When I was a kid, I was heavily into horror movies, and that fascination turned into an interest for real ghost stories. My first book on the paranormal was Haunted Houses by Richard Winer and Nancy Osborn-Ishmael, and today, more than fifty percent of the books I buy are on the supernatural.
I read them over and over, learning the behavior of ghosts and how they acted and didn’t act. Today, when I watch any movie about ghosts, I’m shaking my head. “Ghosts don’t do that.” “That wouldn’t happen.” “Completely unlikely.”
Over the years, I started keeping lists – lists and lists of haunted houses, haunted sites, haunted locations.. Ghosts no longer were bound to drafty old houses, but cemeteries, churches, museums, city halls, museums, restaurants, bars and inns.
I took locations and descriptions from everywhere: from books I owned and borrowed, from TV specials being run at Halloween, newspaper articles, magazines, from people I met and eventually the Internet. My simple pad was in time replaced by a notebook and in time that was replaced by a fabric-bound journal.
The problem with a journal is every time it became full, I had to re-write it completely from scratch and before I would be finished, it would be time to start over again. I also found myself racing against the updates of the Shadowlands website – even if I had to do extra research to confirm and add upon their descriptions and to translate and correct the grammar and inaccuracies of their haunting locations.
Dennis William Hauck’s National Directory of Haunted Places practically doubled my counts for some of the states in America and was even amiss on others I knew locally. After all, living so close to Nashville, I became aware of locally run features on locations no one would ever become aware of.
- Hendersonville High School
When I was in high school, everyone knew that local Hendersonville High School was haunted. It was closed down for a while, but now it’s known as Ellis Middle School. The spirit of a man whom former students nicknamed “The Colonel” haunts the school. Witnesses have heard the footsteps as well as seen apparitions. Two students staying the night recorded footsteps in the upstairs hall. The TV series, “That’s Incredible,” might have opened the reputation of the school to public knowledge, but they dropped it for other subjects.
Today, the modern kids have no idea the school was or is considered haunted. A custodian once told me the upstairs is overwhelmingly spooky at night.
Rumors were that there were ghosts at the Rock Castle landmark. Old Halloween articles repeated the stories that curators running this museum reported things being moved and displays disturbed after the structure had been locked up tight.
The most popular local haunt is Cragfont near the small community of Castalian Springs. Once a home, it is now a historical landmark and can be toured during the day. The museum curators even sell a pamphlet on the haunted history 0f the place. Witnesses have seen candles burning inside at night, heard loud screams and breathing and had the feeling of being followed.
Also known as The Winchester House, it was built from 1798 and completed in 1802. General James Winchester was a hero of the Revolution, a Tennessee pioneer, and one of the founders of Memphis, Tennessee. Cragfont has since reopened as a museum. Visitors attest to strong energy levels in the master bedroom and the nursery, as well as a few other areas of the house. The landmark is registered in the National Directory of Historical Places.
- The Case of the Bloody Wall
There is also the matter of a forgotten old shed located somewhere near Deshea Creek. A wall in this house was reputedly supposed to bleed real blood up until the point when it was knocked down.
- Gilley’s Warehouse
One of, I think, the strangest Nashville haunts is that of Gilley’s Warehouse in Nashville. The security guard who worked the old honky-tonk restaurant reported the creaking of floorboards and the sounds of muffles cries and shrieks here at night. Phenomenon also included the apparitions of long dead Civil War officers, but the old structure with its mansard roof where this all occurred no longer exists.
- Glen Oaks Mansion
There is also the story of Glen Oaks Mansion. The ghost of Reverend Charles Toomes, the man who built it, haunts his old house here located on Hillsboro Road in Nashville. Residents have heard strange footsteps and seen strange coins fall from nowhere. I’ve held on to the newspaper article for this place for years!
- Dillard’s Shoe Store
Stephen King’s movie, “Rose Red,” made the local WKRN station run a story on a haunted Dillard’s Shoe Store. According to the segment, salesman Paul Meyers in this store in Green Hills once saw a frontiersman in a tri-corner hat in the storeroom. He has seen the ghost holding a rifle almost seven times in a five-month period.
- The Old Capitol Records Building
Of course, one of the most interesting local and now former haunts was the Old Capitol Records Building. Built on the site of the Old Schnell House, this structure at 1111 Sixteenth Avenue South was said to be frequented by the ghost of Bertha Schnell almost immediately after the structure was finished. A very wealthy man for the time, her father was snubbed by Nashville society in the 1920s and retreated to live above one of his businesses. He instructed his two daughters to let their grand home, then one of the grandest in Nashville, to fall into disuse out of revenge on the elite that had snubbed them.
They never repaired one thing and the house crumbled into neglect. Bertha’s sister, Lena, died in the house and her body stayed in it for more than a week before it was removed. Finally knocked down in the 1970s after Bertha died, Capitol Records was built on the site, but today it houses smaller businesses such as Music City Digital.
Immediately after moving in, Capitol Records employees often came in and discovered things disturbed. Doors also locked by themselves and wisps of a fog-like smoke sometimes pervaded the location. Local psychic Phyllis Moline described the location as a confusion of emotions.
Today, cold spots are commonplace and phone lines from unused internal offices often ring. Images of Bertha and her sister Lena have been seen and noises like sounds falling have been heard. Sometimes the ghosts do not want to be on TV. When Ann Heywood was terrorized by a ghost that she called “The Lady ” back in the Seventies, the ghost also threatened two reporters from “The Tennessean” newspaper and a WSM-TV news reporter who came to document the case. The whole story was featured in Winer’s follow-up book, More Haunted Houses.
- The Old Medical Building
Want to hear about the Old Medical Building? Formerly used to store cadavers for the medical classes at the University of Nashville, this building on Second Avenue South is said to be haunted. Owner Bart Butler has reported slamming doors and creaking floorboards in the otherwise empty structure.
- The Old Tennessee State Penitentiary
The movie, The Green Mile, was filmed partially at the Old Tennessee State Penitentiary. Former warden Jim Rose claims that the ghosts of former convicts and juvenile delinquents haunt this prison. Strange sounds, inexplicable feelings of dread and cold spots have been felt in the deserted structure.
Ryman Auditorium is a popular Nashville spot to fans of country music and the paranormal, but don’t believe those crazy tabloid stories of the place being trashed by the ghosts of dead rockers. Staff and tourists have heard the voices of their favorite departed country stars here where those classic stars of yesteryear delighted in entertaining millions. A construction worker who got locked in while exploring the building has seen Hank Williams’s ghost in the structure. Another singer was practicing one of Hank’s songs when all the lights went out in the middle of the song.
Employees have also heard footsteps and doors opening and closing under their own power. Doors often slam by themselves and employees have reported odd noises from the stage when the building is empty. Captain Thomas Ryman originally built the place as a church, but it became known locally as the Grand Old Opry. The late Hank Williams has been heard singing backstage and a figure of a man in a Confederate uniform dubbed “The Gray Man” has been seen in the same seat during modern-day rehearsals.
- The Old Pepper House
Does anyone recall the old TV series, called ” Encounters?” It told me the story of the old Pepper House near Elvis’s Graceland in Memphis, which is also described as haunted. Gary Pepper was a good friend of Elvis and the musician often walked over to visit or just play music. The ghost of Elvis Presley reportedly still visits Pepper in this house adjacent to the Graceland property. Two Memphis disc jockeys once tried to broadcast from the house after ridiculing the hauntings, but had transmission problems from inside the place.
This is just a sampling of the unknown hauntings I have for Tennessee, so when a local newspaper columnist said he was writing a newspaper article for Haunted Tennessee, I jumped at the chance to share my research with him. He instead recommended I get the project published as a book. (Which it was: Volunteer Ghosts: A Directory of Ghosts in Tennessee.)
Unfortunately, it is now two years later and the book is just barely floating around out there, barely getting interest. Truth be told, it suffered much in the publishing process, but the book is what it is, the best attempt to publish all of the Volunteer State’s haunted locales in one resource…