CLARKSVILLE, TN (CLARKSVILLENOW) – Melissa Arrington, an adjunct instructor with APSU’s Department of Communication, was always compelled by ghost stories as a young girl The fascination followed her into adulthood when she discovered her very own college campus harbored its own spooky past.
“I’ve always taken the view that there is more to this world that we’re never going to know or understand, and you should always keep an open mind,” Arrington told Clarksville Now.
The line between speculation and reality is blurred when talking about the paranormal, but there are many locals who said they have felt a presence that wasn’t of this world.
The Hauntings of Austin Peay
Austin Peay State University has played host to several supernatural tales throughout the years. One of the most notable is when famous paranormal investigator, Lorraine Warren, visited campus to give a seminar over a decade ago and felt overwhelmed when making a visit to the bottom level of the Woodward Library.
Arrington cited documents where Warren said she saw visions of injured soldiers.
“During the Civil War, where Austin Peay is at was a place called Stewart College, and in the area roughly where the library is was a dormitory called Stewart Hall. Right before the Union troops made it to Clarksville, they evacuated Stewart College and were using the dormitories as field hospitals for soldiers,” Arrington told Clarksville Now.
All of the energy from that anguished history seems to live on in the basement, exactly where Warren felt overwhelmed.
“There’s a lot of stories about things that go on in the basement of the library,” Arrington said. “Lorraine went down into the basement of the library and she actually couldn’t stay in there because she could feel, see and hear Civil War soldiers that had either died, or at the very least, suffered a lot when they were there.”
David Johnson has been working in the printing services area of the library where these odd occurrences have been said to happen for over 30 years.
“Real early in the morning before anyone got here, I heard someone say ‘hello’. I thought I left the door open, but when I went to check, the door was still locked and there was nobody in there.”
Johnson told Clarksville Now that he never stays after dark anymore, and he doesn’t like being by himself in the area.
“We had a library director die, and he was an older guy and a heavy smoker. One day, the funeral home asked me to make the program for the funeral, and I smelt cigarette smoke the whole time I was doing it,” Johnson said.
In 2019, Arrington finished her final thesis project in the form of a documentary about eerie campus happenings. She explored Harned Hall, where, in the 1920’s, a girl died by suicide.
Arrington recalls that when she tried to upload the video that she and her team took in the attic area of Harned, random parts of the SD card were corrupted.
“It was only that one section from the attic, and I have yet to find anyone who can really explain that because so far everyone I’ve talked to has said that if the SD card is corrupt, it should actually be the whole SD card,” Arrington continued.
Arrington also said that she heard what sounded like people walking around the building after everyone had already gone home. In another instance, one of Arrington’s teammates, Ashley, was walking around and talking with one of the camera guys behind her, only to turn around and find that he wasn’t there.
He was a floor below her.
The third floor of the Trahern building is said to house a spirit named Margaret. Arrington said that some of the oddities that people attribute to her presence are the elevators moving on their own and random noises among other things.
William Parker, a historical interpreter with Parks and Recreation, told Clarksville Now that he believes Trahern is the most haunted building on campus.
The Bell Witch
“One of the big stories in this area is the Bell Witch Cave,” Arrington said. “There have been movies about the Bell Witch, and everyone disagrees on what caused the Bell Witch, if she was even real, or if it was hysteria.”
Legends have been circling Adams, a small town outside of Clarksville, since the 1800s concerning the supernatural being known as the Bell Witch, who some know as Kate.
Abigail Brown said that her great-great-grandfather, John, had ties to the community, and knew the Bell family. Brown’s grandfather, Joe, said that his grandmother told John the stories of the Bell Witch throughout childhood and urged him to take the lore seriously.
“His mother was born in 1851 so she would have known people who were alive and who were witnesses of what happened. John was a Godly man, didn’t drink, worked as the agricultural commissioner for the state, and was very serious. So the fact that he always took the ghost story to heart was interesting,” Brown told Clarksville Now.
“My grandfather was kind of murky about his own feelings towards the witch, but I know his faith has plenty of room for the supernatural, and I think that’s what he believes it was: an evil spirit,” Brown said.
“He was taught not to mess with it growing up and he taught his daughters to do the same – my mom taught me, too. So I guess if you had to boil it down, my family is four generations of people who don’t ever want to mess with Kate,” she continued.
Speculation has always revolved around the cave and its paranormal occurrences. Many of the locals have heard that if they take anything from the cave – even a rock – they will be cursed. People who have taken things from the cave have even said that they woke up finding the item in a different place, or with scratches on their bodies.
Every fall for the past 19 years, there is a play written by David Alford that tells the story of the Bell Witch right where it happened.
The mansion was built in 1858 at the corner of Spring and McClure Streets, by Christopher Smith for his bride Lucy. Christopher was a riverboat captain and had also made his fortune raising tobacco, according to Debbie Johnson, the director of the mansion.
The home in its building included what’s known as a widow walk, a small balcony on the home’s top floor that was a frequent feature on homes of the time.
The widow’s walk was found mostly on coastal homes where wives could watch for the return of their husbands from the sea. The widow’s walk at the Trahern Mansion was built so Lucy would have a view of the river and could watch for Christopher as he returned home.
Christopher died while on a river trip to New Orleans from yellow fever in 1865, just seven years after the mansion was built. When the boat’s crew went to return his body to his family, their ship went down, killing about 1,200 people. Christopher’s body was lost at sea.
When news reached Lucy, she refused to accept his death, and it is said that she spent the rest of her days walking alone through the mansion, on the widow’s walk waiting for her husband who never returned.
Arrington told Clarksville Now that Christopher wasn’t the only one present on the ship, but her father as well.
Some visitors have claimed that they see a white, flowy figure, presumed to be Lucy’s tormented spirit, staring out of the upper windows and walking the widow’s walk.
The Bellamy Cave Murders and Public Square hauntings
Bellamy Cave, located in the Woodlawn area once harbored some horrific secrets. On June 20, 1885, William Morrow was hung in what is now the Public Square for the murder of Dick Overton in 1883.
Bellamy Cave was located on Morrow’s property, and his brother-in-law was the one who found Overton’s body, according to the Memphis Daily Archive.
Morrow had confessed to his friends that he had murdered Overton, and he was taken into custody shortly after the body was discovered. There was an area known as “Hell’s Hole” which was a deep ditch inside of the cave where he dumped Overton’s body.
According to an archived article from the Memphis Daily Archive, Bill confessed to murdering two Black people, but the public believed that he was being used as a scapegoat by his father, Ransom Morrow, and brother-in-law, Dr. Bellamy, due to his lack of intelligence.
Morrow was already going to be facing a life sentence for a previous murder of another Black man in 1878, Jim Brown. Morrow claimed in his final confession that both Brown and Overton tried to rape his loved ones, and that’s why he murdered them.
The Parks and Recreation offices sit on the Public Square, and Parker told Clarksville Now that many of the employees feel as if the building is haunted. He even noted that on the side of the building he can see where the brick is new and where he believes the gallows once were.
Parker said that there are even more stories to be told about the Public Square, and the haunting history of Clarksville.