My family and I recently spent a week in Tennessee, high up in the Smoky Mountains in the town of Gatlinburg. It is a truly beautiful place, filled with hilly roads, more trees than can be imagined, and a lot of wildlife. Bears, for instance. It is also a place that has a long history. The first white settler to choose Gatlinburg as the place to settle down did so in 1781. And of course, long, long before he ever even heard of the place, the Cherokee had been there hunting in the woods and fishing the many rivers and creeks.
With that kind of history come ghosts. Gatlinburg has its share. Jim and I took a ghost tour, as we always do when we go somewhere new, and this two-hour walking tour started at the TGIF in downtown and wandered along River Road, the quieter street that parallels the main street in town.
Our guide told us stories of Cherokee ghosts, many of them children who had died when smallpox came to the area with the white settlers. He talked about the Cherokee burial ground that was just on the other side of the river, and how when the earth was excavated only a handful of bones were found: not enough to make the grounds official and halt development until the site had been studied by anthropologists, archeologists, and/or historians, but enough to mark the place where the native people had given their dead back to the earth. And enough so that there are still quite a few Cherokee spirits roaming the area.
We were encouraged to take pictures: apparently participants on this walk have captured the image of a Native American brave fishing down on the river, or a full-body apparition -not sure of the gender- outside a small cabin-like home that is nestled among the newer hotels and restaurants of the town. My husband and I took pictures and were advised to download them to the computer so that we could see images and orbs more clearly. In fact, some of the orbs captured on film have faces in them, when the zoom feature is used for viewing.
If you go to Gatlinburg, know that the Gatlinburg Inn and the Mysterious Mansion attraction are actively haunted. In the Mansion, watch out for something that will grasp at your ankle or your leg. There are also two young girls that play in one of the rooms on the second floor. The Gatlinburg Inn has its own mysteries, not the least because the last original owner, who passed away in 2011, ran the place up until she died in the same manner it had been run in 1937. (Cash deposits, no credit cards, no one past security at the entrance without their name on the list.)
But despite all of this, despite the fact that we toured on a rainy night and had the sites of so many hauntings pointed out and explained to us, despite the occasional brushes of cold air against my face, or the feeling that we were suddenly not alone, I have to say that the ghosts of Gatlinburg that we may have run into were extremely peaceful. I never once had the nasty, need-to-get-out-of-here feeling on that tour that I have had just going to eat at The Hideaway Restaurant here in Illinois, or even in the house I grew up in, for petesake. Whatever haunts Gatlinburg seems to be at peace and contented with the way things happened for them, and the way things are going. And actually, that was rather nice. It felt rather like the Alamo, where I had expected all sorts of creepy feelings and yet felt nothing but peace and calm; I believe the people that died at the Alamo died believing in their cause and thus were able to go on afterward.
Gatlinburg feels the same way. Maybe the spirits that do come back, do so to revisit the high and shadowy mountains and the sweet-scented forests, just for old times' sake. Makes sense to me.