31. The Ghost of Water

“I still dream I am drowning,” she says to me. “Some mornings I wake up and I can’t catch my breath, can’t make my lungs take in air, again.

“I can’t stand it. I still see water everywhere, how the bottoms of trees are still so dirty, even with all of this rain. And I see that other people don’t see it. I feel like I’m seeing a ghost. The empty shells of houses, the garbage still caught in fences. Everywhere I look is the ghost of water. How can they not see it?”

I had come to ask her about another ghost, a particular Alabaman who seems to haunt all over town with whom it was rumored she’d had a particularly strange run in, but this is what she wanted to talk about, for the little bit that she wanted to talk. She then bowed her head at her dressing table and squeezed her eyes shut. It felt so private that I almost turned away.

And then she sat up straight, wiped each eye with just the edge of her finger, and then followed that with the blotting of a tissue.

“Well,” she said, “No one came to see me being a big ole baby about this.” And so she stared in the mirror, fussing with her hair, trying on two or three different smiles, and finally, sliding into her sequined jacket.

And just like that, she was the singer, grateful and delighted to be performing for her audience, as if she had no care in the world, but how to best entertain you. I was struck by the thought of all the women in this city who have steeled themselves by swallowing their grief, as if showing you a sweet face, no matter the circumstances, was the bodily equivalent of “Bless your heart.”

It was an act designed to wither you, if you knew how to read it. But one you could perform in public and never be taken as rude by the clueless people you meant it towards.

She went over to the door frame with an old tube of lipstick and made a mark, right at chin level, like you would to measure the growth of a child.

“I know,” she said, “We’re all supposed to be over it by now. But I still need this.”

“What is that?” I said.

“That’s how high the water came up in my house. There’s not a place I go now I don’t leave the water’s mark.”

30. Lucy White

Lucy White was a woman so long ago she barely remembers it. She remembers the boards she put down on the floor of the shack so that she could cross, without getting her feet wet, from her bed to the fireplace when it rained and the water streamed through the low spot in the dirt floor. She remembers the smell of mash bubbling in the still. And she has a sense that she felt satisfied when she finally laid down under the dirt.

She remembers that her life was hard.

And she delights in how easy it is for the folks who live on her land now. She remembers the first indoor stove she saw, how she would open and shut the door, marveling at the luxury of not having to cook over an open fire. And now? Now she will turn on stovetops that don’t even get hot unless you put a pan on them. And she will rummage around in people’s cabinets, trying every pan.

She remembers trying to nurse her first baby, how afraid she was, how hard it was. And she will watch young mothers with their first babies and the luxuries of bottles and formula.  She loves to help. She will coo over a fat baby. She will press the buttons on the microwave while you fish breast milk out of the freezer.

And don’t even get her started on toilets. She will flush your toilet fifty times in a row, if she thinks it won’t bother you too much.

She loved to watch them race horses down the Pike. And then bicycles, and now cars. She is always yelling, “Faster, faster, faster,” though it’s rare that anyone hears her.

For a long time, after she was dead, she kept waiting for someone to show up and point her to where she was supposed to be. No one came. She thought maybe she’d been forgotten.

But now, she thinks, “Here I am, where I should be.”

29. Mason’s Restaurant

It’s pretty easy to be the youngest person in Mason’s Restaurant by a couple of decades, even if you’re in your 50s. Don’t let this dissuade you from going, though.

Mason’s is the kind of place where you can buy enough food to fill your whole table and pay ten dollars for it–eggs and bacon and toast and coffee and biscuits with or without gravy, maybe some ham, you want some sausage? Maybe some pancakes? French toast?

It’s as good as Hermitage Cafe, but without the overnight hours and all the cops at the counter.

“Do y’all get famous people in here?” I ask one morning.

“Oh, sure,” my waitress says. “Bill Monroe came in all the time before he died. And Lefty Frizzell…”

“Oh, kids today don’t know who Lefty Frizzell is,” one of the other waitresses said.

“I do, too, know who Lefty Frizzell is,” I said, feeling a little indignant.

“He stops by every once in a while for breakfast,” My waitress said. “You know, he’s just down the road here.”

“He’s dead,” I said.

“Oh, we all know that,” she said. “But his money’s good and he tips well, so we don’t mind.”

The other waitress came by, “She can speak for herself. It gives me the willies.”

“Well, bless your heart, I hope you don’t let on when he’s here,” my waitress said.

“Of course not,” the other waitress scoffed. “Unlike some people, I am not rude.”

“One time, I wouldn’t let her husband come in and wait while we closed, fifteen years ago, and she still won’t let me forget it.”

28. The Couchville Lights

Back then, they had a way of raising children as if the Devil was in them and your foremost job as a parent was to drive him out. Not every parent took this way, but it was considered best if you minded your own business if that’s how your neighbor chose to raise his.

Even in that climate, folks were worried that John Higgins would kill his son, Pete. It was pretty common for folks to be sitting up at the Couch’s grocery store and the subject of Pete would come up. Should someone go check on him? Should someone try to get in contact with his mother’s people? Should the pastor talk with John about it?

If two or three days went by and no one had seen Pete, one of the Couch boys would be dispatched to make sure he was still alive. One time, the orneriest of the Couch boys had arrived out at the Higgins’ farm to find John whaling on Pete with a belt, while Pete was curled up on the ground. That Couch boy tried to get between them and John beat the shit out of him.

That resulted in some of the townsmen going out to the farm and having a little talk with John, but it didn’t improve Pete’s lot any.

There was some thought that, once Pete got John’s size, it would end. Pete would turn on him just once, drop the old man, and that would settle it.

That turned out to not be the case. Pete never stood up to him. He would wake up, go through his day, doing his chores, sometimes running to town, come on home, make dinner for the both of them, and whatever his dad did to him, Pete just took it.

When he was fifteen, his dad did finally kill him. And even old John Higgins knew this was a bridge too far. Folks will overlook a lot–even pounding on someone else’s kid–but they won’t overlook a murder.

And so, he waited until nightfall and carried Pete’s body down to Stone’s River, slit his throat, and dropped him in. It’d been a wet enough spring that the river was deep enough to carry that boy clear out of sight.

Old John figured that, in the morning, he would raise a fuss about the boy running off and most everyone would figure Pete had finally got fed up and that would be the end of it.

And so, he came home, kicked his boots off, and finally fell asleep. It’s said that he dreamed of his dead wife, but I think folks just throw that detail in there to try to suggest there was something redeemable about him.

In the morning, John awoke to the sound of a pan clanking on the stove and, after a second, the smell of breakfast cooking. He opened his eyes, slowly rolled out of bed, and stumbled to the kitchen. There was Pete, same as always, fixing up some eggs and bacon.

John’s first thought was, “Well, damn, I guess I didn’t kill him.” So, he sat at the table, like any other morning, and waited on breakfast. When the boy came close to drop the plate in front of him, John noted that he smelled wet, and, when the father looked up at the son, John saw a red gash, like a grin, running from ear to ear under the boy’s chin.

Now, I imagine John was terrified, at first, but it became pretty quickly apparent that, other than Pete being dead, circumstances didn’t change much. Pete still fixed all the meals, still did all his chores and some of John’s, and still wrangled the mule and the two pigs. Even the dog would still curl up at Pete’s feet. The only difference was the Pete never talked and never slept. At night, even though it was getting warm, all he wanted to do was sit by the fire.

Pete’d make his way up to the store every once in a while and folks would stop to stare, but no one was quite sure what to do.  They all knew he was dead. Shoot, the longer he was up walking around, the more apparent it became. His skin took on a translucent gray tone and sometimes he’d come in with a broken finger all hanging loose and crooked at the end of his hand. And, of course, there was the gash at his throat.

Finally, the orneriest Couch boy, himself nearing 18, had had enough.

“Y’all let that bastard kill him,” he said in disgust, “and now you’re going to let that be his afterlife?”

“Well, what are we supposed to do?” They asked. “It’s not really our business.”

“Maybe we really ought to get in touch with his mama’s people,” they said.

“Are you kidding me?!” Couch said. “My whole life… my whole life…and even still…” He shook his head, and walked out of the store in disgust.

Late that night, he made his way over to the Higgins place. He peered in a window and saw the bedroom door shut. Pete sat by the fire, staring at nothing. Couch knocked softly on the window. Pete slowly turned his head and looked. Couch lightly knocked again. Pete came to the door, unlocked it, and stepped outside.

“Hey,” Couch said, softly. “Are you all right? Pete, you know you’re dead, right?”

And Pete nodded, his big eyes filling with tears.

“Then why are you still here?”

And Pete said, in a cracking voice that hadn’t spoken in months, “I can’t find my soul.”

Couch didn’t quite know what to make of it. “Excuse me?”

Pete just repeated, mournfully, “I can’t find my soul.”

Couch said, “Well, where did you last have it?”

And Pete said, “When I was five. I put it in a bottle and hid it so it’d be safe and my Dad couldn’t break it.”

Well, this Couch may have been the orneriest of the bunch, but even he could not hear this and not get a little choked up.

“Okay,” Couch said, “Okay. Where did you hide it?”

“I remember putting it under the porch,” Pete said. “But I got problems. My head only stays on if I stay upright. My fingers keep breaking. And I dug as much as I could, but…”

“Well, you’re in a spot,” Couch said. “But I’m going to help you. You just get your Dad good and drunk tomorrow night and while he’s sleeping, I’ll hunt for you.”

And so, as planned, the next night John was passed out in the bedroom, and Pete, as best as he was able, was helping Couch to pry up the floorboards on the porch so that Couch could dig beneath them.  Finally, as it was getting on near three, Couch hit something hard in the dirt.

“Hey, Pete!” He yelled, without even thinking about it. “I got it.”

Well, that was enough to wake John. He jumped up out of bed, grabbed his gun, came rushing through the house, straight to the front door. He saw only that the porch was in ruins and someone he didn’t immediately recognize was standing in front of him.

He fired twice.

Couch fell where he stood, the shovel dropping and, in a small miracle, shattering the glass jar half unearthed at his feet.

At the same moment, Pete fell to the ground, dead again.

A cool blue ball of light rose up out of the broken jar and slowly drifted down towards the river. And then, they say, Couch’s mouth fell open and a green ball of light rose up out of him and bobbed along behind the blue light.

They say John Higgins never even made it to trial, that he hung from the big oak in front of the grocery store before the judge got out that way.

And for years, people reported seeing those lights, two bobbing orbs, rising up out of the ground where the Higgins place used to stand and dancing all the way down to the river and beyond, finally, out of sight.

Years later, Couchville was given up to make room for Percy Priest Lake. Everything–the old grocery store, the post office, the Couch family home, even the old burnt out ruins of the Higgins place–everything is under water now.

And yet, still those lights come up. You can see them coming up through the water, casting a soft glow on the skeletons of old buildings as they rise, and then they’ll bob up out of the water and dance across the surface of the lake, headed up towards the Cumberland and points further.

27. Dutchman’s Curve

There was a noise many folks mistook for the whistle at the prison and then an incredibly large explosion and then it was quiet. Just the sound of the wind rustling through the corn. You’d think that people would start screaming and crying out right away, but that’s not so. You need a moment to wait for your brain to accept that what has happened has actually happened.

Even then, it doesn’t seem quite real. And, if you aren’t in the middle of it, if you just hear about it, something so terrible, like two trains slamming into each other in the middle of a corn field, bodies and body parts tossed in with tattered luggage, it’s even harder to say, “Yes, this terrible thing happened here.”

The Monday after the flood, for instance, while people were still waiting to be rescued, while folks were just reentering homes to see how much they’d lost, while the police still blocked off roads, while the dead still remained uncounted, even while we were still shaken from the water that had just receded from our yard, we got in the car and went to look.

We smelled the putrid water. We walked to its edge and cried at the thought of the streets beneath it.

And we felt it, finally, in our bones, that this terrible thing had really happened and that we had seen it.

So, I understand why so many Nashvillians–as many as 50,000 in a city that, in 1918, had just over 100,000 residents–came out to see the aftermath of the great train wreck. How could you really know it unless you actually saw it? And how could you grieve it if you didn’t know it?

These are the ghosts that upset people, though. Many times I’ve heard from people who have been walking down the Richland Creek Greenway or standing there at the site of the wreck, reading the signs or gazing up at the track, trying to imagine what it must have been like, and they will catch out of the corner of their eye, a great crowd of specters approaching.

“How could they come to gawk?” I’m asked.

But when we go there, looking for ghosts, hoping to hear the century-old echoes of the dying, are we not also gawking?

Are we somehow less ghoulish?

26. The Last Unhaunted Spot

Most people don’t notice ghosts for the same reason you don’t notice your own breathing. Air slips in and out of our bodies without us having to think too much about it. Our souls slip in and out of our bodies without us having to think too much about it. All the noise and motions ghosts make, going about their business, once we’re grown, usually fades into the background, forgotten along with the rest of our imaginary friends.

We don’t notice not because there are no such thing as ghosts, but because, in a sense, there is nothing but ghosts.

Except, weirdly enough, for one spot in the grass in front of Grace Baptist Church, where Brick Church Pike crosses Old Hickory Boulevard. The geography seems normal enough, but something about that place left it empty from the dead.

This is where that strange little gal from Goodlettsville would come on the nights she couldn’t sleep for all the racket. She would drive down, park in the parking lot, and lie down in the empty spot in the grass. Usually, she would wake with the dawn, but the church secretary had also gotten used to shaking her awake and sending her on home.

After she died, the secretary would still see her lying there in the grass some mornings. Sometimes, the secretary would walk towards her, but that gal would always fade from view before the secretary could get close to her.

Lots of folks saw her there, before and after her death, which led to a story about how she had been in an accident at that intersection and thrown from her car, where she landed in that spot and died, and that’s why she haunts that place.

That’s not the truth of how she died, but it almost doesn’t matter.

Now there is no spot in Nashville that is not haunted.

25. Lock One Park

Here, behind a low stone wall, down a little traveled road, in back of a church on Trinity Lane is Lock One Park. It goes without saying that there used to be a lock here on the Cumberland River. And before that, Eaton’s Station, within sight of Fort Nashboro, which most folks, back in the day, called French Lick Station.

If you can get over the stone wall, the park slowly descends down to the river and throughout are foundations of old buildings, old tracks, old paths, old walls.

If you feel inclined, you should go down about half way to the river, just past where the path curves and the ruins switch from stone to brick. Sit there for a while. I can’t tell you how long. Sometimes shutting your eyes helps.

You’ll hear the noise from the nearby interstate and kids playing up at street level and birds, the constant chatter of birds. You might hear a mother, calling for her child. Nothing strange about that, except the accent sounds so old-fashioned. And your wait is soon satisfied by the sound of children running past, delighted with a frog or a crawfish they found.

You might also hear the zip of the back and forth of saws on trees and men working to clear the timber from the hills. And there is the noise of the barge as it signals its approach to the lock. And there are the thwacks of arrows hitting wood. And there is the sound of the thunder of thousands of bison moving past you to wade through the shallows.

Still, wait for it. Do not yet open your eyes.

Give it long enough and you might hear a thud like a log falling to the ground, followed by another, and another, until you realize those are footsteps. The smell, also, will be a give away. Maybe, if you are lucky, there will be a whole herd.

Stay still. But open your eyes and see the mastodons, come down to the river to drink, their ghosts still roaming the state, in large herds, though this is the only surefire place to see them.

24. The Goodlettsville Gal

They say there’s a gal in Goodlettsville who can speak to the dead as easily as I might pick up the phone and speak to you. She is young, maybe 19 or 20, and lives out in a hollow along Brick Church Pike. They say everything in her house must be brand new, because anything even remotely associated with a dead person will bring her into communication with the dearly departed, like a radio you can’t turn off.

They say she helps police from around the country solve crimes.

Almost none of this is true. I, by now, talked to enough police officers that I felt like I could press them about whether Metro had ever worked with the Goodlettsville Gal.

Finally, one of them shook his head and asked me, “You know what it means when a police department admits to working with a psychic?'”

“Instant loss of credibility?” I guessed.

She laughed and explained, “No, it means we either have a good idea but can’t prove it, so we’re tossing the ‘psychic’ information out there as a way of shaking the bushes or it means we’ve got something through less than legal means and we need a way to ‘discover’ it again in a way that will stand up in court.” She paused and her face turned more serious. “Think of some of the high profile cases that we have not solved. You think if we had a workable psychic, those families wouldn’t have some answers?”

“So, you think the Goodlettsville Gal is just a myth?”

“Oh, no. I did not say that,” she said, stretching out every word just a little more than usual.

The officer wrote down an address on a napkin, slid it across the table to me, and looked at me as if I had no idea what I was asking.

“Why don’t you go see? I heard she’s up to something this afternoon, in fact.”

So, off I went, with nothing more than that address. No name, no phone number, just a sense that there was something strange worth seeing and, if I hurried, I could catch it.

She was waiting at the end of the driveway when I got there. She was small and had hair in that no-color state between the toe-head of childhood and the dark brown of adult, which she wore pulled back in a pony tail.

“If you want to hang out a little bit,” she said, pointing me to where I could park in the front yard, “some Skagges are on their way and I’m going to do my thing for them. You’re welcome to watch.”

The Skaggs family claims to have been here since their ancestor, Henry Skaggs, came into the area with Kasper Mansker in 1771. Interestingly enough, some Skaggses believe they are cursed, following from an incident in which they believe Henry witnessed Mansker killing an Indian, the first such incident in Middle Tennessee, though, certainly not the last.

There’s much contention about both of these facts. Skaggs, many say, was back in Virginia when the incident occurred, thus meaning Skaggses have not been here continuously since then (though folks will concede Skaggses certainly returned at some point shortly after) and that Henry Skaggs could not have been cursed for his witnessing a murder he did not prevent since he wasn’t there to witness it.

And don’t even get the Skaggses started on whether there is a curse. The fact is that some believe it and some don’t and they all have made themselves somewhat amateur historians and geneologists in an effort to bolster their particular claims.

It was this tendency for historical sleuthing that has brought this branch of the Skaggs family to the Goodlettsville gal this particular afternoon. Their grandfather, a man in his late 80s, was preparing to die. Not right away, but just wanting to settle things on earth before stepping off into whatever comes next.

Not normally an affectionate man, he had taken to making a point of telling his son that he loved him and making sure that his daughters knew how proud he was of them. And he wanted to know what had happened to his sister, Maggie, who had taken off for school one day when she was 16 and never come home.

Some family members thought she’d probably just run off, but Big Daddy Skaggs refused to believe she would have left without telling him. He believed she was dead, that she had been all this time.  But he just wanted to know for sure and to have the family record set straight before he died. The family conceded it was probably far too late to have the police look into it. After seventy years, what could there be to find?

But they thought the Goodlettsville gal could help.

And so, here they were, Big Daddy, his son, called, of course, Little Daddy, and Bill and Sharon, who, though also parents, were just called ‘Bill and Sharon.’ If Big Daddy or Little Daddy were called anything else, I didn’t hear it. They sat around the Goodlettsville Gal’s parents’ dining room table. The Goodlettsville gal sat at the head. I stood in the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room.

Though it was sunny out, when I turned out the lights, the room felt like late evening.

The gal asked Big Daddy as she lit the candle in the center of the table, “Is there a song she liked? Or a song that you liked from back then? Something you could sing for me?”

Little Daddy said, “He’s not much of a singer.”

“That’s all right,” the gal said, reaching out and patting Big Daddy on the arm. “That’s just fine.”

Big Daddy gave an embarrassed smile, but he began to sing “Sweet Leilani.” Either nobody else knew it or they were reluctant to sing along, but Big Daddy had a fine voice, soft and low, cracking a little, but he took the song slow and sweet.

As he sang, the gal shut her eyes and began to rock with the rhythm of Big Daddy’s voice. And, then, as she got a sense of the words, she, too, began to sing, “you are my dream come true.” Something in the room shifted, as if we were all suddenly drunk or dizzy. Everyone reached to steady themselves. The door behind me slowly swung shut. Then the door from the dining room to the front room. The chandelier over the table, started to swing back and forth.

The gal stood up and climbed onto the table. She grabbed hold of the swinging light fixture and reached for Bid Daddy’s hand. “Keep singing,” she directed.

He did.

And she slowly turned towards the window, so that her back was to us. And she said, in a loud voice, “Here we are! Open that gate. Come on out and tell me what I want to know.” A cloud crossed the sun and the whole room seemed to shrink. Suddenly, she twirled on her knees, almost knocking the candles over and she looked right at Bill.

“You could die, you know. If you don’t get a handle on your drinking, your grandfather will outlive you.”

She then turned to Little Daddy, which meant that I could more clearly see her face. Somehow it looked as if someone older was behind her face. I don’t know how to explain it better than that. It was as if an old woman was wearing a young girl as a mask. She studied him intently and finally said, “Yes, yes, you did.”

He bolted up from the table and paced in front of me, running his hands through his hair.

“Okay, okay,” he whispered to himself. “I thought so.”

Finally, she turned to Big Daddy. She looked him up and down and then she looked out into the sunny yard.

She said, “Your sister is at home. She says to tell you that you did kill her killer.”

And then it was almost as if someone let the air out of the room. The gal from Goodlettsville sank to the table, her face resembling herself once again. The doors popped back open, as if a breeze had come rushing out of the room. And the room flooded with light as the sun came out from behind the cloud.

Most of the Skaggses were visibly shaken. Big Daddy, though, slumped like he’d just set down a heavy load. He opened up his wallet and counted out twenty-five twenty dollar bills.

“All right then,” he said. “All right.”

23. The Sunday School Publishing Board of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Incorporated

Cities scar and bruise like people do. A wound opens and tissue builds around it when an interstate slices through a neighborhood. Folks will worry the loss of a beloved church like they worry the tender spot where a tooth has gone missing.

And then, in some cities, there are spots where the routine evil done there can make a place feel gangrenous. You turn your head from it. You catch your breath in your throat. You deliberately stop knowing what went on there. It was something that happened a long time ago. Something that doesn’t matter any more.

And you make your way past it like that city block is the shadow at the far end of a dark hallway. You will yourself to not look. You will yourself to not see. You close your eyes and dash past, and feel like you have just avoided having to know something about how the world works that you can’t explain.

Such was the case for the old hotel at the corner of Cedar and North Cherry. Patrons would complain about the loud cries and moans and wails. Other patrons would complain about the spectral men who stood outside their doors, engaged in casual discussion about selling people using words polite people now kept quiet.

In the 1920s, $300,000 was both a lot to pay for that building and not nearly enough. But part of the reason the building was even within reach of the Sunday School Publishing Board was that the hotel could never figure out a way to overcome the the unique challenges of that spot.

The Sunday School Publishing Board, however, does have a way.

There are always two employees–one man and one woman–who have been specially trained and whose job it is to deal with the past still bleeding into the present.

Everyone else is reminded regularly to lift the two employees up in their prayers.

The job is difficult, because all who come are helped.

When it is as simple as squatting down low in the dark basement and holding out your hand to a scared child who wants nothing more than to be reunited with his mama, the job is merely heartbreaking. When the spirit is an angry and trapped and disgusted that the only help for him comes from the likes of you, it takes a very particular kind of person to stand there and wait for the abuse to stop and to come back again and again until the man will accept your help.

And the ghosts who end up in the Sunday School Publishing Board building, are often still very traumatized. Some women cannot be approached by the male employee. Any help they get must come from the soft voice of another women. Some men cannot come forward for a woman, cannot talk to a woman they don’t know, even after all this time. Some want to stay and get even. Some cannot leaven until they’ve relayed a message to a loved on.

“Those break my heart,” my informant told me. “Who knows how long it’s been since they’ve seen that other person? One hundred and sixty years? One hundred and seventy? And they don’t even know that, if they’d just be on their way, they’d be reunited with that person. I am always so sorry they’ve wasted so much time, but praise Jesus that their suffering is about to be over.”

“Do you really think that?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “Certainly not in every case. But I will say this, when that was my job, one thing I learned is that I can’t know what God’s judgment will be. I have my opinions, of course. But I know God is merciful beyond understanding, so it’s not my job to do anything more or less than fill my heart with compassion and then use that to help these folks get on to the next thing. I have faith I will see most of them again, and they won’t be suffering, and they won’t be scared, and they will be whole through Jesus. I couldn’t have done it if I didn’t know that’s the truth.”

“Do you think there will come a time when no one needs to do your job?” I asked.

“Yes, yes I do,” she said. “We’re needed less now than we were when I was working and I was needed far less than my predecessor. But we’re just one place in one city. I often wonder if anyone is doing this same work in other places. I hope so. I cannot bear to think otherwise.”

22. The Strange Case of George Harding

George Harding was a young man who fell into the Harpeth when it was swollen one spring and, though he was as strong swimmer, he went under and never came up. Though there is a marker for him in the graveyard by the Ensworth School, his body was not recovered until recently. He was found by Jim Sharp while he and his son were walking along the Harpeth in the small park under the Route 100 bridge. The flood had, apparently, uncovered the bones which had been buried in the bank.

Sharp, upon discovering the bones, immediately called the police who came out and marked off the area as a crime scene. They took a statement from Sharp and he and his son headed for his nearby home.

Everything was fine until he got out of the car. Even before he could get around to his son’s side of the car, he felt what he later described as a hard wind.

“I felt,” he told me, “Like I had been punched in the face, from the inside. Especially, right along my nose and under my eyes. I felt this enormous pressure.

“And then, I was seeing double. I mean, it was like seeing double or wearing bifocals or something. Except, if I looked one way, I could see my house and car and everything, like I had always known it, and, if I looked another way, I saw farmland.

“Hell, I’ll be honest. I thought maybe I was having some kind of flashback. Like I’d be the guy who dropped acid once and had flashbacks about rural America.”

The double-vision came and went, throughout the rest of the day. That night, he dreamed he was at the Belle Meade Mansion and there was a huge party. He was dancing with three or four different young women who were all vying for his attention, and who were decked out in enormous ballgowns supported by layers of petticoats.

“It wasn’t a dream,” he said. “I woke up and I just knew it wasn’t just a dream. It was so vivid, like when you dream about your kid being born or the moment your wife tells you she wants a divorce. You dream about it like it happened. Only, obviously, it hadn’t happened to me.

“In the morning, I called the police to find out what was going on and they told me that they’d turned the bones over to the state after determining that they were over 150 years old.

“‘Probably that Harding kid,’ the officer on the phone said and when he said the name, it was like, I don’t know, it was like my whole body just ached, like some part of me recognized that name.

“I called my ex-wife. I didn’t know what else to do. I told her I thought I was possessed. She took it better than I thought she might. She did a bunch of research on drowned Harding kids.

“‘George,’ she said, ‘His name was George,’ and I just busted out crying. Only, it wasn’t me. God, this is weird. But you see what I’m saying. I couldn’t have cared less. But the kid in me did.

“And then, then I said, ‘Ma’am, I would like to see my sister, if you can find her.’ Only, obviously, I know where my sister is. But my ex, she was always much better about this weird stuff life throws you than I am. She says, ‘Okay.’

“So, she starts doing research, trying to track down this kid’s sister. Meanwhile, now he’s in my head. And he’s freaked out. I mean, if I could keep the new stuff to a size he could manage, he was fascinated. He loved indoor lighting and television kind of blew his mind.

“But, when I went to the grocery store, I got stuck in the meat department, because he got all freaked out and afraid. I had to call my ex to come get me.

“I told her that, if this kept up, I was going to have to move back in with her, just so she could mother this kid, too. She even found that funny, which was nice.

“I know you didn’t come to hear about my problems with my ex, but that was the moment when we became friends again. Hundred percent improved things for my kid. Weird as it was, I’m grateful to George for that.

“Anyway, so she found his sister. I mean, yeah, she found her buried over in Mt. Olivet. But more than that, his sister, Elizabeth Harding, was sent to stay with the other side of the family, out in Donelson, after George died.

“And now, she haunts Two Rivers.”

“Really?” I said. “Two ghosts in the same family?”

“You know that’s how those two families are, right?”

“What two families?”

“The Hardings and the Donelsons. Being a ghost runs in both families. You see a ghost in Nashville you don’t know, you just holler ‘Harding’ or ‘Donelson’ and chances are pretty good they’ll turn around.

“So, really, if it were any other family, yeah, I guess it’d be strange, but they’re Hardings, so of course they’re ghosts.”

Now, I have to tell you, when I say this kind of stuff to other people, I don’t think it sounds strange. I figure that, if we’re talking about ghosts, you’re kind of prepared for any weirdness that might come up. But sitting there listening to Sharp talk about ghostliness running in old Nashville families? I admit, I had half a mind that he was crazy.

He continued, “So we arranged for a tour of Two Rivers mansion, claimed we were considering getting married there and my ex took the lady who was showing us around off into a back room under some pretense and George and I stood at the bottom of the stairs.

“‘Is this where Liza lives?’ he asked and I said, ‘Well, kind of. She’s dead.’ and he just started crying so hard I had snot all running down my face. ‘What kind of terrible place is this?’ he wailed. ‘Everything looks different. Everyone I love is dead.’ and I said, ‘You know you’re dead, too, right?’ and I don’t know if he just hadn’t quite thought about it or what, but that though seemed to calm him down. ‘Why don’t you go see if you can’t find Liza?’ I said and he nodded and sniffled a little bit and then, there was this incredible pressure on my face and I thought I might throw up. I opened my mouth and I pushed out my tongue and it was like he just poured out of me.

“And then, he was gone.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that. But, hey, his body’s in his grave now and now I hear stories about a young man who haunts Two Rivers. So, maybe he’s okay?

“I hope he’s okay, anyway. I never heard from him again.”

21. The Purple Impala

Denny Wilcox was a police officer. He served with Metro for almost fifteen years. The end of his career started with a simple enough traffic stop–four Mexican kids in a twenty-year old Impala painted bright purple rolling on rims that were weighted to stay still when the car moved, giving the illusion that the car was floating.

“They were obviously gang-bangers,” Wilcox told me. “Covered in tattoos. I was giving them shit, all ‘Hey, ese’ just to see if it would get a rise out of them. The little one in the back seat said, ‘You know, we speak English,’ but the driver said, ‘Let it go.’ I didn’t have a good reason, other than that they looked like trouble to have pulled them over. And they didn’t give me a good reason to keep them stopped. I wish to God either thing would have happened. Either make it so I never pulled them over or give me a reason to keep them a little longer. But I let them go. They said, ‘Thank you, officer,” and then, as I was watching them drive off, right when they crossed Thompson Lane… and they had the green… a car comes out of nowhere and just plows into them.

“You’ve got to know those Impalas are like tanks. Still, it was nothing but a pile of twisted metal and broken glass. I have seen my share of dead bodies. But I had never seen someone die right in front of me. And they all died–those four guys and the driver of the other car. We never did figure out why she didn’t stop. Tox came back clean.

“I don’t know.

“I went to tell their families. Guillermo Cortez? His mom fell to the ground when I told her. She didn’t even make a noise. She just laid there like she was waiting for the earth to swallow her. His cousin Jose was the scrawny one in the back. His girlfriend had just had a baby. When I showed up, she said, ‘So, he’s dead,’ like she was just expecting it. ‘Who did it?’ and I told her it was just an accident. She looked at me like she couldn’t make sense of what I was saying. ‘How can that be?’ Frankie Hernandez’s family wouldn’t even open the door for me. I knew they were home, but they wouldn’t answer. I found someone three doors down who went and talked to them. They never did claim his body.”

“Weird,” I said.

“No, I get it,” he said, “They were afraid to even be on our radar, afraid they’d be deported. And the fourth one was just called ‘Sarge.’ If he had a name, we never learned it. If there was someone to tell he was gone, I never found them. Of all of them, that was the worst. Someone out there must have given a shit about that kid, you know? And, as far as I know, they never knew what happened to him.”

Wilcox was silent a long time. I’d come to expect that from folks. Men, especially, seemed to need long silences in order to get their stories out.

“Here’s the thing,” His voice startled both of us. “Four months later, I’m driving down Nolensville Road and I see a purple Impala, just like theirs. And it’s raining, not hard, but still and they don’t have their headlights on. So, I flash the car over and before I even get out of my car, I run the plates and they come back to Guillermo Cortez. I’m still thinking this has got to be the biggest motherfuck of a coincidence. But, hey, maybe there’s a cousin and he’s got himself a purple Impala in honor of his dead relative. So, I get out of the car and I walk up to the window.

“And there is Guillermo Cortez. As real as you are. And he looks at me and he gives me a sly grin and he says, ‘Officer Wlcox, you need a ride?’ and Jose says, ‘It’s okay. We speak English.’ and I can’t even scream. I’m just standing there, my hands shaking and my mouth open and as I’m watching them, not an arm’s reach away from me, the car just fades from view. Like a fog lifting.”

“Holy shit,” I say.

“Well, you can bet that, once my captain hears that I ran the plate of a dead kid, thinking I was pulling him over, I got a free trip to the shrink.”

He paused again, to take a long drink of beer. “It happened again. Not just once. I saw that damn car all the time. I just never told anyone I was still seeing it. But one night, I said yes.”

“Wait, what?”

“I pulled them over. Cortez asked me if I wanted a ride and I said yes. I got in the car with them.”

“You got in the ghost car?!”

Wilcox took another long swig off of his beer.

“I can’t really explain it. You know how it is, sometimes, late at night, when the traffic lights are all blinking yellow? How it feels like everyone in Nashville has vanished and it’s just you and the useless traffic lights telling you to be careful, though there’s nothing left to be careful about? How it feels like the whole empty city is yours?

“That’s what it was like. They had cold beers. We all drank them. One of them had a bottle of tequila. We passed it around. After a while I could smell the odor of marijuana mixing in with the cigarette smoke, but I didn’t care. They told stories about some guy they’d beat up or about some girl they saw who was so beautiful they couldn’t stand it. And that big old purple Impala just floated over the city, slid in between cars, took turns down roads that haven’t existed in years. And there were all these people, some living, most dead, just walking down the street, or driving in their cars, a city of ghosts, a whole city of ghosts, everywhere you looked, ghosts right next to us, passing through us. Some trying to get our attention. Some trying to ignore us.

“And we just drove by them, our windows down, our music blaring. And those that turned to see us, they saw how beautiful we were and we could see how beautiful they were.

“These guys, they saw everything. One or the other of them would notice just the most random shit. ‘Oh, hey, watch the bounce in that guy’s step.’ ‘Shit, have you ever seen a little kid that pissed?’ or whatever. it was just you couldn’t see enough.

“I said to them, ‘I am so sorry,’ and they just laughed. ‘It’s all good,’ Sarge said. I know that sounds stupid, but it blew my mind then. It was like words were more, bigger, fuller. I don’t know. Everything was just more beautiful. Seeing it from that car let you see that.

“Eventually, they dropped me off. Again, I said, ‘I’m so sorry,’ and Guillermo grabbed my arm and said, ‘It’s not important. Being sorry isn’t important.’ I patted the roof of their car and they drove off. I thought I had been gone for hours, but, when I got back in my car, only like ten minutes had passed.

“I quit right after that.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I just couldn’t stand what a god damn waste people make of it all, you know?”

20. Sulphur Creek Road

Sulphur Creek Road doesn’t appear on old maps, though there’s a church along it that has had a congregation for a hundred and fifty years. It stretches between Old Hickory Boulevard and Eatons Creek Road, winding through that infamous northwest Davidson County terrain. Sharp hills, a tight hollow, turns that run you straight into trouble before you see it coming. A hundred years ago, it ran between land the Simpkinses owned and land the Hazlewoods owned.

They never used it.

A hundred and fifty years ago, it was common to smell the sour bite of mash in the still out there, which meant armed men with something to hide.

Two hundred years ago, it was difficult for white men to travel into this area, one of the last places the previous inhabitants were routed out of, those who did not disappear.

A long time ago, rumor started to spread that a person didn’t have to go very far north to find freedom, that there was, for those brave enough to make a break for it, a place just outside of town, not quite to Ashland City, where, if you could get there, they couldn’t get you back.

It only took two guns, they said, to defend it, the strategic advantage was so great. One at the north end of the hollow, up in the hill, and the other at the south end. Like early snipers, they could pick a group of men on horseback off before the riders even knew what direction the gunfire came from.

They say, even now, if you drive Sulphur Creek Road after dark, with you windows down and your radio off, you’ll often catch a muzzle flash and hear the shot fired right at you, even if the folks who guard this place can no longer hurt you.

Even now, especially after dark, this is not a place strangers are welcome.

19. The Haunting of Eastland and Porter

There were two young men who went to the same church over on the east side of the river. As children, they were inseparable. Tom got married to his high school sweetheart and Danny, though not married when he died, was a well-known flirt, who spent most of his time in the church choir making time with the women who surrounded him.

There had been rumors of trouble in Tom’s life, and it was widely known in the church that he and his family had weekly meetings with the pastor and it was widely accepted that he had been encouraged to marry so young as a way of setting aside his wild youth and aligning himself with God’s will.

The young men were killed in a traffic accident at the corner of Eastland and Porter. Tom still had his motorcycle and Danny needed a ride someplace after church.  Now there is a three-way stop at that corner, but it used to be that only the person coming west on Eastland had to stop and that person was at a distinct disadvantage when trying to see if anyone was coming towards him around the curve. You just had to go and hope no one was coming too quickly.

Tom was the oncoming traffic that day. He skidded up Porter, his motorcycle still between his legs. He died instantly. Danny was thrown clear and he died a few days later.

Since then, the spot has become a magnet for paranormal groups looking to investigate active hauntings. When Davidson County Paranormal League had their Halloween special on WKRN, this corner was one of their features and flame wars erupted on local websites about whether the footage was faked.

The footage that had the whole city talking was of two distinctly male voices. One calls out “Tom? Hey, Tom!” and, after a few minutes, the other calls out, “Danny? Are you really here?” And then there’s a whoop and a scream and sobs.

The Davidson County Paranormal League explained that they considered this a residual haunting, that there weren’t actually spirits still here, that this was a moment in these men’s lives so profound that the right conditions could cause it to replay, over and over.

In a psychology class, up at Austin Peay, this clip was the centerpiece of a discussion of the group dynamics involved with believing in what the professor termed, “this paranormal nonsense.”

And so he played the clip for the class. And a woman in middle of the second row started to sob.

“Oh, my gosh,” she said, wiping her eyes, “I’m so sorry. That just hit me right in the heart. I know that noise.”

“Are you saying that you have witnessed a ghost?” the professor was suddenly worried the lecture was about to go way off track.

“No, no,” she said. “When my husband got back from Iraq, that’s the noise he made when he saw me again for the first time.”

It had not occurred to the professor that the noises at the end of the clip were noises of joy, of loved ones being reunited. But later, as he sat at his desk, playing the video over and over, he wondered how he had missed it.

When he got home, he told his husband about it. His husband, who grew up here, was perplexed, for a long time.

“It’s not obvious to you that the story is about two lovers?”

“No,” the professor said. “My students got it, though. Some of them were uncomfortable with it, but it was clear to them from the noise.”

“Well,” said the husband, “that’s something. In my day, it would have been clear to us from the young marriage, since she wasn’t pregnant. Times change.”

18. The Nashville Tunnels

Every once in a while someone will claim there are tunnels under downtown Nashville, linking the old buildings and running out to the river. What’s strange is that is this obviously true. There are newer tunnels like the storm water system under Second Avenue or the tunnel that connects Legislative Plaza with the Capitol. And there are older tunnels through which heat and electric have been run. Shoot, Timothy Demonbreun and Elizabeth Bennett lived in a cave! Is a cave with two entrances not a tunnel?

So, why, when you ask most folks if there are tunnels under downtown Nashville, do they say “No”?

This is the answer I heard from a man I’ll call Elias. Elias isn’t from Nashville. He’d flown in specifically to retrieve Rabbi Heiman’s remains, if there were any. A friend of a friend got me a meeting with him over breakfast before he left again, never to return.

Here is what he told me, parts of which, obviously, had been told to him.

There are a series of tunnels running under downtown. Not utility tunnels, but honest secret passages, designed to allow people to sneak out of buildings unseen and down to the river.

Most of these tunnels were put in places shortly after the Civil War. Regardless of where their sympathies lied, the occupation was very difficult for the citizens of Nashville. Fields had been destroyed. Almost all of the trees had been cut or burned down. The streets were thick with soldiers and the attendant illicit businesses that sprang up to serve them. And then, after Lincoln’s assassination, there was a very real fear that the Federal government would come into the South and annihilate it in retaliation

People wanted protected escape routes. And so the tunnels were put in.

After the the destruction of the city ceased to feel like an immediate threat, the tunnels started to serve other purposes. They became a way for white men to slip in and out of Black Bottom unseen by disapproving neighbors, for liquor and prostitutes to make their way into “good” establishments, and, by the early 1900s, there were rumors of something else,that the tunnels had become a safe place for the worst kinds of men.

People disappeared in the tunnels. They went in and they never came out.

This was kept secret, as much as possible, by the town fathers because no one wanted the police to look into what else was going on in the tunnels.

But it was impossible to cover up the disappearance of Portia Rutledge, a lovely girl from a prominent family. She had been with her sister and her sister’s husband, exploring the tunnels that ran from the brand new Hume Fogg school towards the river. Her sister and brother-in-law had turned a corner just moments before her, mere seconds, and she was gone. She never rounded that corner.

They searched the tunnels as far as they could, but by 1920, it was a maze beneath the city streets.  They came up for help and a search party was organized. For three days they searched, but there was no sign of her.

Weeks later, two street kids were in the tunnels, trying to escape the heat and the truant officer, when they heard faint sobbing. They followed the noise and, eventually, found Portia Rutledge’s body, maybe a hundred yards from one of the Hume Fogg tunnel entrances.

Elias told me that there wasn’t a mark on her body.

This is where the story gets very strange. Portia Rutledge’s body had been found, within easy distance of a tunnel entrance, and yet no one would go in and retrieve the body. Stranger still, the papers were still reporting her missing. People were speculating that she’d fallen in love with someone her family disapproved of and that she was probably living in Bowling Green, laughing at everyone still looking for her.

One of the families in Rabbi Heiman’s congregation owned a dry goods store downtown. And they had begun to hear a woman sobbing in the basement of their store. They mentioned this to Rabbi Heiman, who thought it was strange, but he assured them that the sobbing woman was probably just a prostitute living in the tunnels. He advised them to leave some bread on the other side of their tunnel entrance, just a little something to make her life easier.

Shortly after that the owner of the store overheard the street kids talking, not only about the crying in the tunnels, but the body their friends had discovered, and the store owner became very concerned. By the description the kids gave, he was certain that it was Portia Rutledge. He was also becoming more certain that the sobbing in the tunnel was connected to her body being left in the tunnel. The shop owner went to see the Rabbi and told him his suspicions and what he overheard the kids saying.

“Her body has been found,” Rabbi Heiman said, “and yet no one has moved it?”

“I know this is not our concern,” the shop owner said. “Maybe this is some kind of family tradition?”

But they both knew that was not true.

Rabbi Heiman mulled this over for days. He felt compelled, suspecting her spirit was trapped down there, to try to do something. He also knew that he might be placing his family and congregation in a great deal of danger if he, in any way, made it seem as if they could be blamed for her disappearance. Even connecting himself to her recovery might be enough to cast suspicion for her death.

“I should go look,” Rabbi Heiman said to the shop owner.

“No, no,” the shop owner said. “Let someone in the Chevra Kadisha go.”

“No. If there is trouble with her people, I will be the most likely to get out of it,” said the Rabbi.

He decided to go into the tunnels through the basement of the dry goods store and make his way up, unseen, to Hume Fogg. He never made it that far and he came out of the tunnel deeply shaken. The owner of the dry goods store helped him sit on a crate. The owner’s son brought him some water.

“Just a few blocks up,” he motioned with his hand, before wiping his brow, “I started to hear footsteps, heavy footsteps, in front of me. I dimmed my lantern and ducked into a side tunnel. I could hear the footsteps getting closer and closer. Finally, they were so loud I would have sworn there was a man not three feet from me. But I could see, even by dim light, that the tunnel was empty.

“I heard a voice, thought. A man’s voice. He said ‘This ain’t no place for a man of God, Reverend. Down here’s all the stuff He don’t see.'”

“And the girl?”

“I didn’t find her. I will have to try again.”

“Let her own people worry about her,” the store owner said.

“But now I know,” the Rabbi said. “If I find her, I can leave a note for her family, tell them where to look.”

The Rabbi went down in the tunnels again the next day. He had been gone maybe an hour when the shop owner and his son heard distant screams.

“Rabbi?” The shop owner yelled into the tunnel entrance. “Rabbi!”

The two grabbed a lantern and started down into the tunnel. Far, far ahead of them, they saw a dim, shaking light rushing towards them.

The Rabbi was yelling, “Run! Go back! Go back!”  They began to slowly back up, afraid to leave the tunnel without him. They were, maybe, five feet from the door to their basement. Their lantern cast a pool of light maybe ten feet beyond what came from the basement. And the man and his son both saw the Rabbi, for a second, at the far edge of the darkness. “Go back,” he said again.

And then he fell, or maybe his feet were yanked out from under him, and he hit the ground, hard. The man scrambled forward to try to grab the Rabbi, but the Rabbi screamed, “No,” and the man’s son dragged the man back into the basement. The son slammed the door.

The man and his son tried later that day to search the tunnels for any sign of the Rabbi. There was none. In the distance, they thought they sometimes heard heavy footsteps, though.

Later, after the story got out that the Rabbi had returned to St. Louis (a place the Rabbi had never actually even visited), the man and his son blocked the tunnel, at least a hundred feet beyond their door. Shortly after this, one of the other downtown business owners came to pay them a visit.

“You need to unblock the tunnel,” he said. “You can do what you want in your own store, but those tunnels remain open. Do you understand? We have a deal that the tunnels remain open.”

“Who has a deal?” the shop owner’s son asked.

The businessman looked angry and frightened. “It’s not any of your business.”

Elias told me that other things had happened, things that made the shop owner’s family very, very afraid, not of the thing in the tunnels, but of the other businessmen downtown. The Rabbi’s home burnt down, for instance, and the Rabbi’s widow and his children barely escaped with their lives. They were sent to St. Louis, where it was thought they’d be safer.

The shop keeper and his son began to put a little cash aside. Not even enough to be noticed. They didn’t want to raise any suspicions at the bank or among the other businessmen, didn’t want anyone gossiping about how strange it was that their profits were down, even as their foot traffic remained steady.

But enough so that whenever a hole was dug for a new building, they could pay a person to search whatever tunnels were discovered for the Rabbi’s remains.

Elias had been hired by the shop owner’s grandson, himself now an old man, to get into the tunnels opened up while they were excavating the new convention center.

“And did you find him?” I asked.

“I did,” he said quietly. “He was about a hundred yards from one of the Hume-Fogg entrances, just dust and bones and a few scraps of clothing. I was able to identify him by his cufflinks. Nearby was a woman’s skeleton.”

“Weird,” I said. “Do you think he found her?”

“No, I think his body had been placed near hers after he was killed.”

“My god. Did you recover her body, too?”

“No,” Elias said, quietly. “that was not my job.”

“And what about that thing, that man? Do you think he’s still down there?”

Elias stared at the people passing by us for a long, long time.

“I know he is,” he said. “Let me ask you? Do you think it’s possible that he is worse now than he was? That killing a man of God could make him worse? Or do you think it’s always been that bad down there? How could a city have sat on top of that for a hundred years?”

“You said they mentioned something about a deal.”

“Who would depend on a deal made with the likes of him?”

17. The Unfortunate Ghost

Dr. Dalton is a heart surgeon at Vanderbilt. Until moving into his home at the end of Park Ridge Drive in the nicest part of town he could afford, he considered himself to be a man of science, exclusively. Yes, of course, he would have agreed that there was a certain artistry to his profession, but artistry rooted firmly in the rational world.

Life is for the living; when you’re dead, you’re dead. Simple as that.

So, he was embarrassed just at that level to have to call the Davidson County Paranormal League. He asked them to please come in unmarked vehicles and not their ubiquitous black van with the lightning painted on it.

He was relieved when they asked him not to tell them anything about the history of the house. Their psychic, they said, would tell them everything they needed to know. He could just confirm it in the morning.

So, he went out onto the sleeping porch and tried to sleep while they investigated.

In the morning, he had a preliminary meeting with the group. They were tired and, bless their hearts, though they were trying, they were having a hard time stifling their giggles.

“So,” said the leader, “that’s unfortunate.” His sidekick began to snicker.

“What can I do? What did the psychic say?”

“Honestly, I’m not sure,” the leader said. “Joanne just sensed something, something friendly, but going about its own business. She thinks it’s been here longer than the house, even. Maybe a dog. Maybe a person. She can’t tell.”

Dr. Dalton sighed, “I have a dog. I certainly know the smell of dog farts.”

“Farts,” one of them burst out. “Your ghost farts!”

“Let’s keep it professional,” the leader snapped.

“So, what can I do?”

“You’ve tried having a priest bless the place?”

“I’m an atheist.”

“I don’t think the Unitarians care about that. Maybe they could help you?”

“I can’t have this getting out. I have patients who are Unitarians.”

“Well, then, I guess you could just keep your radio or TV on all the time.”

“Just learn to live with a farting ghost?”

“Yep, that’s about all we can recommend.”

16. A Quarter for Katie

Katie Campbell was eight years old when she died. She had just learned to ride her bike and she was making large loops around the park at the top of Love Hill when a car came tearing up the road and into the park and, like a bubble bursting in the hot summer air, she was gone.

People see Katie all the time, right at the entrance to the park, and they have no idea she’s a ghost. She looks just like a kid from the neighborhood, doing ordinary kid-from-the-neighborhood things. She looks happy.

But, in the morning, that’s different.

She’s not there every morning, but often enough, right at the break of day, as the first rays of light break across the horizon, she is sitting there, in the middle of the street, her knees drawn up to her chin and she is crying.

“I want my momma,” she says, so plain it forces your heart into your throat, even before she looks up at you, the way kids do when they still have full faith in adults. “Please, can I borrow a quarter to call my momma?”

Very few people can stand to not give her a quarter, if they have one. But, it is said, once she touches it, she disappears and the quarter clanks to the asphalt.

If you are at the top of Love Hill and you notice quarters just outside the entrance to the park, this is because it is considered especially good luck to leave quarters for Katie and especially terrible luck to remove them.

15. The Covington Quilt

It would be best if we didn’t mistake Bettie Covington and Alice Pettis for friends. They had known each other their whole lives and they shared a common interest. Some say that Bettie was born into slavery on Alice’s father’s farm. I don’t know if that’s true. but I know their history went back before the War. I think, in their own ways, they were fond of each other, but no, not friends.

Even after Bettie got married, she would still spend at least one Saturday morning a month with Alice. They would start out in Alice’s garden, both examining every plant and reminding the other what they’d been taught it was for, and then they would wander through the field, down to the stand of trees by the creek, doing the same.

Alice had learned three sure signs of impending death–a crow that catches your eye and lifts up his right foot (his left foot means bad news), a white blossom on a pink rose, and a dream of a saddled horse with no rider–which she taught to Bettie. And Bettie know a sure way to make a person sicken and die without touching him–which she taught to Alice.

Here is one example of how they were not friends. The method Bettie taught Alice was to get a lock of hair from your victim, collect the water from your last night’s chamber pot, and put both in a green bottle, which you then stop up and bury at the foot of a September elm. As the urine slowly dries up, so too does your victim’s vitality.

It’s a terrible way to go, but almost completely untraceable back to the person who’s worked it.

When Alice discovered that Bettie was working it on the Davidsons, she beat her.

Alice thought she was saving Bettie from a worse fate. Bettie knew Alice was damning the Davidson’s housekeeper.

Still, even with her wrist still tender and her eye still purple and sore when she closed it, Bettie made her next visit to the Pettis farm. And every one after that, until Bettie and her husband moved to Nashville.

They moved back after the Davidsons died (their carriage overturned as they were headed to church. “See?” she asked Bettie. “The Lord didn’t need your help in the matter.” Bettie’s face betrayed nothing, “Yes. Miss Alice.”) and Bettie sent her daughter, Josie, to work for the Pettises.

“But you don’t even like them,” her daughter dropped her shoulders and sighed.

“Better the devil you know…” her mother said.

Once Josie was working for the Pettises, many evenings after dinner were spent with Alice and Josie quilting. They worked through quilts for all the Pettis children, of which there were many, and the Alice said “You should take these scraps and see what you can make of them.”

This quilt is now, at least in certain circles, quite famous.

It is not the quilt of Josie Covington that was most famous in her lifetime. The quilt she was most famous for in her own lifetime was the quilt that killed Alice Pettis.

And this is how she came to make it. She had just gotten into the kitchen one morning and was in the middle of stirring the coals and getting the oven going when she heard a terrible scream. She ran upstairs to find Alice doubled over in the hallway.

“Go get your mother,” Alice said.

“Are you all right? Let me help you back to bed,” Josie tried to put her arm around the woman, but Alice pushed her away.

“Now! Go get your mother, now!”

And so Josie ran as fast as she could to her mother’s home and the two of them came as quickly as they could hook the mule to the wagon.

Bettie ran upstairs to Alice’s side. Josie went to get a pitcher of water. When she got to the top of the stairs, she could hear her mother and Alice speaking.

“I can stop this,” Alice said, “with Josie’s help.”

“And his,” Bettie said. “Be honest. His help, too.”

“Yes,” Alice said, quietly.

“Then you can’t have my Josie’s help,” Bettie said. “You can’t ask her to do that.”

Alice sat in her chair for a long time, her hand pressed against her mouth. Finally, she said, “Josie will do it.” and she waited to see if Bettie was going to make her say any more than that out loud. When she saw that neither Covington was going to challenge her, she stood up and said, “I’m going to Franklin to get the things we’ll need. I’ll be back tomorrow or the next day at the latest.”

After she’d gone, Bettie took Josie into the kitchen where they could speak without being overheard.

“Miss Alice had a dream one of her children would die,” Bettie said.

“Well, that’s just a dream,” Josie said, but her mother hushed her.

“No, Miss Alice can dream the future. If she sees it, it will happen. She’s going to have you make a quilt. In the center, you should piece a seven pointed star. I reckon she’s only going to bring back black cloth, but still, you should piece it together, just like you would any other quilt. When the time comes for quilting, someone will come to help you. Now, listen carefully. No matter what this person looks like, even if it looks like me, do not believe it. Look into a mirror to see its true form. Do not make this person angry, but do not agree to anything he or she says. Listen carefully. If he says ‘May I have some water?’ do not say ‘Yes.’ Say something like ‘I can get some water from the kitchen.’ Or if he says, ‘Could you pass me that thread?’ you say ‘Which spool?’ Like that. Do you understand? Don’t agree with anything he says. Don’t agree to do anything he says. He will seem very pleasant, I have no doubt. Do not be fooled.”

“Yes, Mama,” Josie said. She was trembling, but she didn’t know why.

“And when you are done, run,” Bettie said, tears starting to fill her eyes. “Do not come to me. Do not come to a soul who knows you. Change your name.”

“Will I ever see you again?” Josie asked.

“I will find you, after I am sure he’s gone, but it may be a long while,” Bettie said.

When Alice returned, she had yards of black cloth. Josie did as her mother had instructed and pieced together a seven-pointed star in the middle and then cut the rest of the fabric into squares and triangles and rectangles, which she then rearranged back into a quilt top.

When she and Alice had finished getting the back, the batting, and the top all onto the frame, there was a knock at the front door.

“Why don’t you get that, Josie?” Alice said.

“Yes, Miss Alice,” Josie made her way to the front door and opened it. A very tall, very slender blond woman with a large bustle that made her look almost like an ant stood before her. “Please come in,” Josie said to the woman. “Miss Alice is in the parlor.” As Josie turned to indicate the way, she caught a glimpse of the woman in the large mirror in the front hall.

In the mirror, he had black eyes and long, black hair, tied up in the same fashion as she had her blond hair in front of Josie. In the mirror, his shoulders moved under the fabric of her dress like a cat stretching up from a nap.

Before she could stop herself, Josie was imagining herself under those skirts, his hot thighs in her hands. He caught her eye in the mirror and winked so long and slow Josie felt her knees give way beneath her. He licked his lips.

Josie turned away, embarrassed.

“So, you see me?” the blond woman asked.

“Ye–” Josie caught herself. “I see who you are, ma’am.”

The woman purred to herself, just a little. “Well, best not get distracted. We have a long night ahead of us. Have you ever made a quilt before?”

“I know what I’m doing,” Josie said, though, in truth, she wasn’t sure.

“Hmm,” the woman grinned. “It seems so.”

And so they sat down, the three of them, and began to quilt. The blond woman told long stories about the strange things that happen near her home in Nashville. Alice made polite small talk. Josie said nothing.

They worked for hours, though Josie never got tired or hungry. And when the quilt was finally done, Josie remembered her mother’s words, and stood up, “Excuse me,” she said.

“Don’t you want to stay and see what happens next?” The blond woman said, and though Josie did, she just excused herself again and then ran off into the early dawn.

Years later, Alice’s son, Samuel, was shot in a hunting accident. It looked as if he would surely die.  He was brought back to the house and set in his childhood bedroom. His mother went to a chest, opened it, and pulled out the black quilt. She laid down in the bed with Samuel, who had his whole life ahead of him, and pulled the quilt over them. They both fell to sleep.

In the morning, he woke up. She did not.

That very same morning, a few miles away, Bettie Covington was just getting out of bed. She was startled, but not surprised to see Alice Pettis in the doorway.

“So, you got what you wanted,” Bettie said.

“I am truly sorry,” Alice said.

“Not as sorry as you will be, Alice,” Bettie said, “when he catches up with you.”

Alice was a bit taken aback. Their whole lives, Bettie had always called her “Miss Alice.”

“Will you take the quilt?” Alice asked. “Bring it here and destroy it, if it can be? Hide it, if it can’t?”

“Your troubles aren’t my problem any more,” Bettie said.  She shuffled through Alice into the kitchen. She rummaged around, grabbed a pinch of salt, and threw it at Alice. “Now, leave me be.”

For many years, the quilt stayed in the Pettis family, though it remained in a locked chest. Whenever anyone would take it out, a woman’s voice could be heard, plain as day, “No, no,” she would say, “No, no.”

Rumor has it that the quilt spent some time in the basement of the Triune Methodist church before being donated to the Tennessee State Museum. The museum tried, once, to display it, but so many people asked about the docent in period clothing, standing by the quilt that the corporeal employees demanded it be put away.

14. The Devil’s Cursed Gold

It’s well-known that the Devil has a summer home here in Nashville. So, it didn’t take too many Sundays before preachers were blaming him for the flood. The truth is that he had nothing to do with it. The Devil rarely does things, at least not any more. Lately, he’s just been making suggestions or turning off alarm clocks or whispering tiny doubts in people’s ears.

It’s not very hard, if you’re the Devil, to do big acts of evil. But how small a wrong can he do and still have it spiral out of control? That’s the question he’s been lately trying to answer.

So, he has been brushing his hand on the arms of lonely administrative assistants and smiling shyly at the married choir director. In office fights, he always picks the side of the woman who keeps a bottle of booze in her desk for when she’s feeling like no one gets her, just to see if one person supporting her when no one else will makes it worse.

He is the crack in the sidewalk. The snag in your hose at a needed job interview.

After he got word his second home was flooding, he was a firefighter in chest-deep water rescuing people out of flooding apartments. This, honestly, was not so much about doing evil as preserving his ability to do evil. He had plans for some folks and he had no interest in seeing them change their fates.

But he was also back in Nashville and in the water for another reason and that reason did not bode well for Paul Turner.

Paul Turner was a history professor at Vanderbilt, whose focus was on the lives of free blacks in Nashville, prior to the Civil War. He was especially interested in Dr. Jack Macon, who had been the slave of William Macon, but who earned his freedom and, due to the intervention of his patients, the right to stay in Tennessee even after being freed.

Turner had a theory that Dr. Jack, as he was called, was William’s half-brother. He had nothing more than a hunch and the fact that William’s father and son were both named John. But Turner had gone to the Tennessee State Library and Archives to see what he could learn.

There wasn’t much. A mention in an early city directory. An entry in the internment records of the city cemetery. Already things he’d seen at the Nashville Library.

“Oh, this is interesting,” the woman helping Turner said, as she came back to his table. “We actually have a file on William Macon. But it’s only got one thing in it, and that seems to have to do with Jack Macon.”

“What’s that?” Turner said.

“It’s a map. See? At the top here, it’s faded, but doesn’t that look like it says ‘Property of Jack Macon’?”

“Hmm, and judging by the size of Nashville, I’d have to say this map was made probably right around the time that Jack got his freedom,” Turner was already making notes.

The Macon map contained one odd feature. It showed a small pond on the east side of the river, just north of where the Navy Operational Support Center is, in the middle of what is now the golf course. And next to the pond, even closer to the current location of old Naval building, was an x. A faint x, but the kind of x that makes historians feel for a second like they’re going to be able to call their friends in the Archaeology department and tell them to suck it.

But what could Turner do? You can’t just go around digging up a golf course.

Little did he know, the Devil was sitting right across town thinking the same thing. Because, it turns out that Turner and the Devil, though the did not know it, had complimentary problems. Turner knew the location of whatever Macon had marked, but not what it was and the Devil knew what it was, but not exactly where.

Yes, of course, he had someone whose job it was to trail Macon, but it turns out that a man didn’t grow up to be one of the most powerful doctors in the state back in the 1850s without learning a thing or two about how to give a devil the slip. The Devil figured it was in the park, but he didn’t know for certain.

Let us stop and imagine for a moment how easy it would have been for Turner to do the right thing. He could have published an article on the Macon map, could have done a couple of interviews with the local media, gotten some public excitement about his treasure hunt and gotten permission to excavate.

I hadn’t considered it until just now, but maybe the Devil and Paul Turner met before this, maybe the Devil was the lanky grad student with the black eyes, just at Vanderbilt for the day using the library. I mean, who uses the library any more? And later, as Turner tried to awkwardly hit on him, maybe he hinted about discovering the map, about the x that marked a spot that seemed easy enough to find.

That would make sense of how the Devil and Turner ended up on the golf course the Monday after the flood. Turner had just walked in off of Sevier Street. The Devil, now a tattooed fireman with dimples, had commandeered a boat and come in through the flood water.

The Devil found Turner up to his waist in a hole.

“You find anything?” the Devil asked.

“Just now,” Turner said, with a look of unmitigated delight on his face, so caught up in his discovery that he didn’t even hide what he was up to. “I’ve about got it loose.” The Devil jumped down in the hole with him and helped him rescue a wooden box, about the size of a small microwave, out of the mud. The Devil then lifted Turner out of the hole and Turner, in return, gave a hand to the Devil.

They both plopped to the ground, dirty and happy, with the box between them. Turner pulled out a knife and pryed open the lid. The box was full of gold coins. Turner’s first thought, not realizing who he was sitting next to, was that he could take the fireman, if he surprised him.

The Devil’s first thought, interestingly enough, was whether he could get Turner to take the gold.

Just went it seemed like there might be a fixed fight, an old man came walking up. He was dressed very neatly, in a faded black suit, wearing a top hat that seemed just a tad too formal for the circumstances. He had a cane, topped with a silver handle, which he held more like a staff.

“That’s my gold,” the old man said, as if to end any discussion before it started.

“I assumed you had no more use for it,” the Devil said.

“We had a deal,” the old man said.

“You cheated,” the Devil sputtered.

“Come now,” the old man said, “we both know you got stupid and lazy during those years.  Things were too easy for you and you got sloppy. That’s not cheating. That’s just smart.”

“What kind of deal?” Turner asked.

“I said, ‘You give me my family near me and the money to free them and, once that money’s spent, you can have me.’ He said I seemed like the kind who might need that,” Dr. Macon spoke with polite contempt.

“And you never spent the money,” the Devil lamented.

“Not yet, anyway,” Dr. Macon said, a smile hinting at the corners of his mouth.

“Well, you can’t spend it where you are now,” the Devil said.

“Still, a deal is a deal,” Dr. Macon said.

“Your map has been found,” the Devil switched tactics. “Certainly, you don’t plan on standing around here all the time guarding this spot.”

“No,” Dr. Macon said, “I truly don’t. So, mister, the gold’s fate is your fate, now.”

And before the Devil could even scream, Dr. Macon had tossed up his cane, grabbed the end of it, and swung it, like a bat, into Paul Turner’s head. Turner was dead almost instantly.

“Are you kidding me?!” the Devil sputtered, as Dr. Macon tossed the gold back into the hole.

“I’m starting to suspect that gold might be cursed for you,” Dr. Macon smiled. “That’s two souls it’s lost you.”

They say, when it’s rainy, the ghost of Paul Turner is often seen out there on the golf course, pacing around the spot where he died, muttering about his circumstances. Folks who’ve seen him say he’s an omen of bad luck.

As for the Macon map, the State Library and Archives claims to not be able to find it again.

13. We are Our Own Ghosts

Minnie Robertson was 82 years old. Her great-grandson, who they all called Pinky, was just 16. He was sitting in the back of a police cruiser because he had obeyed when the police yelled, “Come out with your hands up.”

Mrs. Robertson was sitting on the floor of what used to be her house, resting her head against the door frame of what used to be the entrance to her bedroom. It had been over two months and the house was down to studs and the wooden subfloor; she still swore she could smell the creek water.

She dreamed of the little house on Delray Drive all the time. Not bad flood dreams, like some folks. Just dreams of ordinary days. Of walking from the kitchen to the front door. Of the tiny gold cross that hanged by the bathroom mirror. Some nights, she would just dream she was sleeping in her own bed. Not memories, exactly, just her dreaming she was still in the old house.

After the flood waters had receded, she stood in her front yard and watch the volunteers tossing out dumpsters full of her ruined house. At first, she had tried to save photographs, and important papers, trying to separate them and dry them on the front lawn. But everything–the one photograph of her on her wedding day, the pictures of all her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren–all were ruined beyond salvation.

“Just let me see,” she said, on the second day, “Just let me go in and see.” And she could stand it all, until she got to the small kitchen and saw the cupboard door under the sink peeling apart, the top layers curling away from the bottom layers.

How many times had her grandchildren opened and shut that door, looking for pots to drum on or places to play?

She didn’t want to interrupt the volunteers, after that. So, she would drive over from Geneva’s house in the middle of the night, and climb the front steps, as she had always done, and she would wander her empty house, in the dark, until she felt calm again.

The neighbors were never going to call the police, she thought. If there were any folks left on her block, surely they would understand. And the people the next block over did not want the attention of the authorities. And there was no one behind her, just the creek, already back in its banks.

She had not figured on the sight-seers, who found themselves driving aimlessly through the empty streets, trying to make sense of what happened. And when they saw a figure moving so deftly through a house that was supposed to be empty, they figured someone was stealing the copper pipes and they did call the police.

After that, she was forbidden to drive. That is how Pinky came to be involved. He often stayed with his grandmother when he was trying to stay off of his step-father’s radar. And, because he was on the couch frequently when Mrs. Robertson was sneaking out at night, he knew long before the police were involved that she had been going somewhere.

So, he was not surprised when she came to him one night and said, “I’ve been thinking. There might be something in the attic. We should go look and see if anything got saved in the attic.”

“Gran,” he said, “you know we can’t do that.” But, of course, he couldn’t turn her down.

So, off they went in his car, in the middle of the night, when no one was around. He thought to bring flashlights, and so he took one up the ladder and she took one and wandered around her small house.

It was the doorway to her bedroom that broke her heart, after all this time. There, in faded pencil marks, were all the heights of all her grandchildren and great grandchildren, including the one now rummaging around in the attic, over the years.

“Everything’s gone,” she said, quietly, “But this stays? Lost every single dish, but pencil marks don’t wash away?” And so she sat down in the doorway and leaned up against those marks, as if she could, by proximity, get back to the moments they were made.

“I found something,” Pinky said, as he came back down the ladder. “I found this.” He handed her a picture of a stern looking girl, his age.

“That was me,” Mrs. Robertson said. “That was when I first went to work for Mrs. Bradley. Her husband had bought her a camera on one of his trips to New York. She was always taking pictures of everyone. This is the first one she took of me. I got used to it after a while. Smiled more.”

“I only found this one,” he said.

“That’s too bad,” she said. “I would have liked for you to have had one of me smiling.”

“Oh, no, Gran,” he said, “I can’t take this.” He blurted out this next part. “Are you dying?”

“A little every day,” she said, still leaning against the door frame. “Listen,” she said, grabbing at his jeans, “We are from the past. Me from longer ago than you. And we haunt the present, wandering around, trying to make sense of how things are now. We’re the ones who need explaining. We’re the ones who are lost and who need saved. We’re our own ghosts. That’s what I want you to know.”

“I don’t even know what that means,” he said, but he kept repeating it, even later, in the squad car, because he didn’t want to ever forget it.

First thing the next morning, when the officer who took the call was getting off his shift, he had to wait in his car for his shaking sobs to pass before he could go into the station. He cried about that ancient woman, sitting on the floor of her condemned house, talking about how she was a ghost now. And he cried for himself, that he had to see things like that and couldn’t help.

12. Shadow Lane

Lainey had a house on Shadow Lane. Like all of the houses on Shadow Lane, it was the ubiquitous 1950s brick ranch with two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a somewhat surprisingly cheery disposition.

In spite of all the house had going for it, it had one thing working against it–it was haunted. Noticeably.

You could be sitting in the living room and watch the light in the dining room come on, followed by the light in the kitchen. Then the kitchen light goes out. And then the dining room light. As if someone has gone in to get a drink and come back.

You could be sitting, reading a book, and the television would come on, flip through the channel, and turn itself off.

And things you wouldn’t think twice about took on more ominous meanings. You might find a glass of water on a table, waiting for you, and, though you wanted a glass of water, you didn’t remember getting it.

Sure, maybe you did it without really thinking about it, just a matter of routine.

But, if you’re alone in the house, of course, there is no one to tell you if you brought the glass in there or if it just appeared.

It got so that Lainey was afraid to be in the house at all.

But her neighbor insisted she call an electrician.

“Are your outlets two-pronged or three?” The neighbor asked.

“Two,” she said.

“That’s right. You probably got original wiring in there. Get an electrician.”

So, she searched the internet, as folks do, for nearby electricians, and the first one to catch her eye was Adams and Sons. And so she called, and the appointment was made for a week from Wednesday.

On that Wednesday, there was a knock at the door and a lanky man in his mid-fifties introduced himself as John Adams.

“My dad was a real history buff,” He said. “We wired these houses when they first went in, would you believe it? I have a pretty good sense of all the ways they go wrong.”

He immediately got to work, poking around in the fuse box and crawling around in the attic.

About an hour later, Adams found Lainey in her home office.

“Well, ma’am,” he said, “I found the immediate problem. At one point, it looks like you had some mice in the attic and they were chewing on some wires up there. Stripped them bare in spots. I believe, when those bare wires touched, for whatever reason, they were flickering the lights.

“You’re going to need to rewire the house. But I’ve got that patched up to hold you. Shoot, you’re lucky there wasn’t a fire. I found some singed insulation already.”

“Oh no!” Lainey said.

“You call back over to my boys,” Adams said. “Tell them you’re going to need the whole house done. They’ll work you a deal.”

“Great. How much do I owe you?”

“Nothing,” he said. “It was treat enough to get back into one of these places and see how it held up.  Pretty good, I think, if this is the first trouble you’re having. And rewiring the house will cost you more than enough. Don’t worry about it.”

So, Lainey called Adams and Sons once again and identified herself and gave her address.

“I’m calling because I need you guys to come over.”

“Yes, ma’am. We expect to have someone there today.”

“Oh, yeah, he’s been here already.”

“He has?”

“Yes. He came by and fixed some mouse damage and said to call you and tell you we need the whole house rewired.”

“Ma’am? Are you sure?”

“Well, yes, he just left. Why?”

“Well, because Adams and Sons is really just me and my brother since my dad died in 2003. I say ‘we’ like I’m just the guy in the office. But Bob’s on vacation, so Adams and Sons today is just me. And I haven’t been to your house yet.”

“Oh my god. Should I call the police? I let this strange man into my house. I should have known ‘John Adams’ was made up.”

“He said his name was John Adams?”


“That’s my dad’s name.”

And when he got to the house, he did indeed find that the repair had been made. So, who knows? Most times either one of them tells you this story, they will tell it like someone is running impersonating the electrician John Adams and, for some crazy reason, doing minor electrical work expertly. But when they tell that version, you can see in their faces they don’t believe it.

11. The Church Street Man

There have probably always been a lot of ghosts downtown, since it’s the oldest part of town, but until folks started moving back down there in great numbers, you only ever heard about the ghosts haunting the honky-tonks.

The gentleman in tonight’s story might always have been running down Church, a look of exhileration and terror on his face. The bride, in her great white dress may always have been waiting on the steps of First Presbyterian, every late night, for decades.

But until that moment when Berta Morris decided she didn’t really want this cab driver to know where she lived, until she decided, at two in the morning, to get out of the cab at 6th and Church and just walk herself the rest of the way, no one, as far as I know, had seen the couple.

She said, at first, it seemed normal enough. It was foggy, yes, but the whole spring had been so wet and patches of fog had ways of just swirling up out of manholes or rolling down the street, like just one more city fixture. It was so ubiquitous it had long since stopped being spooky.

And she didn’t even think anything of it as she heard the footsteps behind her, someone obviously running up the street.

It wasn’t until she saw the woman on the steps of First Presbyterian that she started to get chills. It was if the woman stepped into existence right in front of her, just one foot into the real world, followed by the other, like a person stepping through a set of curtains at the break.

And then, Berta heard the man shouting, “Jenny, Jenny, wait! Don’t do this.”

And Jenny smiled as she turned towards the sound of the footsteps.

“I could hear him, the whole time,” Berta said, “but it was only as he got almost to her that I could see him.  And the first thing she said to him was ‘You came back.’ I thought, at first, I was watching the past. Like something had happened a long time ago, and I was just looking through some kind of window onto it. But then, he turned and looked at me, a huge goofy grin on his face, and he said, ‘Ma’am…’ Okay, listen, I’m not sure what he said. I thought he said, ‘Ma’am, this was the best day of my life.'”

10. The Woman in the House on Sigler Street

Delia Patton was the last of her Pattons, the last of at least seven generations of Nashville Pattons stretching back before the War. Her mother had this theory that sometimes the old lines just petered out, which was the kind of thing that made sense on the surface, but not if you thought about it too hard.

After all, who were all these people from, if not old families?

Delia was a student at Lipscomb University. Even so, she spent most nights tangled so close to her roommate that she fell asleep to the gentle rush of her roommate’s breath on her face.

She knew, for her roommate, this was just one impossible fling before she found a nice man and settled down and got married.

And she knew, for her, this made impossible the nice man and the marriage.

Once she knew that, she had this dream.

She dreamed she was in the house on Sigler Street. In real life, she had never been in it, but she knew the stories; they were family stories.  She was opening a closet and rummaging through the clothes. In the pocket of a light flowered housecoat was a silver skeleton key.

The key fit the lock on the hope chest in the front bedroom.

And the chest was opened.

There, on the top of some old quilts, was a note. The note said, “You could make me tell you I loved you a million times, but I never meant it. Not once. You might kill me, but I will kill all of you.”

Delia woke with a start. Her heart was racing in her chest and her whole head was swimming. She had no reason to think what the note said was true. It was just a dream of an old family legend.

But she knew it was. Not how it was true, exactly, but she knew it was.

And that she couldn’t shake.

Years later, she did get married. Times change. Still, when they decided to have children, she insisted her wife be the biological mother, just in case it was a blood curse.

9. The Man in the House on Sigler Street

It was well-known that Dalt Patton’s wife haunted their house. They had fallen in love young. She was 19, he was 24 when they got married. Their first child was stillborn just a month after Mrs. Patton’s 20th birthday. And then, for whatever reason, it seemed like they could not have children.

Everyone agreed that this was a terrible tragedy in itself. They were such a beautiful couple.

Sometimes, when he would get home from work, she would be down at the park, talking with the mothers in the neighborhood, watching their children play, and she would seem to almost sense that he was on his way and she would take off running for the house.

Everyone got such a kick out of that, watching a woman in full skirts, hiking her petticoats out of the way and running full bore for home. “Oh, young married folks,” they would say. “Do you remember when we were like that?” And they would all laugh and smile.

Her death was so terrible. He came home from work and found her in a broken heap at the bottom of the grand staircase. The one shoe still on her foot was broken at the heel. And it turned out she was pregnant.

He was only 38, but he never remarried.

“She was my gal,” he would say, sitting in the porch swing, a glass of whiskey sweating in his hand. “She was my best gal.”

Patton couldn’t even bear to throw out her clothes.

“I like feeling like she’s still here,” he said, though to most folks, it was apparent she still was. People would see lights on in the house when he wasn’t there. When he was there and people were visiting, they would swear they could hear her laughter in the kitchen.

“Dalt,” they would ask. “Is that your wife?” and he would tear up and nod. For the whole rest of his life, he lived there, with little changed since she passed. He stayed there with the ghost of the one woman he ever loved, with the woman he dearly, dearly missed.

8. Fisk Memorial Chapel

One of the nicest spirits in Nashville lingers at Fisk Memorial Chapel. Most of the time, she is more noticed in her absence than her presence. You’ll walk into the empty chapel and the air will still be humming, as if someone has just finished playing the organ. Or you will shuffle into your spot in the choir loft and there will be the faint smell of rose water, as if a woman was standing there just seconds before you.

The reason she is one of Nashville’s most beloved ghosts has everything to do with the women’s restroom. You see, to get into the women’s restroom, you open a door on the north side of the vestibule and immediately, you must step down a set of stairs. These stairs are incredibly steep, each step so shallow you think your whole foot might not fit on it, and then the whole thing takes a sharp turn to the left at the bottom, into the actual restroom itself.

No matter how sure-footed you are, if you are in heels, taking those stairs is taking your life into your own hands. And yet, if you are at the chapel for any length of time, you will have to take those stairs.

And, often, as you have your right hand stretched down the wall to steady yourself and your left hand is out behind you, tightly wrapped around the banister, and you are half-leaning forward to see if anyone will need to squeeze by you on the way up, just at the moment you feel like you are about to tip forward and end up sprawled in a broken heap at the bottom of the stairs, you will feel a firm but gentle grip on your arm, a kind fellow visitor setting you right again.

But, of course, when you turn to look, to thank your rescuer, the steep stairway is empty.

Some people have been known to leave gifts of appreciation for her on those steps, but I must implore you not to make them any more dangerous to traverse than they already are.

7. The Ghost Who Thought You Were Lying

Kenny Robertson’s dad had a tough death. Towards the end, Kenny moved him into Kenny’s house and set up the hospital bed in the living room. Kenny arranged him so he could see the TV if he turned one way and out the picture window if he turned the other way.

Their fights went something like this.

“Bring me a beer.”

“You can’t be drinking beer with your pills, Dad.”

“What? I might die? I’m fucking dying, Kenny. Bring me a god damn beer.”

“No, Dad.”

“Bring me a god damn beer. Fuck it.”

“We’re out of beer.”



“Can’t I have something better than this shit to eat? What about some chips?”

“The doctor says you can’t have all that salt.”

“Kenny, I’m fucking dying. Chips don’t make no god damn difference.”

“It makes a difference to me. I have to wipe your ass.”

“You think that’s easy for me? Letting your own son wipe your ass? You just wait until it’s your turn.”

“I’d shoot myself.”

“It’s easy to think so,” his dad said, finally sighing deeply, and turning towards the window.

The fights were not easy on either of them, but Kenny preferred them to the long periods of silence, when his dad would just stare off into space, like he was practicing being dead.

When he finally did die, he was asleep. He let out a loud, surprised yell that woke Kenny up, but by the time Kenny got into the living room and got the light on, his dad was breathing out for the last time.

“There’s nothing that can prepare you for it,” Kenny said. “I mean, you say ‘he’s gone’ but man, until you see it, how it’s like he’s there one second and then… I don’t know. it was like I couldn’t recognize him. Like his whole face changed. They said it’d be like he went to sleep. But when you sleep, you still look like yourself. I don’t know. It sucked.”

After the funeral, Kenny came home, opened the fridge, took out a beer, and settled onto the couch. He hadn’t had more than four swigs from the beer before he was asleep.

“You know how it is,” he said. “It’s like, you’re just doing this and going this place and that place. I mean, it was like the first time since he died that I really got to stop and just be still. I crashed.”

He has a strange look on his face as he starts to tell this next part, as if you can be amused and afraid at the same time.

“When I woke up, every fucking cabinet in the kitchen was wide open. The refrigerator was wide open. And that case of beer was set right in the middle of the floor.

“Yeah, I guess, I could have been so tired I sleep-walked. But I woke up with my beer still in my hand. I somehow sleep walked and didn’t spill a drop?

“I think it was him. I think that son of a bitch was like ‘No beer? I see plenty of beer, now that I’m not stuck in that bed.’ Shoot, he was probably searching for chips.

“Nothing like that’s happened since. I think that was just his way of saying goodbye, and, you know, letting me know he knew I was a liar.”