The Hauntings of the Tennessee State Capitol
There is more going on in the Music City of Nashville than hot chicken, Honky Tonk bars, and
country musicians. Nashville, Tennessee, a city loud enough to raise the dead through its music venues and bars along Broadway Street, is also home to a most haunted State Capitol that sits on a hill overlooking the winding Cumberland River. Steeped in history, it’s no wonder an array of Spirits still wanders through these halls.
Construction on this Greek Revival structure started in 1845 under the direction of Architect William Strickland and was completed fourteen years later, just before the start of the Civil War. Each of the Tennessee limestone and marble blocks that make up the entire structure was painstakingly cut from a nearby quarry and shaped by the hands of slaves, prison inmates, and artisans who cast the wrought-iron molds that decorate the stairways and cupola.
One of the ghosts that haunt the halls of the Capitol is believed to be none other than William Strickland himself, who died before construction was complete. While under construction, William Strickland argued intensely with the Chairman of the Capitol Commission, Samuel Morgan over the project’s expenses and design. When William passed suddenly, Samuel Morgan saw it fit to inter Williams's remains in the northeast corner wall of the capitol. Years later, Samuel Morgan passed and was interred in the Southeast corner wall, adjacent to his arch-enemy. The two sworn enemies are said to continue their feud on into the afterlife. Some believe you can hear them arguing when the wind blows through the building just right.
Present-day State Capitol employees report seeing a woman dressed in antebellum-style evening attire strolling leisurely throughout the grounds of the capitol. Many believe this woman is the spirit of Rachel Jackson, though she died years before the construction of the State Capitol. Rachel then married another man, and eloped with Andrew Jackson, but died just days after he was elected as the nation’s 7th president. Homage is given to Andrew Jackson through various busts and statues today, but neither Andrew Jackson nor Rachel Jackson would have ever seen even a stone of the Capitol, as both passed years before its construction. So, who is the wandering woman? No one can be sure.
Of former presidents who have walked the halls of Tennessee’s State Capitol, one never left. James Polk was the 11th president of the United States and former Governor of Tennessee. Immediately after his service in the White House, James Polk had planned to return to his home in Nashville, Tennessee. During his travels with his wife, Sarah Polk, his health continued to fail with exhaustion from his years in public service. Before he could return home, he died of cholera, an infectious disease that made his remains unfit for the city cemetery. As a result, his body was laid to rest in a tomb built just for him on the Tennessee State Capitol grounds. His wife, who died later as a recluse, was interred next to him. Today, visitors of the State Capitol who walk the grounds report seeing an apparition of a man, kneeling in front of the grave. Many believe this to be the ghost of James Polk himself, pondering over his own gravesite.
In 1862, the city of Nashville fell into Union hands, forcing its inhabitants to either flee or lay down their confederate flags. Cpt. James St. Clair Morton oversaw the construction of various forts and fortifications of the city from the porch of the State Capitol, overlooking the city below. The State Capitol became the center quartering facility for Union soldiers. The Confederate flag that flew over the large glass cupola at the top of an ornate spiral staircase was replaced with “Old Glory.” When the flag was being replaced, an armed Rebel guarding the Confederate flag was shot, and his lifeless body tumbled down the stairs. In this cupola where the American flag now flies, visitors and staff report seeing a dark misty figure near the top of the staircase. This foreboding presence is reported to feel threatening, and several say they were pushed from behind. Though no one is reported to have been pushed down these stairs, the tale urges people to use the hand railings just in case.
The Tennessee State Capitol has seen other events and history, including women’s suffrage sit-ins
that occurred on its grounds and the civil rights movement that began with the sit-ins around town by the Freedom Fighters. The library located on the second floor of the State Capitol contains an old twisting iron staircase that provides access to the large legislative book collection of the Capitol. Legislative librarian Eddie Weeks says he often works late in this library and has reported hearing eerie voices and bumps in the after-hours around the capitol and more so in this library.
On your next trip to Music City, be sure to stop by the State Capitol and pay homage to the many spirits that still roam the stately rooms. The Tennessee State Capitol is the oldest working statehouse of all 50 states in America. And when this building was built, everyone in state government was located here, and all the functions of state government were housed here. They might very well continue to govern in the afterlife in these halls.