Like Green Hills and Berry Hill, Forest Hills is one of the storied Seven Hills of Nashville, a cluster of old neighborhoods south of downtown where the past lingers along with the ghosts of yesteryear.
In Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, I chronicled the ghosts of a certain part of Nashville, and in this journal I updated that chapter with supplemental information about the Hauntings of the Seven Hills. Overlooked in those articles was the venerable Longview Mansion, which has sat majestically on the corner of Caldwell Lane and Franklin Pike, since the 1850’s.
When it was originally built, it was not such a grand affair as one sees today. It began as a cozy four room, one story cottage, constructed by Henry Norvell and his bride Laura Sevier, the grand-daughter of the colorful frontier leader and first Governor of Tennessee, John Sevier. Today this modest manse boasts twenty-two rooms, eleven fireplaces, fourteen crystal chandeliers, and luxurious glass solarium.
It survived the Civil War more or less intact and in 1878 was purchased by James Caldwell, then president of the up and coming Cumberland Telephone and Telegraph Company. It remained in the Caldwell family through much of the twentieth century, undergoing several expansions and architectural redesigns. After a further change of owners it was ultimately purchased by the Church of Christ and is now owned by David Lipscomb University to serve as a special event center and administrator’s residence, while the LU soccer team uses the grounds for practice.
Having been in one family’s hands for so long and now owned by a decidedly Christian institution, not a lot of details abound about the alleged ghosts that haunt the house and grounds. In any case, genuine ghosts do not pop up on command for camera crews, much less for yahoos who go around in the dark with flashlights aimed at their faces scaring themselves.
It is thought that the origin of at least some of the alleged hauntings can be traced to the Civil War period. The house, on an eminence overlooking Franklin Pike, was in the thick of the Battle of Nashville on the second day (December 16, 1864) and the area about the mansion saw a great deal of bloody fighting.
Around the beginning of the twentieth century, a cannonball was found in the garden, a testament to the estate’s involvement in the battle. One of the family was moved to compose a poem about that memento of the war.
Whether there are any soldier’s graves remaining on the grounds is unknown, but not unlikely, given its location. After the battle, many Confederate dead were hastily dumped into mass graves on unhallowed ground, their names and the locations of their graves long forgotten. Their spirits are thus doomed to haunt the battleground to this day. The Seven Hills, the heart of the battleground, is awash in ghosts dating to the Civil War battle.
Second hand accounts of uncanny events in the house have circulated for years, although the Caldwell family have never spoken directly about such encounters. Given their long residence there, some of the resident spirits may well be family members. The mansion is so opulent and attractive, one could well understand why one might be reluctant to leave it, even for greener pastures.
One incident that has been given credence by those who know, happened a few decades back before the University took ownership of Longview.
The lady of the house at the time was playing the grand piano, just off the main entrance to the house, one day. It was a tune which she was fond of but which apparently did not meet with one of the resident spirit’s approval. As she was in the midst of the tune, a nearby lamp was knocked over by an invisible hand, falling to the floor with a crash.
The lady of the house, aware of her permanent guest’s mercurial temperament and preferring not to upset the resident spirit, never played that song again.
As with the ghosts that inhabit nearby Belmont Mansion and University, the ghosts of yesteryear choose to linger beneath the enchanted eaves of Longview to moving on to another plane.
The notion that what we call ghosts are material manifestations of a soul that has passed beyond the mortal veil is a nearly universal belief. Paranormal investigators routinely try to talk to these deceased persons, either to get them to stop haunting a place, or else to find out their identity. Occasionally they hear, or think they hear, a response. And who am I to say they have not succeeded?
Another theory, not necessarily opposed to the first, is that an apparition or presence which haunts a locale is, in reality a psychic “memory” bound to the spot where their trauma occurred in life, and that that entity is replaying a particular moment or event that happened at the time of their death, sort of like a metaphysical tape recording.
Old wood-frame buildings, with their solid hard-wood plank floors, seem particularly prone to this type of haint—a phenomenon tied to the ancient Druidic belief that a human soul could somehow occupy the heartwood of some types of trees—oak trees in particular.
But on our present sojourn into the Beyond, I would like to propose yet another type of haint; one that ain’t so common, nor so well known: one which you may have already experienced–but just didn’t know you had! The phenomenon goes by different names and conversely, other phenomena are sometimes confused with it; for want of a better term, let’s call them Living Apparitions.
I am not the first to take note of this phenomenon; accounts of Living Apparitions go far back into history. The idea is of ancient origin that, when we sleep, we exit this fragile jar of clay like a genie released from a bottle, to wander on the night wind.
Where we wander and why on the clear dark air, not even the wise can say for certain. But sleep is not the only time that one’s spirit may leave its physical shell and roam abroad, provided that the situation is urgent enough. That the soul may leave the body to travel abroad is something the ancient Egyptians taught in their schools of magic on the Nile and arcane books of sacred glyphs were inscribed with spells to guide the soul on its journeys. But I digress.
Even in modern times it sometimes happens that people have been visited by those they know, only to find that the person they thought they saw before them in fact lay far away at the time.
William T. Stead, a famed British investigative journalist during the Victorian Era, investigated several first hand experiences of living apparitions in England towards the end of the nineteenth century.
Stead relates one case of a Mrs. Talbot, of Buckinghamshire, who was having tea one evening when she sighted a neighbor, Mrs. Lister, coming up the path. Mrs. Lister was obviously distraught and seemed to coming for help. Yet when Mrs. Talbot went to the door to let her in, the visitor was nowhere to be seen. Intuitively, Mrs. Talbot knew things were seriously amiss at the Listers.
“There is something the matter with Mrs. Lister,” she said, “I am certain there is. Yoke the horse and we will drive over at once to the Lister’s house…and see what is the matter”
Her husband, a man of uncommon sagacity, knew from previous experience that it was futile to argue with his wife, made haste to harness the carriage and they hurried over to the Listers, whose cottage lay only a mile away.
There they found a scene of horror: Mrs. Lister was upstairs in bed, lying in a pool of blood, badly beaten. Her husband was nowhere to be seen, but they later learned that in a maniacal rampage he had savagely attacked her and then drowned himself in a nearby pond. The Talbots had arrived just in time to save Mrs. Listers life, and with prompt medical aid she survived the ordeal. In her delirium, she had imagined running for help, yet all the time lay immobile and unconscious. Had her “ghost” not paid the neighbors a visit, she would never have lived to tell the tale.
Stead, in his essay, relates several other accounts of persons whose apparition appeared to others remote in physical space from them. One thing uniting these diverse accounts of the living “ghosting” someone, seems to be a certain urgency on the part of those who appeared and that the person visited was in their thoughts at the time of the emergency.
We have an even better example of this phenomenon, a case based on first hand testimony which happened to a couple well known to American history.
It is a fact, not reported by modern academic historians, but was well known among their contemporaries, that General Ulysses S. Grant and his wife were both strong believers in the paranormal, due to their own experiences on several occasions over the years.
In the early days of the Civil War, Grant had had some trouble volunteering his services for the army. Although they were in dire need of experienced officers, the Regular Army would have nothing to do with him. However, the Governor of Illinois, who had an abundance of raw recruits but a shortage of officers to train them, had no such compunctions and Grant quickly rose to the rank of Colonel and then General.
In November of 1861, Grant was in charge of the Union command at Cairo, Illinois, in close proximity to large Confederate garrison lining the Mississippi River in Missouri and Kentucky. To forestall a Rebel attack and also to give Federal troops under his command a taste of combat, Grant organized an amphibious raid across the river to the enemy encampment at Belmont.
The main Confederate defenses in the area were actually across the river in “neutral” Kentucky, on the commanding heights of Columbus, where the Secessionists had emplaced 140 big guns, menacing any who dared come within range. Rather than attempt to take that formidable fortress, Grant had resolved to attack the smaller Rebel camp nearby at Belmont, Missouri. His troops were still green and he hoped an easy victory on the small camp there would prepare them for bigger fights to come.
At first, everything seemed to go as planned. The blue-clad troops debarked from the flotilla of steamships and made haste to attack the Rebel camp, while the gunboats Tyler and Lexington fired their heavy ordinance in a show of force. The Secessionists, as green as the Federal troops were, after a sharp initial fight fled their encampment in haste, leaving all sorts of booty to loot.
Grant’s plan had been to move on and secure the entire area, taking advantage of the element of surprise to eliminate all resistance. But his soldiers, still more civilian than soldier and ill disciplined, saw all the spoils of war in the Rebel camp—especially cooked meals ready to be eaten—and they abandoned all thought of the enemy and set to pillaging the Rebel camp and congratulating themselves. Even as the Union soldiers celebrated their incomplete triumph, the enemy was ferrying troops across the river from the Kentucky side and massing for a counter attack.
Soon the tables were turned and the Federal force was in danger of being surrounded. Grant tried to re-organize his panicked troops and make an orderly withdrawal, but when he went to look after his rearguard, he found they’d fled helter-skelter along with the other troops, leaving Grant an army of one with Rebel troops all around him.
Taking advantage of tall grass, Grant calmly led his horse around the advancing enemy columns until he got close to the shoreline. Then Grant made a mad gallop towards an awaiting steamboat, bullets whizzing past his ears all the time. Grant spurred his horse up the last gangplank and onto a departing boat, barely ahead of charging grey ranks, even as the steamer made haste to escape.
This much the histories tell us. But the rest of what transpired that day remains largely unreported, even to this day. Mrs. Grant’s memoirs, although known about for a long time, remained unpublished until 1975 and even since, Civil War historians have been highly selective in what they choose to use from her account.
On the same day that her husband led the raid against the enemy camp at Belmont, Julia Grant was busy packing her belongings to be with her husband at the border town of Cairo, Illinois. Grant had managed to organize the garrison there into something resembling order and located less rough accommodations for his family than had been the case when he first arrived.
That afternoon, Julia was busy packing her trunks in preparation to board the train for Cairo. In the mid of this flurry of activity, suddenly she had an overwhelming sense of foreboding take hold of her.
Julia could not understand why she should feel such dread and thought that perhaps she might be coming down with some disease. Unable to breathe and feeling like she might faint, Julia excused herself from her companion and made her way upstairs to lie down till the spell passed.
When Julia entered her bedroom, however, she was startled to see a vivid apparition. It was no ordinary ghost, but the quite real-looking image of her husband Ulysses.
Julia could see the general’s head and upper torso quite clearly, and the image seemed real enough. However, his upper body seemed to hang suspended in mid-air, with his lower body not visible. It seemed as if he were mounted on horseback, but with the rest of the apparition and background not visible to her eyes.
Julia intuitively sensed that her Ulyss was in grave danger, although she knew not why or how. What she did know was that the vision before her was quite real and very disturbing. Julia let out a shriek, and instantly fainted away.
When Julia awoke, the vision was gone, but her apprehension remained. Unable to account for this vision, Mrs. Grant made haste to get to Cairo, to see what danger her husband may be in. While on the train, Julia received word about the Battle of Belmont that her Ulyss had been in. At the train station she found Grant waiting for her and he seemed well enough.
During the ride to their quarters from the station, however, Julia told her husband all about her waking vision of him and her extreme apprehension for his well being as a result.
After listening to her story, Grant replied, “that is singular. Just about that time, I was on horseback and in great peril, and I thought of you and the children. I was thinking of you, my dear Julia, and very earnestly too.”
In his memoirs, Grant later confessed that throughout the war, he never felt so close to death in any other battle as he did that afternoon at Belmont. It was a singular event indeed.
The record abounds with similar incidents as the chosen accounts above. It is easy enough for the cynic to dismiss any and all such stories out of hand. Only those who actually experienced them first hand can know the truth of the matter, even if they cannot explain the how or why of them.
For his part, William Stead observed that, “if it can be proved that it is occasionally possible for persons at the uttermost ends of the world to communicate instantaneously with each other, and even in some cases to make a vivid picture of themselves stand before the eyes of those to whom they speak, no prejudice as to the…nature of the inquiry should be allowed to stand in the way of the examination of such a fact.”
The Living Apparition should not be confused with other phenomenon of a similar nature. For example, there is the belief in the “Doppleganger.” At its simplest, it is the belief that everyone, somewhere, has an exact double of themselves. Sometimes it is thought to be an evil twin who would do a person harm. Others believe they may come from some other dimension, whether for good or ill.
Another phenomenon similar in nature that has been reported from time to time is that of Bi-Location. This is where a living person is able to be in two places at the same time. Unlike the Living Apparition, the second is not a ghost or apparition, but the exact same person, only appearing far removed from their other self in real time and space. Bi-Location has most often been reported as happening to saints and witches, two very diverse categories, to be sure, but united by this one spiritual ability.
All of these and other similar paranormal activities ultimately lead one to the same question once posed by the wisest of the wise but never adequately answered: how can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?
Curiously though, at least three of the homes he lived in life have had verified accounts of being haunted by one or another Lee family member. While I devote an entire chapter to Lee’s haunted homes in Dixie Spirits,I thought to supplement that with this article and some photos to go along with it.
When one thinks of General Lee and his family, one naturally pictures a dignified Southern gentleman, someone descended from an honored and venerable First Family of Virginia (FFV for short).
While Lee always conducted himself with probity, his family was anything but venerable; in fact, it was riddled with scandal through several generations. For one thing, Lee’s father, “Light Horse” Harry Lee, although a hero of the American Revolution, had the reputation of a hell raiser; he drank heavily and gambled much of the family wealth away, and as a result he was constantly in debt–at one time he was even thrown into debtor’s prison.
After he died, his widow and children were dependent on the charity of other family members–and they too had their scandals–notably their relative “Black Horse” Harry Lee.
The best known Lee home is, of course, Arlington, now located in the middle of the National cemetery. Seized early in the war, it became a last resting place for Union war dead. The mansion itself is also an abode of the dead–who at times get a mite restless. Several family ghosts have been sighted here by visitors.
Stratford Hall, the ancestral home of the Lees, was built in the early 1700’s and so it naturally has several generations of Lee ghosts, including old “Black Horse” Harry who had an affair with his wife’s sister while his own spouse lay sick abed. Robert lived here for a time with his mother and siblings.
Then there is the “Lee Boyhood Home” in Alexandria, Virginia. After their father died in debt, Robert and his mother had to move about a bit due to their financial situation. Nonetheless, General Lee always had fond memories of this place and it was here he returned after the surrender–who knows he may still be there.
There are a few other old Virginia manse’s associated with the general—all of them reputedly haunted. For more on the tragic haunted history of the Lees of Virginia and their stately haunts see the Chapter in Dixie Spirits. Depending on the time of the year most of the Lee homes will be open to the public, where you might even encounter a Lee family ghost for yourself. Happy haunting!
If there is one spot in Nashville that visitors are sure to see when they come to Music City, it that section of downtown Broadway they call Honky-Tonk Heaven, Hillbilly Highway or just simply “The District.”
Consisting of the first five blocks of Lower Broad, plus the side streets branching off on either side, for decades it has been a mecca for lovers of Country music, or those just seeking a good time.
While it has been a favorite haunt of musicians trying to make a name for themselves for as long as anyone can remember, the haunting goes far beyond perspiring minstrels trying to make it in the business.
There abide in the old buildings down there the spirits of old-time country stars, workmen and working girls from another era and even a Civil War ghost or three.
Take Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, for example. It’s smoke-stained walls and beer-stained floors have seen the greats of Country Music pass through its swangin’ doors–not to mention a few Rock stars as well.
Behind it is an ally where the same ghosts are alleged to pass into the old stage door entrance of the Ryman Auditorium–originally the home of the Grand Ole Opry.
Across the street are two old record shops that house hidden gold–golden oldies that is. Ernest Tubb used to house the Saturday Night Jamboree. The Jamboree is alive and well but now broadcasts from Music Valley, just across from Opryland Hotel. Downtown, the original store also hosts a jamboree of sorts: the old time musicians still return there on Saturday and haunt the place, even though they’re long dead.
Nearby by Ernest Tubbs was Lawrence Records until recently. Now transformed into Nudie’s Bar, it too has its resident revenants. Nudie, by the way, does not refer to the undress of the barmaids there–they more or less keep their clothes on most of the time–but to the western clothing designer Nudie, known for the gaudy costumes he designs for Country stars. They can change the name and change what they sell here, but the spirits remain despite the changes.
Truth be told, just about every old building in downtown Nashville has a resident spook or three.
I cover the District’s ghosts in far more detail in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennesseethan here, but as I wasn’t able to include photos in that book for technical reasons, so I thought I’d post a few here as well as on Pinterest. If you prefer to find out about the ghosts of Lower Broad for yourself, there is no better time of year than now to do it!
In Dixie Spirits we investigated the Custis-Lee Mansion, also known as Arlington House, which still stands near Alexandria, Virginia, but we did not explore the many ghosts and haunts of Alexandria proper. Today let’s take a quick look at a famous Civil War ghost down in town.
They say the first casualty of war is the truth. That may well be true, but in the early days of the war, neither side was much concerned with truth, but more with justifying their own actions, as well as portraying the opposite side as the aggressor. Regardless, by the time that Lincoln was inaugurated, the time for rational discussion was already over and the Secessionists moved quickly to surround Washington, DC in the weeks following his installation as President. Lincoln could call for 75,000 troops—but actually organizing, equipping and fielding them to defend the capitol was quite another thing.
Before the war, volunteer militia units were all the rage in the US. In the antebellum era it was fun to be a soldier and many volunteer groups donned colorful costumes, learned to drill like real soldiers and above all, attract the ladies with their displays of martial virtue. Some militia groups developed a reputation for their skill at close order drill and toured the country performing for the public, especially those units who fashioned themselves as zouaves. The original zouaves had been recruited by the French in Algeria and wore colorful oriental style uniforms, but over the years their ethnic makeup was of less importance than their reputation for élan and aggressiveness.
One of the more famous such show units was Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth’s Cadet Zouaves, originally based out of Chicago. Although he was never able to get into West Point, Ellsworth had studied military tactics with a passion and his fencing instructor in Chicago had been an actual French zouave. Ellsworth was a close personal friend of Lincoln’s and when the call went out for volunteers to suppress the rebellion, Ellsworth wasted no time forming a regiment. He went to New York City, sent out a call, seeking out firemen in particular, and within an amazingly brief time received more than double the number of volunteers than he needed. Although rough around the edges and short on discipline, the 11th NY “Fire” Zouaves were shipped south in short order.
When, on May 23, Virginia officially seceded from the Union, Ellsworth’s regiment was ordered across the Potomac to secure Alexandria and Arlington Heights on the Virginia side of the river. While securing the city, Ellsworth noticed that a Rebel flag was still flying over the Marshall House, a local inn. The flag had been something of a sore point for weeks, being visible from across the river and symbol of Lincoln’s inability to preserve the Union even within the shadow of the capital. Not willing to allow this act of defiance to go unanswered, Ellsworth personally climbed up to the top of the Marshall House and tore down the offending flag from the large flagpole on the roof. As he was descending the stairs, however, the hotel owner, one James Jackson, suddenly appeared without warning and shot and killed Ellsworth with a shotgun at close quarters, for which action he was immediately rewarded with his own death at the hands of Ellsworth’s men. It was still early in the war and the death of a single officer, such as Ellsworth, was still notable news in the North. Ellsworth being a close associate of Lincoln amplified the importance of his death. Soon Ellsworth was hailed as a martyr—the first of many—to the cause of preserving the Union.
In the ensuing months and years following his death, rumors began to circulate that, although dead, Colonel Ellsworth was not really gone from the Marshall House. Some claimed to see him removing the Rebel flag from the rooftop of the hotel, others swore they saw his shade on its stairs, where he was murdered.
It was also said that the ghost of the fire-breathing Secesh James Jackson also haunted the same stairwell in the old inn. The Marshall House and its resident ghosts stood on the same spot until the 1950’s, when it was torn down as part of a modernization trend in the city. Normally, that would be the end of the story, but apparently it is not.
Today the Alexandrian Hotel, a “boutique hotel,” occupies the same space where the old inn stood. It has all the amenities one expects in a modern hotel, plus one more: it is haunted. There are those who claim that it is the restless shades of the Civil War who still roam the new hotel.
Sometimes nothing is actually seen, but people claim to hear the sound of gunshots out in the hallways, as if the Rebel hotel owner and the zouaves who killed him are still having it out in the new building.
On one occasion recently, a couple was riding the elevator when it unexpectedly opened at the fourth floor; no guests were there but they saw a glowing light appear on the wall opposite, then disappear. Later, the visitors found they were not alone in having uncanny experiences there.
According to some, it is the Monaco’s sixth floor that is most haunted, which could be a reflection of Ellsworth’s flag taking venture, although the reports are vague on that score. Regardless, the hotel embraces the site’s haunted heritage and in the past it has offered a “Ghosts of Alexandria Family Package” which includes discounted room rate, a stay on the “haunted sixth” plus tickets for the local ghost tour of the town; check to see whether they still offer that since it has changed management.
In any case, Alexandria and nearby DC are chock full of Civil War era ghosts and haunts, and who knows maybe Colonel Ellsworth will put in a personal appearance.
Although recent transplants to Middle Tennessee are only dimly aware of it, the Cumberland Valley and its surrounds were much fought over during the Civil War. Although that is not the origin of the phrase, this section of the South amply earned its moniker The Dark and Bloody Ground during the Late Unpleasantness. Many an old house is home to a resident ghost or two who date back to the dark days of the war. The causes of their continued residence on the mortal plain may differ, but as often as not it is due to their violent or untimely death, being cut down in the prime of life, often with great pain and the awareness they will never to see their loved ones again. Sometimes that agony and anguish are all that remain.
Such, it seems, is the case with Carnton Mansion, the grand home sitting on the southeastern outskirts of Franklin, Tennessee. The very name of the manse is suggestive of death, for in ancient Celtic tradition, a cairn or carn was a place where a warrior would be buried who had died with honor in battle. During the Civil War, late one Autumn day, the mansion would earn its name, a reputation that endures to the present day.
After the fall of Atlanta, Sherman planned his next move; ignoring the still viable Confederate Army of Tennessee, he would conduct a scorched earth campaign across Georgia, destroying everything in his path. Basically, it was an act of terrorism, designed to cow the white civilian population of the South into submission and break their will to resist. The Rebel army, now under General John Bell Hood, at first fenced with Sherman, attacking his rear and threatening his long supply line heading back northward towards Nashville. Then, when Sherman began marching south, Hood began marching north; a bold move not only to draw Sherman’s army after him but also to seize the mass of supplies stockpiled in the strategic city of Nashville; from there he could threaten many other places further north. It was a bold strategy and whatever historians may say about General Hood, he never lacked for either courage or boldness: “all lion” is how one postwar writer characterized him.
A small Union army was deployed to slow Hood as he marched northwards, to give time for the Yankees to gather more troops to defend Nashville. General John Schofield, a classmate of Hood’s from West Point days, was placed in charge of this Yankee force and basically his task was to hold the lion’s tail without being devoured. At Columbia, then Springhill and finally at Franklin, Schofield’s men conducted a fighting retreat. While most historians portray the Autumn Campaign as a done deal and that a Southern defeat was inevitable, in truth it was a very near thing. Had circumstances just been a little different at any point; had orders been obeyed, had the Yankees marched or fought just a little less heroicly; had one Yankee brigadier not disobeyed orders, or some Rebel pickets not been quite so fatigued—at any point just a feather-weight of difference in the chain of circumstance–and we would be celebrating John Bell Hood as a brilliant commander and victor. But that was not to be.
Others have chronicled the Autumn Campaign in great length; we needn’t go into it here. Our concern is with the aftermath. On the afternoon and evening of November 30, 1864, the two armies clashed on the outskirts of Franklin, Tennessee. Both sides fought and bled and died with uncommon courage, and by the early hours of the following morning the blood-soaked fields of Franklin found the Confederates in possession of the terrain. It was a Pyrric victory, however, for Hood’s army was decimated in the process: five generals, twenty colonels and thousands dead or grievously wounded, incapable of combat—all to fight the Yankee rearguard.
Even before the battle was over, however, the wounded began to make their way to Carnton Mansion, on the eastern flank of the battlefield. All through the night and on into the next day, the wounded and dead were brought in a steady stream to the stately antebellum mansion. The owner of the home, Randall McGavock, had served in the Confederate army but accepted a parole to look after his family and was a non-combatant; of course that did not prevent him from opening his home to the wounded.
By the following day, the dead were being piled in Carnton’s yard like cordwood; the back porch held the bodies of no less than five generals, while the moans of the suffering could be heard everywhere. For the dead and dying at Carnton, the victory at Franklin did not seem so glorious.
In time, the McGavock’s home was cleaned of the awful carnage and the blood—where it would go away. In one room that had served as the operating room for surgeons, try as they might, they could not wash or bleach the blood from the floorboards; the stains always came back and cannot be erased. They linger there to this day. There were other things that linger about Carnton as well; some of a spectral nature.
Inside the mansion, several spirits have been detected by successive occupants of the mansion and more recently by visitors as well. On the second floor, for example, a presence some called “the general” could be felt and occasionally seen. In the graveyard, even to this day, visitors sometimes spot a man in Confederate garb. Other spectres have been observed elsewhere in the mansion or on the surrounding grounds. Many are the eyewitness accounts that recount encounters with the ghosts of Carnton. Some of these apparitions are well known; others just passing shades, as anonymous as many of the graves on the grounds.
Many speculate about the sightings reported at Carnton; a few doubt them, most do not. What is certain, however, is that for many of the men who fought and died at Franklin on November 30, the Battle of Franklin will never be over.
I normally don’t write about UFO’s and Alien sightings, restricting my researches to paranormal phenomena, but I have delved into the subject on occasion as it relates to the South. In Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, for example, I investigated the UFO sightings over the Tennessee Valley in the early 1900’s and a “dark day” in Memphis, while in Dixie Spirits I also chronicled a very credible close encounter in West Virginia.
Then there are those strange events which may not be supernatural but which certainly defy all attempts at rational explanation, such as rains of blood and gore, aerial showers of snakes and other land going animals, as well as the Mothman enigma, which itself seems to transcend traditional categories. So while I have an abiding interest in UFO’s and the possibility of Aliens visiting our planet, I generally have left those investigations to those with the resources to properly probe them.
That is why, when I was contacted by the folks at the Ancient Aliensseries on The History Channel to come on their show and discuss my researches on Abraham Lincoln and the paranormal as published in The Paranormal Presidency, I was a bit bewildered how I might fit into their show’s format. Nevertheless, last summer I did an interview with the folks at Ancient Aliens and discussed quite a bit about Lincoln’s beliefs in the paranormal and allied subjects, as well as also discussing Ambrose Bierce, whose Civil War career I have researched extensively, the results of which should be published later this year or early next. Bierce, although known as a cynic, in fact was fascinated by the bizarre, the unexplained and the unusual—in other words, a man after my own heart. As honored as I was to be on their show, however, I wondered how my own expertise would fit into their show’s concept. Well, the wait is over; earlier this month the History Channel aired an episode entitled “Aliens and the Civil War.”
First off, I must say they did an excellent job of dovetailing what I had to say about Lincoln with other material relating to Alien contact and the Civil War. As is usual for this show, much of what they have to say is highly speculative; nevertheless, I thought much of what they argued was interesting, making connections between events and phenomena which I had not previously thought related to one another.
Besides the Lincoln segment that I was on, they also discussed some other unusual phenomena which I have previously written about in Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, although my take on the incidents was different. There was, for example, the vision of Washington at Valley Forge and his later appearance at the Battle of Gettysburg, which I discussed in the Chapter “Behold a Pale Rider”—although their account of Washington’s visitation at Gettysburg differs from my research.
The part of The Paranormal Presidencywhich they chose to excerpt from my longer interview revolved about Lincoln’s involvement with Spiritualism, in particular with a young psychic named Nettie Colburn—better known under her married name, Nettie Colburn Maynard.
Although mainstream historians frequently label Nettie as a “charlatan,” my extensive research in the archives and other primary sources proves otherwise. Similarly, some of the claims of other spiritualists about Lincoln’s involvement with his having visited them have been verified, at least in part. How deeply Lincoln was involved in the movement, however, remains subject to debate, but there is no question that he did attend séances and visit psychics, not with, but also without, his wife.
That the “spirits” that contacted Lincoln’s psychics and advised the President could possibly be Alien life forms is something I had never thought of, but Ancient Aliens makes a case for these and other psychic encounters being due to the remote telepathic actions of extraterrestrials. Likewise, their tying Ambrose Bierce’s traumatic head wound into a possible cause of his being psychically informed by Aliens may seem a stretch, but not totally dissimilar to Lincoln’s own near death experience being the possible cause of his belief in premonitions and similar paranormal experiences.
Bear in mind, the Ancient Aliens theories remain highly speculative, but some of the ideas they put forth in the episode “Aliens and the Civil War” are highly original and in some cases I think worthy of further investigation. Traditionally, UFO’s and the belief in Ghosts and the paranormal have been regarded as mutually exclusive. For one thing, most scientists accept the premise that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe; most of them have yet to accept the premise that earth has been visited by them.
Scientists as a group reject the supernatural or anything that resembles it and most reject any aspect of the paranormal as “delusions of the masses.”
However, as theoretical physicists delve deeper into such things as Quantum Mechanics, and posit parallel worlds, alternate realities and similar “fringe science,” some scientists are no longer smugly scoffing at many types of paranormal phenomena, such as remote sensing, precognition, telekinesis and other things hitherto rejected as impossible. The possibility is growing that psychic communication at a distance, or foretelling the future may eventually be found to have a basis in reality, no matter how fantastic they may seem today.
All this reminds me of something that William Herndon, Abraham Lincoln’s law partner, once said about Lincoln’s unorthodox beliefs. He said that Lincoln did not so much believe in the supernatural as in the supra-natural; that what we may regard as defying the laws of nature may just be a part of the natural world which we cannot yet comprehend. Have aliens been in contact with us, by psychic or other means? Who is to say; what today may seem fantastic, may yet prove true.
The Great West Tennessee Haunt Hunt: Bolivar, Tennessee
Between Memphis and Jackson, Tennessee, lies the scenic West Tennessee city of Bolivar. To the casual visitor it is a placid and serene city, filled with friendly folk where nothing untoward ever occurs.
Beneath the idyllic surface of Bolivar, however, flows an undertow of supernatural strangeness. While Bolivar may not be a big bustling metropolis like Memphis, Knoxville or Nashville, where it excels those towns is in the density and intensity of paranormal phenomena there per haunted hectare.
Perhaps the most famous and most beloved apparition in Bolivar must certainly be “Uncle Dave.” In life, Uncle Cave Parran was a daily sight at his place of business in the quaint town square.
But where Uncle Dave was most seen was on the front porch of his home, Wren’s Nest, rocking back and forth on his old rocking chair. He would wave and say hello and engage in conversation all who passed by. Everyone in Bolivar knew and loved Uncle Dave till the day he died at age 86.
Then something strange happened; Uncle Dave refused to leave Wren’s Nest even in death. Some folk have even claimed to see him on the front porch; mostly, though, the rocking chair just rocks back and forth on its own, as if some invisible soul still occupies it.
Not far from Wren’s Nest sits the majestic McNeal Place. Though both are haunted, both buildings and hauntings are like night and day. Uncle Dave’s home is a comfy homespun old home; McNeal Place is more like a Renaissance Villa. While Uncle Dave is about as congenial a haunt as one could wish for, the restless spirit of McNeal Place is doleful and sad and often visits the graveyard where her young daughter was lain to rest. Griefs know no boundary—not even the boundary of death.
But some who know more about the spirits of McNeal Place than I would argue that the old manse is not a morbid place but one filled with “glamor, hardship, romance and secrets.” At least some of the ghosts that reside there are not sad: one person who knows the place well avers that “Miss Polk is a funny little monkey of a spirit. She can and will scare the soles off your shoes. I was just one who “got ” her. I was a bit shocked at first encounter, then I just smiled and I felt her wink back.” Several spirits are reported to “run amuck” inside; but then it’s their residence–not ours!
Less accessible than these haunts are the ghosts which inhabit Western Mental Health Institute. While these days large prison-like insane asylums are ill favored, in its heyday WMHI was jam packed, not only with the legitimately insane, but with persons whom today we would call rebellious, lascivious or unconventional.
Lobotomies, shock therapy, chaining and medieval like torture were the rule of the day. Old asylums were a literal chamber of horrors. Many people died from such treatment and some of their spirits abide in WMHI and other old institutions.
Today mental health is more enlightened and Western has far fewer inmates than once it held. Present and former staff and patients alike testify to the ghosts who actively haunt its grounds, but wannabe ghost-busters are advised not to investigate on their own. The old hospital itself is closed to the public and while the local ghosts may not bother you, the local constabulary most certainly will.
If you wish to get up close and personal with the dearly departed, you would be well advised to spend a weekend at Magnolia Manor. An elegant antebellum home converted to a comfortable bed and breakfast it has beautiful antiques in each room—and a gaggle of ghosts to go along with them.
During the Civil War, Generals Grant and Sherman stayed at Magnolia Manor there are many tales to be told of the Yankee occupation. In the years since the Late Unpleasantness, a host of ghosts have accumulated within its walls and on the surrounding grounds.
Contrary to the pseudo-spooky hooey you see on TV these days, there is little to fear from the ghosts which haunt most houses and certainly those at Magnolia Manor are no different. Consider it from the ghost’s perspective: they are the permanent residents—you are the intruder. But they are hospitable haints and if you don’t bother them–or go shouting at them like some damn fools on television like to do–then they probably will not unduly disturb you!
Loretta Lynn, widely hailed as the Queen of Country Music and with a long career of successful hit songs, is living legend among fans of Country Music and was even the subject of a successful Hollywood movie. As famous as she is, however, few are aware of another talent of Ms Lynn’s: the Coal Miner’s Daughter is psychic and her long-time home in Hurricane Mills is most seriously haunted.
Loretta has never denied her psychic encounters, which date back to her early years. In one case, Loretta had a nightmare one night that her father was dead and woke up screaming. Although her husband tried to reassure her, Loretta could not shake the premonition that her father had died. Not long after she received a phone call telling her that her father had died of a massive stroke. Some years later she returned to Kentucky to visit her childhood home in Butcher Hollow, to the cabin that she grew up in, only to see the ghost of her father sitting on the front porch.
When she and her husband Doolittle finally bought Hurricane Mills and moved in, it was not long before she began to have experiences that led her to believe her mansion was haunted. Doors opened and closed all on their own; Loretta would hear footsteps outside on the porch but when she checked to see who was there, not a living soul could be seen.
Loretta’s twins, Peggy and Patsy, also had uncanny encounters. When they were very young, too young to be afraid of ghosts or know that such things could not be, would tell their mom of the “people in our room” that would visit them at night. One such spirit was a woman dressed in Victorian dress with her hair “piled high on her head”–Gibson Girl style.
In addition, the sounds of slaves rattling chains in the “slave pit” and the ghosts of Civil War soldiers have also been seen and heard in and around the house. While the house was dear to Loretta and her family, their experiences with the supernatural made Loretta not want to spend the night alone in the house and when her husband and children were out, she would have a friend stay with her.
Over the years Loretta has had séances held in the house to determine who exactly was haunting the home. On at least one occasion, the séance has produced physical reactions, with furniture moving and levitating in plain sight. More recently, Loretta Lynn called in gamed ghost buster James Van Praagh to help her “cleanse” the house. However, when the famed “ghost whisperer” heard a voice tell him to “get out!” Van Praagh chose the better part of wisdom and quickly departed the presence of the dearly departed.
Loretta Lynn’s beautiful mansion and dude ranch remain a popular destination for traveling tourists and Country Music fans, the little community of Hurricane Mills remains a very spooky Dixie haunt.
While ghosts are to encountered just about anywhere one can imagine, some places seem particularly congenial to spectral visitation. Theaters seem to be particularly prone to paranormal activity, nor are operas the only phantom plagued places they stay. Theater people have long been aware of that fact. That is why, after a play or musical, when the work crew comes out to clean up, they place a large upright pole with a bare bulb in it in the middle of the stage. It is called a “ghost light” and it is not there for illumination, but to drive away the ghosts that come out when the audience leaves.
To look at the Bijou, located on Gay Street in downtown Knoxville, you would not know how old the building is, nor guess how much history it has seen. Its origin goes back to 1817, beginning it existence as the Lamar House, a trendy upscale hotel of the early nineteenth century. In the 1850’s it was expanded and was known for awhile as “Coleman House” (no relation) and during the Civil War the Yankees commandeered the hotel and turned it into a hospital, where among the many who died were Union general William P. Sanders. After the war it again was a hotspot for the rich and posh.
It was in 1909 that a theater was added to the old building and for many decades it held both live performances and movies, and many famous performers played there. After World War II, however, it began a gradual decline, eventually the theater began showing porno movies, while the hotel section turned into a fleabag flophouse. In recent years, however, the Bijou has been restored and now is a venerated performance venue again. One thing that remains unchanged, however, is its reputation as a most haunted theater.
In the old hotel section of the building, more than one person has seen the ghost of General Sanders haunting the room where he died. After many years of reports by backstage crews and other employees, several the ghost hunting groups have tread its boards including the East Tennessee Paranormal Society, which conducted several investigation onsite and turned up some interesting results, including inexplicable recordings and some rather strange photographic evidence. Investigators have also witnessed uncanny shadows not caused by any known light source, which they also took to be evidence of spectral activity.
Besides the General, what seem to be the spirits of former performers also haunt the Bijou, as well as the ghosts of a few shady ladies who may have met an unseemly end at the hands of their customers. For details about the Bijou and its gaggle of ghosts, see Chapter 8 of Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. Of course, the Bijou is open for live performances as well as for special events, so if you go, you too may encounter one of the ghosts, but if you do don’t blame me—you were warned.