Most Haunted Places in Nashville to Visit This Halloween
Nashville has long been known as a destination for a scary good time, but Music City also has its share of truly terrifying locales in and around the city. With a long history of bloody military conflicts, plantations, and conflicts with Native Americans, there are plenty of reasons for departed souls to be unsettled. Whether you’re a skeptic or a believer, Nashville offers all sorts of opportunities to raise a few goosebumps, from haunted hotels to spooky cemeteries and mansions. Turn on all the lights in the room and read about the spooky side of Nashville.
Tennessee State Prison
Although it hasn’t housed any prisoners since 1992 when it was closed, ironically, for overcrowding, the old Tennessee State Prison may well still be home to some spooky inhabitants. The striking gothic castle of a building has been featured in several major films, including “The Last Castle” and Stephen King’s “The Last Mile.” King’s novel features a death row inmate, appropriate since 125 men were executed in the maximum security prison’s electric chair, notoriously known as “Ole Sparky.” The crumbling penitentiary is not safe for tours, but past visitors report hearing echoing footsteps, screams, and the clanging shut of cell doors.
Tennessee kids have long been scared of the Bell Witch, daring 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 Bell Witch ghost, tormented the Bell family in Adams, Tennessee, residing in a cave behind their property. Kate pinched, pulled hair, and taunted the family’s visitors with strange sounds, and she repeatedly tried to choke John Bell, the patriarch of the family. You can tour the spooky cave, which has been placed on the National Historic Register, and according to the tour guides, visitors have felt sensations of being pushed, touched, or held down 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 during 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 battlegrounds, and four of those dead generals were laid out on the stately mansion’s front porch. At night, visitors to the home claim to have seen the floors run red with the blood of soldiers, and there are many reports of ghostly spirits wandering the cemetery where 1,700 fallen soldiers were laid to rest.
Nashville’s oldest public cemetery has been accepting permanent residents for more than two centuries, and more than a dozen former Nashville mayors are interred on the grounds along with country music stars, casualties of the Battle of Nashville and victims of various epidemics through the years. According to legend, the ghost of a woman who took her life by jumping into the Cumberland River can be heard sobbing near the large boulder that her husband placed as a gravestone. He also thoughtfully added a lantern because she was afraid of the dark, and perhaps it is his soul that is seen lighting the lamp on spooky evenings.
Chapel Hill Railroad 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 look for the mysterious lights along the railroad tracks on the outskirts of town. Back in 1942, a man named Skip Adjent was walking along those tracks and apparently didn’t hear the train that was bearing down on him. The locomotive hit him from behind and killed him instantly. Ghost hunters make the pilgrimage to experience the mysterious sight of lights moving back and forth along the tracks like a lantern being carried to retroactively correct Adjent’s fatal mistake. Skeptics say that the lights come from swamp gas, but we’d like to think ole Skip is getting a second chance to watch his step.
Voted “Best Haunted Hotel in America,” Union Station was once the main train terminal in town and the deployment point for thousands of soldiers shipping off to WWII. A young woman named Abigail was the beau of one of those soldiers heading off to war and vowed to meet him again on the train platform when he returned. Unfortunately, he never returned after he was killed in action in Europe. She threw herself in front of the train and now haunts the property, particularly room 711. She chose that room for the view of the tracks below, and present-day guests report flickering lights, strange apparitions in the mirror and sudden drops in the 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 slave labor, so there are plenty of reasons why the spirits might still be angry about its construction. Professional ghost hunters have reported seeing glowing orbs floating in different rooms of the house, and security camera footage has revealed inanimate items moving around on their own and candles bursting into flame of their own volition. Previously-made beds look like they’ve been slept in overnight, 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 nobody would probably want to share their home with so many spectres.
Nashville’s relationship with Andrew Jackson has long been, well, 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 American from their tribal lands. So it’s no surprise that The Hermitage, Jackson’s mansion-turned-museum, might be home to some unsettled souls. Through the centuries, almost 500 deaths have been reported on the grounds of the Hermitage, not counting unreported slaves. Visitors report hearing someone whistling in the corridors 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 thematic tours, and most of them at least mention some supernatural activity happening on the grounds.
In addition to the spooky stuff that the legislature continues to practice inside the building, the State Capitol has been home to some frightening history, and it’s the only capitol to serve as a mausoleum. William Strickland, the original architect of the building, is buried inside the walls of the capitol, as is Samuel Morgan, the manager of the construction project. The two men quarreled constantly during the build, and it’s said that you can still hear them arguing from their respective corners of the capitol during the night. Another ghost reputedly haunts the building’s cupola, standing at his post guarding the flagpole where he was killed when Union soldiers arrived to raise 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 has been seen kneeling near the crypt, only to fade away when curious visitors approach.
Once home to Nashville’s printing and newspaper industry, this strip of downtown became a seedy entertainment district during the middle of the 20th century. The ghost of a tavern owner supposedly can be seen peeking through an upper story window of his former bar after he took his life rather than give in to Prohibition. Legendary club owner David “Skull” Schulman was murdered in his bar, The Rainbow Room in 1998. It was well-known that Skull kept wads of cash stuffed in his overalls before two drifters slashed his throat and took his money. Reportedly, Skull can still be seen walking his beloved poodle in the alley late at night.
The Ryman is best-known as a performance venue and the most famous home of the Grand Ole Opry, but before it became “The Mother Church of Country Music,” it was an actual tabernacle that hosted traveling preachers visiting Nashville to evangelize. They say Thomas Ryman must not be totally pleased with the transformation, because some ghost (perhaps him) has been known to cut the lights, sound or power when performers get a little too rowdy. There’s also “The Opry Curse,” where legendary performers like Hank Williams and Patsy Cline met untimely deaths soon after appearing on the Ryman stage. Cline is said to still haunt the site of her most famous success, and Williams’ ghost has been reported in the alley between the Ryman and Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge where he used to sneak to between sets for a quick snort at the bar.
Chris Chamberlain is a food, drink, and travel writer based out of Nashville, where he has lived his entire life — except for four years in California where he studied liberal arts at Stanford University and learned how to manipulate chopsticks. He is a regular contributor to the Nashville Scene, Nashville Lifestyles, Local Palate, Edible, FoodRepublic.com, and Conde Nast Traveler. He likes beer, bourbon, and bacon but isn’t fanatical about any of them.