Key to the Sacred Pattern

23 September 2007

Ghosting Hunting in Chapel Hill, Tennessee

I rarely do articles on paranormal events, or stray far from my main subject matter in Grail Seekers. Being an armchair historian and researcher is more my bailiwick than delving into apparitions and unexplainable phenomena. This is not due to any disbelief I have in such things happening, I have actually experienced one event in my life that would fall into the category of paranormal or unexplainable. However, Saturday while I was driving home from work, my mind drifted to the little burg of Chapel Hill, Tennessee and that singular experience.

Most folks that have grown up in Middle Tennessee have heard the ghost story of Chapel Hill. The legend, as it has been told to countless Tennesseans, is that a train brakeman had the bad luck of pulling a night shift on a train bound for Chapel Hill. The brakeman’s job was to walk along the top of the train and apply the brakes of each car before coming into a station. The job was particularly dangerous and caused the demise of many men looking to make good money with the railroads.

Our legend’s brakeman was one such unlucky fellow. He was thrown from the perch on top of a box car, and was decapitated for his misstep. After the accident, folks in the area began to see a strange light making its way up and down the tracks. The only logical explanation that could be mustered was that it was the brakeman, swinging his lantern looking for his lost head.

Most folks in the Middle Tennessee area know someone that knows someone that went to Chapel Hill and have seen the ghost light. One of the more comical tales I heard from a friend of my parents. While he was in college, he decided to take a date to the tracks. After sitting on his car hood for a few minutes, the couple saw a faint glowing light appear on the track. Steeling themselves, the couple decided to stay on station until the light got closer. And closer it did get. Close enough for the pair to realize they were looking at a solid black cow, with a white face, walking down the tracks. The moon light reflecting eerily off the bovine’s face was as close to an apparition that was seen that night. I’m not sure after that if he ever got a second date.

Fifteen years ago, a friend of mine Tracy Latham and my mother decided to be good Tennesseans and trek down to Chapel Hill to see what all the hype was about. Fortifying ourselves with Diet Coke and Ding-Dongs we made our way 40 miles south down I-65 from Nashville. It was a clear, warm late summer night just before midnight when we hit town. Having no clue where the tracks actually were, we stopped to ask directions of a social circle that was congregating at the local Food Land. Snickering, the alpha male of the group told us to turn left at the stop light by the Post office and we’d find the tracks.

A few minutes later we had turned down West Depot Street and found the tracks. A short rail trestle runs over the main road with an access road leading up to the overpass. I pulled the family’s Toyota station wagon up to the tracks and we sat. Either side of the tracks is flanked by large open fields. The tracks are built up on a good six to ten foot high embankment. The night was clear and lit enough to see the individual loose rocks that built the burm twenty feet down the track.

Midnight came and went as we peered out of the car’s windows. We were about to give up when I saw something. About fifteen feet down the track appeared a small glowing disk. It looked like someone had applied the world’s best blue-green luminous paint to a JFG coffee can lid. The disk was four feet off the ground, had no depth, cast no light and had no one standing behind it. One minute there was nothing, and the next it was like someone had flipped a switch and the disk appeared.

“What’s that down the tracks?” I thought I had said rather calmly to my companions.

The unholy shriek that came from the back seat was my mother, “It’s a (insert a string of no less than ten of your favorite expletives) ghost!”

Looking back on the event, I now understand how panic spreads through a crowd. Tracy and I both began to make unintelligible noises of despair. In reality I think we were screaming like a child on a playground that has had a spider put in their hair. All the while, the light got closer to the car. I think it was the sage voice of my mother that suggested that we get he heck out of Dodge.

Being the dutiful son, I fumbled starting the car half a dozen times before engine turned over. The light couldn’t have been more than six feet from the car when I skittered down the access road. After pushing the performance envelope of the Toyota for half a mile, our wits came back to us. We decided to go back and see if the light was still there. Alas, there was nothing.

Through various experiences in my life I have been out many nights under similar conditions. I’ve seen numerous people holding flashlights, chem lights, and torches under the exact same conditions. Every time, you can see the person holding the light source. This time there was no one there, just the oddly glowing disk. The disk’s light didn’t even look like anything I’ve ever seen before. Perfectly round, perfectly glowing a color that almost looked like the digital readout of an adding machine. Was it the Ghost of Chapel Hill? To this day I don’t know.

Over the years, I’ve been back a handful of times to the exact same spot where we sighted the disk. I’ve never seen it again. Most recently was this Saturday night. I had the bight idea to take my wife Laura, and six-year old son Robert to the tracks. Our friends Cas and Tracey (another Tracey) tagged along for good measure. I donned an old fishing vest I had for the event and packed it full of recording devices. Just in case we saw something this time out. My son was so enthralled by the idea of my Ghost Hunting gear, he packed a backpack full of toys and books that he thought would help him make sense of any phenomena he saw. Robert and I pose as battle hardened Ghost Hunters at the Chapel Hill Post Office

All five sat beside the tracks, waiting for the light to appear. This time it was about 9:30 when we hit town. The press of a hard week and an already tired (even after a long nap) six year old will accelerate most time tables. And this time out, we did see a light. It was the light of an on coming train, but it was a light. My son was so suitably impressed with the rush of a near by train that I think he almost forgot we were looking for a Ghost. After a while, the yaws and jitters of non-activity over came us and the hunting party began to pack up.

My son turned to me as we piled in my CR-V to tell me he had a good time even though there was no Ghost. I scratched his head and told him maybe next time, and secretly hoped he didn’t think his old man was pulling his leg. Yep… maybe next time little guy


Anonymous said...

Your story is incorrect. Skip Agent was murdered and his body was placed on the tracks to cover up the crime. Funny how things not true get put on the web all the time. Now there is a light for I have seen it. I am listening to the train as it passes through Chapel Hill as I write this.

ATTICUS said...

got a question for you skip. i'm from columbia tn and was wondering if you have heard anything about the library at the college there(columbia state)being haunted any info would be great


tres said...

I was wondering if anyone knew of a church back in the woods located around or near Chapel Hill that has a bible on an altar that is supposed to not be moved. The story goes several people have tried to move it and it came back to its original location. Anyone know of this place or the story? I have a friends Dad who says he was actually there.

Erdrick said...

I have a sister that lives amazingly close to this railroad track in Chapel Hill. I will check it out and update soon. FYI, I am 23 years old, single, of sound mind, and have no one to influence my opinion on occurences we cannot explain. I am a Christian, with deep faith in God. I do believe that there are things we cannot understand or explain, and I am also just curious to investigate this phenomenon. I will update soon.

Margaret said...

It’s been more than 30 years since I last visited Chapel Hill. When I was a teenager, my friends and I would regularly drive down from Antioch. I know about the story his Dad’s friend told him. I don’t know if it is still there, but back then, there was a very old and very small church outside of town. If you cross the tracks where most of the sightings occur and drive away from town, you might be able to find the church. It’s been a very long time, but I remember it being a winding road through a heavily treed area. There are a lot of pictures online of the railroad crossing if you search, but I will say that most of them did not look like the right place to me. Anyway, the church was back there, but I don’t know if the legends are correct. I know that I heard a lot of tales told about the place as a kid and that most of us were scared to death of it. The most we ever did was track it down, then stand outside the fence for a few minutes before hightailing it out of there.

doodookid said...

Well lets see, i do not believe about the ghost being anyone related to a train at all.... actually from what i've heard, It starts out a man and his best friend were working out at their usual work out spot and drinking to have a good time for the night because the mans best friend got a promotion at his job. Well, when the man finally went home, he came home to find his wife sleeping with another man. Needless to say the man took his wife, and his 3 children to his living room, tied them all up and mutilated them. The man his wife was sleeping with got away, so he chased him down, it came to the very traintracks that are haunted now.. the man he was chasing down continued to shoot the chaser in the middle of the head and layed his body on the tracks to make it seem as an accidental murder or suicide rather.

Anonymous said...

hey tres you asked about the church with the bible yes its true its in a little area out side unionville tn i am not going to give you the exact area just cause it is not safe the church is located in the middle of the grave yard. the bible tells are true about the bible finding its way home but the part you are leaving out is the bad luck that comes along with taking it. i repeat do not attempt to take it. my ex decided she wanted to take it one drunken night and later that night when she opened her trunk to show it to me i never thought i would here so many screams from her and her friend the bible was gone and she was freaking out. later that night she broke 13 bones in here body from a car accident.

Anonymous said...

The church is called Bethberi Church on Bethberi Road in between Lewisburg and Chapel Hill. I myself went there and took the Bible as a teen and nothing bad happened to me exept that as a Christian now I feel horrible for ever taking a BIble out of a church. We did all put it back tho :-) They now have heightened security around the church as people have vandalized it for years due to these old tales.

Brenda said...

They told you the wrong spot. If you ever go back, head north out of town, and turn left onto Feedmill road. That is the best place to see it I grew up there -- my grandparents have seen it, but parents have seen it, and I was one of those kids hanging out at the Foodland/Shell Station telling out-of-towners where to go to see it. A couple of drunk kids died there about 15 years ago (ran over by a train), therefore people aren't suppose to go down there anymore. But yeah, I've seen it about 20-30 times

lu said...

I live right across the St from the tracks in an old plantation house and have heard tons of stories and don't know which to believe. I've heard about the light, on feedmill, and I've heard bout the grandmother and her grandson getting hit by the train I think maybe a little over a yr ago. I can say our house is haunted. We see shadows and hear ppl talking all the time. It's for sure haunted, by more ghost than u think.

rocket mom said...

Yes, I am from chapel hill and know of both the ghost light and of the little Egypt church. Legend does go that if u try to remove the bible from the pulpit, that you would not make it very far. People say that someone tried to take the bible out of the church one night and placed the bible in their trunk. When morning came the bible was back on the pulpit and the person was found in their trunk. The church has since burned down.

Beau Hunter said...

I have heard this story

jason hester said...

I once heard a story of a woman who was murdered there in the 1940's. along with her two son's...the boys were found in the house but They found her in the woods near the tracks...thing is the guy who did it was a member of the search party. The girl's name is Mary Ketchum. The light is suppost to be one of the searcher's light and the guy accused of the crime killed himself to avoid trial. Mary's husband was off fighting the war in the European theater. I know there is an element of truth to the story but I'm not sure how much is true or if it has anything to do with what happened.

Andrew Rau said...

I'm not sure where you heard this story, but it sounds too recent to have anything to do with the light. Working out? This light has been seen for at least 100 years. Working out was not something people did in the early 1900's