Appalachian Caverns: Echoes from the Past
Caves echo our primitive past. The walls of these subterranean chambers have been used to record the daily lives and special moments of early mankind. In a distant time, humans gave the entrance points to this shadowy realm spiritual significance as gateways to an underworld where the dead dwelt. Some cultures built temples over these underground chambers in a demonstration of humankind’s early conception of these dark passages as hallways connecting our world to the next.
Appalachian Caverns in Blountville, Tennessee, have preserved the region’s history to the extent that for some, those voices that echoed in these underground chambers so long ago remain. The caverns, which have the reputation of being haunted, sit beneath a site which boasts a log cabin dated to 1777. Archeological evidence proves that soldiers during the American Revolution and later the Civil War used the cave as a refuge. The caverns are said to have been used as a makeshift hospital to treat the battle wounded and dying. With at least 78 vents that nature has strategically placed throughout the caverns, the series of underground rooms and hallways have proven very adaptable for the use of the men and women who had need of its shelter.
The timeline of the caverns is filled with incidents of its relationship to man. During the harsh winter months pioneers crossing the country westward would seek a warm welcome from the harsh winters within the folds of Mother Earth. During the summers, the cool cavern chambers allowed settlers to store supplies. Later, moonshiners used the underground location to shelter the production of their illicit “brew.”
The Appalachian Caverns also provided an early economic stimulus to the region through the most unlikely product - bat guano. The bat dung provided a key ingredient in the making of gunpowder. Gunpowder, as we know, was the essence that kicked the British from the country and then went on to win the west. In addition, there were iron works, as well as saltpeter nearby. This coupled with craftsmen trained in metal works and equipped to manufacture guns, made the region around Appalachian Caverns an early economic powerhouse.
Tennessee has more than 8,400 documented caves. According to some sources, the state may have another 7,000 undiscovered caves making it number one in terms of a cavernous parallel world of darkness. A world that is rich in its collection of animals, insects, and history.
During a visit to the caverns in 2004 Roger Hartley, who is one eighth Yuchi Indian, was so moved by his spiritual connection to this underworld, that he bought the site. The Yuchi were native to eastern Tennessee prior to the 17th century. The tribe then moved to Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina and then to the Indian Territory in the 1830s. The Yuchi, whose name for themselves translates into “children of the sun,” are today found primarily in the northeastern portion of Oklahoma.
Hartley credits his Native American heritage with his ability to create a strong spiritual bond with the caverns, specifically the absolute quite that being underground provides. “You just cannot find this kind of silence in our technologically heavy world,” said Hartley.
My interview with Hartley was conducted in the cave, under the faint lights that flicker golden on pathways that could dip any moment into absolute darkness. Getting into the cave is an interesting sidebar. I went through the gift shop towards the back and through a door that led down a dark corridor to a double door. This door opens to the cave entrance. I looked up when I stepped through the second door and noticed that a roof had been built over the entrance from the door to the actual opening in the earth.
The temperature in the cave was pleasant, cool and the slow, steady dripping of water from the ceiling made a hypnotically rhythmic pattern. “Just around the corner, is a place I go to think,” said Hartley. This place is away from nature’s aquatic noise and is a location that he visits often.
“I bought the land and buildings from the Appalachian Caverns Foundation in May of 2004. We opened for business in August and by October of that same year, we featured our first haunted experience,” Hartley said. The inaugural haunted caverns event that year was religiously themed. Hartley has featured a haunted Halloween theme event every year since, although after the first year, the event ceased its religious focus.
“Last year the theme of the Halloween event was ‘Carnevil,’” said Hartley. This year’s event has yet to be announced, but plans are already in the works. “We will have professional actors on staff for the caverns’ Halloween season,” said Hartley. He is in the process of booking thespians from the ‘Horn in the West,’ outdoor drama in Boone, North Carolina.
The cost for a night of scares and screams is $10 per person. “We prefer that participants be over the age of ten,” said Hartley. The Halloween activities will take place every weekend this October on Friday and Saturday nights from 7:00 p.m. until midnight.
But, underneath the fake frights of the Halloween season lie reports of true horror and haunting in the Appalachian Caverns that span not only the Celtic Festival of the Dead, but the entire calendar year. “Six different paranormal groups have investigated the caverns,” said Hartley, a self-professed skeptic of anything paranormal, “and although only one EVP (electronic voice phenomena) has been recorded, there have been many reports of people feeling oddly uncomfortable at locations throughout the cave.”
There have been two Native Americans and one member of the Maori Tribe of New Zealand who, while on independent visits to the caverns, were able to pinpoint the exact location where a murder was alleged to have occurred. In addition, an individual who was on an Appalachian Ghost Walks tour through the cave also expressed her insight to the tour guide on the loss of life on the very spot identified by the three tribal shamans. However, no visual proof of ghostly activity at the caverns has been photographed to date.
“With 82% humidity in the cave, orbs are impossible to photograph with any accuracy,” said Hartley. Orbs are identified by some ghost hunters as balls of energy that are souls or the essence of the dearly departed, which can be photographed by a digital or 35 mm camera. Many in the field point to photographs of orbs as evidence of spectral activity.
There may be a lack of visual evidence from the caverns of a haunting, but don’t tell Kevin Green. According to Hartley, Green rented one of the apartments above the gift shop for a year. As an employee, he had access to the shop and would often go down into the business after hours. He reported to Hartley and to others that on several different occasions while taking a late night walk through the shop, he saw a woman in white. The woman was diaphanous in appearance and not of this world, or at least of this time.
How many spirits are reported to wander the underground and grounds of Appalachian Caverns?
Some reports are as high as 30. However, whether there is one spirit or 30 that inhabit this dark netherworld, if you have an opportunity to journey deep into this underground land, listen carefully.
The voices you hear may be echoes from the past.
Pat Bussard is the founder of The Ghost Writers (GW), a team of investigators and chroniclers of the paranormal. Part of the mission of the team is to help preserve stories of paranormal significance, so that they are not lost over time. The GW can be found online at www.theghost-writers.com
In her professional life, she is spending her career in the journalism, marketing, and public relations fields. At one point, she took her journalism experience into the classroom and taught the subject at the college level for more than a decade.
She is the author of a bi-weekly column titled "WEIRD WORLD," for an arts and entertainment magazine, The Loafer. The magazine is offered in both print and online forms, www.theloaferonline.com
. The column focuses on the people and issues impacting the world (or the other world) of the paranormal.
In addition to the hundreds of nonfiction articles and stories she has had published, she is also a horror fiction author. Her story Ladies Man was recently published in the House of Horrors' anthology A Pint of Bloody Fiction. Insomnia, a short story by Pat, has just been published in Pill Hill Press' Daily Bites of Flesh 2011.
As fond as she is of the written word, she is also earning a reputation as a popular paranormal conference speaker. Pat recently presented at ScareFest in Lexington, KY, and at the Haunted Horrors Convention, in Kingsport, TN. She is scheduled to speak at Virginia ParaQuest and The Great Appalachian Spook Show in the spring of 2011.
She holds a Master of Science degree in occupational technical education from Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA, and has completed postgraduate studies in communication and higher education administration, from Radford University and Virginia Tech, respectively. Pat is also a member of the International High IQ Society.
Like so many other individuals currently in the paranormal field, her interest in the supernatural was sparked while growing up in a house rife with ghostly activity. She has a great compassion for those who are currently experiencing a paranormal occurrence and this spurs her and the GW's desire to help these individuals. Through research, both on-site and traditional, the GW works hard to provide answers for those who are desperately seeking them. Investigations are always offered free of charge.
Pat was raised by her mother and grandmother, two women who were gifted with second sight. Her sister and to a much less degree herself, have this ability. Her daughter has also received this gift and continues the family tradition.