Nashville has long been known as a destination for a spooky good time, but Music City also has its share of truly terrifying locations in and around the city. With a long history of bloody military conflicts, plantations, and conflicts with Native Americans, there are many reasons for deceased souls to be disturbed. Whether you’re a skeptic or a believer, Nashville offers all sorts of spooky opportunities, from haunted hotels to spooky graveyards and mansions. Turn on all the lights in the room and experience the spooky side of Nashville.
Tennessee State Prison
Although it hasn’t housed prisoners since 1992, when it ironically closed due to overcrowding, the former Tennessee State Prison may well still be home to creepy locals. The building’s striking Gothic castle has been featured in several major films, including Stephen King’s ‘The Last Castle’ and ‘The Last Mile’. King’s novel features a death row inmate, which is fitting since 125 men were executed in the electric chair at the maximum-security prison known as “Ole Sparky.” The ruined penitentiary is not safe for visits, but past visitors report hearing echoing footsteps, screams and the slamming of cell doors.
Tennessee children have long been afraid of the Bell Witch, challenging each other at sleepovers to say “I hate the Bell Witch” 100 times in front of the bathroom mirror to summon the legendary spirit. . In the early 19th century, “Kate”, the ghost of the witch Bell, tormented the Bell family in Adams, Tennessee, residing in a cave behind their property. Kate pinched, pulled hair and taunted family visitors with strange sounds, and she repeatedly tried to smother John Bell, the family patriarch. You can visit the spooky cavewhich has been listed on the National Historic Register, and according to tour guides, visitors experienced sensations of being pushed, touched, or restrained by a heavy weight.
The Battle of Franklin was a major turning point in the Civil War, with Confederate blunders essentially decimating the Army of Tennessee which lost 14 generals in the one-day battle. One general was captured, seven were wounded and six were killed. Carnton Plantation was turned into a field hospital on the edge of the battlefields, and four of those dead generals were laid out on the porch of the stately mansion. At night, visitors to the house claim to have seen the floors red with soldiers’ blood, and there are numerous reports of ghostly spirits wandering the cemetery where 1,700 fallen soldiers were buried.
Nashville’s oldest public cemetery has been accepting permanent residents for more than two centuries, and more than a dozen former Nashville mayors are buried on the grounds along with country music stars, Battle of Nashville victims and victims of various epidemics over the years. According to legend, the ghost of a woman who took her own life by jumping into the Cumberland River can be heard sobbing near the large boulder her husband placed as a headstone. He also wisely added a lantern because she was afraid of the dark, and it may be her soul that is seen lighting the lamp on spooky evenings.
Chapel Hill Railway Lights
For years, it’s been a teenage rite of passage to pile into a car for the 45-minute drive south of Nashville to the tiny hamlet of Chapel Hill to search for the mysterious lights along the train tracks at the outskirts of the city. In 1942, a man named Skip Adjent was walking along these tracks and apparently did not hear the train hurtling towards him. The locomotive hit him from behind and killed him instantly. Ghostbusters make the pilgrimage to discover the mysterious sight of lights moving back and forth along the tracks like a lantern carried to retroactively correct Adjent’s fatal mistake. Doubters say the lights come from swamp gas, but we’d like to think old Skip gets a second chance to watch his steps.
So Bro Nashville
Voted “America’s Best Haunted Hotel”, Union Station was once the city’s main railroad terminal and the point of deployment for thousands of soldiers departing for World War II. A young woman named Abigail was the beau of one of these soldiers going to war and swore to see him again on the train platform when he returned. Unfortunately, he never returned after being killed in action in Europe. She threw herself in front of the train and now haunts the property, particularly room 711. She chose this room for the view of the tracks below, and current guests report flickering lights, strange appearances in the mirror, and sudden drops in temperature. of room 711.
A frequent destination for paranormal investigators, the former home of General James Winchester is considered one of the most haunted sites in Tennessee. The tobacco plantation was built on sacred Native American land by slaves, so there are plenty of reasons the spirits might still be angry at its construction. Professional ghost hunters have reported seeing glowing orbs floating around in different rooms of the house, and security camera footage has revealed inanimate objects moving on their own and candles igniting of their own accord. Previously made beds appear to have slept through the night, and full-body apparitions have been reported haunting the hallways. The state now owns the historic log structure and offers tours, which is good because probably no one would want to share their home with so many ghosts.
Nashville’s relationship with Andrew Jackson has long been complicated. He was a hero of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812 and served as the seventh President of the United States for two terms, and heck, his face is on the $20 bill. (At least for a while longer.) However, he was also a slave owner and responsible for displacing thousands of Native Americans from their tribal lands. So it’s no surprise that The Hermitage, Jackson’s mansion-turned-museum, could be home to unstable souls. Over the centuries, nearly 500 deaths have been reported on the grounds of the Hermitage, not including unreported slaves. Visitors report hearing someone whistle in the hallways late at night, apparitions of Civil War soldiers marching on the property, and even the sound of Old Hickory himself riding a horse down the hallway. The museum hosts several different themed tours, and most of them mention at least one supernatural activity taking place on the grounds.
In addition to the spooky tricks the Legislature continues to perform inside the building, the State Capitol has been home to some spooky history, and it’s the only capitol building to serve as a mausoleum. William Strickland, the building’s original architect, is buried inside the Capitol walls, as is Samuel Morgan, the construction project manager. The two men argued constantly during construction, and they say you can still hear them arguing from their respective corners of the Capitol at night. Another ghost is said to haunt the building’s cupola, standing at his post guarding the mast where he was killed when Union soldiers arrived to hoist the Union flag after winning the Battle of Nashville. President James K. Polk is also buried on the grounds, and a man in a dark suit was seen kneeling near the crypt, only to disappear as curious visitors approach.
Once the home of Nashville’s printing and newspaper industry, this part of downtown became a seedy entertainment district in the mid-20th century. The ghost of a tavern owner can be seen peeking through an upstairs window of his old bar after he killed himself rather than give in to the ban. The club’s legendary owner, David “Skull” Schulman, was murdered in his bar, The Rainbow Room, in 1998. It was well known that Skull kept wads of cash in his overalls before two vagabonds slit his throat and take his money. Reportedly, Skull can still be seen walking his beloved poodle down the alley late at night.
The Ryman is best known as a performance venue and the Grand Ole Opry’s most famous home, but before it became “the mother church of country music,” it was a veritable tabernacle that hosted traveling preachers visiting Nashville to evangelize. They say Thomas Ryman must not be totally happy with the transformation, as some ghosts (maybe him) have been known to cut lights, sound, or power when performers get a little too rowdy. There’s also “The Opry Curse,” where legendary artists like Hank Williams and Patsy Cline met untimely deaths shortly after bursting onto the Ryman stage. Cline is said to still haunt the site of his most famous hit, and Williams’ ghost has been reported in the aisle between the Ryman and Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge where he used to sneak between sets for a quick sniff at the bar.
Chris Chamberlain is a food, drink and travel writer based in Nashville, where he has lived all his life except for four years in California where he studied liberal arts at Stanford University and learned to handle chopsticks. He is a regular contributor to Nashville Scene, Nashville Lifestyles, Local Palate, Edible, FoodRepublic.com and Conde Nast Traveler. He likes beer, bourbon and bacon but is not fond of them.