Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Down, Though Not Quite Out, in Memphis


It seems that the further I read about hauntings in Memphis, the more I see a city that has been down on its luck for the past few decades. So many of Memphis’ haunted sites are incredible architectural treasures, yet they sit empty and crumbling. Certainly, it reflects the ill fortune of large cities over the second half of the 20th century as they sprawled outwards while their hearts withered. Among Memphis’ haunted locales are a number that have been abandoned (or, in one case, partially abandoned) and legends have sprouted up concerning them.

At least two of these buildings have legends that may have been invented to accompany their lonely states: the Sears Crosstown Building (495 North Watkins Street) and the Sterick Building (8 North 3rd Street).

Opening in 1927, the Sears Crosstown Building was once the showplace of Memphis. Looming over North Watkins Street, just north of downtown, the enormous Art Deco structure housed retail, catalog, a merchandise warehouse and distribution space for Sears Roebuck and Company, at that time, the largest retailers in the nation. The building’s 11 stories and 17 story tower encompass 1.4 square feet of space. When the building opened on August 8th of that year, many sources say an estimated 47,000 people walked through the doors.

The Sears Crosstown building, 2008. Photo by Anthonyturducken,
released under a Creative Commons License.
Until the store closed in 1983 (the building totally closed for good in 1993), it was considered the height of retailing in the city. Since that time a single person patrols the monstrous structure keeping vandals and curiosity seekers out. His only companions may be the occasional ghosts that may or may not exist.

Laura Cunningham’s Haunted Memphis (History Press, 2009) includes a description of some of the activity supposedly witnessed in the building. This includes apparent residual activity such as the sounds of shoppers and escalators as well as doors opening and closing on their own accord. Cunningham also mentions that the parking garage may be haunted by the spirit of a homeless man who was killed there and buried nearby. Unfortunately, there are no specific reports of any of this activity, nor are the witnesses identified, therefore this has to be chalked up to urban legend.

Perhaps, more evidence will come to light as the building is used. An organization is already formulating plans to create an arts hub within the cavernous building. Late last year an artist installed a lighting installation that lit up various windows in an array of colors. We can hope that as the building sees more activity that more reports of paranormal activity will filter out.

In downtown Memphis, the Sterick Building has dominated the skyline for nearly a century. Opened in 1930, the building’s name is a combination of the surnames of its owners, R. E. Sterling and Wyatt Hedrick. The building was the tallest building in the South for some years and a grand jewel in the crown of Memphis. The building rises 29 grand floors in the Gothic Revival Style.

The boarded up entrance to the Sterick Building, 2009.
Photo by Samuel Grant, courtesy of Wikipedia.
That grand jewel has been tarnished quite a bit over the years and the massive structure now sits empty. Financial issues have taken their toll over the decades. As development in Memphis expanded outward, the building’s tenants vacated one by one until the last tenants left in 1986. It has been empty since. The valuable land that the building rests upon is only leased and the building reverts to the landlord’s ownership at the end of its 99 year lease in 2025. Therefore, the current owners and anyone who tries to do anything to the building before that point will lose most of their investment. The Downtown Memphis Commission has made recommendations, but these may only join the past recommendations that have been nixed as too expensive.

The Sterick Building rises 29 stories above 3rd Street.
Photo 2011, by Reading Tom. Released under a
Creative Commons License. 
So for now this massive white elephant sits on 3rd Street longing for people to fill its corridors and offices again while the occasional spirit may still prowl about. Again, like the reports of activity from Sears Crosstown, the reports from the Sterick Building are somewhat vague. Cunningham points out two specific incidents that may have left a spiritual mark upon the building: both involving people plunging to their deaths. One vague incident involved a young woman committing suicide to “save herself from a loveless marriage.” Another incident occurred in 1981 when a man attacked a woman in the building. As building security pursued the man he broke a window and climbed out onto the ledge from which he plunged to his death. Cunningham notes that employees in the building reported hearing the screams of someone falling outside their windows. Additionally, there are also reports of residual activity including lights on in empty offices and the sounds of people working.

While specific details of the hauntings of the Sears Crosstown and Sterick buildings may be hard to come by, details from the Tennessee Brewery (495 Tennessee Street) are quite prevalent. The massive Romanesque Revival structure looms over Tennessee Street quite close to the muddy Mississippi River. According to Memphis Paranormal Investigations, LLC, this building is quite active and they have captured quite a bit of evidence in their 12 investigations of the structure.

The Tennessee Brewery at the height of its operations. Courtesy
of Wikipedia.
Investigations have uncovered the sounds of footsteps and numerous photographic anomalies. Cunningham mentions that “loud noises, strong enough to rattle windows, can be heard throughout the building.”

Organized in 1877, this massive brewery was constructed in 1890. By the turn of the 20th century the Memphis Brewing Company was the largest brewery in the South and among the largest in the nation. Like most breweries throughout the nation, the brewery closed during Prohibition. With the repeal of the 18th Amendment, the brewery reopened under the auspices of John Schorr, the son of one of the early owners. The brewery’s beer was named “Goldcrest 51” in 1938 and was the most popular brand of beer in the region until the brewery closed in 1954.

The Tennessee Brewery, 2008, by Otto42. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Following its closure, the building was used as a scrap metal company until 1982. As the scrap metal company, the building was little changed and it has been a virtual time capsule with few changes made except those to keep the building in compliance with building codes. The city almost demolished the building in the 1990s, but a buyer jumped in and purchased the structure and brought it up to code. However, the building still remains vacant, though plans have been considered for its use as an arts space similar to Sears Crosstown. Certainly, such a magnificent edifice deserves to be cared for and maintained.

Sources
Bailey, Tom, Jr. “Towering vision: Project would remake Sears Crosstown
     into Memphis arts village.” The Commerical Appeal. 13 February 2011.
Cunningham, Laura. Haunted Memphis. Charleston, SC: History Press,
     2009.
Lauderdale, Vance. “When the Sterick Building was Supreme.” Ask
     Vance: The Blog of Vance Lauderdale. 28 November 2008.
McCoy, Chris. “Signs of Life at Sears Crosstown Tower.” Live from Memphis.
     21 October 2011.
Patterson, Sara. “Tennessee Brewery has intoxicating beauty, sobering
     challenges for developers.” The Commercial Appeal. 28 August 2011.
Pickrell, Kayla. “Haunted Memphis: Brewery a piece of history.” The
      Commercial Appeal. 24 July 2012.
Risher, Wayne. “Memphis officials pushing for plan to redevelop long-
     vacant Sterick Building.” The Commercial Appeal. 3 May 2012.
Risher, Wayne. “Skyline Orphan: Once the towering jewel of Downtown
     Memphis, rehabbing of Sterick Building poses tall order.” The
     Commercial Appeal. 27 December 2011.
Tennessee Brewery. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 24 July 2012.
Wolf, Cindy. “Sears Crosstown, before the doors closed.” The Commercial
     Appeal. 27 February 2011.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Beyond 133 – Chattanooga Public Library (Newsbyte)


Chattanooga Public Library
1001 Broad Street
Chattanooga, Tennessee

Most libraries have ghosts though usually these are confined to the 133 section of the Dewey Decimal System: the section for ghosts and the paranormal. The Chattanooga Public Library in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee has a ghost (or possibly more than one) whose range lies far beyond its Dewey Decimal classification. Over the years, patrons and staff have had a variety of experiences ranging from hearing footsteps and voices to seeing apparitions. Books have been thrown off shelves, and chairs have been moved about.


There has been enough activity to warrant the Young Adult Librarian to bring in a paranormal investigation group, the Global Paranormal Society, to investigate. The group spent six hours investigating this modern library on March 17. The results were publicized recently.

The staff has named the resident spirit “Eugene,” though the spirit’s identity is unknown. The building itself is only 36 years old, and neither article mentions any deaths associated with the building. The land, upon which it was constructed, though, does have quite a history. It was here that the city of Chattanooga was originally settled.

Evidence shows that Native Americans lived in the area for a few thousand years prior to the Historic Era: that period following European expansion into the Americas. It was here that the powerful Cherokee chief, Tsi-yu Gan-shi-ni or Dragging Canoe, settled with his followers in 1777. The chief’s father, Chief Attakullakulla, and other chiefs including Oconostota made the decision to ally themselves with the Patriot cause following General Griffith Rutherford’s destruction of many Cherokee towns the previous year. Dragging Canoe set up a series of town around the Tennessee River and Chickamauga Creek and these Cherokee became known as the Chickamauga.

Later, another influential Cherokee, John Ross, settled in the same area and named this stop on the Tennessee River “Ross’ Landing.” The natives living here were forced on the Trail of Tears during the Removals in the 1830s. The name was changed in 1838 by the US Post Office to Chattanooga.


According to the article, one of Dragging Canoe’s villages was located where the library now stands. Ross’ Landing is located in the area as well. So, it’s possible that the library spirit may be from this period though much water has passed under the bridge since that time and the spirit could be more modern. Indeed, the ghost hunters did find some evidence of activity though they did not conclusively pronounce the library as being “haunted.” Still, Eugene roams still beyond the 133 section. I can imagine the public library is pretty interesting place to haunt.

Sources
Chattanooga,Tennessee. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     3 July 2012.
Chickamauga Wars. Wikipedia, the Free Encylcopedia. Accessed
     3 July 2012.
Dragging Canoe. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 3
     July 2012.
     library tonight.” Chattanooga Times Free Press. 29 June 2012.
     Chattanooga Public Library.” Chattanooga Times Free Press.
     30 June 2012.
Ross’s Landing. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 3 July 2012.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Warriors of Nikwasi


Nikwasi Mound
Nikwasi Lane
Franklin, North Carolina

Throughout the South and across the country, Native Americans have left a legacy, though one that has been obscured. This legacy delves deeply into our geography, language, culture and into the heart of our national identity. Certainly, the geographic legacy is the most evident with places throughout the nation bearing names derived from Native American names or descriptions. While some place names have been translated into English, often the names in their native forms (or a version thereof) have been stripped of their meanings and roots; so to most people it’s just a funny sounding name devoid of meaning.

Besides names, there are some Native American landmarks remaining, though very few. Mostly these are earthworks such as mounds that have survived the elements and the destructive nature of modern man. Franklin, North Carolina has one of these landmarks: the Nikwasi Mound, the former centerpiece for a major town of the same name. The meaning of that name has been lost to history, though the mound remains; now sandwiched between commercial buildings and the business route of busy US 441. When I visited last week, I had to drive past the landmark a few times before even picking it out amongst the urban sprawl.

There is controversy as to who actually constructed the mound. Wikipedia credits the Mississippean culture peoples as having originally constructed the mound around the year 1000 CE. Though, in speaking to local Cherokee, they take credit for it themselves. Members of the Cherokee tribe, who later used the mound up until most of them were removed from the area in the early 19th century, will often describe their origins by saying they have always been here (in the Southern Appalachians). The more academic answer is that their origins are disputed. Some believe that the Cherokee have existed in the area for much of the first millennia, while others believe that the Cherokee arrived as late as the 15th century CE. Despite these arguments, however, the mound is quite ancient.

James Mooney, the late 19th and early 20th century ethnographer who preserved much of the Cherokee’s knowledge, history and legends in his seminal work, History, Myths and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee states that some believe the mound was built as a townhouse mound to protect the townhouse (which served as a the center of village life) from flooding. According to Mooney, these mounds were constructed by piling earth atop the grave of a prominent chief or priest or possibly the remains of chiefs or priests from each of the seven clans. Along with these burials were included other sacred objects including an eagle feather (the eagle was one of the more sacred creatures to the Cherokee). The earth would be lain over these things and a hollow cedar log placed in the center of the mound to protect the sacred fire that will burn in the townhouse.

The townhouse served as the focal point of village life. Within this seven-sided building (seven being a sacred number to the Cherokee) business was conducted: legal, social, governmental and religious business and it was here that all the members of the village could sit. In the center of the building, under a small hole in the center of the roof acting as a chimney, burned the sacred fire from which all of the fires in the village were kindled. These fires at the hearths of local homes were kept burning throughout the year but were extinguished before the ceremony of the Green Corn. At that time, all the fires were extinguished and hearths swept clean. Embers from the eternal fire in the council house were taken to create new home fires. During this ceremony of renewal all debts and sins were erased and all started anew with a clean slate, so to speak. Mooney states that it is possible that the truly everlasting flames were only found in the larger towns like Nikwasi and nearby Kituhwa (near Bryson City, NC and considered by the Cherokee to be the “center of the earth”).

The Nikwasi Mound, 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

It was here in 1730 that Sir Alexander Cumming, a Scottish trade envoy, crowned Chief Moytoy of Tellico as “Emperor of the Cherokee.” The town, and likely the townhouse with it, was destroyed in 1761 in hostilities that included the massacre of peace chiefs at Fort Prince George (in the Province of South Carolina) and the siege of Fort Loudon (in what is now Tennessee) all leading up to the expedition of Henry Timberlake (which included Sgt. Thomas Sumter and trader John McCormack) to the Cherokee to sue for peace in 1762. The town was again destroyed during the in 1776 by American General Griffith Rutherford as part of the Chickamauga Wars. Nikwasi was rebuilt but then ceded to the white man in treaties signed in 1817 and 1819. While some Cherokee in the area escaped in the mountains, they were later resettled on the nearby Qualla Boundry.

The city of Franklin was created in 1819, following one of the Cherokee treaties and the Nikwasi Mound remained outside the city as a curiosity. The old mound was part of farmland and in discussion with a local Cherokee historian I was told that a man with a plow and a team of horsemen took a week to plow the mound down in the early 20th century. So much for preserving history!

When the mound was threatened by a developer just after World War II, a prominent local attorney, Gilmer Jones, raised $1500 in pennies from local school children to purchase the mound. The mound was deeded to the Town of Franklin to be preserved for posterity, though the property only consists of the mound and the adjoining properties have been developed commercially. The mound has been sitting quietly under a historical marker until recent years. Or has it?

The mound from a different angle, note the dead grass and the
commercial sprawl around it. Photo 2012 by Lewis Powell IV, all
rights reserved.

Cherokee legend speaks of the mound as being inhabited by the Nunne’hi, the race of “immortals” whose name translates, according to James Mooney, as “people who live anywhere.” The Nunne’hi (pronounced nun-eh-HEE) are similar to the Yunwi Tsunsdi, or the “Little People,” in that they are also spiritual defenders of the Cherokee, though the Little People are small as their name indicates while the Nunne’hi appear as regular humans when they wish to be seen. The Nikwasi mound is believed to be one of their homes. This became known many moons ago during a pitched battle when the Cherokee found themselves losing against a fierce enemy. This invader had fought their way through many villages and was now moving into the mountains. As their numbers waned in the heat of battle, the Cherokee defending Nikwasi had begun to fall back. I’ll allow Mooney to take it from here:

…suddenly a stranger stood among them and shouted to the chief to call off his men and he himself would drive back the enemy. From the dress and language of the stranger the Nikwasi people thought him a chief who had come with reinforcements from the Overhill settlements in Tennessee. They fell back along the trail, and as they came near the townhouse they saw a great company of warriors coming out from the side of the mound as through as open doorway. Then they knew that their friends were the Nunne’hi, the Immortals, although no one had ever heard before that they lived under Nikwasi mound.

The Nunne’hi poured out by hundreds, armed and painted for the fight, and the most curious thing about it all was that they became invisible as soon as they were fairly outside of the settlements, so that although the enemy saw the glancing arrow or the rushing tomahawk, and felt the stroke, he could not see who sent it.

The invaders were sent fleeing with the Nunne’hi in full pursuit. When the attackers attempted to take cover behind rocks and trees, the arrows followed and found their targets. Only half a dozen were left to return to their villages with the awful news of their comrades’ deaths. These survivors sat down some distance from the battlefield and cried. As they wept, the Nunne’hi chief approached and explained that they deserved this terrible defeat for attacking a peaceful tribe. The attackers fled and the Nunne’hi returned to their mound unscathed.

Legend holds that the Nunne’hi may have also appeared during the Civil War when a contingent of Federal troops were supposed to make a surprise raid against the town of Franklin. The town was supposed to be guarded by only a small force of Confederate troops. When the Federals arrived, they spied a large group of defenders and did not attack. Perhaps the Nunne’hi had taken to wearing butternut grey?

While the Nunne’hi are rarely visible, they are heard quite often. As they are fond of drumming and dancing, their music and merrymaking is sometimes heard near their townhouses. Though when the curious attempt to trace the source of the sounds, the sound travels. At least one source states that these sounds sometimes issue from the mounds, but I can find no specific reports of these sounds. Such sounds, however, are heard throughout Cherokee country. In conversation with a Cherokee friend, I was told that one of the Nunne’hi townhouses may be located on one of the mountains that forms the Oconaluftee River valley in downtown Cherokee, NC. He stated that people often heard the sounds of a party from this mountain which is opposite the mountain where the Mountainside Theatre is located. Incidentally, I have personally heard the sounds of a party coming from that direction while sitting at the Mountainside Theatre late at night. My friend went on to state that the sounds are rarely heard any longer as the sounds of modern life now drown them out.

Just today I spoke with some friends who had been swimming last night along the Oconaluftee River just north of Cherokee. They reported that they had heard the sounds of drumming and laughter nearby, but were unable to trace the source. They presumed that it was the Yunwi Tsunsdi and left them alone. Both spirit races are known for their music and merrymaking, though I wonder if the music they heard was issuing from an unknown Nunne’hi townhouse.

Nikwasi mound still stands, only a fraction of what it once was and now denuded of grass. Recently, the town of Franklin sprayed herbicide on the mound angering the Eastern Band of Cherokee and raising questions as to how to better care for this precious landmark. While the anger lingers, there is renewed hope that a good preservation solution can be put into place that will preserve this sacred place. If you happen by the mound late at night, roll down your windows and perhaps, over the noise of modern life, you’ll hear the ancient ruckus of a Nunne’hi party.

Sources
Cherokee. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 17 June 2012.
Dalrymple, Maria. “Nikwasi Mound deed could be transferred to
     create park.” Macon County News. 3 September 2009.
McKie, Scott. “Herbicide put on Nikwasi mound.” Cherokee One
     Feather. 9 May 2012.
Mooney, James. History, Myths and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees.
     Asheville, NC: Bright Mountain Books, 1992.
Moytoy of Tellico. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 17
     June 2012.
Nikwasi. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 14 June 2012.
Pruett, Kimberly. “Nikwasi Mound debate continues.” Macon
     County News. 30 June 2011.