Walking among the dead

Ghostly orbs hover above the Old Creek Lodge in Gatlinburg. Orbs are described as ghostly energy.As darkness descends over the town Rex Clark escorts more than 20 people into a cemetery in hopes of catching a glimpse of a spectral visitor, a ghost among the living.

Clark is a guide for the Ghost & Haunt Tours, a walking tour that highlights the haunted history of Gatlinburg. The tour begins at the Smoky Mountain Resort where Clark meets his guests which will take the two mile round trip through the back street of Gatlinburg.

Clark is a gifted storyteller recounting the sometimes tragic yet colorful legends that have morphed from the folklore of the area. His first stop is at the partially demolished Rocky Top Motel where a horrific double murder took place in Sept. of 1986. The murder was committed by four escaped convicts who robbed the hotel of $400 and killing the two victims in a robbery gone terribly awry. The victims were the security guard and the night auditor. The man convicted of the murder, known as “Tattoo Eddie,” is serving life without parole. The ghostly appearances were soon reported by guests. Some guest reported seeing a shadowy figure walking through the parking lot. It is believed to be the ghost of the slain security guard still making his rounds.

In another instance a man reported to the clerk he had awakened and saw a woman standing at the foot of his bed. He described her as a blond haired woman in a blue sweater. The description of the apparition matched that of the slain night auditor.

Clark escorts the guests to the three local churches where he recounts the ghostly tales related to those sites. Perhaps the spookiest of the three is the United Presbyterian Church home of the Black Abbey spirit that has reportedly been photographed by more than 20 tourists. The shadowy specter has been photographed in the upstairs window of the church and appears to be gazing down at the curious tourists.

The tragic story of Lydia, the jilted bride piques the curiosity of the tourists. Lydia was a young woman who had fallen in love with a lumberjack 80 years ago when lumberjacking was a thriving industry in the park. The two made plans to wed. What was planned to be a joyous event soon became a tragic one that inspired legends and lore. On the day of the wedding the groom never arrived at the church. Heart broken, Lydia returned to her hotel, the Greenbrier Inn. She retired to her room and cried for hours until 5:00 a.m. where the anguished sobs fell eerily silent. Hours later her dead body was found hanging from a rafter. She was buried in an unmarked grave later that day on the grounds of the hotel.

It turned out her groom had got cold feet and had got drunk the night before the wedding and passed out. He slept through the wedding. When he was informed of Lydia’s fate he quickly became the scorn of the community which blamed him for the young woman’s death.

The haunting of the Greenbrier soon started. The day after Lydia’s death the owner of the Greenbrier heard her crying for hours in the room in which she died. Several other guests reported hearing her mournful wails. The wretched cries of the deceased continued for two weeks until finally the owner of the hotel cried out “What do you want?”

Then came a ghostly reply, “Mark my grave.” The following day, the hotel owner marked her grave with a simple wooden cross. The cries of the young woman then fell silent. The day her grave was marked her former fiancée met a grisly death. His dead body was found ripped to shreds by a mountain lion. Local legend says that Lydia’s restless spirit manifested itself in the lion’s body and exacted her revenge. According to Clark, patrons and personnel at the Greenbrier, which is now a restaurant, have reported seeing a ghostly apparition in a bridal gown walking through the restaurant.

Another site of interest along the walk is near a miniature golf course where a cemetery was moved decades ago. In an incident reminiscent of the movie “Poltergeist,” the headstones were moved but the bodies were never touched. They now lie buried beneath the asphalt of a parking lot of a popular Gatlinburg eatery.

The final destination (no pun intended) of the ghostwalk is the White Oak Flats Cemetery where the guests are regaled with stories about the history of cemeteries, including the terms “dead ringers” and “saved by the bell.”

“Years ago, there were occasions when people were mistaken for dead and buried alive,” explained Clark. “They soon started tying a string around the finger or toe of the deceased before they buried them. The other end of the string was attached to a bell which hung over the grave. If the “deceased” should awaken and find themselves buried, the buried person could ring the bell and the night watchman would dig them up. This is where the terms “saved by the bell” and “graveyard shift” originated.

Do ghosts exist?

“Some people believe they do and some don’t,” said Clark. “I don’t try to change people’s beliefs. I just try to entertain.”

 For more information about the Ghost & Haunt Tour visit http://www.gatlinburgghosts.com.

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