Outskirts of Nashville

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.

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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…

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The Curse of Davis Market

I do a lot of things half-assed; this adventure was no exception.  On a steamy, late July day, my former college roommates and I left Nashville to return to the town of Murfreesboro (20 whole minutes away) where we had all attended Middle Tennessee State University. Our mission: to break the curse of Davis Market.

Davis Market, situated at the crossroads of Main Street and Tennessee Boulevard, is best known as being one of the many veritable “Center(s) of the Universe.”  They sell Boone’s Farm and other fine malt liquors, incense, alien pipes and other terrible shit college kids (and me) love.

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Legend has it that once you purchase something from Davis Market, in the Center of the Universe, that Earth’s gravitational pull snares you in to returning to Murfreesboro.  Another variation is that Murfreesboro will “follow” you forever.  Soldiers go away and think they have died in Iraq only to wake up at the VA hospital in Murfreesboro. Expecting mothers with weeks left in pregnancy who are just passing through will spontaneously give birth and have to go to a Murfreesboro Hospital. New construction forces a town to move their cemetery and all the bones end up in Murfreesboro because of one asshole who didn’t break the curse. And the higher you get, the sillier the stories become.

We definitely did not want this to happen to us so we grabbed a shoe, a hammer and some nails.  There are two parts to breaking the curse of Davis Market, neither of which we fully executed.  One is to nail one shoe to a particular tree in “Peck Forest” (the trees between the Admissions Building and Peck Hall), and the other is to pee on the geographical center of Tennessee.  We all brought symbolic shoes but when we got to the tree, one of the boys whined that it would hurt the tree to nail our shoes into it.  We ended up stuffing our shoes into holes in the tree because we are weenies who feel bad for trees.

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We had stopped off at Davis Market on the way to Peck Forest and got some Boone’s Farm so we would be ready to pee when we got to the geographical center of Tennessee. Unfortunately, as soon as we rolled up to the stone marker, some kid comes out of nowhere and just sits down next to us. I’m pretty sure the City just pays her to hang around and act creepy so we asked her to take our picture and left.

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Keeping in mind that we have come nowhere near breaking the curse of Davis Market, the same four of us were sitting in a bar in Nashville a week later and the notorious MTSU Philosophy professor Principe waltzes through the door.

The curse continues to haunt us and must be overcome.

Tate’s Lane Cemetery and Ghost Railroad

Tates Lane and Pet Cemetery (33)

So, technically the cemetery is called the Mt. Juliet Memorial Gardens, but I don’t know anyone who refers to it by anything other than Tate’s Lane Cemetery.  The main entrance is actually one street down from Tate’s Lane on Caldwell, but it is on the Tate farm original property.

To get to the cemetery, you must first cross the railroad tracks, which at the time when I was in high school, were used infrequently by the 137 mile line of the Nashville & Eastern railroad based out of Lebanon, TN. It was originally a part of Jere Baxter’s Tennessee Central line which went out of business in 1968 and was left abandoned (has  served as the commuter rail from Lebanon to Nashville, the Music City Star since 2006).  It was in the 1960’s where the haunted rails stories began.  Before the railroad was reestablished as the Nashville & Eastern line, stories began to circulate that cars would just die when passing over the tracks on the way into the cemetery, not leaving the driver enough time to get out before the fatal clash with the oncoming train.

Tates Lane and Pet Cemetery (73)

As if the threat of instant death wasn’t enough, the cemetery was, and probably still is, associated with Satanic and Masonic rituals (there are an incredible amount of Masons buried there- just look for the compass, anchors, beehives, clasped hands, crown and cross, double headed eagle, triangle with an eye, father time and a weeping virgin, hand holding heart, keystone with letters HTWSSTKS, a five pointed start, a snake and cross, and pretty much any other symbol on a gravestone).

In the 1990’s, many of the graves were defaced and some stolen.  There were so many problems with people vandalizing a large Jesus statue, that the statue is no longer there, only the platform on which he once stood.

Tates Lane and Pet Cemetery (50)

 

 

 

 

Tate’s Lane – Haunted Mt. Juliet

Mt.  Juliet, Tennessee is a bedroom community in the suburbs of Nashville.  It was originally farm land, but grew quickly after the 1929 Great Depression where the people established schools, churches (in abundance), and locally owned businesses. The “feel” of the old Mt. Juliet is all but gone, except in a couple of places; the pig farm on Hwy 70 that stands in the middle of endless shopping centers and urban sprawl, and Tate’s Lane.

Tate’s Lane is a one lane, incredibly narrow forest road lined with tall trees, so that if you meet an oncoming car one of you has to back up until the other can pass. There are all sorts of tales about mysterious things happening on the property, like if two cars crash head on they can enter another universe, and the ghost victim of a duel with Andrew Jackson who wanders around but none more widely known that what we call “the curse.”

The lane begins at the Masonic Temple, and ends at a Baptist Church. These facts alone give me the serious creeps, but the history of the property adds some insight as to who – or what – might be hanging out around there.

W.N. Tate was a civil war hero who fought in 37 battles.  He returned home to Mt. Juliet, married Allie Cawthon and the two built a home on a large farm on Tate’s Lane.  The story I was told, shivering in the dark in the Tate family cemetery on a Halloween long ago, was that W.N. was a brutal slave master, and that there was an area of the property on the South end of Tate’s Lane where he hung the slaves who disobeyed him.  The slaves were still practicing witchcraft and one of the slaves placed a curse on the land that it would claim the lives of 100 white men each year for eternity.

Rumor is that the Masonic Temple has satanic cult rituals and the KKK meet up in the woods, but one thing is for certain; Tate’s Lane is responsible for over 100 accidents per year still to this day.

What Lies Beneath – Ghost Town Under Dale Hollow Lake

Ever heard of an underwater ghost town?  When the government was taking up land for civil projects like lakes and dams, sometimes whole towns got in the way.  One such example is the quaint town of Willow Grove in Tennessee.

Willow Grove was founded by five families from the Colony of New York who bought the land off Chief Nettlecarrier, one of the last Cherokee Chiefs in the area, around 1785.  Willow Grove has been cited as the first permanent white settlement in the Upper Cumberland due to their positive relations with the Cherokee.

The town grew until the Wolf River dam and Dale Hollow Lake were proposed.  All of the graves had to be dug up and moved to the St. John’s cemetery outside of the flood zone.   On July 18, 1942 the people of Willow Grove stood together in one last cathartic moment, to mourn the loss of their town.

There are several ghosts who frequent the now drowned town, but none so common as the Old Lady of the Lake.  There are multiple accounts of a whirling, rising white mist with unnatural movement coming off the lake, many of which believe is the ghost of one of the settler’s wives who is searching for her wedding ring.

You can still explore the school house of Willow Grove if you are a certified SCUBA diver – if you dare.

The Legend of Sugar Flat Road

When I was a child, my family moved from Houston, Texas to a farm just east of Lebanon, TN.  It was culture shock in reverse; as big city gal whose family wore black clothing, and our favorite foods were unpronounceable to the new neighbors (ke-suh-dee-ya we’d say, only to be corrected that that in fact, it was ke-suh-dil-luh), I was always kind of an outcast.  It allowed me to sit back and watch things though, and I was fascinated by one of my new classmates; Sterling Buster.

In my memory, Sterling Buster was the size of a pro wrestler at the age of six.  His sheer height could block the sun, and I would watch him in reverence.  At the time, Lebanon had a quiet, high-brow antiques circuit, and the very finest of them was at Cuz’s Antiques on the Lebanon Square.  When I found out that Sterling’s family owned Cuz’s, I couldn’t have been more pleased.  Cuz’s was the kind of place where you would walk in and see a stuffed tiger lunging toward a mounted elephant head, with deep red velvet Victorian sofas and Victrolas as the audience.  It had the most distinct smell of warm dust, and when the afternoon sun would shine through the enormous storefront windows, you could see all the tiny particles dancing through the air.

My mom collected old compacts so each week after church we made the antiques rounds on the square.  My life changed on one Sunday in 1996 when I first saw The Head at Cuz’s, and heard about the Legend of Sugar Flat Road.

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According to Legend, in 1989 two guys were out driving on Sugar Flat Road off Trousdale Ferry, a place that is to this day dominated by farms and nothingness, when they hit something.  To their surprise, they had run over what appeared to be a yeti.  They had the head taxidermied and Cuz’s ended up with it a few years after.  It was on display in the format that you see above with the handwritten sign saying, “Is this an alien,” that invites you to draw your own conclusion on what the fur covered head could be.

Sadly, Cuz’s closed it’s doors last year, but the mysterious Legend of Sugar Flat Road lives on.  The Head was auctioned and moved to Chattanooga, where it was displayed in a small place called the Curiosity Shoppe until last year.  It’s not clear where the head is now, but it has been replaced by a hologram at the Curiosity Shoppe!