Friday, March 4, 2016

Tragedies in a Tourist Town—Gatlinburg, TN

In the mountains of southern Appalachia, Gatlinburg is one of the premier tourist towns. Growth of the tourist industry here has been exponential over the past few decades as Gatlinburg and nearby Pigeon Forge and Sevierville have fought to capture the most market share of tourists. With that growth has come countless tourist inns, motels and hotels; restaurants; candy stores; t-shirt shops; and even haunted house attractions. While most of these are inauthentic experiences created for the tourism industry, in Gatlinburg one has to only look as far as a few hotels and restaurants to find authentic ghosts.
 
View of the Gatlinburg Space Needle, ca. 2005. The Space
Needle sits at the foot of Historic Nature Trail. The Edgewater
Hotel is located across Cliff Branch. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Before it became a burgeoning mountain tourist town, Gatlinburg was a quiet hamlet with very little crime but with tourists comes crime and some of the crimes visited on Gatlinburg have been horrific. In his Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, Christopher K. Coleman writes about the Edgewater Hotel (402 River Road) where in 1972, a 7-year-old child plunged to her death from a hotel room balcony. When the police began to suspect the father’s involvement in his child’s death, the couple fled only to die when their car overturned on a winding mountain road pitching the vehicle and its occupants into the nearby Little Pigeon River. According to Coleman, the child is seen on the anniversary of her death standing in the branch below the hotel pointing towards the balcony she fell from. While this is a fascinating story, I can find nothing to corroborate the horrible details of this event.

Branching off from US-441, the main road through Gatlinburg, is Historic Nature Trail which was the scene of two horrible crimes in the 1980s. In July of 1980 two teenage girls in town from Kentucky were found dead at the Holiday Inn. One girl was found in a stairwell leading to the roof while her friend was found a few hours later in her room lying on the floor next to the bed. The girls, friends from Crestwood, Kentucky, were taking a short vacation to Gatlinburg before the start of their senior year of high school. After going out to a local lounge and steakhouse, The Rafters, the girls were seen leaving with a local drifter. He was arrested and charged with strangling the teens the following day.

Like many ghost stories, later retellings often embellish the circumstances of the murders, and this is no different. Coleman’s and internet versions of the events have one girl being drowned in a bathtub while her friend was strangled and her body dragged to the roof; articles on the murder from one of the state’s most prestigious papers, Nashville’s The Tennessean, dispute those details. One article does note that the girls were staying on the fourth floor in separate rooms: 401 and 413. The ghost stories do center on room 413, so these stories are correct in that aspect.

It seems that reports of paranormal activity in 413 mostly concern odd noises within the room, noises that often frighten staff working there. But this isn’t the only haunting within the hotel. A spirit named Alvin, supposedly the spirit of a longtime employee has been reported in the kitchen, though this story cannot be corroborated. Alvin seems to cause more poltergeist-type activity with kitchen utensils flying through the air. Another more spectacular ghost story has been told about the hotel’s seventh floor where a scout leader murdered members of his troop. This is a story that would have probably found its way to the front page of The Tennessean and many other newspapers. No information exists on this so it must be chalked up as just a story.

The Holiday Inn was later renamed the Garden Plaza Hotel (formerly 520 Historic Nature Trail) and operated until fairly recently when it was demolished. The current Google Streetview (dated August 2015) shows the site as a vacant lot. It’s unknown if any of the spirits have remained here.

If you follow Historic Nature Trail from the site of the old Holiday Inn back towards US-441, you’ll pass a very new Courtyard by Marriott that now occupies the site of one of Gatlinburg’s most notorious murders. On 13 September 1986, a desk clerk and security guard were brutally murdered by a pair of thieves intending to rob the inn. Two lives were snuffed out violently for $499 and the purse of the young desk clerk. Shortly after the murders a shadowy figure was frequently seen in the parking lot and a guest was awakened to see a young woman standing at the foot of his bed whose description matched that of the young clerk. Despite the demolition of the Rocky Top Village Inn (formerly 311 Historic Nature Trail) the stories of the horrific tragedy that occurred here and the spirits possibly remaining here continue to be told.

One of Gatlinburg’s oldest tragic spirits still resides at the Greenbrier Restaurant (370 Newman Road). Originally the Greenbrier Lodge, this quaint log lodge catered to wealthy hunters and tourists coming through the area. The lodge was renamed and reopened as the Greenbrier Restaurant in 1980. Legend holds that at some point in its early history a young lady named Lydia stayed here on the eve of her wedding. On her wedding day she dressed in white and headed into town to marry. When her fiancée failed to show at the church Lydia returned to the Lodge heart-stricken. Still clad in her wedding dress Lydia hung herself from the rafters over the second floor landing. A postscript added to one version of the story states that days later Lydia’s fiancée was found dead after being mauled by a mountain cat.

Still broken-hearted, Lydia roams the Greenbrier Restaurant generally frightening staff and guests and causing a bit of trouble when she knocks food off the shelves of the restaurant’s pantry. The sad revenant has possibly been observed by the owners who saw a figure pass a doorway after closing time as they were closing up. Some years ago the young son of the owners did see a woman who vanished when he called his father’s attention to it. In 2007 the Greenbrier’s owners allowed the members of the East Tennessee Paranormal Research Society investigate the restaurant. The investigation did capture some photographic anomalies, though the best evidence was an EVP. A female investigator addressed Lydia, “God bless you, Lydia, I’d be happy to hear from you if you’d like to speak to me.” A moment later a female voice cheekily responds, “Then I’m not dead.”

Sources
Coleman, Christopher K. Ghost and Haunts of Tennessee. Winston-
     Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2011.
Kinney, Rachel. “’Rocky Top’ murderer killed in prison fight.”
     WBIR. 11 March 2015.
Madden, Tom. “2 women found slain at resort.” The Tennessean.
     30 July 1980.
Nauman, Tesa. “Paranormal groups hunts for G’burg ghost.”
     Sevier County News. 23 February 2007.
“Strangled teen’s mother thought Gatlinburg was safe.” The
     Tennessean. 31 July 1980.
Whittle, Dan. “’Ghost Lydia’ legend adds to Smoky Mountains
     haunting haze & lore.” Mufreesboro Post. 19 October 2014.
Williams, Michael. “Walking among the dead.” Tennessee

     Star Journal. 15 October 2014.

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