Sunday, March 6, 2011

Haunted Tennessee

A selection of ten haunted places from around the state of Tennessee.

Bijou Theatre
803 South Gay Street
Bijou Theatre, January 2011. Photo by Lewis Powell, IV,
all rights reserved.

Originally constructed as a hotel, the building that now contains the Bijou Theatre is oldest commercial structure in Knoxville still in commercial use. The building opened as the Knoxville Hotel in 1817 and operated as a hotel for nearly a century. During the Civil War, the hotel, then the Lamar Hotel, served as a hospital and it was here that Union General William P. Sanders died. Possibly some of the deaths and trauma that occurred during this time has left an impression on the building. The hotel was converted into a theatre in 1909 and has hosted live theatre and operated as a pornographic movie house in the 1960s and 70s. Preservationists restored the building for use as a theatre and it remains as such today.

It appears that multiple spirits remain in the theatre. In addition to performers and patrons who have had experiences in the theatre ranging from voices to apparitions, paranormal investigators have recorded EVPs and captured activity on film and video. Among the spirits that apparently haunt the building are a young girl, a stage technician, “The General” – possibly the spirit of General Sanders – and a construction worker.  

Cherry Mansion
265 Main Street
Cherry Mansion, 1974. Photo by Jack Boucher for the Historic
American Building Survey (HABS), courtesy of the Library of
Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Kathryn Tucker Windham in her 13 Tennessee Ghosts and Jeffrey recounts an interesting occurrence at the Cherry Mansion in 1976. A trio of young people was sitting on the mansion’s porch around 11 PM when a man in a white suit and a wide brimmed hat walked up to the historical marker in front of the house. He stood there for a few moments reading the marker then vanished to the shock of the trio on the porch. This was neither the first nor the last of many strange incidents in the long history of this 1830 house. The owners of the Cherry Mansion during the Civil War were staunch Unionists and opened their home to the generals whose army was camped at nearby Pittsburgh Landing. It was here that General Ulysses S. Grant was having breakfast when he heard the opening shots of the battle that would take its name from a small church nearby, Shiloh.

Two Union generals would die in this house: one wounded in the battle, another cursing the fate that did not allow him to attend to the battle. There is a possibility that both of these men’s spirits still linger in the halls of Cherry Mansion. A figure that resembles a Union officer has been seen staring out a second floor window and the sounds of heavy footsteps have been heard on the porch.

200 Cragfont Road
Castalian Springs
Cragfont, 2008. Photo by Brian Stansberry, courtesy of

Pioneer James Winchester constructed this house on a high bluff over a spring that feeds into Bledsoe’s Creek and named it Cragfont. Construction began in 1798 and lasted four years. Winchester was instrumental in the creation of the state of Tennessee and he served as a general in the War of 1812. Among his other accomplishments is his work laying out the city of Memphis. The home he built is now preserved as a house museum and a number of spirits are still felt, heard and seen throughout the home including candlelight that appears in the window at night.

Craighead Caverns (Lost Sea Cave)
140 Lost Sea Road
Anthodite formation on the ceiling of Craighead Caverns.
Photo by Oydman, courtesy of Wikipedia.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
-- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Kubla Khan”

Craighead Caverns, an extensive network of caverns in eastern Tennessee, boasts the largest underground lake in the Western Hemisphere and among the largest in the world. This series of caverns was discovered in the Stone Age by Native Americans and evidence proves that it was used by them. Many centuries before, during the Pleistocene era, a large jaguar stumbled into the cave a died after falling into a crevice. Its prints and skeleton were uncovered in 1939. White men discovered the caves in the early 19th century and utilized them for cold storage and during the Civil War for making saltpeter, a key component of gunpowder.

It is believed that both the jaguar and a Union spy who was captured and summarily executed may have left spiritual remnants within these caverns. Legend speaks of a Union spy who discovered the saltpeter operation in the cave and was caught just as he attempted to blow up the operation. He was shot just outside of the cave’s entrance but may still linger in the caverns.

Hunt-Phelan House
533 Beale Street
Hunt-Phelan House, 2010. Photo by Thomas R. Machnitzki,
courtesy of Wikipedia.

Marking the Lauderdale Street end of the “infamous section” of Beale Street where Blues music first developed, the Hunt-Phelan House has just as infamous a history. Built in 1832 by George Wyatt, during the Civil War the house was used a headquarters for Confederate General Leonidas Polk while planning the Siege of Corinth, Mississippi and a few months later after the fall of Memphis, the house was headquarters for Union General Ulysses S. Grant while he planned the Vicksburg Campaign. The house then served as a Freedmen’s Bureau and was finally returned to the family by President Andrew Johnson in 1865. More recently, the house has been opened as The Inn at Hunt-Phelan featuring four-star accommodations and restaurants.

As with a house this old and historically important, it does have some legends. Among them is the legend of servant, Nathan Wilson. In 1873, during the height of a yellow fever epidemic, the Hunt family fled Memphis and entrusted a chest of gold to their faithful servant. He was later found dead in his room but the mud on his boots indicating he may have buried the gold before he died. Stories have emerged that his spirit is still seen and will guide people to his treasure.

Orpheum Theatre
203 South Main Street
Orpheum Theatre, 2008. Photo by Claire H., courtesy of Wikipedia.

Perhaps one of the more well-known, even famous, ghosts in the state is the girl, Mary, who haunts Memphis’ Orpheum Theatre. The Orpheum anchors one end of the “infamous section” of Beale Street while the Hunt-Phelan House anchors the other. The legend of Mary states that she was killed when she was hit by a car on Beale Street in 1921 and took up residence in the original Orpheum Theatre before it burned in 1923. The current theatre opened in 1928 and still hosts Mary’s antics. She has been seen and heard throughout the theatre.

Rippavilla Plantation
5700 Main Street
Spring Hill
Rippavilla Plantation, 2009. Photo by Hal Jespersen, courtesy
of Wikipedia.

Like Savannah’s Cherry Mansion, Rippavilla Plantation in Spring Hill hosted a general on the eve of a major battle, this time Confederate General John Bell Hood and his staff before the Battle of Franklin. After recent investigations of the house by Volunteer State Paranormal Research, one investigator described the house as “the most active site I have ever visited.” Investigations of the house have produced numerous EVPs as well as some personal experiences.

Shiloh National Military Park
1055 Pittsburg Landing Road
Sunken Road, one of the areas of heaviest fighting on the Shiloh
Battlefield, 2007. Photo by Ernest Mettendorf, courtesy of

The Battle of Shiloh was a real shock to Americans. Fought in April of 1862, Shiloh was one of the bloodiest battles of war up that point. As with all battlefields preserved by the National Park Service, officially the battlefield does not have any ghosts, but numerous staff members, re-enactors and visitors have had odd experiences on this hallowed ground. Spirits have been spotted near Bloody Pond and near the Confederate burial trench between Water Oaks Pond and Crescent Field. It is near the trench that a spectral soldier is seen and others have reported hearing what may be the Confederate war whoop, the “Rebel Yell.”

St. Mary’s Catholic Church
330 Fifth Avenue, North
St. Mary's Catholic Church, 2010. Photo by Andrew Jameson,
courtesy of Wikipedia.

Formerly St. Mary of the Seven Sorrows, St. Mary’s was designed by William Strickland who would later design the state capitol (see below). During the Civil War, the building served as a hospital and according to some sources, some 300 men died on the floors of the church. But, the spiritual activity seems to surround a spectral priest who was seen starting during the Great Depression. Some have identified the spirit as that of Bishop Richard Pius Miles, first bishop of Nashville, whose tomb was discovered in the church in 1969 and he was reburied within the church. According to some the activity ceased after Bishop Miles’ reburial.

Tennessee State Capitol Building
Charlotte Avenue
Tennessee State Capitol Building, 2009. Photo by Kaldari,
courtesy of Wikipedia.

William Strickland, the renowned American architect who designed the Tennessee Capitol moved to Nashville to oversee the construction expecting to be gone only a short time. Strickland died in Nashville in 1854 still awaiting the completion of the building which had been started in 1845. To honor Strickland, the state of Tennessee entombed him within his masterpiece. Some years after construction was completed, the same honor was bestowed upon Samuel Morgan, chairman of the State Building Commission and the man who had overseen construction. It is said that Morgan’s desire to finish the project under-budget clashed with Strickland’s desire to realize his masterpiece and the two bickered constantly. Indeed, after the two were entombed in the same tomb the sound of two men bickering began to be heard. Even recently, security guards have been disturbed by loud shouts near the tomb.

But the two fighting ghosts are not the only ones witnessed within in the Tennessee Capitol. When the Union occupied Nashville during the Civil War, the capitol, built on the highest hill in the city, was fortified and cannon placed around the building. A small skirmish did occur when rebels attempted to seize the fortress. A Union sentry, possibly related to this conflict has been seen patrolling the grounds and has angrily approached people moving furniture, breaking things or even vandalizing the grounds. On the grounds of the building is the tomb of President James K. Polk and his wife Sarah where a darkly clothed man, possibly Polk himself, has been seen kneeling while the specter of First Lady Rachel Jackson, wife of President Andrew Jackson, is said to appear in the cupola of the building.

Arntz, Josh. “Paranormal detectives document ghostly data.” The
     Dickson Herald. 28 October 2010.
Bijou Theatre (Knoxville). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     2 March 2010.
Brown, Alan. Haunted Places in the American South. Jackson, MS:
     University Press of Mississippi, 2002.
Brown, Alan. Haunted Tennessee: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena
     Of the Volunteer State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2009.
Brown, Alan. Stories from the Haunted South. Jackson, MS: University
     Press of Mississippi, 2004.
Brown, John Norris. “Cragfont Mansion Hauntings.” Ghosts & Spirits
     of Tennessee. Accessed 31 January 2011.
Coleman, Christopher K. Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. Winston-
     Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2010.
Glass, Debra and Heath Matthews. Skeletons of the Civil War: True
     Ghost Stories of the Army of Tennessee. Debra Glass, 2007.
Harris, Frankie and Kim Meredith. Haunted Nashville. Atglen, PA:
     Schiffer, 2009.
“Haunting Evidence Ghost Hunt Explores R.I.P.avilla.” The (Columbia,
      TN) Daily Herald. 27 July 2010.
History of the Lost Sea.” Lost Sea website. Accessed 4 March 2011.
Lester, Dee Gee. “Hunt-Phelan House.” Tennessee Encyclopedia of History
     and Culture. 25 December 2009.
Lovett, Bobby L. “Beale Street.” Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and
     Culture. 25 December 2009.
Mason, Doug. “Who haunts the Bijou?” The Knoxville News-Sentinel.
     31 October 2004.
Rippavilla…" Rippavilla Plantation website. Accessed 4 March 2011.
Tennessee State Capitol. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 4
     March 2011.
Traylor, Ken and Delas M. House, Jr. Nashville Ghosts and Legends.
     Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007.
Windham, Kathryn Tucker. 13 Tennessee Ghosts and Jeffrey.
     Tuscaloosa, AL: U. of AL Press, 1977.


  1. Great list! I love Tennessee's hauntings. I've actually been to a few of these. The Orpheum is one of the most beautiful theaters I've ever been to. I didn't see any ghosts, but it was worth the trip even without the ghosts.

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  3. Why isn't the "Bell Witch" of Adams,Tn. on this list? It's probably the most famous haunting in Tennessee. Just go to

    1. I'm very familiar with the Bell Witch, though it's such a monstrous subject I haven't yet tackled it writing-wise. As you may know, there are numerous books and other sources on it. I may approach it soon, though.

    2. The Bell Witch story continues into Panola County Mississippi where the two daughters of John Bell moved with their families.