I don’t know if this story is true, but I love it so much that I hope it is. Rachel Jackson was a Donelson by birth, daughter of John Donelson, one of the founders of Nashville. There are Donelsons all over the place and few of them rest easily. Rachel, though, is the ghost of this story.
Perhaps it starts, like most good hauntings do, while she was still alive. She was, it seems, the kind of woman your grandfather might have called a real dame, a broad, and meant it as a compliment. She was an accidental bigamist and smoked a corn-cob pipe. She seemed to have a real lust for life and was, I suspect, a bit of a trouble-maker.
Anyway, her home, The Hermitage, is run by The Ladies’ Hermitage Association, who do and have done wonderful work preserving and maintaining the home and the grounds.
But here’s the deal as I heard it, from a person who has sworn me to secrecy. Supposedly, there are two portraits of Rachel Jackson in the house–a portrait of her as a young, beautiful woman, which hangs where everyone can see it, and a portrait of her in her older, plumper years, which, so far, does not. And, supposedly, the portrait of the older Rachel Jackson was discovered in a very odd manner.
One day, a couple of members of The Ladies’ Hermitage Association were changing the sheets on Andrew Jackson’s bed when one of them lifted up the mattress and discovered the portrait hidden there. Not knowing what to do with it, they stuck it in the back of a wardrobe. A couple of years go by and the women didn’t think to mention the portrait, assuming that it had been deliberately placed by another member under the mattress at some point, and that, if anyone had needed it for something, she would have said. After all, how could a portrait lay under a mattress unknown and undiscovered all this time?
But no, when they finally do mention it, no one knows anything about a portrait. So they all promptly rush into the bedroom, retrieve the portrait, and examine it. They are certain it’s a portrait of her that has until now been unknown.
But there is a problem.
“She’s fat,” says one member. And it’s agreed that, if the public is going to have an idea of Rachel Jackson, it’s best that it be of a young, healthy, thin Rachel and not one who is old and fat.
And so the portrait is put in the attic. Never to be seen again.
At least, that is the intention.
But the rumor is that apparently Mrs. Jackson didn’t appreciate the idea that her old, fat self wasn’t good enough for public consumption. And so, it is said that, even though every tour guide is told to walk the house once in the morning, before tours start, looking for anything that might be out of place and once in the evening after tours are over, again, looking for anything that might be out of place, that portrait won’t stay in the attic.
Sometimes they’ll find it in the middle of the day propped up in a chair. Sometimes on the bed. Sometimes leaning against the wall in the front hall, like someone meant to hang it right by the entrance, but left for a moment, in search of a hammer and some nails.