The Haunting of Longview Mansion

Longview 75KB JPEG
Longview Mansion as it appeared in 1919, sitting majestically above the old Franklin Pike.

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.

Longview grand piano main entrance hall
In the Room where it Happened. Longview.

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.

For more haunting tales of Tennessee, go view Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, published by HarperCollins, or Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee by Blair publishers. For double your hauntings, buy them both!

 

STRANGE TALES OF THE DARK AND BLOODY GROUND via HarperCollins website
Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground surveys uncanny accounts of the Mid-South, not just haunted houses and other spooks, but assorted unexplained phenomena from Spontaneous Human Combustion to Fortean Falls of Blood and Gore–and more!

 

Old Hickory Haunts the White House

Andrew Jackson Official White House Portrait Ralph E.W. Earl 1835
Andrew Jackson, one of the Nation’s greatest presidents, was a man who was among the most beloved–and most hated–of American Presidents. His ghost has been reported in both the Hermitage and the White House.

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 Presidency of 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.

Trail of Tears Robert Lindneux
As President, Andrew Jackson ordered the Cherokees removed to west of the Mississippi, sparking the tragic “Trail of Tears”

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.”

Jackson Slaying the Many Headed Monster THE BANKERS
To Jackson, the bankers were “the many headed monster” and fought to keep their money and power from corrupting government.

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.

 

 

The Haunted Homes of the Robert E. Lee

DARK SHADOWS OF THE LEES OF VIRGINIA

In researching Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, I never came across references to any ghostly sightings of Robert E. Lee, the venerable commander of the Army of Northern Virgina.

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.

Arlington The Custis Lee Mansion during the Civil War LC 08246r
Pictured here is Arlington, taken during the Civil War. Federal troops seized the family mansion and soon started burying Union troops on the grounds, the estate becoming Arlington National Cemetery.

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 Lee ancestral home (HABS)
Stratford Hall, the home of “Black Horse” Harry Lee, who brought shame and disgrace on the family.

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.

Gen Lee House Richmond LC 02918a
General Lee’s “boyhood home.” Directly after Appomattox, Lee returned here for a short time.

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!

Dixie Spirits Fall River Press
Dixie Spirits, authentic accounts of the Supernatural in the South.
GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF THE CIVIL WAR 3x5
Ghosts & Haunts of the Civil War. True accounts of haunted battlefields, Civil War ghosts and other unexplained phenomena.

HONKY TONK HAINTS: THE GHOSTS OF LOWER BROAD IN NASHVILLE

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.

GHT Lower Broad in olden days and still haunted
Lower Broadway in the old days. Many of the Honkey Tonk buildings date to before the Civil War and have many generations of ghosts haunting them.

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.

GHT Tootsie's Haunte Orchid Lounge
TOOTSIE’S ORCHID LOUNGE one of the oldest and greatest Honkey Tonks in Music City–and most haunted!

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.

Lawrence Record Shop Lower Broad
The venerable Lawrence Records at 409 Broad is gone–but it’s ghosts aren’t!

Nearby by Ernest Tubbs was Lawrence Records until recently. Now transformed into Nudie’s Bar, it too has its resident revenants. Nudie does not refer to the undress of the barmaids there–they more or less keep their clothes on–but to the 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.

GHT Haunted Honky Tonks
Almost all the Honkey Tonks of Music City’s Lower Broad have at least one ghost haunting is hallways.

I cover the District’s ghosts in far more detail in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee than 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!

For an in depth look at the Ryman Auditorium’s historic hauntings, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground.

open-uri20150930-11-1wp63v
Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South!
GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF TENNESSEE
Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. True haunting tales of the Mid South

THE FIRST CASUALTY: Ellsworth’s Ghost

Colonel Elmer E Ellsworth was a personal friend of Lincoln's and leader of the elite New York "Fire" Zouaves.
Colonel Elmer E Ellsworth was a personal friend of Lincoln’s and leader of the elite New York “Fire” Zouaves.

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. 

 

The original zouaves were Algerians, recruited by the French to serve in their army. Their elan in battle became legendary and many "zouave" regiments were formed during the Civil War in emulation of them.
The original zouaves were Algerians, recruited by the French to serve in their army. Their elan in battle became legendary and many “zouave” regiments were formed during the Civil War in emulation of them.

      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. 

Recruiting for a Zouave regiment, NYC in 1861. While considered elite units, the zouaves could also be quite rowdy when not in combat.
Recruiting for a Zouave regiment, NYC in 1861. While considered elite units, the zouaves could also be quite rowdy when not in combat.

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. 

The Marshall House as it looked in 1861. Note the tall flagpole on the roof of the building. Its owner was a brutal slave owner and fire-breathing Secessionist.
The Marshall House as it looked early in the War. Note the tall flagpole on the roof of the building. Its owner was a brutal slave owner and fire-breathing Secessionist.

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.

The murder of Colonel Ellsworth. His ghost was sighted in the Marshall House on repeated occasions over the years.
The murder of Colonel Ellsworth. His ghost was sighted in the Marshall House on repeated occasions over the years.

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.

Some visitors allege the modern hotel on the site of the old Marshall still holds the ghost of Ellsworth and perhaps of his murderer.
Some visitors allege the modern hotel on the site of the old Marshall still holds the ghost of Ellsworth and perhaps of his murderer.

 

 

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.

 

 

For more Civil War ghosts see: Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War and for more on General Lee’s Arlington ghosts, plus other famous Southern ghosts, go to Dixie Spirits.  Happy haunting y’all.

 

Dixie Spirits via Sourcebooks
Dixie Spirits: true tales of the Strange and Supernatural south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

 

GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF THE CIVIL WAR 3x5
Ghosts & Haunts of the Civil War. True accounts of haunted battlefields, CW ghosts and other unexplained phenomena.

 

 

 

The Case of the Kelly Green Men

Sketches of the little green men the Sutton family saw
Sketches of the little green men the Sutton family saw

In addition to being the home of Edgar Cayce, the “Sleeping Prophet,” Hopkinsville’s next biggest claim to fame is as the location of the Great Goblin Encounter, also known as Kelly Green Men Case.

For the record, the creatures were not Kelly Green in color.  Rather, Kelly is the rural community just outside of Hopkinsville where the close encounter occurred.  That much everyone can agree on; just about everything else about the incident has been disputed ever since.

The incident occurred in 1955 and to this day ranks as one of the best documented—and scariest—close encounters in UFOlogy.  Seven persons from two farm families witnessed the events and their accounts, examined and cross-examined repeatedly over the years, have stood up to withering criticism and scorn and remain remarkably consistent.

Duendes or green goblins, as rendered by artist from folklore, similar to the Kelly aliens.
Duendes or green goblins, as rendered by artist from folklore, similar to the Kelly aliens.

On the evening of August 21, 1955, Billy Ray Taylor of Pennsylvania was visiting the Sutton family in the rural community of Kelly, in Christian County outside of Hopkinsville, Kentucky.  As the house had no indoor plumbing, around 7pm Billy Ray went outside to the pump to get some water.  It was at this point that he observed strange multi-colored lights to the west, which he interpreted as a disc shaped craft of some sort.

Billy Ray ran into the house all excited like and told the folks inside he had seen a flying saucer.  The Suttons scoffed at his sighting, telling him he must have seen a shooting star or some such.

About an hour later, the folks inside the house began to hear eerie and unexplained sounds outside.  The Sutton’s dog began barking wildly, as if there were strangers lurking about; then the dog suddenly became terrified and quickly ran under the house, where it remained for the duration.

Billy Ray and the family patriarch, Elmer “Lucky” Sutton, grabbed some guns and went outside to investigate.  There they saw a strange creature coming at them from a line of trees.

When it got within about twenty feet, they let loose a volley, one of which was a twelve gauge and the other a 22 cal. varmint gun.  The creature flipped over and then ran into the darkness; the boys were sure they’d hit it.

Stepping off the porch, they went in search of the creature, when they spied another one sitting on an awning.  Again they fired and knocked it off the roof.  But as before, although they were sure they had scored a direct hit, the being seemed unharmed.  A bit shaken by the encounter, the duo went back into the house.

A few minutes later, Lucky’s brother, J. C. Sutton, saw another creature peering into the house through a window.  J.C. and Solomon, another kin, fired through the window at them, seemingly to no effect.

For the next several hours the little green men played whack a mole with the Taylors and Suttons, popping up at windows and doors, with the two clans replying with hot lead.

Kelly-Hopkinsville(reconstitution)
For several hours, the residents of Kelly played hide and seek with the little green men who were terrorizing their neighborhood.

Whenever they scored a hit, they heard a hollow rattling sound, like banging around in a metal drum.  The creatures also seemed to float off the ground at times, rather than walk.

Finally, the family matriarch, Grandma Lankford, counseled the boys to stop shooting at the creatures; not only did it not seem to have any effect, but the creatures did not seem to mean any harm to the humans.

Because the small children were badly frightened, around 11pm the group made a break from the house and got into their cars, making it to the Hopkinsville Police Department around 11:30pm, where they filed a report.

Police Chief Russell Greenwell, in writing up his police report, noted that the group were visibly shaken by the experience beyond reason.  The Suttons, he noted, were not folks easily upset and not prone to filing complaints to the police; without weighing in on the accuracy of their account, he concluded that “something frightened them, something beyond their comprehension.”  The witnesses were also judged not to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time.

Elsewhere in Christian County, around 11pm a state trooper reported seeing “unusual meteor-like objects” flying overhead, with a sound “like artillery fire” emanating from them.

Upon investigating the scene of the incident,police officers themselves witnessed strange lights in the sky and in the nearby woods (although later, some would refuse to talk openly about it).

To their surprise, the officers found that nearby neighbors were also terrified and reported seeing the same strange lights in the sky, and strange sounds, at their homesteads and diners at the local Shady Oaks restaurant, also reported seeing the strange lights in the sky. .

The Hopkinsville police investigating the farmstead that night, found numerous bullet holes and hundreds of spent shells.  They found a luminous patch of unknown substance on one of the fences where a creature had been shot but neglected to collect a sample for testing.  Moreover, in the distance a green light was seen that night.

When the police left around two am, the green men returned and kept poking around the farmhouse until close to dawn.  They were never seen again.

Contemporary newspaper clipping of the Kelly Case.
Contemporary newspaper clipping of the Kelly Case.

In the days and weeks that followed, the incident garnered national publicity and scores of curiosity seekers came visiting, some in awe, many to scoff.

People accused the witnesses of being drunk or of being liars.  The usual mob of professional debunkers fabricated their well-worn explanations to deny what had happened.

At first the Suttons freely told the press and others willing to listen of their harrowing experience.  Eventually, however, the ridicule and criticism by self-anointed experts caused the family to refuse to discuss their encounter with outsiders.

A 39 foot replica of the flying saucer built for the annual Kelly UFO festival near Hopkinsville, KY.
A 39 foot replica of the flying saucer built for the annual Kelly UFO festival near Hopkinsville, KY.

Apparently military types visited the farm to investigate the close encounter, but the Air Force denies ever visiting the Sutton farmstead.  Curiously, though they claim never to have been there, Project Blue Book listed the case as a hoax without comment.

It is curious that Project Blue Book could make that judgment if, as they say, they never investigated it.  It should be noted, however, that Hopkinsville is not far from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, which, while not an Air Force base, is not only home to the 101st Airborne Division, but also to various Special Operations units. Some of these special ops units are known, but others remain top secret–officially, they don’t exist.  What Special Ops units were operating there in 1955 is not known.

In 1957, one Air Force spokesmen theorized that the creatures were just some circus monkeys, painted silver, who’d escaped–which was perhaps the least believable of all the vain attempts to rationalize away the event.

Because of the creatures green color, they began to be referred to as “Goblins” by some in the media.  Over time the cynics grew tired of heaping ridicule on the community and its close encounter, and, not being able to grab media attention with their visits, ceased plaguing the community.

For their part, the citizens of Hopkinsville began to embrace the incident as part of their local lore.  The “Little Green Men” Days Festival  is held at annually and has become a major event.

An artist’s impressions of these “Green Goblins” is even said to have inspired one of the many Pokeman anime characters.

While people may celebrate the event in song and story, to Lucky Sutton and his family it was serious business and remained so for the rest of their lives.

As his daughter related as an adult, “He never cracked a smile when he told the story because it happened to him and there wasn’t nothing funny about it. He got pale and you could see it in his eyes. He was scared to death.”

Strange tales of unexplained phenomena and paranormal activity in the Mid-South, including the Pennrile Region.
Strange tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground chronicles unexplained phenomena and paranormal activity in the Mid-South, including the Pennrile Region.

For more strange stories of unexplained lights, close encounters and unidentified flying weirdness in the Mid-South and elsewhere in Dixie, see: Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Dixie Spirits.

A compendium of strange, unexplained and uncanny events and places throughout the South.
DIXIE SPIRITS is a compendium of strange and uncanny events throughout the South.
GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF TENNESSEE
Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. True haunting tales of Tennessee and the Mid South

 

 

 

 

Halloween Hauntings, Part 12: The Sleeping Prophet of Kentucky

Halloween Hauntings, Part 12:

EDGAR CAYCE, The Sleeping Prophet of Hopkinsville, KY

I discussed the Bell Witch extensively in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and also a bit more about her and other Tennessee witches in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, so I won’t chew my cud twice on that score—at least not here.  However, if you are visiting Adams to get in touch with ol’ Kate, you might want to keep going to visit another town with a reputation for the uncanny and paranormal: Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

If you take Highway 41 up the road apiece beyond Adams, you will soon cross the Tuck-asee state line and come to Hopkinsville, Kentucky, a place equally worthy of note for those who derive joy in being scared out of their wits by paranormal phenomena and other high strangeness.

Hopkinsville, while considerably more urban in character than Adams, is still a quiet town most times and hardly a place one would peg as the epicenter of unexplained events or strangely gifted people.  Yet on both counts Hopkinsville can hold its own with places more famous or more populous.  For one thing, it is the home of Edgar Cayce, world renown as the “Sleeping Prophet.”  Edgar Cayce was an unlikely candidate for notoriety, at least to start with.  Born in 1877, in Beverly, just a stone’s throw south of Hopkinsville and his father would knock him about because he was such a poor student in school.  When he was very young and wandering in the woods he claimed to see “little folk” cavorting about and occasionally spotted his dead grandfather.  He knew grandpa was dead because he could see through him.

By 1910, when this photo was taken, Edgar Cayce had already become nationally famous for his readings.
By 1910, when this photo was taken, Edgar Cayce had already become nationally famous for his readings.

At the age of ten he was taken to church and from that time on diligently began reading the Bible.  Then, at the age of twelve one day an angel appeared to him in a woodland shack as he was doing his daily Bible reading.  The angel told him his prayers would be answered and asked him what he wanted.  Cayce allegedly replied that most of all he wanted to be helpful to others, especially sick children.  On advice of this same mysterious “lady” he found that if he slept on a school textbook, he would absorb all its knowledge while he slept and he soon became an exceptional student.

By 1892 Cayce was giving “readings” in his sleep relating to people’s health issues, although he tried to support himself with a number of day jobs.  Although he never charged for a “reading” at one of his sleep sessions, eventually followers donated enough money to support Cayce that he could concentrate on his readings, which began to expand from health issues in to metaphysics and prophesy.

He moved to Selma, Alabama from 1912 to 1925 and from then to his death in 1945 lived in Virginia Beach, but he was buried in his hometown of Hopkinsville.  Edgar Cayce, unlike many mediums, was not dogmatic about his readings and advised people to accept them only to the extent they benefitted from them; likewise he always advised to test them against real world results.  When awake, Cayce claimed no conscious memory of what he had said or why he said it.  His utterings remain closely studied to this day and some say they have proven remarkably accurate.

New York Times article, dating to 1910, chronicling Edgar Cayce's renown as a healer and psychic.
New York Times article, dating to 1910, chronicling Edgar Cayce’s renown as a healer and psychic.

Hopkinsville is in the heart of the Pennyrile region of southern Kentucky—or Pennyroyal as some more refined folk prefer to call it—and there is available for traveler’s a “Edgar Cayce Cell Phone Tour” of Hopkinsville, while the Pennyroyal Area Museum has devoted a good part of its exhibition space to Cayce and artifacts relating to him.

Hopkinsville, being part of Bell Witch Country, also celebrates the Old Girl in October every year.  There is also the annual Edgar Cayce Hometown Seminar, usually held in March, which celebrates Cayce’s life and readings.

For more about the Tennessee The Bell Witch and Pennyrile oddities, go to Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground.  Also see Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee for more weird witchery as well.

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. True haunting tales of the Mid South
Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. True haunting tales of the Mid South

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For exhibitions on Edgar Cayce, visit:

The Pennyroyal Area Museum

217 East 9th Street

Hopkinsville, KY 42241

(270) 887-4270

Halloween Hauntings, Part 11 Witches of Appalachia, Wicked, Wise and Otherwise

Halloween Hauntings, Part 11:

Witches of Appalachia

A modern take on the traditional witch has her bewitching readers in an entirely different manner
A modern take on the witch has her bewitching men in an entirely different manner
The late great Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West from an MGM publicity still ca.1939
The late great Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West from an MGM publicity still ca.1939

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around about Halloween it is not unusual to see images of alluring females all bedecked in black, slinky and seductive apparitions in witch’s costumes.  That is one modern stereotype; the other, older one, is of an ugly, cock-eyed old crone with crooked nose and hairy mole leering out with a toothless smile.  

The truth is that neither of these stereotypes is true, at least not of real witches—and make no mistake, real witches have existed and for aught I know still do—in the mountains of Tennessee. I go into this in much greater depth in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, and Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, so for more on this and similar phenoms, go there if you dare.

popular modern iconography of the witch and her familiars, the owl and the pussycat.
popular modern iconography of the witch and her familiars, the owl and the pussycat.

Of course, the curious thing has always been that there were always far more folk who would own up to being witch-hunters (or ‘witch-doctors”) than those who would actually own up to being a witch. And especially today, if we are talking about beings with genuine supernatural powers, if they proudly proclaim themselves a witch in public, the likelihood is that they are not.

Still, it was not so long ago in East Tennessee that folks knew very well who in their community was, and was not, a witch.  And for the most part they were neither ugly nor sexy, nor any kind of neo-pagan. But what they all had in common was that they were feared and avoided—unless you needed them for something.

Before the creation of Smoky Mountain National Forest, that multi-county region it covered was home to several mountain communities that now are no more. The area back in the 1930’s was not quite so backward as Yankee journalists of the day might have proclaimed, but even by the standards of early twentieth century South, folk up there were land rich but dirt poor.

Of course, if you raised your own crops and had herds of livestock, and had a gun and a fishing rod, there was always food on the table and no one starved.  As far as modern amenities went, such as indoor plumbing or electricity, well, that was something city folks had, not mountain folk.

Up around that part of the Smokies once lived a lady later known as “Witch McGaha.”  It was not her Christian name, of course; but then she was not the church-going type anyhow.  One thing that set folk wise to Witch McGaha was that she was continually trying to borrow things from neighbors.

It was not as though she needed anything; but, you see, if a witch can borrow three things from you, then sure as spit she can put you under her spell.  Conversely, Witch McGaha would never, never lend anybody anything, not even to members of her own family.  Many tales are told about her and her powers, but one will suffice for now

One fall, her own blood kin, sister Nance McGaha, wanted some nice juicy apples from her sister’s orchard. But Witch McGaha would have none of it.  Not one apple would she loan or give.  Nance even got her mother to talk to her older sister to loan her some apples until her own orchard came into its own, all to no avail.

Nance, too willful for her own good, snuck onto her sister’s orchard and started plucking the shiny red fruit off’n the trees and putting them into a large tote sack.

Not able to wait till she got home, she bit into one. It was red, and ripe and oh so juicy, just bursting with the sweetness of Autumn in the mountains.

Vintage photo of members of a British tea party. Poison apples were served after tea.
Vintage photo of members of a British tea party. Poison apples were served after tea.

When she had picked her full, Nance started off for home, thinking her sister would be none the wiser. She was dead wrong.

As she walked along the mountain trail, Nance felt a small tug on the hem of her dress; then another and another. What was that tugging?

She looked down. Nance found a pack of bushy tailed grey squirrels had formed a ring around her and were giving her angry looks as the insistently tugged on her dress.

Nance began to walk faster, but as she did even more squirrels appeared. They were all angry and intent on stopping her progress.

Soon she broke into a run, dropping the sack now in her haste to escape, but the growing horde of squirrels were keeping pace and would not let up their assault.

Now they were scratching and biting and clawing at every part of Nance’s body and no matter how fast she ran they all held on and kept attacking her.

By the time Nance reached the threshold of her house she was all bloody and her dress in tatters.  Before she could cross the threshold of home where a broom was lain across it to ward off evil, Nance McGaha keeled over, dead.

A common feature of traditional Appalachian life has always been the local Wise Woman, a person who had knowledge of herbs, potions and poultices, who also knew how to conjur spells. Their craft was in part derived from Ireland and Scotland, where Wise Women were a common occurrence; partly they also learned from the local tribes’ medicine women about healing remedies and about the local spirits that might be of benefit; and perhaps too, they picked up knowledge of spells and herb magic from those few Negro practitioners of Hoodoo that dwelt in the mountain regions.

In nineteenth century North Carolina, one such Wise Woman was especially famous, called “Mammy Wise” (actually her name was Weiss) and while not particularly wicked, she was a particularly talented Wise Woman.

She claimed to have “spelt” the Civil War (she always regretted that); she could also divine out who a thief was in the community and was Mammy Wise was the first person one resorted to when it came to cooking up a love potion.

Mammy Wise was respected and honored on that side of the mountains. Still, no one with any sense ever tried to get on her bad side, for they knew what she could do if her ire was raised.

Woodcut of a British witch ca. 1643. Any woman with herbal knowledge or healing skills could be accused of witchery. The real ones likely went unnoticed, practicing their craft in secret.
Woodcut of a British witch ca. 1643. Any woman with herbal knowledge or healing skills could be accused of witchery. Few accused were guilty, for the real ones  practiced their craft in secret.

There were—are—other Wise Women in the high mountains, although these days they are far more discreet. Society may be more tolerant these days of folk who claim to be witches, but those with real power are wise enough to say little and mind their business—especially when their business is the Dark Art.

For more about Appalachian Witches and their haunts, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.

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
This latest offering of all things spooky in the South covers the favorite haunts of downtown Nashville and other Country spooks.
Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee covers not only mountain witches but the haints of downtown Nashville and West Tennessee spookiness.

 

Our First Southern President and the Paranormal

Part 1: Washington’s Prophecy

 "I had seen a vision wherein had been shown to me the birth, progress, and destiny of the United States." George Washington
“I had seen a vision wherein had been shown to me the birth, progress, and destiny of the United States.” George Washington

Let’s see: we have looked at Thomas Jefferson and UFO’s and Abraham Lincoln and just about all things paranormal; let’s look at another Southern president’s supernatural encounters: George Washington.  Since there is quite a bit out there about George and the uncanny, this promises to be a two part-er, at least.

Today we’ll look at the Washington Prophecy, which is as important as it has been underreported.  This obscure incident from the  American Revolution uncannily fore-shadows, not only the American Civil War, but possibly both world wars as well.  For now for more about Washington and the Civil War, see Chapter 16 of Ghosts & Haunts of the Civil War.

Let us go back, then, to the winter of 1777, the “year of the three sevens” and the time when the American Revolution almost collapsed.  It was a starving time for Washington’s army at Valley Forge: the troops were ill fed, ill clothed and freezing in their hovels.  The Continental Congress, as Congress does today, did nothing to help.  The well fed politicians were little concerned with those who were fighting and dying at the front; they were very concerned about protecting they and their rich patron’s wealth and privilege and not the Republic.  The troops were starving, barefoot, were not being paid and on the verge of mutiny.  Washington begged and pleaded for blankets, clothing and food, all to no avail; he was in fact on the verge of resigning as commander of the army.  Against this background occurred an uncanny incident which has long been rumored about, but which we have a lone witness to its truth.

During the winter of 1777, General Washington had good cause to pray. It may be that the prophecy was in answer to these prayers
During the winter of 1777, General Washington had good cause to pray. It may be that the prophecy was in answer to these prayers

Our sole source for this incident was a soldier named Anthony Sherman. His account was first published in the 1840’s, in an obscure journal now unobtainable at any price.  Fortunately, his account was reprinted after the Civil War in the National Tribune, a newspaper published for the benefit of Union veterans, mainly to enable them to get pensions from the Federal Government.  As with the VA today, veterans and widows were often frustrated dealing with the government that they had defended, fought, and died or were disabled protecting.  His account, having been told well before the Civil War, gains additional credibility thereby.

Sherman (no relation to the general) was an ordinary soldier, posted to Washington’s headquarters at Valley Forge at the time.  One day, General Washington emerged from his private quarters, where he had been alone for some time.  Emerging visibly shaken, he began to relate what he had experienced to a trusted aide (Sherman does not say whom, but it was likely Alexander Hamilton). Sherman was close enough to the two to hear what Washington said, and what the general had to say remained seared into Sherman’s memory.

Washington, alone at the time, was in his office praying.  Now in normal times Washington was not an overly religious.  Washington was a product of the enlightenment, when most educated gentlemen regarded God (if they regarded him at all) as a sort of divine “clock-maker” who wound up the universe and then stood back and watched it move on its own.  However, the winter of 1777-78 was “the time that tries men’s souls” and that winter Washington if fact prayed quite a bit for divine guidance.

Washington's Headquarters, Valley Forge, where he is believed to have had a prophetic vision.
Washington’s Headquarters, Valley Forge, where he is believed to have had a prophetic vision.

Washington was in his office, alone, when he became aware of a presence in the room.  He said it was “a singularly beautiful being,” with whom the general tried to communicate.  After he addressed the figure several times, she finally responded.  The room’s walls seemed to disappear and his surroundings became luminous.

‘Son of the Republic, look and learn,’ she said to Washington, and then spread out her hand in a sweeping gesture several times.  Each time an angelic being dipped water from the ocean and cast it over the continents of Europe, America, Asia and Africa.  On the third such cast “from Africa I saw an ill-omened specter approach our land,” Sherman heard Washington say.  The imagery as reported later was complex; visions of war and destruction, the blasting of trumpets and other scenes which seemed to presage war and ultimate victory.  Clearly, at least part of this version related to the Civil War.

Not surprisingly, ever since this account was first published, there have been professional debunkers ever eager to disprove its veracity. One industrious researcher located the records of a young officer of the Revolution and triumphantly announced the story a fake, because the Anthony Sherman in question had been at Saratoga and not at Valley Forge.  Of course, debunkers always go for pat answers and the fact that there very well may have been more than one soldier named Sherman in service during the American Revolution never entered his closed mind.  Any researcher or genealogist dealing with old records is aware how fragmentary such records often are: muster lists and service records get lost, court house archives burn up in fires and the like.  But the professional debunkers prefer to ignore such realities in their quest to prove their a priori assumptions.

When dealing with prophecy, of course, we are always dealing with a two edged sword.  Prophecies are generally committed to paper years after the events have come true, they often have cryptic symbolism and when based on only one reporter’s account it is easy enough to discount.  In this case, while another version of the prophecy seems to have been previously published well before the war, that original publication, like many early American periodicals, has not survived.  The earliest extant publication is by an erstwhile Philadelphia journalist and dates to the eve of the Civil War, when many such prophecies about the onset of war were in the air.

Even so,  the account as published on the eve of war related to far more than just the onset of the Civil War.  For one thing, “the singularly beautiful being” also says to Washington, ‘Son of the Republic, the end of the century cometh; look and learn.’ If this were just propaganda meant for the northern public on the eve of Civil War, why would it refer to future generations?

Moreover, the beatific being also interprets the visions he has seen thusly: ‘Son of the Republic, what you have seen is thus interpreted. Three great perils will come upon the Republic. The most fearful is the third, but in this greatest conflict the whole world united shall not prevail against her.’

While the first conflict she mentions is easily dismissed as the Civil War, the second and third are not. While one can put whatever spin on them one wants, it takes no Nostradamus to interpret the second and third “perils” as the two world wars, and the third conflict in particular as World War II, which was indeed the “greatest conflict” and where indeed for a time it seemed the Axis Powers would take over the “whole world.”  The professional debunkers of this prophecy conveniently leave out these parts of the prophecy, which clearly do not fit their smug theories and which, if they do not “prove” it, certainly give the prophecy much greater credibility to the modern reader.

As to who or what the “singularly beautiful being” may have been, several theories have been put forward.  Some say the apparition was an angel; others say it was the Virgin Mary, who has been known to appear and deliver prophecies in that manner; more recently, the show Ancient Aliens theorized that she was an Alien (of course). However, the 1859 version makes no such assertions, so the reader is left to add their own speculations to the others.

Of course, as with any prophecy, one is free to believe or disbelieve, or to interpret it as one wishes.  However, prophecies, it should be remembered, are not inevitable–they are warnings.  While one can always ignore a warning, it is generally not wise to do so.

For more uncanny tales of the Dixie and the Civil War, go to: Dixie Spirits and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War. The “Angel of Liberty” painting is by artist Jon McNaughton and was also inspired by the Washington Prophecy.  I claim no copyright for it and you can obtain prints of it directly from the artist: Jon McNaughton Fine Art .

Thomas Jefferson and the UFO

Thomas Jefferson, president of the United States, author of the Declaration of Independence and early ufologist.
Thomas Jefferson, president of the United States, author of the Declaration of Independence and early ufologist.

While I normally write on paranormal topics rather than on UFO’s, where they involve a Dixie mystery, I sometimes make a detour to investigate various unexplained aerial phenomena.  For example, in Strange Tales I researched the time one or more UFO’s buzzed the Tennessee Valley at the beginning of the twentieth century (multiple reports of that) and also rare Fortean falls of blood and gore in Tennessee and Kentucky.  In Dixie Spirits I reported on a close encounter in West Virginia that Joe Nichol and his professional cynics have tried to explain away with a unique combination of arrogance and ignorance.  Moreover, down in Pascagoula, Mississippi, I have written about the “singing river” mystery, of which I reported only a fraction of the weirdness known from that area; while I didn’t bring in any theories about alien beings being responsible, others have, citing numerous UFO, USO and close encounters in the area; what the truth behind all that phenomena around Pascagoula may be is still unresolved, but definitely something is, or has been, going on there that defies ordinary scientific explanation.

While there is a certain overlap between paranormal phenomena, cryptozoology and UFO’s, as a rule these are discrete and separate fields of inquiry.  For one thing, most scientists do not take paranormal or supernatural accounts seriously and tend to dismiss them all, either as hoaxes or “delusions of the masses” when they can’t rationalize them away; whereas most scientists take the possibility of extraterrestrial life quite seriously, even if they might not accept the evidence of UFO investigators.  The SETI program is quite well funded and other scientific programs have also been searching the skies for proof of life elsewhere in the universe—even on mars.

So when I learned of Thomas Jefferson’s own interest in unsolved celestial phenomena, it piqued my interest. Jefferson was very much a man of the enlightenment and he kept an open mind to many mysteries that lacked easy answers.  He was one of the first, for example, to recognize that mammoths and mastodons roamed America and it is not generally appreciated that one of the goals of the Lewis and Clarke expedition was to go “looking for the elephant” and see if any still lived in the unexplored western territories at that time.

So we should not be surprised when, in 1800, Jefferson learned of a strange aerial sighting, he was moved to publish a report of it in a scholarly journal.  We are beholden to Thomas J. for an accurate account of one sighting in Louisiana.  Jefferson’s original correspondent was a gentleman planter named William Dunbar, a Scotsman by birth and a naturalist, astronomer, ethnologist and explorer living in Natchez, Mississippi at the time.  In searching the Jefferson Papers, it turns out that one part of Dunbar’s missive to Jefferson survived, on Indian sign language, but not apparently his separate enclosure on the UFO, so we just have Jefferson’s summary of it.  Like Jefferson, however, I will attempt to give an objective account of the sighting without too much speculation.

On night of April 5, 1800, an object was seen pass over Baton Rouge.  It came from the southwest, flying low overhead and moved at an extremely high rate of speed, disappearing out of sight within a quarter of a minute.  Eyewitnesses described it as being “as big as a house” and 70-80 feet long and being only some 200 feet above their heads when it passed.

It was described as being “wholly luminous but not emitting sparks” and Jefferson gives a vivid description of its luminosity: “of a colour resembling the sun near the horizon in a cold frosty evening, which may be called a crimson red.”  When it passed overhead a considerable degree of heat was felt “but no electrical sensation,” by which I take Jefferson to mean that it was not ball lightening or similar phenomena.  Immediately after it passed to the northeast a violent rushing noise was heard, indicating it was passing faster than the speed of sound; apparently the force of its passage bent trees before it and a few seconds later a loud crash was heard, “similar to that of the largest piece of ordinance” and a shock, like an earthquake, was felt as well.

Observers rushed to where the object landed and while the area plant life was burnt to a crisp and the ground much torn up, apparently there was no object found and Jefferson’s description does not indicate an impact crater either.  What was it?  Well, the simple answer would be a meteor of some sort.  But if so, why was no debris from it found.  Curious onlookers swarmed the area apparently, but no follow up report of finding a meteorite or fragments thereof were found.  It was obviously very large and low flying, so one would expect a considerable zone of destruction if it had exploded above the ground, along the lines of the Tunguska explosion in 1909.  Yet apparently that was not the case, since the nearby witnesses lived to tell the tale.  Another curious fact emerges from Jefferson’s report; it sounds as if it were flying almost parallel to the ground; surely most meteors or other space debris would be falling at an acute angle, if not a near vertical angle.

I myself have seen a bright object come down a few years back.  To the best of my knowledge no one else saw or reported it and it made no sound; like Jefferson’s UFO it disappeared within a few seconds.  But it descended at a forty-five degree angle and while luminous it was not close to the ground.  It may have been a small, bright meteorite, for if it been the size of Jefferson’s object it would have been noticed when it impacted.  Of course, we cannot be certain that Jefferson’s object did indeed crash; it may have exploded mid-air and disintegrated into nothingness.  Then too, it may have pulled up at the last moment and climbed up out of its gradual but supersonic descent; but if the latter, it would have to have been a manned craft and not simply some inert rock or fragment of a comet.  This may have been the first such sighting, but apparently it was not the last.  Checking recent accounts, there are evidently quite a few sightings of strange lights and aerial phenomena in the Baton Rouge area, pretty much ongoing, some of which have been recorded by camera or cellphone.

In an article on the University of Chicago website, Penelope, the blogger makes a similar point to mine, only does some interesting calculations:

Distance from impact: 6 km
Projectile diameter: 75 feet
Projectile density:

porous stone: 1500 kg/m3
maybe a bit more if some kind of craft, i.e., a semi-hollow metal object

Impact velocity: 0.6 km/s
Impact angle: 1.9°
Target type: Sedimentary rock

The U. of C. blogger notes that:  “if it was a house-sized object coming in at a meteoric speed, it would have been a huge event, with no survivors for miles, flattened trees, etc.”  They point out that the object which created Arizona’s Meteor Crater would have been about 50 meters in size, or only about twice the size of the object reported by Dunbar.  So, where’s the beef, as it were?

In the end, Jefferson’s report of a UFO leaves more questions than answers.  What was it?  Did it somehow recover from its rapid descent and peel off, leaving only burnt vegetation and blasted ground behind?  Well, the honest answer is we simply don’t know and unless more information surfaces, we must continue to categorize it as an unidentified flying object.

 

William Dunbar was also an early ufologist.
William Dunbar, naturalist, astronomer and explorer, was descended from titled nobility, but settled in Natchez and corresponded with Jefferson and other leading intellectuals of his day.

Sources:

Thomas Jefferson, Transactions, American Philosophical Society, vol. 6 Part 1 (Philadelphia, 1804), p. 25.  Jefferson mentions an illustration, but none of the sources I consulted had it.

The Penelope website at the University of Chicago: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Journals/TAPS/6/Baton_Rouge_Phenomenon*.html

National Archives, Founders online: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-32-02-0037

For more unexplained phenomena, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Dixie Spirits.