Ghostly lore tied to train robbery
Tuesday, October 21, 2014 1:28 pm
By DAN WHITTLE, Courier Correspondent
The whole family was seated on the front porch, slowly rocking back and forth at J.L. Fraley's farm house back in Winchester, Tenn.
The event began on a serene warm summer night in the early 1950s as three hunting dogs, named Buster, Tippy and Sandy, seemed to be resting at leisure too, but then?!!
"All three dogs jumped up ... starting growling from the front porch ... charged off the porch, and went to a certain spot nearby there in the front yard!" recalled Middle Tennessee Mule Skinner in good standing Danny Fraley.
"And then, all three dogs began biting at the same place, at the same time, but there was nothing there," Fraley shared an unusual experience of childhood back on the family farm. "They were biting at air. And this was in the plain daytime too."
Did the old family farm have spirits lingering from past occupants? Did any of the spirits have anything to do with a train robbery, the money from which was never found?
"Everyone in the family, at one time or another, experienced unusual sightings," Fraley noted at age 67. "I sometimes thought the experiences were my imagination running wild, but how do you explain the dogs all three getting upset, biting and snapping at something that wasn't visible there ... at least not seen by us humans up there on the front porch?"
Oh, there's more ghostly lore lurking back on this farm!
"The whole farm community knew there were strange happenings going on at various times at and around our place, there at good ole Rural Route 1, Winchester," Fraley added.
The two-story farm house was completed in 1921 by Fraley's grandfather, Comer Fraley, who wed Betty Cornelius Jones Fraley ... a descendant of a plantation owner in Georgia.
"Great Great Granddad Jones had 16 brothers, plus some sisters, but when Gen. Sherman marched through Georgia, the wealth evaporated and the Jones family split in multiple directions," Fraley said. "Some of us ended up in Tennessee."
"Dad (J.L.) was four years old when Granddad Comer Fraley finished the old farm house. Dad lit the match that started the first fire in the new fireplace in 1921," Fraley shared.
The first family-recalled "mystery" at the farm acreage started in 1921: "Dad was very young, when he found a mysterious pair of fancy white gloves for a female," Fraley recalled. "They were laying in the middle of the living room floor. No one ever figured out where those gloves came from, since no females in the family owned white gloves."
But, there was a mysterious, unsolved train robbery that had occurred nearby at Castleman's Switch, a rural railroad setting that now has evaporated back in time.
"That's when the train robbery legend started in the early 1920s," Fraley accounted. "We never knew if the white gloves were part of that train robbery, but we know that's when the legend started circulating, that money from that train robbery at Castleman's Switch was buried on the Fraley farm.
"I recall Dad and Mom (Kathleen Renegar Fraley) sharing that they found strangers from time to time, digging around on our farm, trying to find that money supposedly buried after the train was robbed," Fraley confirmed. "I also did some digging from time to time, but no one ever found any of that train robbery money ... and no one ever claimed ownership of those white girly gloves."
Were there actual "spirit sightings" in and around the Fraley farm house? You, the reader, be the judge.
"You might make a note of Mom seeing a 'blue shirt,'" Fraley added.
Other mystical events followed: "Older brother Larry and sister Joan were at the farm house one fall day while Mom was picking cotton out in the field. Larry and Joan kept hearing this voice, over and over, saying 'I'm going to get a little boy and girl.' They thought Mom was playing a trick on them, but after hearing the voice seconds later, they noticed Mother was walking toward the house from the cotton patch. So that's when the hair really stood up on the back of brother's and sister's necks. It could not have been Mother, who was still in the cotton field."
And then, Great Grandpa Jones died at the Fraley farm house ...
"I remember Great Granddad Ezekial Jones well ... a man who walked everywhere he went ... and he would walk to our farm house, to stay the night," Fraley recalled. "But when he died there in 1955, that's when we would enter this back bedroom, and hear bed springs squeaking, like someone was turning over in bed, and it felt like someone was watching us. We all sensed it was Great Granddad Ezekial Jones gazing at us from his death bed. After years of hearing the bed springs' squeaking when no one was in that bedroom, we got accustomed to it, and it didn't bother us."
But in 1956, spooky events got livelier at the Fraley farm.
"It was late at night, all of us were in bed, when we all heard what sounded like someone throwing our piano stool across the living room floor below," Fraley recalled.
"But, 15 minutes' later, it happened again. I didn't dare go back down those stairs," Fraley shared. "I was about 11 or 12 years old at the time! We never figured out what had happened."
Then at age 14, Fraley and older brother Larry, now a retired Middle Tennessee educator, had another spooky encounter while they were in an upstairs bedroom.
"Larry and I were home alone, preparing for bed upstairs, when we heard someone walking up the stairs," Fraley noted. "As we cautiously stepped toward the door, we heard the noise of steps more loudly. That's when Larry bolted, and ran over me, getting back away from that door.
"When I got up from being knocked down by Larry, we found all the doors and windows still locked, and no one else was in the house," Fraley added. "Once I did see a shadow up stairs, but unlike Mother's vision of a person outside her bedroom window wearing a blue shirt, my vision was someone wearing a snow-white shirt."
"The same thing happened to Dad that had happened to me and Larry, and Dad put two bullets from his pistol through the door," Danny added.
Older brother Larry, age 73 and a retired educator with bachelor and masters degrees from prestigious Vanderbilt and Peabody, confirmed "unusual sounds" happening at the old farm place.
"We often heard doors opening and closing, but when examined, they remained locked," Larry Fraley added. "And we often heard footsteps, but then, no one was there to be seen."
How far away from the Fraley farm house did the train robbery occur in the early 1920s?
"Castleman Switch was about five miles away from the house, but no one ever found any money on our farm," Larry noted. "I do recall my younger brothers digging at various places, but no money was ever found."