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.
Although I wrote about the ghosts of “The Seven Hills” in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, due to technical issues I wasn’t able to illustrate it the way I would have wished, which is one of the reasons why this blog exists–to update and supplement the true ghost tales I have already related to you.
For those not native to Nashville, Tennessee, “The Seven Hills” does not refer to specific hills in the city (there are far more than seven) but to a cluster of suburban neighborhoods southwest of downtown which share similar names: Green Hills, Forest Hills, Hillsboro Village, etc. Although to the casual visitor they all seem pleasant affluent areas (they are) they also hide darker secrets as well: all possess their fair share of ghosts.
Most popular of the neighborhoods by far is Green Hills, and in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee I detail several hauntings there. One of the most interesting is at that mecca of Nashville fashionistas, Green Hills Mall. The mall has had repeated reports of hauntings. Other reports of hauntings in Green Hills come from the homes in the area as well.
Apparently some time back a shoe clerk at The Mall reported seeing an apparition wearing a tricorner hat on a number of occasions. It is thought that this spirit may have been a victim of an Indian attack during the frontier era, when raids and scalpings were commonplace in Nashville.
However, in these neighborhoods an even more common cause of the many reports of haunted homes is the fact that this part of Nashville is where some of the bloodiest fighting of the Battle of Nashville took place. In December of 1864, Green Hills and adjacent Forest Hills saw horrific bloodshed before the Confederate Army was finally defeated. The dead and dying lay everywhere after the battle.
While these days on cable television, ghost hunters claim able to not only identify who is haunting what house, but also what they had for breakfast the day they died, the reality is that most hauntings cannot really be pinned to any known person. Residents or owners will report uncanny happenings, mysterious sounds or, more rarely, actually seeing a visual presence. In truth, however, identifying the ghost as a particular individual is mostly speculation. The fact that right after the battle, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dead Confederate were hastily thrown into mass graves in The Hills and never properly buried, is the most probable source of most of these continuing poltergeist activities. As in the movie “Poltergeist,” these subdivisions were often built over the mass graves of the dead without the graves being relocated.
One exception to the above rule of thumb, however, is Belmont Mansion. This grand old dame of antebellum architecture stands on a tall hill overlooking Hillsboro Village, a popular destination for both the college crowd and music industry executives. Today Belmont is the campus of a prestigious Christian school, Belmont University. During the Battle of Nashville it was headquarters for the Union Army’s Fourth Corps and the battle lines lay only a few blocks away. While it is thought several ghosts haunt Belmont Mansion, the one most commonly associated with it is Adelicia Acklen, a Southern belle possessed of beauty, brains and lots and lots of money. Despite all that, she suffered the loss of several of her children in the house and it is believed that that is why she still resides there.
In my very first book of all things weird, wondrous and wicked in the Mid-South, Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, in addition to the traditional haints, haunts and boogers, UFO’s and other unexplained phenomena, one curious tale revolved around the northern Georgia Civil War battlefield of Chickamauga. In that chapter I chronicled several of the battlefield apparitions known to haunt the battlefield, but the one which was the most curious, to my mind, was Ol’ Green Eyes, sometimes also known as the Green Ghoul. Since publishing that account, I have run into a few folks who have had their own tales to tell about this particular spook, so this venue I judge to be a good place to update my readers until I can prevail on my publishers to let me do a revised edition of that classic book.
Anyone who has visited Chickamauga knows it is a brief run from downtown Chattanooga—a brief run, that is, if you are a Yankee soldier trying to flee from ten thousand Rebels with bayonets all yelling like a banshee. Otherwise, it is about ten miles or more. At any rate, between the eighteenth and twentieth of September, 1863, thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers lost their lives fighting there, while thousands and thousands more suffered agonizing wounds.
It is not surprising, therefore, that quite a few ghost stories and reports of eerie encounters at Chickamauga have surfaced over the years. As I tell in my book, one version of Ol’ Green Eyes holds that he is a stone monument—dedicated to the Union brigade known Opdycke’s Tigers—that comes to life at night and stalks the countryside. I personally am dubious of that one—it has all the earmarks of a story invented around a campfire to scare gullible youths.
Another version holds that Green Eyes is a human looking ghoul, with top hat, gentleman’s cloak and long stringy hair; after the battle, it was said, this green eyed fellow went about munching on the bodies of the dead. It’s been a long time since that feast and he’s built up a powerful appetite since then. According to one source, this version was invented out of whole cloth by Park Ranger Ed Tinney some years back to entertain tourists.
While I can’t judge the veracity of the Tinney version, I do know that some park rangers go out of their way to deny any paranormal activity, in order to discourage people trespassing there at night. In all fairness, some self-appointed ghost hunters have vandalized historic sites in pursuit of nighttime thrills. The rangers at Chickamauga have been known to shut down all the secondary roads in the area at Halloween to keep out the thrill-seekers. So officials at Chickamauga National Battlefield have a rather strong motivation to deny accounts of Ol’ Green Eyes and other hauntings there, valid or not.
To my mind, the most credible accounts of Green Eyes are less specific; some have seen a green glowing light about Snodgrass Hill, while others describe a pair of eyes. Is it a ghoul, a ghost or a beast? Hard to say, but I have spoken to one man who had a close encounter.
Although Ed Tinney popularized Green Eyes, according to this local source, folks have known about the creature for generations; it’s just that in the old days you didn’t talk about such things, and certainly not to strangers.
After Strange Tales came out, I was doing a signing and this gentleman from Chattanooga, who bought a copy, told me of his experience.
It was some years back, when he was a hot blooded young teenager and since he had a few years on me, I am judging this was sometime back in the 1950’s. Well, he took a date out one Saturday night and after a little dinner and dancing they decided to park after dark; it was somewhere near Snodgrass Hill.
Then as now the park was closed to the public at night, but it was a favorite place for couples to go nonetheless. They were parked in his car with the top down, and he and his girlfriend were, shall we say, somewhat distracted at the time; that was until he felt the sensation of warm moist breath behind him. With a start he turned around to see two large green eyes glowing behind him.
The eyes were set apart, farther apart than any human pair of eyes could possibly be, and the creature was close enough to tell it was on the curved trunk of his car or close to it. Romance turned to terror in an instant; the teenager fumbled for the ignition, slammed his car into gear, and high-tailed it out of there as fast as his jalopy could go, just barely avoiding being Ol’ Green Eyes next meal.
There are those who scoff and those who deny, but for that mature gentleman at least, there is no denying that Ol’ Green Eyes is very, very, real—whatever it may be.
Many female devotees of the Late Unpleasantness are great admirers of the fictional heroine of Gone with the Wind, Scarlet O’Hara. Her wilfulness, her ability to manipulate men and her all around bitchiness have made her a role model for generations of GRITS (Girls Raised In The South). Outside of Middle Tennessee, however, there are few who know that there was a real life Southern belle whose actual antics put the fictional Scarlet to shame. Her name was Adelicia Acklen, the Mistress of Belmont Mansion.
Not that Adelicia was at all unpleasant or, shall we say bitchy. Oh no; butter would not melt in her mouth; she was a godly woman and prolific progenetrix. And she was very, very wealthy.
Where once rows of magnolias blossomed, today stands Music Row; other vestiges of Adelicia’s estate have also gone with the wind (or kudzu as the case may be) but the mansion she once resided in, Belmont, remains and–at least at Christmastime–so does she.
Adelicia started off her career as a humble country girl in Sumner County, with several thousands of acres of prime farmland and a few dozen champion show horses to her name. Her father was a simple farmer whose wealth could only be counted by a handful of accountants working night and day. However, wealth begets more wealth, and the young and beautiful Adelicia married a prosperous doctor who amplified her estate and sired several children with her. Poor thing, his health was not so strong as her loins and he died prematurely, leaving her a wealthy widow.
However, beautiful Adelicia did not long remain a widow. She remarried, this time to a far wealthier man, Joseph Acklen, who owned large and profitable plantations on the lower Mississippi, all of which produced bountiful crops of cotton.
In due course, Adelicia bore Joseph a bountiful crop of several more children and he in turn built her the magnificent Italianate mansion of Belmont. Sitting on a long sloping hill, one approached Belmont in the old days as if one were ascending Mount Olympus to visit the gods. Downton Abbey would have been a pauper’s hut compared to Belmont in its heyday. All went well, until the War.
In February, 1862, Nashville fell to the invading Yankee hordes and the miles between the Rock City and the Acklen cotton plantations in Louisiana were long indeed; for most of the war the area between the two waas a no man’s land in which the various armies marched and fought.
Not long into the conflict, husband Joseph headed south to look after their financial interests along the Mississippi, lest their family fortune be ruined. Adelicia remained home to look after her growing brood of children and her thoroughbred horses. She was devoted both to her children and her horses.
Then one fateful day came word that her beloved Joseph had died of a fever tending to their cotton (some say it was a carriage accident).
Adelicia sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, saying “What am I to do, what am I to do!” and then it struck her: what about the cotton? Where the hell was it; had it been harvested; was it ready to be shipped—and how?
Adelicia, for all her beauty, was not one to simply fan herself and stand idly by while her family fortune went up in flames. With no further ado, she piled a female cousin and two loyal servants in a carriage and headed into the hundreds of miles of lawless no-mans land, where deserters and robbers and guerillas on both sides would sooner kill you as look at you.
In the end Adelica saved the cotton. Through cajolery and charm, she shipped it abroad and sold it in England for premium prices, emerging even wealthier than before the war—a feat unique among Southern planters. In the postwar Dixie for many years she was the queen of Southern society and her evening parties and Christmas Balls were legendary. Belmont became the epicenter of the postwar South’s high society.
After she died, the aura of Belmont as a grand and elegant place continued on. It became an aristocratic girl’s finishing school, Ward-Belmont, and ultimately a well respected modern academic institution, Belmont University. But over the years, various alumni and staff have had odd encounters within its august halls, things that cannot be explained by natural causes.
No one has actually seen Adelicia roaming the halls; but on more than one occasion, student, faculty and staff have had fey and uncanny experiences in the mansion, especially at Christmastime, that make them believe she is indeed still inhabiting the old manse.
One of the annual Christmas celebrations at Belmont is called “Hanging of the Green” and the students stage an elaborate ritual revolving around a tall winding staircase. Over the years, students involved in the Yuletide ritual have reported feeling a female presence there, while waiting for the ceremony to begin. Others hear the rustling of crinoline dresses, when no one is there. Other unexplained encounters also occur with uncanny frequency, especially around Christmas.
So, do Adelicia and other members of her ghostly clan really still inhabit the august halls of Belmont Mansion?
While I have written about this haunting before, notably in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, and briefly in passing in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, it does fit in with the current theme of this blog, as it is most certainly a Yuletide ghost. So for those of you who have read my books, please forgive the redundancy; but as I’m sure there are many who haven’t yet, please bear with me.
We must go back more than one hundred fifty years, to the ill-fated Autumn Campaign of 1864, which was the last gasp of the Confederacy. In a bold maneuver the gallant Army of Tennessee marched northward, even as Sherman’s marched southward to burn and pillage their way to the sea. The idea was to capture Nashville, restock the Confederate army there with the abundant warehouses full of supplies and then chase the Yankees back into Kentucky, take Louisville, burn Cincinnati and hopefully make the North sue for peace. Perhaps it was a vain and hopeless quest to start with; or perhaps in the hands of a better general than John Bell Hood, it just may have had a chance for success.
In any case, after several delays and missed opportunities, the Rebel army lay before the town of Franklin, less than a days march from Nashville. In their way stood two Yankee corps, doing their best to avoid being annihilated by Hood, yet still stall the Rebels advance on Nashville. Just the night before the Yankees, under General John Schofield, had escaped from the trap set them near Springhill, escaping in the dark and filtering into Franklin by the dawn’s early light.
In a rage Hood pursued, ready to attack anyone and anything that dared get in his way. On the southern outskirts of Franklin the Yankees had been entrenching all day, posting their cannon and rearguard behind trench and wall to keep the Rebs at bay. Hood was advised to simply go around the town and outflank the rearguard; to use his cavalry to cut them to ribbons on the road into Nashville; but he would hear none of it. Attack, he said; the enemy is before us; attack!
And so, late on the afternoon of November 30, 1864, even as the sun was westering on the horizon, the gallant Army of Tennessee advance over a broad plain of cleared fields, marching as if on parade and fully exposed to the deadly rifle and cannon fire of the enemy. They talk about Pickett’s charge being an ill conceived attack at Gettysburg; it had nothing over the charge at Franklin, where the distance to cover was far greater and equally clear of cover. Yet the men advance behind their colonels and brigadiers, some quietly reciting the poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” with its refrain, “someone had blundered.”
Among this band of brothers in butternut was one who knew the ground well. Todd Carter had grown up in Franklin, and like his older brothers, had volunteered for service in the Confederacy. As quartermaster of his regiment, he was not required in the front lines; but there he was nonetheless, advancing with the rest. Half a league, half a league onward the army advance, with shot and shell growing fiercer and more accurate as they closed with the Yankee lines, whose center lay just before the carter home.
With a blood-curdling yell the Rebels rushed the Yankee defenses which sat astride the Columbia Pike and for a crucial few minutes it seemed as though they might win the day. In the end, however, they were forced back from the parapets, and though the fighting continued on into the darkness, despite the Rebel soldiers best efforts, the enemy slipped away in the night.
The next morning, the carnage was ghastly to behold; men heaped in piles, horses, five generals and twenty colonels lay among their men; fully a third of the Confederate army dead or wounded—among the Captain Todd Carter. His family found him lying close to the Union lines, shot more than once, but still clinging to life. They brought him home, put him in a room in the rear of the house and nursed him as best they could.
Todd Carter was alive, but his wounds were serious. He lingered to life for a few days; but the wounds were too serious and he finally died. He was waked in the front parlor of his home and buried nearby in the family plot. But though he was buried, he was hardly laid to rest.
For every year, about the time of his wounding and death, visitors will report seeing a young man, all bandaged up, in that room in the rear ell where he lay before dying.
I have been to the Carter House and seen the hundreds and hundreds of bullet holes still in the brick and wood; I have been to the room where Todd Carter died, and while I saw no ghost, I felt his presence nonetheless.
So if you go, let me know, if you see the yuletide ghost of Todd Carter.
It was the twenty-fifth of December, 1861, the first Christmas of the War.
A nineteen year old private in the Confederate army, Valerius Cincinnatus Giles, was outside on guard detail along the Potomac River. Facing him on the Maryland side were the Yankees of General Sickles’ Brigade–The Excelsior Brigade.
As a picket, his duty was give the alarm of any enemy activity, lest the Yankees should decide to abandon the comfort of their warm huts and brave the bleak cold outside.
Private Giles’ unit, a detachment of the 4th Texas Infantry, had just relieved another unit which had been guarding that sector. The men would rather have been back in camp, enjoying the holiday as best they could; but duty called, and someone needed to be on duty, no matter what the day.
Private Giles and his two brothers had all answered the call of duty and volunteered for the Confederate army. Giles, still smartly dressed in his long grey frock coat with black waist belt and black strap over his right shoulder, and adorned with a black Hardee hat with one side turned up, looked the model of a military man. One of Giles’s brothers was with the Tenth Texas Infantry in Arkansas, while the other, brother Lew, was with Terry’s Rangers (Eighth Texas Cavalry), somewhere in Kentucky.
There was little likelihood of Valerius being in any personal danger. The Yankees desired a break from war that day as much as the Rebels did.
That afternoon there was a brief to-do when a Yankee steamboat came in sight. But it was soon recognized as a hospital ship and not a gunboat and was left alone to ply it trade on the opposite shore.
More out of boredom than necessity, Private Giles began to walk his post, tramping through snow knee deep in places. The colder clime of northern Virginia was a change of scene for the Texas boy and there in the piney woods in midwinter, when the earth and green branches of the trees were covered with snow, there was no sound of birds singing or crickets chirping. With not a breath of air blowing, the stillness all around him seemed oppressive.
Valerius’s thoughts started to wander, thinking about home and family that Christmas Day.
It was at four p.m. that afternoon when he heard it. He remembered that he was not sleepy or drowsy and perfectly wide awake when he heard it.
He heard his brother Lew Giles’s voice, clear as day, calling out his name:
“It was then 4 P.M., December 25, 1861. I was not sleeping or dreaming. and firmly believed at the time that I heard my brother calling me, but it must have been a delusion of the imagination.”
Knowing Lew was far away to the west in either Kentucky or Tennessee, Val thought at first that somehow it was just his homesickness playing on his imagination; that it was some kind of delusion. Yet he knew his brother’s voice and knew that the voice he had heard was his brother’s.
It was only later that Val learned that Lew had been wounded in Kentucky on the seventeenth of December. Seriously injured, he had been taken to Gallatin, Tennessee, to the home of a family friend, where he lingered for several days.
According to information the family later received from their father’s friend in Gallatin, Lew Giles expired at exactly four p.m. on Christmas Day of 1861.
“In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear, but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls….And lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”
—Col. Joshua Chamberlain, 20th Maine
There are ghosts, and there are GHOSTS. Not just one, mind you, but dozens–perhaps hundreds. That’s the way it is with Civil War battlefields in general; and when you combine a whole town with many convenient old buildings to haunt, well then, you have Franklin, Tennessee.
Late November being the anniversary of the one-day battle, it seems a good time to discuss this battle and its haunts. Probably there are any number of folks in Franklin who have forgotten more about the battle than I could ever tell you and the same holds true for its many haunts. For those unfamiliar with the battle, however, a little background is in order.
John Bell Hood was appointed by Jefferson Davis to head the Army of Tennessee because Davis did not think its previous commander, Joe Johnston, aggressive enough. The Army of Tennessee was second only to Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in fighting ability, elan and experience. The only difference being that this Confederate army suffered from the same debility that plaugued British cavalry during the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon said that British cavalry was “the noblest and most poorly led.”
General Hood was a brave officer but had never commanded an entire army; he had also lost a leg and an arm at Gettysburg and Chickamauga and by the time he took charge of the army, while he was neither drunk nor high on morphine, he had to have been in great pain and his judgment may have been impaired. At Springhill, Tennessee, on November 29, 1864, Hood seemingly had Union General Schofield’s army trapped; yet it escaped during the night.
When he found the Yankees gone the next morning, one witness described Hood as “wrathy as a snake.” Pursuing the Federals to Franklin he resolved to attack them regardless of the cost. He threw his whole infantry across two miles of open field against the Union rearguard, which had had all day to dig in.
It was not for lack of bravery or aggressiveness that the Army of Tennessee failed to defeat the Yankees. They charged headlong into a withering fire and fell by the thousands. Five generals and at least twenty colonels died leading the charge. Even nightfall did not end the bloodletting and the Rebel troops kept pressing the attack, the dead piling up in heaps before the Yankees trenches. A few days later the servants of the Carter family, whose house was smack in the center of the death-dealing, had to use garden rakes to clear the grounds of the house of the thousands and thousands of spent bullets.
The men who fell before the Yankee muskets were not strangers in a strange land; they were the husbands, sons and brothers of the families of Franklin and the neighboring communities. The Carter House is haunted by the ghost of Captain Tad Carter, who died within yards of his father’s home. Other ghosts haunt the Carter House and the Lotz House, standing just across the street. Because the Columbia Pike ran through the Union Defenses right here, this was the weak point of the Federal defenses and it was here the fighting was hottest.
Another famous haunt is Carnton Mansion, belonging to the McGavock family, and lying on the eastern fringe of the battlefield. The five dead Confederate generals were brought here and laid out on the back porch; the other Confederate dead were piled like cordwood in a great long heap; most were buried on the grounds. With so many young men cut down in their prime, the Mansion has several ghosts–some thought to be former family members. As originally chronicled in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, there are many eyewitness reports of ghosts haunting the grounds of Carnton.
Nor are these spots the only places in Franklin, Tennessee where the ghosts of the Confederate dead still linger. The day after the battle both sides moved on to Nashville, to the siege and the battle in December; but in Franklin the wounded lingered on in agony for weeks; amputations, disease and cold all took their toll. Local families took many of the wounded in, but the number of casualties was overwhelming and many died from lack of care. The old buildings that still stand in the core of town house many such ghosts; some today are retail stores, music recording studios, law offices or residences.
The restless dead still abide in the prosperous modern town of Franklin; so in between the soccer moms, the Yuppie suburban subdivisions, the upscale boutiques, one may still encounter a Rebel soldier’s shade who does not quite know the war is over–or that he is even dead!