Outskirts of Nashville

The Mystery of Lyncoya

Did you know that Andrew Jackson never had children of his own, but the brain child of the Indian Removal Act adopted a Creek child? Paradoxical enigma that he is, Jackson sent home a child found on a battlefield (disputed either the Battle of Talladega or the Battle of Horseshoe Bend) with his dead mother and raised him as his own. His name was Lyncoya. Lyncoya received the very best education and had hopes to attend West Point but because of his ethnicity he could not. Instead, he became a saddle maker and died of tuberculosis when he was around 16 years old.

As with anything Andrew Jackson, there is perhaps a darker side to the story.

Historians speculate that Lyncoya may have been brought home as a plaything or ‘pet’ for his other adopted son, Andrew Jackson, Jr. It was not uncommon for African slaves to tour the world in “Human Zoos,” and some think that his initial intentions might have been more along those lines given Jackson’s betrayal of Native Americans just two short years after Lyncoya’s death.

For whatever reason, historians can document that Lyncoya was well cared for, although the romanticism that he warmed Jackson’s cold, black heart may be just that as his body has never been found. In 2003, cadaver dogs searched the property of the Hermitage looking for slave burial grounds and for Lyncoya. While the rest of the family, and even Jackson’s most loved slave Alfred are buried in the same area, but Lyncoya still remains lost today.

Below are the graves of Alfred (buried close but still separate) to the large gazebo-esque monument atop Jackson and his wife, Rachel. The rest of the family lie in the bottom right section of the grave site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Prehistoric Tennessee

I know I talk a lot of bullshit on this page, but here’s something that is absolutely true: During the Paleozoic period, Tennessee was covered by a warm shallow sea.  The sea was home to my favorite pre-dinosaur – the trilobite, along with corals and more sea creatures that today is mind blowing to think about living in the Volunteer State.

You may have collected Indian Money as a kid (I still do). To me, they are even more special to find than a shark’s tooth while combing the mud or the sand because Indian money is actually a 245-750 million year old fossil of a crinoid.

indian money

Crinoids are echnoderms (think sea urchins, star fish, sea cucumbers, sand dollars, etc.). Also known as sea lilies, they look a bit more like plants than animals.  The Paleozoic crinoids that lived in Tennessee thrived in shallow waters and tide pools. Although you will not find crinoids living in the murky, warm waters of Old Hickory lake, they are not extinct. Crinoids of today live in deep sea but rarely wash ashore.

The next time you’re out by the Harpeth River dig your toes into the mud and see what comes up. You just might find a piece of history.

Wizard Tree

In a time not so long ago, in a land not so far away lived two teenaged adventurers.  One; yours truly, and the other – my partner in crime.  After an afternoon of skateboarding at the old Donelson Hospital, we decided to drive down Old Hickory Boulevard, past the Hermitage and arrive in the then incorporated town of Lakewood, known mostly for it’s speed trap by Nashvillians.

But we had heard another story.  One of mystery and intrigue.  About halfway down Debow Street stood the large, carved tree, locally referred to as the Wizard Tree.  Under the cover of darkness, those brave enough to face it arrived to soak in it’s power.  The legend was that a man accidentally drove head first into the tree, and upon impact, had a vision of God speaking to him.

Now, you know that the holy ghost just loves to appear to people as chips, bananas and as cinnamon buns, but the wizard tree was something else all together.  The man who saw the vision deemed it his responsibility to carve the tree up, to bear witness to the face he saw.

A funnier story is that the man on the tree manifested himself after losing a pie eating contest with the devil and would play telephone with people who came to visit him from hell.

The tree was known around town to have powers, and the man on the tree looked much like a wizard, dubbing it the appropriate “wizard tree.”  Now friends, those were the days before cell phone cameras when we used our minds for memories so I do not have, nor do I know anyone that has a picture of this tree (if you do please add it to the comments!).  But I can tell you one thing: it did exist.

There’s a nice marina bar now over in the neighborhood and I drive by Debow sometimes just to see what’s happening.  The tree is no longer there and the street feels different.  My adult mind also wonders how a man could have possibly crashed into the tree on such a narrow, small road.

But those thoughts are no fun.  I think I’ll just sit on Old Hickory Lake and remember things the way they were.

Raining blood

I’m pretty sure it’s been grey since November now, and I would just about take anything in the sky over the constant gloomy reminder that it is no longer summer – anything perhaps except blood. However, that’s exactly what appeared to happen one night in 1841.

On August 17, 1841 slaves working on Mr. Chandler’s tobacco farm in Lebanon, TN reported that a red cloud floated overhead and drops of blood and flesh poured down from the cloud. It was undeniable that there were bits of fat and blood around the property causing a Dr. Troost to visit the property, after which he reported his findings in the American Journal of Science.

He hypothesized that a powerful wind “might have taken up part of an animal which was in a state of decomposition, and have brought it in contact with an electric cloud (http://www.tennessee.gov/tsla/exhibits/myth/mythcellaneous.htm).

blood 2

Unfortunately, it was later determined that the meteorological phenomenon was a hoax by the slaves (American Journal of Science, 44: 216).  No word on their punishment for their mischief…

The Curse of the River Monster

Louisiana has it’s crawfish boils and Low Country has their shrimp and grits, but where I’m from – land of lakes and rivers – it’d be a sin to not have fried catfish grease dripping from the kitchen walls at any respectable reunion.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/8623220@N02/2179060294/

Like the Natives before us who gave offerings and sacrifice to that which was most important to their survival; the corn, rain, bears, etc.; us Southerners, lovers of tradition, carry the torch by giving up some of our fine young men so that our catfish may be forever multiplying – at least in story. An archetype as old as time, the curse of sea monster has been haunting man from day one. From Architeuthis to the white whale and everything in between, the legend always ends the same, and whoever sees the creature must pay the ultimate price.

Before Tennessee’s lakes were created (all but one – Reelfoot – that was formed naturally by the 1811-1812 earthquakes on the New Madrid fault line), our rivers were our shining glory.  Blessed with the Cumberland, Mississippi, and the Tennessee, fish protein was immensely important when North Carolina’s red headed stepchild (modern day Tennessee) was still being settled.  Oral tradition goes back into the early 1800’s about a monster catfish, some call him “Catzilla” who stalks the banks of the Tennessee River looking for his next victim. Some estimate that he is as big as a bus, “close to 25 feet long” with “frothing lips.”

In 1822, a farmer named Buck Sutton was fishing in the Tennessee when he saw that ominous sea serpent and understood he was on borrowed time for he knew “the curse.” He died a few days later from “the serpent’s curse,” but not before he got to tell his tale.

In 1827 Billy Burns was near the same spot as Buck and also witnessed the beast, which he described as aggressive, knocking him out of his canoe.  It was “snake-like” and bluish-yellow.  Poor Billy also died “mysteriously” just a few days later.

The killer fish lays low for a while but strikes again in 1829. This time the victim, Jim Windom, prolonged his death sentence by repenting and going to church, but there’s no escaping fate.  He died several months later.

After the rise of steam boats, the sightings – and the deaths – stop, but his bones were never found…

The Tennessee Terror may have never been discovered, but the bones of one prehistoric sea monster was.  Fossils uncovered in 1834 date a sea serpent that would have swam in what is modern day Alabama (and also very likely Tennessee) back to the Eocene epoch (56 to 33.9 million years ago). He measured in right around 70 feet.

You never know what may be lurking beneath the murky waters of the Tennessee…

Black Cat Cave

Across from the VA Golf Course on Highway 231, you will see a thicket of trees on the left surrounded by signs reading “Park Closed” and “No Trespassing.” Luckily, we are all fluent in redneck, and can easily translate “no trespassing” to “y’all gotta see this shit.”

It’s not much to look at from the outside; in fact, we were having trouble locating it at first. After swatting down the world’s largest spider webs, Sleeping Beauty level vines and brambles, and crossing the treacherous boulder valley of insanity, we reached one of the three entrances to the Black Cat Cave (also sometimes locally known as Rainbow Cave, due to at one time having a rainbow painted on the bluff entering it).

Photo by Angela Schmidt

Cave Entrance

You have to climb past the fencing pictured above, then shimmy over the cinder block wall till you find a foot step and then kind of melt into the cave.  There’s water rushing in the darkness and dripping all over your head and into your eyes.  It’s pitch black and the feeling is very, very creepy.  

Armed with our iPhone flashlights, we made our way down the hallway to the first of three ‘rooms’ in the cave.  The first on the right is at outside ground level, but steadily sinking with the rest of the cave due to water erosion. The room has a fireplace, poured concrete floors, graffiti masterfully done by 12 year olds who think they’re satanists, a window, and barred gates that line the walls for reinforcement when it was a dance hall/speakeasy called the Black Cat Tavern during prohibition (20’s-30’s). 

But prohibition is just the most recent notch on the history belt for this cave.  In the mid 1800’s a farmer named Asa Jackson invented a ‘perpetual motion’ machine to harness energy and run a threshing machine, which he secretly worked on in the cave around the time of the Civil War. The threshers were destroyed in a fire, thereby rendering the perpetual motion machine useless for Asa so it sat and essentially rotted.  The remains of the Asa Jackson Perpetual Motion Machine can be viewed at the Museum of Appalachia in East Tennessee.  The museum’s curator hired people from Oak Ridge to try to figure out how the machine may have worked, but it is still a mystery to this day.

Even further back in time, the cave *may* have been used as shelter prehistorically by Native American tribes who communally hunted the surrounding area.  A group from nearby Middle Tennessee State University and members of the Native History Association “discovered a significant historical component” in the cave in June of 2014.  It appears that the “component” was simply that Native Americans may have used the cave, which is unique because for time immemorial native Americans have never lived on that land.  

It is because of this, the Black Cat Cave has been deemed ‘historically significant’ and is protected by the parks department.  The park is closed so that archaeological research can be done without further disruption and vandalism.