Stories of Superstition: East TN’s Houston House

Posted by | October 30, 2013

Not far from Mountain City in a section called  The Bloody Third, stand the ruins of an old stone house around which hangs a peculiar legend of “the hant that couldn’t be fathomed.” The house remained vacant for some years after the Civil War, until Dr. Houston, a promising young physician with a brilliant mind and an unfortunate taste for drink, bought it, settled there and took up the surrounding mountain practice.

confederate and skeleton

A short time after moving into this house the members of the Houston family were often disturbed by queer noises. Early in the evening came a decided patter of feet on the floor. With three distinct knocks on the door, this invisible guest would enter. Then came the patter of feet on the broad oak stair as it made its round of the room above returning by the same route, back to the large fire place in the broad living room, after which it took its departure, giving three farewell knocks.

Mrs. Houston being a woman of strong character was not afraid of the ghost, but she was curious to know its origin, so she sprinkled flour thickly over the stair steps hoping to get an imprint of the airy foot. She then listened to the pat on the stairs, but no track was ever made. All was smooth whiteness.

She grew to know when to expect it and accepted it calmly. But if the doctor happened to be at home when the tapping occurred, he was much disgruntled, and would often follow it upstairs and back, mumbling as he came. As the neighbors became more wrought up and curious in regard to this strange apparition, several reliable men of the vicinity gathered and decided they would investigate the situation.

They made pallets on the floor in the hall and arranged to sleep in front of the door so as to intercept the foot steps; but their sleep was not satisfactory. A sudden gust of warm air settled heavily on their chests and they were nearly suffocated, being held down in meek submission while the footsteps passed over them. The men rose quietly the next morning and left. They were never known to mention the subject to their friends, and when questioned in regard to it they briefly told their experience, making no pretense of understanding it.

One evening Dr. Houston came in drunk. He sat with pistol cocked, waiting for the ghost. As the three knocks sounded on the door he bounded forward to meet it, and followed it up the stairs shooting and cursing volubly. The footsteps were not disturbed by the Doctor’s violence. They made their rounds with regular tread. As three farewell knocks sounded, Dr. Houston emptied his pistol into the outside darkness several times and closed the door.

Strange to say this visitor never returned, but years afterwards when the huge fireplace was torn away a skeleton was found underneath the hearth stone, and fastened to the ledge of rock was a huge roll of confederate bills. It was thought that the unfortunate victim had been killed for his money which was fastened to the ledge for safe keeping, but the murderer was killed before he could return for his booty.


from Sketches and Legends of Upper East Tennessee, Caroline McQueen Rhea, George Peabody College for Teachers, 1932
Tale told by Mrs. Harrison Donnelly, one of the older residents of Shouns, near Mountain City, TN

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