The Hidden Gem of Haunted America
Bob Hunter Boyd
It’s no secret that the South is rich with haunted locations. From Savannah, Georgia to New Orleans, Louisiana, it seems that every city south of the Mason-Dixon has a paranormal adventure to sample. With a history of trauma stretching back to the late 1700’s, the Southern U.S. is bound to pick up some spiritual baggage. With interest in the paranormal on the rise, it’d be crazy not to write up a few ghost stories and hit the streets.
Now, imagine a city where you’ll find real, historical evidence of tragedy and unfinished business stretching back for centuries. Left in its wake, a cavalcade of paranormal “Ground Zeroes” at every turn, with an organization dedicated to exploring those stories, as well as the paranormal energy that they’ve left behind in new and exciting ways. That city is Knoxville, Tennessee and that team is Knoxghost Investigations.
This organization began more than four years ago when founder J-Adam Smith relocated to Knoxville and began looking into its history. J has long been involved with the paranormal industry through many avenues including television and convention appearances as well as hands-on research and development within the field. Upon investigation, he found a deep well of sordid tales and tragic ends, but it wasn’t easy. That kind of history, the one that showcases a city’s darker stories, is seldom on display. After braving the back aisles of historical societies and local archives all about town, J began investigating the locations where these traumas took place and found a remarkable amount of paranormal evidence that had slipped past popular knowledge.
It’s with that concept in mind that Knoxghost Investigations, and its sister company Haunted Knoxville Ghost Tours, began. This team, under J’s close supervision, starts with the research, and then hits the ground running, making them not just Paranormal Investigators, but Paranormal Historians, a focus that is unique in the field. In his own words, J remarks, “ Being a native of sunny Florida, I used to joke that if I did enough research, all I’d find is more gators… I moved to Knoxville and fell in love with the history, and I let the history guide my path of paranormal discovery.”
After nearly five years of diligent research, J has compiled a long list of “Ground Zeros”, each consistently tested for paranormal occurrences and historical relevance. This allows him to offer, through his organization, the most paranormal adventures in a single city. Even years later, it seems as though the link between history and hauntings still rings true, as uncovering real paranormal evidence is almost a certainty with each outing.
Some of the sites that show the most paranormal evidence are in Knoxville’s most popular areas, such as the Bijou and Tennessee Theaters, the Old Court House, and Market Square, the historic center of downtown. Others can be a bit more challenging to discover without guidance, which is where J and the team come in.
The trouble began when early settlers started to put down stakes in the area. In an effort to lay claim on the land, these pioneers broke three successive treaties with the Native American population. Bloodshed was inevitable. The attacks occurred at many different locations across the city, with casualties on both sides. This kind of pervasive tragedy, though closely interwoven with the story of many American cities, serves as heady bedrock to the long tale of unfinished business that has been the history of Knoxville.
Trauma continued to plague the city as the Civil War took hold. While this is true of any city the war touched, Knoxville, as expected, experienced a special kind of tragedy. As one of the few American cities with truly divided loyalties, in-fighting, sometimes between members of the same family, occurred, even in the heart of the city.
Knoxville passed between the two sides, eventually landing under Union control. The conflict left many dead in its wake, sometimes as many as 1000 casualties in 45 minutes (Again, in a location very close to the University of Tennessee, and downtown).
The lives of those within and around the city were shaken to their very foundations, and nowhere was safe from the damage. So much so that a location in the heart of Knoxville was known to try the most violent of criminal cases, as well as currently housing haunted artifacts from that time period, leaving heaps of unfinished business.
However, the true crown jewel in this era of trauma must be the secret Castle Fox Prison, uncovered by Knoxghost Investigations, through J’s exhaustive research, where many lived and died in abhorrent conditions.
Tragedy struck again in the late 1800’s when a tremendous fire raged through downtown, known both as Tennessee’s Greatest Fire, and the Million Dollar Fire.
This is where the investigative power of the Knoxghost Team comes into play, as many accounts of the fire refuse to line up with fact. While history books may wildly underplay the death toll, it is certain that this blaze tore through multiple blocks of Knoxville’s most prestigious and well-trafficked architecture.
Whatever the reason for this important tragedy being swept under the rug of history, the toll it took on the city and its populace can’t be ignored.
Around this time, the Wild West landed in the East. Through historical accounts, we know that Knoxville was easily as wild as Dodge or Tombstone. Shootouts, robbery, and rustlin’ were not uncommon, with brothels and bars on every corner. Chief among these was a bar nestled in the Old City area, known to be where outlaws of the time would hang their hats.
Perhaps it was this very rough-and-tumble nature that brought a member of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s Wild Bunch into our midst. This Desperado, known as one of the most dangerous outlaws in United States’ history settled in Knoxville for a time before being captured by the law and, in a brazen act befitting the Wild Bunch, made his escape. Though this was a major point in the city’s history, it seems that no one wants to acknowledge, or has been able to recognize, Knoxville’s place among the Wild East.
If that wasn’t enough, one of the most horrific train accidents in United States history touched the city. After this tragic event, bodies of the deceased were shipped through town via the Southern Train Depot, no doubt leaving their sorrowful mark behind. This beautiful landmark still stands near the heart of downtown, as it did when tragedy rolled through Knoxville. It exudes a regal yet somber air, a haunted remnant of a haunted past.
The city returned to its rough ways in the Gangster era of the 1930’s, with car chases, robberies, and a well-stocked gallery of Appalachian Gangsters. Many men were shot down in this age of conflict, leaving the city pockmarked with tragic, and sometimes conspiracy-laden shootings.
Even this brief history was not easy to come by, but thanks to the work of the team at Knoxghost, these historic haunts are laid bare for the public to experience. Knoxville may have slipped beneath the radar till now, but with this much history, and an organization well suited to explore it, it is sure to become a hotspot for paranormal tourism.
The adventures that Haunted Knoxville Ghost Tours run are investigations in their own right, built on tireless research with first-hand instruction in the usage of paranormal investigation tools by J-Adam Smith himself, offering a learning experience that is unique to the field, and plenty of locations to mine for evidence. This opportunity to work with J-Adam Smith and his team is perfect for adventure seekers of all kinds.
Knoxhost goes so far as to produce documentaries about the history and paranormal activity within the city through its Historic Haunting Productions (www.historichaunting.com), most notable among these being their award-winning study of Ramsey House, one of the oldest structures in the state. These films not only share the history of Knoxville, but a transparent picture of the kind of work this organization does, all in an attempt to spread word of these unique historical perspectives through the South East and beyond.
Though there is much to be said about the city’s traumatic past, Knoxville has evolved over the years into a booming metropolitan area replete with great music, shopping, and dining experiences. Whatever your interests, the historic buildings of this city will serve as a proper backdrop to adventure through as you discover this hidden gem.
For more information about the locations mentioned here, or on planning your trip to Knoxville, go to: http://www.visitknoxville.com/
If you want more information on J-Adam Smith, his team, or the paranormal adventure experiences they offer, head to: www.knoxghost.com