Hey, y’all and welcome to Southern Macabre! I’m Aeryn and I’m so glad that you could join me for Paranormal Wednesday. I always do a lot of research for an episode, but it is so difficult to find stories that haven’t been told a hundred times.
I don’t usually let y’all into my process, but today I’d like to. For Valentine’s Day, my husband bought me a bottle of Choco-Vine, Dutch chocolate red wine. I can’t recommend it enough, it’s like chocolate milk with a fiery finish. What I can not recommend is drinking Choco-Vine while watching hauntings on YouTube as you fall asleep. Good dreams do not follow, I can assure you!
So today we’re going to head north to Nashville, Tennessee, the state capital. Visitors go there to see the famous recording studios on Music Row and to hear live music. Country music and bluegrass trace their roots to this metropolis along with R&B.
We’re not going to head into the heart of the city, even though we could. No, we’re going to head seven and a half miles away to a massive castle-like building that was opened on February 12, 1898 and closed in 1992. I’m going to tell y’all about Tennessee State Prison, or the Castle, as it is often referred to.
The Castle is a large ominous structure that has been featured in a few music videos, including Lightning and Homeboy by Eric Church and movies, including The Green Mile. It’s built of white stone and has beautiful turrets on the roof, giving it a Medieval look. For those interested, it cost $500,000 then not including the land. Or about $12.3 million in today’s economy. It was built by prisoners being held in the old prison that this one was replacing.
It was designed to house 800 inmates, but on the first day, they accepted 1,403. Overcrowding was always a problem and is part of the reason the imposing prison closed. It housed men, women, and children together at times because of the overcrowding. At one point, they were housing 4,000 inmates!
All of them lived in small cells with no heating or ventilation. That means they froze in winter, got hot in the summer, the smell of B.O. and other unsavory odors would have been overpowering.
I tried to find a list of infamous prisoners housed there, but could only find one. James Earl Ray, who assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. served a portion of his prison sentence here before being moved to Brushy Mountain Penitentiary, another prison in Tennessee that is said to be haunted.
A few big singers performed here for the inmates, like Johnny and June Cash, Loretta Lynn, and even Elvis. Johnny Cash even recorded a live album here and Elvis would visit Johnny Bragg, frontman of the Blue’s group The Prisonaires. The group sold tens of thousands of records and were often requested to play at the governor’s mansion. Johnny Bragg was incarcerated on six counts of rape and his bandmates were serving life sentences for murder.
I would like to say at this point that I have had two close relatives who worked in maximum security prisons in different states and both of them said the inmates were very respectful and were kind to them. They both left due to administration that resembled Percy Whetmore in The Green Mile. I may tell you about one of those prisons in a future episode because it was definitely haunted.
In addition to the cells, there were factories, warehouses, and farms inside the prison walls where the inmates worked to pay for their stay. They would also lease all of the inmates to local businesses to bring in even more money. The inmates were then fed meager rations unless they ran out – then they got nothing. A riot broke out because a number of inmates didn’t get pork chops because they ran out.
I think a lot of us would be pretty mad if we worked sixteen hours only to find out that we would not get fed. Knowing you would have to listen to your stomach growl all night. Then get up and work sixteen hours the next day. That would be torture!
Let me say that I am not opposed to inmates working. Here in Alabama, inmates clean up the highways, landscape around the courthouses, etc. It teaches these men skills that they can use to find a job after they’re released. It also saves the state money so our taxes aren’t ridiculously high.
After the prison closed, the local police department turned the enormous prison into one of the scariest haunted houses in the area. I spoke to someone who went with friends in 1997 and he said it was terrifying! Not only were there people in costumes, but he felt like a deceased inmate may push him over a railing at any time. There was little lighting inside making it that much scarier.
This person, was my husband. The one who gets scared easily. He paid $20 to go into this prison to be scared and tried to hide behind his friend who was 7’4” tall! I say tried, because this friend ended up hiding behind him.
When I asked why he went he said, “It’s amazing what being drunk and bored will do to you.”
You can’t go inside anymore, but people do trespass. Many talk about hearing cell doors slamming shut, but when they go to investigate, the cellblock is empty.
Considering how many died from disease, in the electric chair, by suicide, or even murdered it’s not a surprise that a few souls still linger. Trapped within the thick walls in death, as they were in life.
Around 125 people were put to death in Old Sparky, the electric chair, by the time the prison closed. Some say that you can still hear the death row inmates screaming as they died.
There are the typical apparitions, footsteps, and voices heard in addition to those screams, but the ghosts here are different. They’re inmates and prison guards. To me, that makes them more frightening than your average haunt. Do you want to encounter the spirit of a man who killed six people while he was alive? I don’t!
You can also hear inmates banging on their cell doors, which are now open. Sadly, even in death they’re inprisoned in this place that is crumbling and going to ruin.
I found it interesting that while filming his music videos here, Eric Church said there was a heaviness during the day, but he left before the sun went down no matter what. He said, “So, the shadows, it gets straight up creepy. We’re getting out of here! I’ve got a show. I’m not staying here. We’ve got a show in North Carolina, so I’ll tell them it’s a 50-hour drive. We’ve got to leave yesterday to get there. Let’s go!”
For the record, Nashville is about ten hours away from Wilmington the farthest eastern point in North Carolina. So he really didn’t want to be there at night.
I can’t say that I blame him after looking at pictures, reading stories, and watching YouTube videos. You can feel that heaviness watching videos shot during the day. There’s a sense of sadness, anger, and hopelessness inside those thick stone walls.
While watching the videos, I saw these incredible murals that inmates had painted in their cells on death row. It’s a creepy video and I think you will feel that heaviness if you watch it, but the murals are incredible.
https://youtu.be/khpD8igue84 – Shows the death row inmate’s art work
https://youtu.be/f59hjVW-fZI – Lightning music video
https://youtu.be/wx-dUsh6OT8 – Homeboy music video
https://youtu.be/_MuZJd1fLWI – inside Tennessee State Prison