Tennessee State Library and Archives
Tennessee Myths and Legends
The Heroine of Kaintuck, 1840, Illustration from The Crockett Almanac
Intro | Native Americans | Daniel Boone | Davy Crockett | Bell Witch | Ghosts | Myth-cellaneous | Casey Jones

Ghosts

Meriwether Lewis Gravesite

Governor Austin Peay (second from right)

and unidentified men at the

Meriwether Lewis gravesite monument,

undated, Library Photograph Collection

Meriwether Lewis National Monument
Meriwether Lewis was one half of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition chosen by President Thomas Jefferson to explore, document and map the western continent.  After the expedition, Lewis became Governor of the Louisiana Territory. 

On October 10, 1809 on his way from Louisiana to Washington, D.C., Meriwether Lewis arrived at Grinder’s Stand near Hohenwald, Tennessee, and secured rooms for the night.  Mrs. Grinder later recounted that Lewis spent time that evening in the common room pacing and mumbling in a strange manner.  Later that night after Lewis had retired to his room, Mrs. Grinder heard gunshots.  Some accounts say she also heard Lewis asking for help or water.  Others say that she heard him say “It is so hard to die.”  All agree, however, that Mrs. Grinder took no steps to help him.  In the morning, Lewis was found in his own blood, still alive, but he died soon afterwards.  He was buried nearby.

Meriwether Lewis Monument

Tablet near the Meriwether Lewis

National Monument, 1938,

Library Photograph Collection

Historians generally agree that Meriwether Lewis committed suicide that night.  However, the evidence and eye-witness accounts are flimsy enough that speculation has persisted that he may have been murdered.  Today his gravesite is commemorated by the Meriwether Lewis National Monument on the Natchez Trace Parkway.  Even the historic marker at the site acknowledges the controversy surrounding his death stating that it marks the spot where Meriwether Lewis’ “life of romantic endeavor and lasting achievement came tragically and mysteriously to its close.” 

Visitors to the Meriwether Lewis National Monument have reported a restless energy about the place and a strange force pervading the isolated spot.  They sometimes hear the noise of a water-dipper scraping an empty bucket and the words “so hard to die” mixed in with the rustling of leaves.  Some wonder if Meriwether Lewis is trying to set the record straight about that fateful autumn evening.

Carnton House

Carnton House, Franklin, 1960,

Library Photograph Collection

Carnton Plantation at Franklin, Tennessee
The home of John and Carrie McGavock, the Carnton Plantation was the site of the “five bloodiest hours” of the Civil War on November 30, 1864.  During the Battle of Franklin almost 10,000 soldiers were killed. Mrs. McGavock graciously offered her home to serve as a Confederate field hospital where hundreds of wounded were treated and many died.  Along with her two surviving children (three others had died before the age of 14), Mrs. McGavock spent countless hours assisting the wounded and providing the family linens and clothing for bandages.  Reports said that the dress she wore was blood-soaked by the end of the night.  Winder and Hattie, the McGavock children, carried the memory of that bloody night for years to come.

Carnton Cemetery

Cemetery at Carnton, Franklin,

1960, Library Photograph Collection

To this day, blood stains the wooden floors and can be clearly seen in tours of the McGavock home.  Nearly 1500 soldiers were buried on the property on land donated by the family.  The McGavock home is known as the most haunted building in Tennessee.  Confederate Generals appear to stand watch pacing back and forth along the porches.  The ghosts of children sometimes peer from the Carnton windows.  Some claim to have seen Carrie McGavock herself sitting on one porch in a long pink gown gazing towards the cemetery.  Not only do numerous ghosts haunt the house, but the charging of horses accompanied by gun and cannon fire can be heard on the grounds.  Unexplained moans and sighs rise from the graveyard, and the occasional Confederate soldier can be seen walking through the graves.

Cherry Mansion - Savannah, Tennessee
During the Battle of Shiloh in April of 1862, Cherry Mansion in Savannah served as General Ulysses S. Grant’s headquarters.  The Confederate forces launched a surprise attack against Grant and his men that was initially successful.  However, by the end of the second day, the Confederate prospects had dimmed dramatically, and the Union was victorious in what was then the bloodiest battle in the United States history.  Nearly 3,500 Americans died on the battlefield. 

Cherry Mansion

Cherry Mansion, Savannah, undated,

Library Photograph Collection

Over the years, Cherry Mansion has been visited by disembodied footsteps and other unexplained noises.  Visitors and passersby have reported ghostly apparitions in upstairs windows dressed in Union uniforms gazing out over the grounds of the home.  Most famously, in 1976 a group of four young men witnessed a linen-suited, gray-bearded man stroll up to the historical marker on the grounds, read it, and promptly vanish into thin air.  No one knows exactly who read that marker or who gazes out the upper story windows.  Many soldiers on both sides of the Civil War died at Shiloh in April 1862.  Some of them may never have left.

The Eakin House – Shelbyville, Tennessee
Newly married Lucretia Pearson Eakin longed to live in town so that she could become more involved with the church.  In 1835 her husband, John Eakin, completed their new home, and the young couple moved in across the street from the Presbyterian Church.  Lucretia, known as “Crecy,” became an active member of the church and community.  Her home was known throughout town as a warm and welcoming place.  As she grew older, people began calling her “Aunt Crecy,” and she spent many hours in the upstairs sitting room, her favorite room in the house.  Aunt Crecy died in the 1890s, but it took years before she left her beloved home.

Eakin House

Eakin House, Shelbyville, undated,

Library Photograph Collection

The Coldwell family bought the home after Aunt Crecy’s death.  Even with a new family, Aunt Crecy continued caring for the house making sure that opened windows were closed during a rain, rearranging and straightening furniture and books, and protecting the family from minor domestic mishaps.  No one ever claimed to see Aunt Crecy, but many felt her presence.  One time she moved an abandoned bicycle to prevent the owners from tripping.  In 1931, a fire started on the second floor due to faulty wiring. The entire second story had to be removed and was not rebuilt.  The house remains a one-story dwelling, and since the fire, Aunt Crecy’s caring spirit has never made another appearance.

University of Tennessee, Knoxville Campus
The University of Tennessee’s Knoxville campus has its share of ghosts.  Founded in 1794 as Blount College, UT’s long history is replete with material that lends itself to ghost stories.

Sophronia Strong (1817-1867) haunts Strong Hall, a women’s dormitory built on the grounds of her former home.  “Sophie” tends to appear around her birthday each year, February 17.  In general she is a playful spirit, locking women out of the bathrooms and dorm rooms.  However, she is adverse to conflict and is likely to appear in the midst of arguments effectively ending them.

Union soldiers killed in the Battle of Fort Sanders that was fought on the UT campus haunt “the Hill” and apartments at the corner of Laurel and 15th.  Union soldiers also haunted Blount Hall before it was torn down in 1979.  Hoskins Library is inhabited by the ghost of a former Director as well as spirit known as “Evening Primrose” who is accompanied by the smell of cornbread.  Sitting on what may have been a Native American burial ground, Reese Hall is haunted by unhappy spirits that roam the halls frightening residents.

Other ghosts at the Knoxville campus include the thespian ghost, Fanny, who haunted the Old Science Building before it was razed in 1979 and Benita, the pet dog of the former owners of Tyson Hall, who is buried behind the building and can be heard barking to this day.

Barbara Blount Hall Science Hall Hoskins Library  

Barbara Blount Hall, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, undated, Library Photograph Collection

Science Hall, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, undated, Library Photograph Collection

Hoskins Library, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, 1951, Library Photograph Collection  

Read House Hotel, Chattanooga
The Sheraton Read House Hotel sits on a site in Chattanooga that has been occupied by hotels for over 160 years.  In 1847 the Old Crutchfield House was built.  A large, grand hotel, the Old Crutchfield House was used as a hospital by Union Troops in 1863.  The current 10 story Georgian style hotel was built in 1926.  This structure has been haunted for the past 80 years.

Crutchfield House

Crutchfield House, Chattanooga, 1862,

Library Photograph Collection

Although there are many interpretations of the hauntings of the Read House, it is clear that most of the unexplained occurrences center around room 311.  Theories about the ghosts’ origins range from murdered soldiers from the Civil War to suicide victims.  However, the most common and accepted interpretation is that room 311 is haunted by the ghost of Annalisa Netherly.  Ms. Netherly occupied room 311 for an extended stay sometime in the 1920s.  While the details are sketchy, legend has it that Ms. Netherly’s head was nearly severed from her body by a jealous lover or husband while she was bathing.  Her restless spirit apparently has never left the hotel or room 311.  Guests report that she is especially angered by men, particularly those who smoke.

Read House was beautifully renovated in 2004 and is proud to offer guests a haunted vacation.

“Memphis’ Most Famous Ghost Story”
While she has faded from local memory, “Pink Lizzie” was Memphis’ most famous ghost for many years from the late 19th through the mid 20th Centuries.  First reported in the Memphis Avalanche newspaper in 1871, the story quickly became a local legend and a book.  A Brinkley Female College student, 13-year-old Clara Robertson, was practicing piano on February 21, 1871 when an apparition of an 8-year-old girl appeared to her wearing a dingy, moldy pink dress. The ghost returned numerous times and pointed out the location of treasures buried in the school yard.  Several stories about the ghost ran in the Memphis Avalanche, and Memphians quenched their fears with Ghost Cocktails.  During a trance arranged by Clara’s father, the ghost spoke through Clara and identified herself as Lizzie Davidson, daughter of Colonel Davidson, the original builder of the mansion the Brinkley Female College now occupied. 

A crowd gathered to watch Lizzie and her father dig for Pink Lizzie’s buried treasure which was found sealed in a jar just as the spirit had predicted.  As Lizzie’s spirit requested, Clara’s father waited 60 days to open the jar.  During those sixty days, Memphis was gripped by a mania for séances attended by Clara and involving table-tippling, slate-writing, and ringing of tambourines.  Dramatically a few days before the grand opening of the mysterious jar, Clara’s father was attacked in his back yard, and the jar was stolen.  The contents were never seen and the culprits were never caught.  However, a few days later the ghost of Lizzie spoke to Clara and revealed that the jar had contained $2000 in gold, jewelry, and valuable papers.

The Brinkley Female College soon closed and the building fell into disrepair.  It served many uses over the years.  In 1972, 101 years after 13-year-old Clara Robertson’s initial sighting of Pink Lizzie in the piano room, the dilapidated old Brinkley Female College was dismantled and replaced by commercial enterprises.

Memphis’ Orpheum Mary
While “Pink Lizzie” occupied Memphians’ imaginations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the title of Memphis’ Most Famous Ghost now belongs to another little girl, The Orpheum’s “Mary.” 

The Orpheum Theatre sits at Beale St. and Main St. on the site of the former Grand Opera House.  In 1923 fire broke out during a performance, and the Opera House burned to the ground.  The current opulent Orpheum Theatre was opened at the same location in 1928. 

Since its days as a Malco movie house, visitors to the Orpheum Theatre have been startled by the ghost in seat C5.  Originally referred to by employees in the 1970s as Eurydice, the Orpheum’s spirit is that of a young girl.  Initial witnesses assumed she had perished in the 1923 fire.  However, in 1979 a group of paranormal investigators from what was then Memphis State University investigated the Orpheum and found out that the ghost’s name was Mary. In 1921 at the age of 12, Mary was hit by a streetcar and brought into the theater where she died.  While she usually sits in her favorite seat, C5, Mary has been known to run up and down the aisles and play harmless pranks. She wears a white dress, black stockings, and her long brown hair in braids.  In addition to Mary, the 1979 investigation turned up six other spirits residing at the Orpheum. So Mary is never lonely, even when no one is in the building.  

The Ghost at the Hermitage
The book The Preservation of the Hermitage by Mrs. Mary C. Dorris, 1915, details the account of two women of the Ladies Hermitage Association who stayed in the deserted Hermitage, the former home of President Andrew Jackson, soon after it was abandoned in 1893.  Mrs. Dorris writes of the ladies who slept on pallets in the front parlor:
Hours passed, and the two ladies slept calmly.  Suddenly there rose through the house the most terrific noises.  The pantry, which was near, seemed to have tossed all of its pans and dishes in a confused heap upon the floor, chains were heard clanking over the porticoes, and a confusion of sounds made a most deafening clatter.  It was as if General Jackson had mounted his war charger and was riding with a victorious shout at the head of his military forces through the hall and corridor.  In a moment both ladies were thoroughly awake…The lamp was lighted and as suddenly as the noises came they ceased entirely…
The following night they experienced a similar occurrence:
As nearly as the ladies could judge, at the same time the same sounds were heard, unmistakable and ghostly – the same dishes falling down in the pantry, the same sound of chains, the same war horse tread, the same arousing out of sleep…Although very brave, the two city ladies did not care to investigate mysterious noises in a large, empty house at the midnight hour…They never learned what caused the sounds and finally concluded that they had had an actual experience with ghosts.

The Hermitage Andrew Jackson The Hermitage  

The Hermitage, undated, Library Photograph Collection

Andrew Jackson, undated, Library Photograph Collection

Double Parlor, The Hermitage, 1968, Library Photograph Collection  

The Belmont Mansion, Nashville
The Belmont Mansion is said to be haunted by the ghost Adelicia Acklen, wife of the original owner and the “Mistress of Belmont.”  Adelicia was famous for the balls and parties she threw at her Belmont estate and for hosting such notables as President Andrew Johnson, Alexander Graham Bell, and Thomas Huxley.  However, Adelicia also had her share of tragedy.  She buried two of her husbands, and six of her children died before the age of 12.  Her third marriage lasted 20 years but ended in separation.  Adelicia moved out of the mansion to Washington, D.C., in 1884 and died 3 years later.  Her body was returned to Nashville for burial.

Today, Belmont Mansion is at the center of the campus of Belmont University, and it is as if Adelicia had never left.  Security guards report seeing her ghostly form scurrying worriedly around the mansion, and students have seen her both inside the mansion and on the immediate grounds.  The ghost of Adelicia Acklen has reportedly been photographed in front of a mirror inside the mansion.  Some speculate that she is searching for her dead children and others that she is worried that the school may demolish her mansion to make room for new buildings.  Whatever her reasons, Adelicia appears to be a permanent fixture in the mansion where she spent grandest and her most tragic years.

Belmont Belmont  

Belmont Mansion, Nashville, 2006, Photograph by Lori Lockhart

Belmont Mansion, interior, Nashville, 1898, Library Photograph Collection

 

Belle Meade

Stairway at the Belle Meade Mansion, Nashville,

1940, Library Photograph Collection

Belle Meade Mansion, Nashville
In October 1984, The Tennessean reported that in June of that year, the night alarm at the Belle Meade mansion in Nashville, triggered by a motion detector in the mansion’s nursery, rang unexpectedly five different nights in one week.  It always rang between 3:40 and 3:47.  No explanation could be found.  Employees speculated that it was the ghost of General William G. Harding, the mansion’s original owner.  In June of 1848, he and his frail wife, the former Elizabeth McGavock, attempted to nurse their 9-month-old daughter, Susan Sarah Harding, back to health.  Their daughter died on July 6 of the same year.  Could the ghost of General Harding have tripped the alarm as he tried to check on his dying daughter?

The Ryman Auditorium and Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge
The Ryman Auditorium, home of the original Grand Ole Opry, has more than its share of ghost stories.  Riverboat captain Thomas Ryman built the Ryman Auditorium as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892.  After Ryman died, the building received the name Ryman Auditorium, and it became a center for performing arts.  However, Captain Ryman’s ghost made his disapproval of certain acts known by stomping up and down the aisles and creating so much noise that performances were interrupted and audience members left.  Infamously, the ghost disrupted the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Carmen in the early 1900’s and the production of Tobacco Road in the 1930’s.

Ryman Auditorium Hank Williams, Sr. Tootsie's Orchid Lounge  

Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Photograph by William M. Thomas

Hank Williams, Sr. and the Drifting Cowboys, Grand Ole Opry, Nashville, c. 1950s, Ralph Morrisey Photograph Collection

Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Nashville, Photograph by William M. Thomas  

Elvis Presley Telegram

Elvis Presley Telegram, March 4, 1960,

Governor Buford Ellington Papers

The Ryman Auditorium served as the site of several reunions of Confederate soldiers.  One of those soldiers is rumored to have remained at the building long after his death.  The “Gray Man” frequently sits quietly in the balcony watching rehearsals and disappears whenever someone attempts to get a closer look.  A more recent ghost is that of Hank Williams Sr.  Apparently he loved performing at the Opry so much that he has come back after death to entertain staff as they lock up for the night.  After ghostly performances at the Ryman, Hank has been known to head across the alley to Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge for a few more ethereal sets.

A more recently rumored ghostly encounter was by Lisa Marie Presley.  After performing on stage at the Ryman, Lisa Marie headed to her dressing room.  Oddly, the door would not budge no matter how hard she or her guards tried to open it.  Finally, when the singer and her guards reached the height of frustration, they heard her long-dead father’s distinctive laugh, and the door opened.  Elvis Presley had returned to hear his daughter perform and to let her know he supported her with his warm, embracing laugh.