The Bell’s A Toll’n

I had another topic in mind for my first blog, but being as the holidays are upon us, my mood has been one of nostalgia.

As a paranormal investigator, my mind tends to wander to all things supernatural and metaphysical. Growing up in the South, tales of “haints”, bewitching’s and strange happenings were never short of supply.

Some of my earliest memories go back to the days on the Ridge. My paternal side of the family has a good chunk of land right outside of Cookeville, TN…where I grew up. My great uncle and his wife have a farm on one side of the property. Across Terrapin Ridge road, my great aunt had a house. My Papa’s part of the farm was on up from my great aunt Spud’s place. Now, my immediate family and I are not hunters…we love animals too much, but true to Southern form, we do love our guns. Our section of the farm was used for target shooting. If you walk up the hill from the target tree (which, sadly, is no more), you’ll find our little cemetery for some of our beloved family pets.

Papa was raised in what I like to call the days that inspired Little House on the Prairie. There was no indoor plumbing. Water was retrieved from the well (which is still there and a remarkable sight to see). Outhouses dotted the back of the farm houses and churches in the area. Swimming pools did not exist. Summertime fun was had jumping off the falls on Roaring River or splashing in the mild pools of water above the waterfall up at the Old Gris Mill at Waterloo. It was a simple time.

Always intrigued by history, Papa would take me around to his childhood haunts and recite tales of living in the good ‘ol days. I have always been especially interested in cemeteries, the older ones. The tombstones can put you in mind of the way it used to be; the way people spoke, their mannerisms, their health, even their income. Farmers, more often than not, did not have the money for proper cemetery burials. Families would bury their own on their land themselves. In fact, there is a small cemetery buried deep in the brush on the backside of my Uncle Howard’s farm. It was a little different in smaller communities….more community spirit existed. Not to say that farmers aren’t community minded, but you have to keep in mind that some of these families lived miles from anyone. When a loved one passed in a small community, word was spread via the church bells. The bells would toll once for each year the person lived. The folks got together, helped dig the graves, make the caskets, bring food to the grieving families, and, in my neck of the woods, get the stones for the tent (or comb) graves.

If you have never been to TN, you probably have never seen a tent grave. They look exactly like they sound. A-framed pup tents. I remember walking through the cemetery at Old Union with Grandma and Papa and asking why some of the graves were constructed in such a way. Papa, being superstitious, would say it was to keep the spirits of the dead from coming out. Grandma, not so superstitious, would say it was to keep grave robbers out. I have done a bit of research into tent graves, and no one can really say one way or the other why they were constructed. Some theories are as my grandma said…to prevent grave robbing as graves were shallower, or so critters could not penetrate the shallow graves. They were also used to keep livestock from trampling the graves. Whatever the reasons behind the comb graves, they are a fascinating part of TN history.

Another fond memory I have is Papa and Uncle Howard telling tales of haints (the southern name for ghosts). A few miles down from the family land, an old campground stands, stretching through the valley into private property. Driving through the area leaves you feeling cold and makes your hair stand on end. The energy is palpable. When the autumn fog descends on the grounds, any sane person would swear they see shadows dancing among the gravestones. Growing up in the area, Papa would recount times of walking and hearing gun shots and canon fire (the area was a hotspot during the Civil War). Other times, he would hear screams and moaning from sources unknown. He believed it was from the ghosts of fallen Confederate soldiers and POW’s. My uncle Howard purchased a gun from the Civil War era from a man who lived in that particular area. Where the man got the gun, is questionable. The first night it was brought into the house, he began seeing a man dressed in Confederate clothes walking around his house. His daughters and my aunt and cousins saw it, also. One of my cousins remembers waking up in the middle of the night with this entity staring at her from the foot of her bed. Uncle Howard got rid of the gun and the man was never seen again.

Old Union meeting house and cemetery is another favorite place of mine. Most of the stories originated in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s from folks passing by at night on foot. The area is secluded and surrounded by woods. It is eerily quiet, save for the wind whipping through the trees as it always seems to do at that spot. Claims of disembodied voices coming from inside the meeting house, white orbs floating out of the structure (which I have personally witnessed a time or two), lights of an unknown nature emanating from beneath the meeting house doors and windows (which are boarded shut), phantom horse buggies passing by lone souls walking on the road, shadow people seen sitting in pews by folks seeking shelter from the rain inside. The tales are numerous and always a good time when hearing them recited during stormy nights. As for encounters that I have personally had, well, there have been a few. It was dusk and Grandma, Papa, Dad and I pulled into the driveway at the meeting house. We were just walking around, admiring the beauty of the historic building when we all got a strong whiff of gun powder. Now, anyone who’s been out in the area knows you can hear a gun go off for miles around. No guns had been fired. I have no explanation for where the strong smell originated. One of the windows on the back of the church was open one night. I peered inside the small the church…nothing out of the ordinary. As I was turning away to walk back towards the front, a black mass passed by the window. I, of course, ran back to the window but, unfortunately, the inside was still again. I have captured many an orb around the building. Most of which I have debunked, but there are a few that I have no explanation for their existence.

Spookiness aside, one of the best series of memories I have is spending time with my cousins at aunt Spud’s house. Her real name is Edith but Papa always called her Spud so the name stuck. I still, to this day, don’t know the story behind it. Spud was the epitome of a true southern woman. Dresses worn every day, house shoes, some of the best home cookin’ you’ll ever eat and one of the sweetest people you ever had the pleasure of knowing. She was a very simple lady, her home, modest. No air conditioning, wood burning cast iron stove, creepy attic we were never allowed to go into, porch swings that we would laugh and play in for hours. Spud always called us her kittens. Having freckles, I was dubbed her spotted kitten. There wasn’t much of anything she wouldn’t let us do. My cousin, Amy and I, always liked to bake cakes. Lord, the things we would put in these “cakes”….let’s just say, the dogs wouldn’t even eat them. But we had a blast making them. The nights we would spend with her, I remember lying in bed in the front bedroom and listening to the coyotes outside. It was such a peaceful feeling. My favorite memories I have of my aunt Spud are sitting in her lap in the rocking chair, listening to her tell the tale of Brer Rabbit and the tar baby. She was, hands down, the best story teller I have ever heard. She knew this story front and back and put so much heart into telling it. I was easily captivated. She’s been gone for several years now. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t get her on film telling this story. I miss her.

Some of the best times of my life were had down on the Ridge. No cell phones, no video games, just us kids, outside, playing tag and hide-and-go-seek during the day or riding in the back of the truck into the pastures to check on the cows, playing in the barn, throwing rocks at the stop sign to see who could actually hit it. Then sitting on the porch swing at night, scaring ourselves with ghost stories.

It may seem as though there is no point to my ramblings…and it’s true that I have indulged myself in a stroll down memory lane, but if I can impart any wisdom to those reading this it would be to not take the little things for granted. I never knew how much I would miss something as simple as sitting in someone’s lap hearing a story.

Happy Holidays to all!

Tent or Comb grave
Old Union
Aunt Spud and me



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