Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Night in Nashville—Review of “Nashville Haunted Handbook”

The Nashville skyline, 2009, by Kaldari. This city is haunted by country music
legends, Civil War soldiers, spectral slaves and socialites. Photo courtesy of

It was the morning of July 9, 1918 just outside of Nashville. Train No. 4 of the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railroad had just departed the recently built Union Station (now the Union Station Hotel) in downtown Nashville. Train No. 1 was headed to Union Station from Memphis and was running some 35 minutes late. A series of errors had led to numerous mistakes on the part of conductors, crew, switchmen and other railroad authorities. At Dutchman’s Curve at 7:15 the trains met head-on. Some of the wooden passenger cars crumbled while others were thrown into the adjacent fields. The wreck resulted in over 100 deaths with many more injuries and is considered the worst railroad disaster in American history. Reports have surfaced that the sounds of squealing brakes, screams and moans have been heard at the site, which is now a small park.

With a turn of the page, the reader arrives at Edwin Warner Park which was once a lover’s lane of sorts. Here there is a legend of an escaped inmate from a nearby insane asylum. He had lost a hand and it had been replaced by a hook. Teens who had parked their cars here for “necking” were terrorized by a crazed figure with a hook for a right hand. Stories still circulate of people seeing the figure of a man with a hook for a hand.

Turn a few more pages and the reader is standing at Fort Negley, one of the fortifications built by Union occupiers to defend the city against Confederate forces. Following the war, the Union fort was largely forgotten and became overgrown. When the Ku Klux Klan was created, they may have held ceremonies in the abandoned fort, burning crosses and possibly lynching unfortunate African-Americans. Visitors to the fort have encountered odd lights at night as well as the apparition of a Union soldier without a face.

Turn a few pages back and you will encounter a man in a black suit walking through Hendersonville Memory Gardens in the northeast suburb or Hendersonville. This “Man in Black” is seen walking near the grave of a very famous “Man in Black,” Johnny Cash. Is the spirit of Cash still walking near his grave before stepping into that eternal burning ring of fire?

The Nashville Haunted Handbook by Jeff Morris, Donna Marsh and Garett Merk (Clerisy Press, 2011) really covers a huge range of hauntings throughout the Nashville Metro-Area which encompasses much of middle Tennessee. Within it are included some of the enduring legends from this state including the famous Bell Witch of Adams in Robertson County and the spirit of President Andrew Jackson who still haunts his home, The Hermitage, just outside of Nashville. Some of the hauntings of Franklin, perhaps one of the more paranormally active cities in the region, are also included. Those hauntings include the famous Carter House and Carnton Plantation, both of which are haunted by specters from the Battle of Franklin.

What I find fascinating is to see such a range of an area’s hauntings presented in such a concise format. And that range is very wide, as illustrated by the examples above: a haunted disaster site, a lover’s lane haunted by an urban legend (and a very common urban legend at that), a Civil War haunt and a legend of a legend who died quite recently (2003, in fact). Indeed, the range of locations is astounding ranging from small family cemeteries to major hotels, a McDonald’s a Captain D’s restaurants to National Historic Landmarks.

It is interesting to note what is included. There are two other books about the ghosts of Nashville: Ken Traylor and Delas M. House Jr.’s Nashville Ghosts and Legends (History Press, 2007) and Frankie and Kim Meredith Harris’ Haunted Nashville (Schiffer, 2009). Both are fairly good and while they share some hauntings with this new book, there are some notable locations that are absent from the handbook. I’m curious how places like the Hermitage Hotel, Southern Turf Building, Fort Nashborough, Hurricane Mills and the Adelphi Theatre/Tennessee Performing Arts Center ended up being left out. Regardless, the list of locations in the handbook provides information on numerous hauntings that have not been adequately documented in print.

The book is organized by type of location: cemeteries, historic houses, bars and restaurants, stores and hotels, roads and parks and finally, miscellaneous. Each haunted location includes precise directions, history, a breakdown of the paranormal activity and information on visiting. The book also includes descriptions of haunts further afield.

The end of the book also includes something very simple, but that I find fascinating: a checklist. I love all types of lists, but a checklist of haunted places is really cool. After seeing it, I started thinking about the list in terms of a life list, something that bird watchers use. They will often keep a list of all the species they have seen in their life and attempt to outdo each other with the number. It’s an idea that could easily translate to the world of ghosts with people keeping a list of haunted places they have visited. “I’ll think it over tomorrow, at Tara.”

My only real criticism is the lack of a source list or bibliography. It is an absolute necessity when documenting the paranormal that a list of reliable sources be provided. Not only does this help provide accountability to the authors but it helps researchers out there like me follow the writer’s path. Otherwise, I’d highly recommend this book if you’re curious about nights (and days) in Nashville.

1 comment:

  1. love this, I have to get this book. As a Nashvillian, I like the historical documentation... and as a paranormal enthusiast I like the check list of must visits!

    I can tell you why the Captain D's in Hermitage is on that list. My friends and coworkers Sarah and Steve were murdered there in 1997. Stuff started happening not long after. That could possibly explain the McDs if it is also the Hermitage location.

    Thanks for this post.