Jeff Morris is one of the three credited authors for the Nashville Haunted Handbook. The book, which is basically a who’s who of haunted locations within the Middle Tennessee area, details the haunted histories of 100 locations that are within an hour’s drive. This is a definite purchase for anyone remotely interested in the haunted history of the region who wants to read thrilling ghost stories, as well as required reading material for prospective paranormal investigators. Jeff discusses the background of making the book, dealing with skittish property owners who prefer to keep their ghosts under wraps, as well as a secret code, hidden within the book.
How did you get involved in making this book?
– “After writing my first book, Haunted Cincinnati and Southwest Ohio, I realized that something was missing from many ghost books that were already out there. While the ghost stories themselves were fascinating in and of themselves, the stories that I found most interesting were the stories about the locations that I knew. It made the stories much creepier knowing where the ghosts actually were. As a result of this, I came up with the idea for the Haunted Handbook series of books.”
“I decided to include an address of each location and directions on how to get there. This was important because some of the more obscure locations that I had researched in my first book were next to impossible to find. I figured that if there was a book that told me how to get to the places, it would make the locations that much more accessible. Next, I decided that all of the locations in the book had to be within an hour’s drive of the target city. This was because so many of the books out there had ghost stories about an entire region of the country or about an entire state. Upon reading these books, I always found myself reading the ghost stories about locations that were close by and skipping the stories that were too far away to easily visit. I figured that if all of the locations were within an hour of the target city, every story would be interesting and people would read the entire book.”
“Next, I decided to make all of the ghost stories more or less accessible to the public. Too many ghost books tell stories about private residences where people cannot go to try to experience the ghosts for themselves. Making the locations accessible makes them creepier in my mind. Next, I decided that I would put 100 different locations into each book. This is to add a comprehensive and eclectic list of the ghost stories in an area. This puts all different types of ghost stories into the book, but also draws in a reader from the area since, no matter where you live, there is bound to be a haunted location that is very close by. Finally, I thought that visiting instructions would be integral to this idea. If there are people who want to go out and look for the ghosts themselves, they would need to know the rules and maybe even some tips for finding the ghosts. Does a certain cemetery close at dark? When is the best time to find the ghosts?”
What was the next step, in getting this book published?
– “After having this idea, I pitched the idea to Clerisy Press who loved it. I put it together and published Cincinnati Haunted Handbook. When the Cincinnati book did well, the publisher wanted to expand the series to other target cities throughout the country. I pitched the Nashville Haunted Handbook next, since Clerisy had not published a ghost book about Tennessee and I was aware of many famous ghost stories from the Nashville area, most famously the Bell Witch Cave. Since Nashville, I have done books in the series for the Twin Cities and am currently working on Chicago.”
How did you find the haunted locations?
– “There were several different ways that we found the haunted locations. There were a handful of haunted locations that we already knew about since they were famous staples of American ghost lore. The Bell Witch Cave was one of these. The Hermitage, Cuz’s Antique Center and the Walking Horse Hotel were others that we already knew about. Next, I employed the help of a local Nashville ghost hunter and writer, Donna Marsh, to help with the creation of the book. Due to her experiences and work in the area, she was able to add a lot more stories to our collection of stories. She had investigated many of the locations. Other locations she knew about just by being in the paranormal field in Nashville.”
“Next, we utilized the internet to collect more stories about the Nashville area. Some stories from the internet are suspect, but upon reading on the internet that a location is supposedly haunted, we could then pursue further research into the location by talking to people who have been at the location or who work or have worked in the locations. The rest of the locations we kind of picked up along the way. Upon talking to someone about one location, we learned of another place where they had seen a ghost. We talked to other paranormal groups from the area as well to gather up locations to add to the book.”
Did you personally visit each one, or take them as Internet claims?
– “We did personally visit every site in the book. We did not do an extensive investigation of each site. Some of the sites we just went to in order to take the photographs that we included in the book. As I mentioned above, some of the locations began as Internet claims, but those that were discovered as Internet claims were researched and investigated further.”
What’s your favorite Nashville published story? Did anything paranormal happen while visiting a Nashville location you visited?
– “My favorite location from Nashville is the Wickham Statue Park. The reason for this is that it is, in my opinion, the strangest and most surreal location in the area. When we drove out to the area, we were in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly, along these country roads far from civilization, there were a strange collection of headless statues that were covered with graffiti. While the ghost that goes along with the statues isn’t the most exciting of the ghosts in the book, the location itself was quite surreal and I am glad that I got to experience this place in my lifetime.”
“Another one of my favorite places was the Walking Horse Hotel in Wartrace. When we went to Nashville for one of our research and photography trips, we stayed the night at the Walking Horse Hotel. Joe, the owner, allowed us to investigate the building as we were the only people staying at the hotel that night. We had the run of a hotel and several paranormal things occurred that night. A figure peeked its head around a corner on the third floor. Sounds and footsteps without a source confused us throughout the night. It is truly a great haunted hotel to go and visit.”
What’s your favorite Nashville story you didn’t publish?
– “Octagon Hall in Franklin, Kentucky. This location is one of the more famous haunted locations in the area and it is well within the hour radius from the center of Nashville. The reason that it was not included in the book was that it did not occur to us that it would be a possible location for the book since it was not in Tennessee. We didn’t think to research anything outside of the state until we had already collected the stories. When we realized that we could have included this locations that has been featured on television shows and investigated by countless paranormal groups, it was too late.”
Some of the locations don’t have elaborate backstories or reports. Are you worried people will visit some of them and not get any results, and be upset with the book?
– “Not at all. If there was any sort of guarantee that people would experience ghostly activity whenever they went to these haunted locations, then we would have proof that there is such a thing as ghosts. People see and hear things all the time at these locations, but it is by no means something that happens without fail every time that someone goes there. Part of the inspiration for the book was that perhaps if I created a travel book telling people how to find ghosts in an area, perhaps many many people will go there looking for ghosts. The more people going looking for ghosts, the higher the probability that they will actually find something. It is by no means a given that people who go to these places will experience a ghost, but it is a higher probability than many other locations.”
I loved The Civil War stories. Any chance of elaborating on them for more than two pages, maybe creating a book of nothing but them?
– “The Civil War stories were many of my favorites as well. The Battle of Franklin was a battle that I was not very familiar with before I started writing the book. Several locations from the battle did make the book though. I learned a lot about the battle and about Nashville during the Civil War. It is hard after doing extensive research and collecting extensive information about a location to cut the information down to the most important 500 words or so. There were many stories that I wished that I had pages and pages with which to elaborate on the ghosts and the history of the location. Unfortunately, the format of my ghostly travel guide did not accommodate that. I had not really considered doing another book where I focused more on the Civil War stories. As interesting and fun as this would be, I think that I am enjoying traveling from city to city and learning about their history more comprehensively as I move from one book to the next in the Haunted Handbook series.”
I’ve actually visited quite a few of the locations listed and never knew their haunted history. Did many, if any, location owners balk at being listed in your book?
– “There were a couple of places that did not want to be included in the book. There was a story at a mansion within the Nashville Zoo that we were wanting to add to the book. They balked at the idea though and asked that they not be included so we left it out. There were a couple of other locations that asked that we not include them or we learned through research that they are adamantly opposed to their ghostly reputation and left them out. Surprisingly though, the Bell Witch Cave was very unaccommodating when we approached them to ask about the ghosts. They would not allow us to take pictures of the exterior of the cave for the book and were very curt with us when we advised them what we were doing.”
Are there any secrets, hidden within the book?
– “Another thing about the book that we haven’t publicized except on the book’s Facebook page is that there is a secret code imbedded into the text of the book. The idea for this came along with the fact that many of the stories have to do with the Civil War and much correspondence during this time was done through the use of cyphers and secret codes hidden in unassuming letters and books. I decided that it would be fun for the reader to know that there was a secret code hidden somewhere in the text. I started a contest on the Facebook page more than a year ago when it was released and no one has yet figured out the code. This was another nod to the Civil War history of Nashville.”
Is there any chance we could have an exclusive hint to decipher the secret?
– “As of this point, no one has deciphered the code. At first, I was worried that everyone would figure it out as soon as I announced that it existed, but the more I think about it, the harder it is to decipher. There is a prize that goes along with it: You get to go on an investigation of one of the haunted locations in the book with the American Paranormal Society (Donna Marsh’s group).”
“I guess I can give a hint, at this time, since it’s been two years. (Keep in mind, this is an exclusive. No one else has gotten a hint!) The word ‘Stay’ in the Blue Spring Cemetery chapter matters. It matters as much as the word ‘Early’ in the Grave of Granny White chapter. Good luck!”
For More Information:
– Nashville Haunted Handbook Facebook Page