Ghost hunter shares stories of E. Tennessee’s most haunted places

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API Co-Founder and case manager Josuha Ooten (left) and Lead Investigator Jessie Hackworth use the tools of their trade to detect spirits at Greystone Mansion in Knoxville. Photo Credit: Appalachian Paranormal Investigators

Have you ever seen a ghost? 

The men and women of Appalachian Paranormal Investigations say they’ve seen plenty in communities all across East Tennessee.

API Co-Founder and Case Manager Joshua Ooten says he started conducting investigations of unexplained phenomena after his own childhood experiences prompted him to search for answers.

“I grew up hearing footsteps down my hallway at night, then the TV would turn on,” Ooten said. “I could tell you exactly what was on the TV, it was that clear. My father has bad arthritis and he would sometimes get up during the night. For a long time, I thought it was him.”

One night, however, Ooten got up to check on his dad.

“I started down our hallway and halfway down the TV turned off,” he said. “My parent’s house only has one hallway. There was no one in the living room or the kitchen. I walked back down the hall and my dad was asleep. So, from then on I always got up to check.”

But that wasn’t the end of his “paranormal” encounters.

“It kept happening,” Ooten explained. “Eventually, I started to ignore it. When I got into high school, one day our English teacher (who happens to now be a member of our team) started talking about ghosts, ones that she had actually encountered. At lunch, I started talking about ones I thought I had encountered and for years my friends thought I was crazy.”

Eventually, however, he convinced some buddies to test the truth of his tales with their own eyes.

“I had also seen a man and woman near a cemetery close to my house on several different occasions, so I finally brought my friends down one night to check it out,” he said. “While we didn’t see the man and woman, we did have our first encounter with a shadow ghost. In a nutshell, if you’ve seen the shadow ghosts at the end of the movie Ghost, it was basically like that, but just one.”

He added, laughing, “That one was enough for us to Scooby-Doo it out of there, though. We ran all the way back to my house, and finally, I wasn’t the crazy guy of the group anymore. They had seen it. They knew it was real. So, once we graduated and hit college, got jobs, we finally had some money we could throw at this and we became Appalachian Paranormal Investigations.” 

Borrowing a page or three from reality tv hits like Ghost Hunters and Destination Truth, the API team puts their faith in special equipment they believe can help them detect otherworldly activity. Voice recorders, motion detectors, temperature sensors, and electromagnetic field meters help them collect evidence. Of particular importance is the electromagnetic field (EMF) meter, also sometimes called a K2 meter, based on the theory that otherworldly presences may communicate by manipulating electromagnetic waves to trigger the device. Investigators use it to ask questions to the spirits and look for “intelligent responses.”

When it comes to identifying the most haunted location the team has encountered, Ooten says the answer depends on how one defines the term “haunted.”

“Sometimes when people ask for the most haunted, they really want to hear the scariest,” said Ooten. “As for the number of entities in one location, well, then that would be the Temperance Building in Harriman. There are at least five [entities] that we are aware of at the moment.”

Harriman’s Temperance Building, which is on the National Historic Registry, was originally part of the American Temperance University, according to city historians. The college was established in the late 19th century to promote the tenets of an ideal society as defined by the city’s founders, who hoped the town would become a place with “no manufacture, storage or sales of intoxicating liquor or beverages.” It now serves as office space for city employees.

The Temperance Building in Harriman was built by 19th century settlers who intended to make the town a booze-free “utopia.” API investigators maintain the building is haunted. Photo credit: City of Harriman

API investigators maintain the building is haunted by spirits that are quite willing to communicate.

“There is a man in the basement that can’t speak because of how he died,” said Ooten. “We get a lot of intelligent EMF meter responses down there, but we generally don’t get any EVP’s (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) down there. 

EVP’s, he explained, are recordings of voices that can’t be detected by the “naked ear” but can be heard later on recordings. They are contrasted with “disembodied voices,” which are voices that investigators can hear and respond to at the scene.

“Back to Temperance, there’s also something on the third floor that can lower the temperature on command, as well as what appears to be a little girl on the second floor, and then two others. One who we believe to be a man has left us with a few EVP’s, our only orb, which is just the easiest manifestation of energy for these things to take on, and knocked our motion sensor light down once. The last one we don’t have enough evidence to clarify what it can and can’t do or who or what it may be.”

Another haunted location that amateur ghost hunters — or anyone who likes a scare — may want to visit is Fort Southwest Point in Kingston, the investigators say. 

“It has only one entity that we are aware of, a soldier who was there at one point,” said Ooten. “As long as you don’t ask him about the woman he loved you’ll be ok. He gets a bit aggravated when you do that.”

When it comes to amateur investigations, Ooten says the number one concern should always be safety, and there are ways to participate as a casual hunter without a lot of expensive equipment. 

“Never go anywhere alone, and always have permission to be where you are. Other than that, a cell phone nowadays can do a lot for the amateur hunter who just wants to go out and have a fun time with friends, again with permission,” Ooten said. “If you really want to get started, though, you will need to be ready to invest some time and cash into it. It’s not an easy or cheap hobby.”

Ooten says that most investigations are made at the homes of people around the region who have concerns that their house may be inhabited by unwanted guests from beyond the grave.

Investigator Steve Flippen gets a feel for the presence of unknown entities during the API’s investigation of the Temperance Building in Harriman. Photo Credit: Appalachian Paranormal Investigators

Not every incident, however, indicates that something paranormal is afoot.

“The vast majority of our cases are home calls,” said Ooten. “People get scared and they contact us to come check it out. We always try to do our best to alleviate any concerns they may have, whether it actually be something paranormal or if it may just be bad wiring or a stray cat who likes to come into your garage late at night and throw stuff around.”

Ooten says that seemingly paranormal occurrences can often be traced back to mundane happenings.

“I guess I would say sometimes a shadow is just a shadow and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes a strange sound is a stray cat and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes a bad feeling is bad wiring, sometimes it’s not. We’ve seen full-bodied apparitions, had intelligent conversations with things we couldn’t see at all. We’ve been poked, grabbed, pushed, and we keep coming back. We just want the truth. Bottom line: sometimes it’s nothing but when it’s not, give us a call,” said Ooten. 

Unsurprisingly, Ooten is familiar with the “ghost hunter” trope on reality TV. He’s also quick to differentiate what API does from what the groups on TV do. 

“All TV shows have to make it interesting or else no one would watch,” he said. “I have never seen Tennessee Wraith Chasers — I’ll have to check that one out. I always enjoyed Amy Bruni of Kindred Spirits. She is very level-headed and doesn’t jump to conclusions. Not everything has to be a ghost. The Dead Files, that’s just fun TV.”

He added: “The problem with any TV show is you just never know what’s real and what’s not. So, if you enjoy watching them, keep watching them. This is an ever-evolving field of study, so the more people doing it the more we are going to learn. It’s a win-win, even if some shows do go over the top occasionally.”

No mainstream scientific studies have ever produced evidence to support the existence of ghosts. A poll conducted by YouGov, however, shows you’re far from alone if you believe in life beyond the grave:  50% of Americans said in 2020 that they believe in the existence of “demons,” and 46% said they think “ghosts” are real.

Nonetheless, he said, if strange things around the house begin to startle you, it’s important to consider the possibility that a common but potentially deadly household hazard may be to blame: Carbon monoxide poisoning. Always be sure to regularly check carbon monoxide levels in the home, as the National Health Service reports that low-level exposure to the toxin can cause symptoms that may feel like a haunting such as dizziness, confusion, and mood changes. One woman shared her experience with carbon monoxide poisoning in a TED Talk available online.

Bed bugs are yet another hidden culprit that might cause someone to experience a “haunting.” Occasionally, the bites of the tiny pests may cause victims to experience symptoms such as feelings of paranoia and anxiety. One man who experienced an infestation shared his story of “bed bug psychosis” with ABC News, and doctors say the phenomenon affects some people more than others but so far there’s no research that explains why.

Whether or not you consider yourself a believer, the Appalachian Paranormal Investigators team will keep searching for answers about the unknown. While some of the nine API team members have concerns about accidentally bringing their work home with them, others are so committed to helping their clients that Ooten says they’ve actually invited entities to come home with them.

“[Bringing an entity home] is a slight concern for those of us with kids on the team,” said Ooten. “Luckily, some of the others on the team are like ‘If you need a place, you can come home with me.’ We’ve been doing this for such a long time, and we have never had that happen, though.”

Ooten said that anyone who would like to contact API can reach them through their Facebook page.

API Co-Founder and Tech Manager Chris Harder searches for signs of the paranormal by using a thermometer to check for unusual changes in temperature at Ft. Southwest Point in Kingston. Photo Credit: Appalachian Paranormal Investigators

Megan Sadler can be reached at news@hardknoxwire.com.

Published on October 25, 2021.