, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, Dixie Spirits, and Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee; all are available at better book stores.

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.
GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF TENNESSEE
Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. True haunting tales of the Mid South

A Dickens of a Christmas. CHRISTMAS SPIRITS

 

DickensCharlesWritingWatkins
Charles Dickens, beloved author of that famous Christmas ghost story, A Christmas Carol, may himself be a ghost

Far and away, the most famous Christmas ghost story is, of course, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and if Dickens had never written another word, he would be famous for that story alone.

From childhood, Dickens was told ghost stories and he was both terrified and enthralled by them at the same time.

Ironically, there is a strong possibility that Dickens himself is a Christmas ghost. How and why he may be himself a Christmas Spirit is a curious tale unto itself. 

To start with, only five days after his death in England, Dickens appeared at a séance in America. Ever since, the old boy’s shade has been reappearing at various times and in various places.

By no means did Dickens invent the tradition of telling ghost stories at Yuletide. In ancient times the period from Semaine to Beltane was the time one gathered around the hearth in the dark of the night and related dark and uncanny tales. Whether they were true or not mattered little; but by the flickering of the wood fire stories took on a life all their own, and many things that might be scoffed at during the day, were easily believed in the long winter’s nights. For one take on this and on Dickens’ role as popularizer of Chirstmas ghost stories see: “A Ghost for Christmas? Charles Dickens, Pudding, and Spooky Stories Around the Yule Log.”

Charles Dickens, despite his great fame in life, desired a quiet funeral in his native city of Rochester (England, not New York). However, his adoring public would have none of it; like all great British writers, it was demanded that he be buried in Westminster Abbey with elaborate pomp and ceremony. So, with all the ornate and elaborate ritual as befitted a Victorian funeral, Charles Dickens’s body was entombed in the great English cathedral.

The Fezziwig Ball A Christmas Carol 1843 edition
Fezziwig’s Ball: Dickensian revelry at its finest

But despite the funeral, Dickens was not laid to rest.

SCROOGES THIRD VISITOR
THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT, Scrooge’s third visitor

It is said that, at Christmastide, the shade of the great author returns to his home in Rochester and walks again among the living, like old Marley in his famous tale. People passing by the former home have sworn to have seen a ghostly gent dressed in antique dress walking past it.

Like Marley's ghost haunting Scrooge, Dickens ghost is said to haunt the streets of Rochester England.
Like Marley’s ghost haunting Scrooge, Dickens ghost is said to haunt the streets of Rochester England.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Such then, is the strange tale of Charles Dickens, who may well, himself, be a Dickens of a ghost.

There are those who scoff at this account; others swear by its veracity. Either way, have a Dickens of a Christmas season!

For more true ghost stories see: Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, Dixie Spirits and Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.

Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee                                                                              Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee: More true tales of the Unknown, the Unexplained and the just plain Spooky in the Mid-South. Read it with the lights left on, otherwise the author can accept no responsibility for the consequences.

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