Lunch With Ben Allen

When your choice is “stay home and do dishes in advance of the arrival of your guests” and “go look for Ben Allen,” and you are me, I think we all know I’m going to go look for Ben Allen. First off, his road is easy enough to find. It connects Dickerson and Hart through a windy, weirdly rural feeling neighborhood. The part of this side of Ellington is predominately black. That part over there features a dude who was walking to the mailbox in his Confederate Battle Flag t-shirt.

Next, I went off to the cemetery where I got very lost, had a weird anxiety attack, considered just stopping and asking at the office, and then decided to ask the grave diggers I’d seen on my first run through. But right before I got to them, I thought I’d just turn left and see if I could spot him and there he was. I mean, so quick and so weird I have to tell you that I almost wonder if I didn’t see him the first time I drove by, maybe off in the distance, and it registered subconsciously but not consciously, so that when I came back by, I could get right to him. I don’t know. It was weird.

He appears to be buried next to his family. Vandals have toppled the top part of their monument onto the Overtons. I hope the Overtons are jerks and haunt those fuckers’ asses. Ben is buried in what looks almost like a settee. Sue is not there. I wonder if she remarried or if she’s in her family graveyard.

Then I drove to the site of their old home on 8th Avenue South. Right next door to the Lutheran church. I couldn’t get out and take pictures because of the convention center construction. But I took one from the street.

And then off to the funeral home, which is, frankly, not that exciting looking.

But there you go.

Wait, So Ben Allen is Actually Cool?

People, I tell you what, the more I learn about Nashville, the more I feel at home here. Sure, sure, there’s all that regular history of which I, as a Midwesterner, can never be a part (since we don’t have history in the Midwest before January 6, 1878. Oh, sure, things happened on the land that we would come to think of as the Midwest and you might have even heard of some of it. Back when the Midwest was the Northwest Territory, we had some history. Then Lincoln, of course. But that’s like amorphous blob history. You can’t actually sort out when things happened or who they happened to or if you’re related to any of them. Yes, Kaskaskia–that’s why we had to put that place on the Missouri side, where they had history prior to January 6, 1878. Shoot, that’s even why we had to kind of put Missouri in the South. Liminal places in the Midwest can have pre-Sandburg history. The rest of us had to wait for Carl to come along and start inventing the Midwest so that we could be a part of it. Yes, the man who brought the Midwest into being was an unrepentant socialist from Galesburg. Really, it explains so much, doesn’t it? Ha, no, really, every Midwesterner I know kind of acts like history started with their great-grandparents, but do bring up the Civil War and all of a sudden you’ll find out that we do really know what happened in the 1860s, we just pretend like we didn’t start paying attention until 1900.)

Well, that was a hell of a digression. Where was I? Yes. Okay, so as fascinating as I find Nashville’s Civil War history and its antebellum history, I don’t really learn about it and feel like “Yep, a person like me can thrive here.”

But Ben Allen? And his wife, Sue? Ben’s prominent enough to have a road named after him. One of their homes still stands seemingly within the boundaries of Centennial Park.

But it’s their regular visitor to their downtown home, at 125 8th Avenue South, that I find most interesting–“The Thing.”

I learned about The Thing (which I guess is its name, so no need for quotes) from George Zepp’s Hidden History of Nashville. I must own this book. When I have a little extra money.

Anyway, the Allens were Spiritualists. Mr. Allen was a Mason and Mrs. Allen was a medium. The Thing was a being they called forth at seances. According to Zepp, The Thing “would rub against legs like a cat, unbutton shoes, remove stockings, and rattle silver and china.” Which meant that not only were the Allens practicing Spiritualists, their friends came to seances.

Oh, yes, here is a back-alley of Nashville’s history that I could come to love very much. Not just accidental ghosts but people calling forth spirits in their own homes.

Better yet, assuming that the street numbers have not changed that much, 125 8th Avenue South, though the home is long gone, is still something–The U.S. Community Credit Union. I wonder if they still have The Thing around?

I’d love to read more about the seances in Nashville. I don’t need a hidden history of Nashville so much as an occult history of Nashville. Man, I could be all over that.

And it makes me feel like, no matter how woo-woo I am, I’m just one in a long line of woo-woo Nashvillians.