By DAN WHITTLE, Courier Correspondent
SMYRNA - Tullahoma resident Justin Turner said he gets a special feeling each time he comes to the home of Civil War hero Sam Davis.
"You're on hallowed grounds, and I sense it each time I come here," noted Turner, who said he comes each October or November leading up to the anniversary date of young Sam Davis' death. "There's a special feeling here. I have felt the presence of Sam and his family."
Tourist Turner is one of thousands who annually come to stand over Davis' grave leading up to Nov. 27, which is the anniversary of the 1863 date when young Sam died on the Union Army's gallows at Pulaski.
After fighting at Shiloh, Perryville and Stones River, Sam became a member of Coleman's Scouts in early 1863. Sam and his fellow scouts worked behind enemy lines disrupting communications and collecting information on the troop movements of the Union forces for the Confederate Army. Even though they wore Confederate uniforms and traveled with passes signed by Confederate General Braxton Bragg, the Union army considered them spies if captured.
Rather than give up the name of a fellow Coleman Scout, Sam chose to be hanged, and is credited with the following statement of honor: "I would rather die a thousand deaths than betray a friend."
And each October, leading up to Halloween and in observance of Sam Davis' birth (Oct. 6, 1842), staff and volunteers at the Sam Davis Home observe "a period of mourning" complete with special relics throughout the historic dwelling.
Longtime Sam Davis Home volunteer Lee Lankford explains the special feeling one can experience this time of year: "Each October, we observe our 'House in Mourning Period', in observance of Sam's birth date. As part of that tradition, we leave some of the mourning artifacts in place leading up to our popular Halloween Ghost Tours."
Before Lankford became a paid staff member six years ago, he volunteered at the home for more than 30 years.
"We often feel the presence of past residents here at the historic birthplace of Sam Davis," Lankford confirmed.
Say hello to "Miss Jane" and "Grandma Elizabeth," the names of "two spirits" identified by more than one employee at the Sam Davis Home.
Erica Dahlgren said she didn't believe in the supernatural, before she became volunteer coordinator at historic Sam Davis Home.
"A lot of the activity comes from Grandma Elizabeth Collier Simmons' upstairs bedroom," Erica confirmed. "And sometimes, we have to ask permission of 'Miss Jane,' to enter a room."
"Miss Jane" was Sam's mother, Jane Simmons Davis.
Lankford confirms seeing "a vision of a woman" not once, but twice.
"My last vision happened as I was walking across the grounds, and looked up and saw this woman looking down on me from Grandma's second floor bedroom window," Lankford described. "Since I had the keys that locks and unlocks the Sam Davis Home, I knew the house was locked and secure, and no person was in the house.
"By the time, I got in the house and up the stairs, no one was there," tour interpreter Lankford interpreted.
It wasn't Lankford's first "spirit" encounter: "The first month I began working as a paid staff member, I inherited the duties of unlocking and locking the Sam Davis Home each morning and afternoon. I was busy locking and securing the house in plain daylight, in the afternoon, and as I got near the alarm system, I saw this woman standing in the doorway."
New Sam Davis Home Executive Director Debbie Shaw confirmed some employees won't go into the old plantation home without accompaniment.
"And here in the executive director's office, there's an old wooden music box that has sat unopened and unwound for years," Erica shared. "More than one former director claims to have heard haunting music escaping from the wooden box."
This is but one of the stories employees and volunteers will be sharing Oct. 17-18-24-25 as part of the Sam Davis Home's annual Ghost Tours leading up to Halloween Night on Oct. 31st.
"We charge $5 for children and $10 for adults to make these tours set for 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. on the tour nights," Director Shaw directed.
Now, more about "Miss Jane," the wife of Charles Davis and mother of Sam Davis, who is buried on the grounds.
"Sometimes, doors to the dining room will become mysteriously stuck, and that's when we say 'Miss Jane, it's me and my hands are clean, can I come in?'" Erica noted. "This door thing happening was my second encounter, as I was conducting a tour for tourists. When we ask courteously and use 'Miss Jane's' name, the door will mysteriously become unstuck."
Her first spirit encounter ended any skepticism about their being spirits in and around the Davis property.
"I was in the parents' bedroom alone, when I heard footsteps upstairs, knowing there was no one else in the home," Erica added. "Now, understand, I didn't ordinarily accept creepy things and sounds at this point of my working here. I then walked up the stairs, toward Grandma's bedroom, and I heard the footsteps again ... I'm a believer now."
Lankford recalls hearing a former employee tour interpreter mispronounce Grandma's name: "A young girl on the tour, when that happened, noticed a rocking chair moving in motion there in the parlor. When the tour guide correctly pronounced Grandmother Elizabeth Collier Simmons' name correctly, the chair stopped rocking."
Motlow Community College history major Summer Stevens serves as a site interpreter.
"I've heard the footsteps, but never worry about them, because all our spirits are warm and friendly," Stevens declared. "They're nice to be around, actually. My Uncle Perry Anthony was here one day, and heard the footsteps that day before I came along, and then, I also heard them."
So the next time, you're at the Sam Davis Home, you might say "howdy" to "Miss Jane" and "Grandma Elizabeth" ... or listen for the haunting music box music that hasn't been opened or wound up for more than a century!