The nighttime glow of the Cameo Theatre illuminates an apparition of the infamous madam Pocahontas Hale, and the ghost of a young Confederate soldier rises from Cedar Hill to gaze mournfully on his lost homestead—these are the haunts of the Twin Cities. Local author Bud Phillips takes readers on an eerie, and sometimes humorous, journey through the ghostly lore of Bristol, Virginia and Tennessee. From the terrifying specter of a headless hobo and the spirits of a young couple parted through violence and reunited in death to the organist who played the Sunday after her funeral, Phillips’s collection of tales raises the otherworldly residents of Bristol from the shadows.
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From the Past: Haunts from Early Bristol
Bristol's First Known Ghost
I have many stories of ghosts that were encountered in the Bristol area long before a town developed here. Here is the story of the first known ghost to appear after the new town of Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee, was founded in 1852. This happened in late 1854, and the site is near where Winston's Alley now enters Lee Street.
In 1853, John H. Moore, formerly of Russell County, Virginia, bought a choice lot in Bristol, Virginia, located on the northwest corner of Lee and State Streets. On it he soon erected the second store to operate in Bristol, Virginia, and the third in the entire town. His residence was actually an extension of the store. Near the back of the lot was a small smokehouse.
At first, the Moores' water supply was a cistern located near their back door. But in late 1854, they hired a local "water witch" to locate a promising well site in the home yard. The location was to the left of the little smokehouse. At the dawning of a November morning in 1854, Mrs. Moore took a large butcher knife and started toward the smokehouse, planning to slice off bacon for breakfast. At the back steps, just as she was entering the walk that led to the smokehouse, she froze in her tracks, horrified. She saw a large and very tall Indian warrior standing just to the left of the smokehouse. In one hand he held a tomahawk high and was swinging it as if ready to attack. With the other hand, he was pointing toward the stake that marked the new well site. His head was shaking as if to indicate "No!" and his face was contorted as if in extreme anger. But as the terrified Mrs. Moore stared directly at him for long moments, the Indian just suddenly vanished into thin air. He was never seen again. Everything was back to normal. Even so, Mrs. Moore would not proceed on to the smokehouse. There would be no bacon for breakfast.
Now, to add to the mystery, the large butcher knife that Mrs. Moore had carried outside had disappeared and was never found. I wonder if she threw it at the Indian and it was lost in the grass. Or by some mysterious power did the Indian seize it and take it from this plane? We'll never know. All we know is that they searched but never found that butcher knife.
A few days later, even though Mrs. Moore was protesting that she believed they should not proceed with the digging of the well — thinking that this appearance of the Indian pointing to the spot and shaking his head "No!" in great agitation and anger meant that something was wrong — Mr. Moore would not give in to superstitions and had his men go right ahead and dig the well. When they were some six feet down, they dug into an Indian grave and there found a skeleton of a very tall and large man. Well now, Mr. Moore was immediately convinced and had the spot filled up. Everything became peaceful again. The Moores continued using the cistern for the time they remained in Bristol.
So, folks, that was the first known ghost to appear in Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee.
The Ghost of Doug Thomas
Competition was so keen among early Bristol merchants that most stores were opened by 6:00 a.m. and did not close until at least 8:00 p.m. Colonel J.M. Barker, an early and prominent merchant here, kept such hours in his store. He had a large, three-story building on the Virginia side of Bristol in the 500 block of Main (State) Street. Lighting in all local stores of the period was very dim. Some had oil lamps, while a few still resorted to multiple candles. These were called "candle clusters" by most of the people of that day and time. Colonel Barker had both.
Deep snow lay on the ground on that cold, late afternoon on January 16, 1880. But this did not prevent a man and his wife from trudging from their home a mile or so west of town to Barker's store. The colonel was the only one in the store at that time. He had lost his chief clerk, young Doug Thomas, in a sad tragedy just before Christmas. An angry man by the last name of Rader had murdered poor Thomas and had cut his throat from ear to ear, causing him to bleed to death on the floor of a drugstore next door to Barker's. As this tragic event had happened only weeks before, a sad pall still hung over the town and that store.
Once inside the store, the man went to the men's boot section, while his wife began making a selection in the lady's department. If no lady clerk was available in those days, a woman was usually left alone to make her own selections. It was considered improper for a man to assist ladies in their choice of wearing apparel, so she sat down in a back section of the store to try on a pair of shoes. Suddenly, the woman let out a bloodcurdling scream, jumped up and, with shoes off, ran out the back door into the cold snow and continued to flee westward toward home. Both Colonel Barker and the much-puzzled husband searched the store for the source of her terror, but nothing could be found. Finally, the husband, carrying her abandoned shoes in his hand, hurried home. He found his wife in bed, a quilt covering her head and ears, still quaking in fear. It was far into the night before he got her calmed down enough to tell her frightful story.
Both she and her husband had been well acquainted with young Doug Thomas. As she sat there that evening in Barker's dimly lit store, trying to make a shoe selection, she suddenly saw feet approaching her. Strangely, the feet were not taking steps but rather were gliding along slightly above the floor. Startled, she looked up, and there stood Doug Thomas smiling down at her. His white shirt was soaked red with blood, and more was flowing from his slashed throat. One look was enough, and she forgot that she was barefoot and jumped up and ran out the back door through deep snow to her home.
Soon, others began to see this ghostly figure in Barker's big store. At first, the colonel just scoffed at "such nonsense," as he put it. But he had a change of mind soon after when he came to the store before daylight. Just as he entered the store, one of the hanging oil lamps flared up, giving light to the central part of the store. There on a little footstool stood Doug Thomas, stretched up as if he had just completed his usual morning chore, his shirt soaked in blood. It is understandable that the noted Colonel Barker did not open his store that day. Nor did he open the next morning but rather came with a crew and began moving his stock to another building that he owned farther up the street. The haunted store building was never used again, although during the period that it stood there unused, there were reports of strange lights moving about inside the store, and more than one person claimed to see the bloody Doug Thomas peering out the front windows. Even in daylight, people looked the other way when passing the old abandoned store. A little later, the vacant building was demolished, and a smaller building was erected in its place. It was long told that Colonel Barker had a hard time selling even the bricks that were in that building. Folks feared that the ghost of the murdered Doug Thomas might go with them.
The demolition of that building seemed to have ended the ghostly appearance of the poor murdered store clerk. If a thing can happen, it has happened in Bristol! Here we have a ghost who caused a building to be demolished. I have never known of that happening elsewhere.
Reverend James King Rides Again
In the 1850s, there were many wagons, buggies and carts in the Bristol area. There was only one fine carriage, however. That carriage belonged to Reverend James King. At that time, Reverend King was still serving as pastor of the Paperville Presbyterian Church. On those Sundays when he was due there, he oftentimes went by carriage (usually in summertime) — other times he rode horseback. The carriage was pulled by four fine horses and was driven by a faithful slave named Shadrack Wisdom. The carriage route led through Fairmount Forest, and after passing through that forest it followed what was the old Route 421 up to the Jonesboro Road. A left turn was then made on that road, and after passing over the hill a steady decline resulted, all the way to the old brick church where Reverend King was long the pastor.
In the summer of 2005, a friend of mine was driving out in that direction. He took the road to the left toward Paperville. As he topped the hill, he saw before him a fine carriage moving rather slowly down the hill toward the church. A black man was seated up front driving the four horses attached to the carriage. Cars were coming in the opposite direction, but people in them did not seem to be aware of the mysterious carriage that was slowly moving before him. When the churchyard was reached, the carriage turned into the parking area. It was then that things really got strange. It appeared that the driver was oblivious to the cars parked there but rather seemed to pass right through them. Then, as my friend watched, those horses, carriage and driver just melted into the church wall and totally disappeared. He didn't know what to make of it. I told him that he seemed to be describing the arrival of Reverend James King at his church long ago. Some local psychic told him that it was a "slip back" in time.
About a year later, a man who attends that church was standing outside waiting on a friend to arrive. He told me that suddenly a strange feeling of coldness ran all over him. Instantly, a fine carriage appeared out in the road and then turned into the parking area. A black man was driving the four horses, and an old gray-haired man was looking out the side window. Evidently, Reverend James King was riding again. Then, just as suddenly as this image appeared, all just disappeared.
I have heard no more of this apparent "slip back" in time, but am truly sorry that I missed it.CHAPTER 2
Ghosts of the Civil War
The Sad Soldier at Cedar Hill
Old Cedar Hill Plantation, now commonly known as Painter Place, occupies a particularly beautiful area in the Holston Valley near Bristol, Tennessee. It was originally the home of David King Sr., a pioneer settler from Pennsylvania, who married Elizabeth Sharp, daughter of John Sharp, the pioneer settler of the area. By Civil War times, it had become the property of his son, David O. King II, and his wife, Mariamna McChesney King. The couple's only son, David King III, was a promising young man of unusual intelligence and with a wisdom rarely found in one of his age. When the dreadful Civil War began, he was a student at Tusculum College near Greeneville, Tennessee. Letters to his father at the time show that he felt that it his duty to defend his native South. With this his father fully concurred.
On a sunny, late spring morning in 1861, this father accompanied his son to Bristol, where the latter enrolled as a soldier in the Confederate army. A little later, the father bade his only son goodbye at the Bristol Depot, never to see him again. By June 1862, David King III was in northern Mississippi. Later that month, he was in a forced march through the steamy heat of the central part of that deep Southern state. Somewhere along the line, he became ill and had to spend two or three days in an army hospital. Being very desirous to serve at whatever mission was at hand, he left that hospital before he was really well and continued the march southward. When his company arrived in Canton, Madison County, Mississippi, his condition greatly worsened. He lingered a few days but there died on July 12, 1862. He is buried in the Confederate section of the Old Town Cemetery at Canton, Mississippi (I have twice visited the site).
In some way, word reached Cedar Hill that David O. King's only son was very ill. King immediately started to Mississippi but had some difficulty in reaching the area where his son was being cared for. When he finally arrived in Canton, his son had been dead for over two weeks. It was said that his death was caused by brain fever. It was generally believed that this condition could be brought on by bright sunlight. As a child, I recall being cautioned about going out in the bright sunlight without a hat. Meanwhile, back at Cedar Hill in Sullivan County, Tennessee, the anxious mother awaited news of her husband and son. Weeks passed, and no word was heard from either.
On July 12, 1862, a gentle rain of several hours' duration had fallen on the old Cedar Hill plantation. By twilight, the rain had ceased, and wisps of fog were gently rising here and there on the ridges behind the house and over the dense woodland on the corner of the main field. After supper was finished, Mrs. King left the kitchen cleanup to her daughter Caroline and went to the front porch, where she sat long in an old rocking chair looking out over the home fields, deeply feeling the anxiety that only a soldier's mother could know. Her earnest prayers were going upward for the recovery and future safety of her only son.
As late twilight was becoming dusk, Mrs. King was startled to see a dark figure emerge from the woods at the back corner of the big field and walk slowly toward the house. Looking intently, it appeared that the walk of that person was familiar — and more so as it came closer and closer to the house. It was not until the dark figure reached the home gate that she realized it was her soldier-son, David King III. As she jumped up with shock and joy, her mind tried to comprehend the situation. It couldn't be him, but it was, standing there straight and in full uniform — it was truly him! Had he suddenly recovered and made the long journey home? Was the report of his sickness a mistake? Was her mind playing tricks on her? There he stood, looking over the home gate, still as a statue and looking oh so sad — she would always remember that. She had started to run toward him when he waved to her and then just sunk slowly down into the ground. Speechless, she staggered back to the porch and sank down in her chair. Shocked and saddened to the core, she long sat motionless. She knew what it meant. As dusk turned into a pall of darkness slowly settling over the Cedar Hill Plantation, a dark foreboding set over her troubled mind. She knew what had happened. David was dead. His spirit had come to her, wafted over the more than seven hundred miles between her and Canton, Mississippi. He had come to say goodbye, and she would never see him again. As she would soon learn, her David had died that very day.
For the next several days, she grieved for the loss of her son, as much as if word had already been received telling of his death. Certainly, it was no surprise to her when the long-expected letter arrived from her husband confirming what she had already known. Excerpts from that letter are given here:
Dear wife, I write to you with a sorrowful heart. Our dear, our only son, is dead. He was well treated and decently buried. A lady took him in her carriage every day that he could ride. He was able to walk just four days before he died. He left many messages of love to his mother and to his sisters. I went to his grave and marked the place. Thus, our dream of love is over. We have no son to soothe our age and perpetuate our name. We have a son who has died for his country, whose fame and whose memory is dear to us. He died a victim of duty. He left Enterprise Mississippi before he was well. So anxious was he to do his duty. The march from Tupelo to Alberry killed him. The weather was so hot and he had just got out of the hospital. He was attacked by a fever of the brain and congestive chills and died by degrees, not seeming to suffer much.
A few days after the grieving father returned home, the deceased son appeared to him. It was very late on a summer evening. David O. King had finally taken the old family Bible, retired to the side porch, sat in a crude chair and did what he had so long dreaded to do. Long he had hoped to record in that Bible the marriage of his much-loved son and then one day record his children. Instead, he recorded his untimely death. This he slowly did and then took a sheet of paper and began to write a poem (he was a prolific composer of poems) concerning the death of this only son. The poem he wrote that day long remained between the pages of that Bible:
In the land where the fig and the myrtle appear,
Far from his home, for his Country he died
No father, no mother, no sister was near
No friend, no companion to watch by his side.
On that gloomy night when he struggled alone,
But with none but his Maker to witness his pain
'Ere the morn had arisen his spirit had flown
to the land where peace shall eternally reign.
His likeness is all that I have left to me now.
I can gaze on those features that once were so dear
The intelligent face and that noble brow
I almost imagine that David is here.
But oh, vain delusion, in vain do I seek,
To recall the expression of him I adore.
No breathing is heard. Those lips cannot speak.
Those eyes, so expressive once, sparkle no more.
I will add that the picture he was looking at and referred to so long ago is now in my possession and is kept here at old Pleasant Hill.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Ghosts of Bristol"
Copyright © 2010 V.N. "Bud" Phillips.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: A Brief History of Bristol,
Part I. From the Past: Haunts from Early Bristol,
Bristol's First Known Ghost,
The Ghost of Doug Thomas,
Reverend James King Rides Again,
Part II. Ghosts of the Civil War,
The Sad Soldier at Cedar Hill,
The Georgia Drummer Boy in East Hill Cemetery,
The Ghost that Wasn't,
Part III. Bristol Terrors and Tragedies,
The Singing Ghost at Old St. Luke's Hospital,
The Headless, Hungry Hobo,
The Haunted Pillow,
Ghosts in the Storm,
Lovers in Life, Lovers in Death,
The Haunted Georgia Avenue Bridge,
The Distraught Ghost,
Ghosts in the Knobs,
Bristol's Strangest Ghost,
Part IV. Messages from the Grave,
A Note from Beyond,
The Ghostly Greeter,
I'll Be Home Tomorrow Night,
Part V. Haunted Homes,
The Quail Run Ghost,
The Hymn-Singing Ghost of King Mansion,
The Smoking Chimney Ghost,
Terror in the Bathroom,
Part VI. Prophets, Warnings and Witches,
The Warning Light in East Hill Cemetery,
Pocahontas Hale Walks Again,
Bristol's Oldest Psychic,
The Voodoo Woman Appears Again,
The White Flag Flying,
Part VII. Humorous "Haints" and the Lively Dead,
Ghost Hog in the Smokehouse, or No Bacon for Breakfast,
The Ghost Rattlesnake,
Sleeping with a Ghost, or More than She Bargained For,
Chased by a Dead Man,
Ghost in the Outhouse,
The Man Who Stopped his Own Funeral,
The Howdy Ghost of Vinegar Hill,
The Methodist Mission Ghost,
About the Author,