In this episode, I'll share with you some of my personal stories of my experiences with the paranormal when I was a child in Florida, and then as an adult in Tennessee. These personal experiences are the foundations of why I do this podcast and why I believe in the paranormal. Enjoy!
Welcome to the Tennessee Ghosts and Legends Podcast. My name is Lyle Russell. I am your host, and I love a good ghost story. In this episode, I’ll share with you my own personal experiences with the paranormal, both as a child in Florida, and as an adult in Tennessee. These are the true stories of my experiences that made me a believer in the world beyond.
My first paranormal experience happened in a house we lived in on the edge of the Forest Hills area of Tampa, Florida. It was an older house nestled in a vintage Florida neighborhood sprinkled with ranch and bungalow-style homes. To my knowledge, no significant events happened near there, but there was most definitely a spirit in the home. The first time the spirit manifested was with my dad and a family friend in our kitchen. They were in the living room watching TV at the time. It was at night, so the house was mostly dark, but the one light that was usually left on all the time was the stove hood in the kitchen. Where the couch was situated in the living room, you could not see into the kitchen but had a clear view of the adjacent dining room where that stove light would cast a glow. No one else was home at the time, yet a figure moved through the kitchen and cast a moving shadow across the dining room as if a person had walked through the kitchen. Both my dad and his friend saw it, calling out to see if me or my sister was home. They got up to investigate when no one answered, but the house was empty. They both looked at each other and confirmed that they both saw the same thing. To this day, my dad still recalls the shadow crossing the light beam. When I asked him recently about the recollection, he has no doubt it was in the shape of a person walking, yet no one else was there and he heard no footsteps.
The second time the spirit reached out happened to a friend of my dad’s named Skip, who rented a room in our house for a while. On a warm Florida summer night, Skip opened the jalouse windows trying to get a cross breeze through the room. In the wee hours of the morning, Skip was awakened by the voice of a young girl outside calling for “mommy.” He explained that the voice sounded much like a person speaking into a moving fan. It went on for several minutes calling “mommy… mommy…mommy.” A strange occurrence, but not unnerving. The following day, he asked my dad if my younger sister was visiting that weekend from her mom’s house. She would have been around 8 years old at the time. Skip assumed it might have been her and didn’t think much of it. My dad said no, she wasn’t there that weekend, but the neighbor on that side of the house had her granddaughter visit over some weekends and that maybe it was her. Skip asked across the fence when he saw the neighbor in the yard later that day. She was an elderly woman who lived there alone. She said her granddaughter would not be over until the next month. Skip told her about what he’d heard, and she said she’s heard the same voice from time to time, but assumed it was my sister and also thought nothing of it. In either case, both young girls were not there when this happened. The voice had no identifiable source.
The third time the voice manifested was my first experience with it. After my stepmother and sister moved out, I took over my sister’s old room. It was small with a high window that slid from side to side. My dad was out that night and I was alone in the house with only the company of our dog, Bo. I had the window open in my new room when I began hearing, “Mommy? Mommy, where are you? Mommy?” Having known what happened to Skip and the neighbor, I was immediately frightened. The voice did not sound menacing or scary, but it was unsettling. The dog reacted to it as well, proving to me that I was not just hearing things. He perked his head up but did not bark. In any case, I am certain he heard the same voice I did.
There were other minor incidents in the house: random shadows and doors opening or closing slightly, but we never heard the voice again. The only regular occurrence after the voice stopped was in the bathroom. When I would get in the shower, the mirrored medicine cabinet was straight across from the shower so you could see yourself when you got in and out. Many times, I would get in, and when I got out, the mirrored door would be open. However, a final occurrence that happened shortly after my stepmother and sister moved out confirmed that there was definitely more in the house than just us. Outside of my parent’s room were a few family photos in frames on the wall. My dad had also placed a few 4x6 photos around the doorframe behind the door molding, about a dozen in all. One evening, after a tumultuous day of family difficulty, the pictures were found scattered around the floor, turned around with the faces to the wall, and the strangest was one of the framed photos was flipped around inside the frame. At first, this seemed to be the result of another family member’s frustration with the situation. However, no one had been in the house for the entire day except for my dad and I.
Not long after, we vacated the house. The house is still there, and we never felt threatened or in danger while living in it. Looking back at that time and what was happening in my family, it seems to me the spirit was likely a mother or a young girl because many of the happenings we witnessed were when my sister had struggles with our family issues. Since we’ve all left the house, I have not heard of any further happenings.
A statistic quoted by the BBC states that approximately ¾ of Americans hold a belief in the paranormal, and one in five people claim to have seen a ghost. Some paranormal researchers claim that ghosts are stuck in a loop of sorts, continually replaying tragic events and unaware of what is happening around them, while others say spirits react to the people around them, both physically and emotionally. As for the house I lived in in Florida, I tend to agree with the latter theory, though I believe both thoughts are correct.
Several years later while still in Florida, I had the opportunity to buy back the house I grew up in that belonged to my great-grandmother. I have many fond memories in that home, but it was dated and due for a remodel. When I moved in, I set to work on gutting some walls and a bathroom right away. Once pieces of the house started coming back together in remodeled form, I started noticing smells at different times of the night. There are two in particular that are definitely associated with my great grandmother and are unmistakable. She used an astringent called Seabreeze. It has a very distinct odor and she used it nightly. While walking out of the remodeled bathroom one evening, the odor was so strong that it caused my eyes to water, like walking through a chemical cloud. The other odor I would pick up is the unmistakable fragrance of the Gardenia flower. The sweet-smelling blossom of Gardenias was my great grandmother’s favorite flower. When I lived there as a child, she grew huge gardenia bushes on the back patio, and in the spring, the whole yard smelled of them. After I remodeled the house, the gardenia bushes were long gone, but their phantom smell would come and go regularly, enough so that I scoured my landscaping to see if any had returned. I did not find a single one anywhere in mine or my neighbors’ yards. Whenever I smelled either odor, I would smile and say out loud, “Hello, Grandma.”I cannot say for certain this was a paranormal experience, but those phantom smells did bring back some wonderful memories.
A final strange occurrence in this home came from my cat, Seymour. He was an albino Siamese that was skiddish around strangers and hardly ever made a sound, especially if someone else was over to the house. One night while sleeping, I was startled awake by Seymour crying loudly in the hallway. I got up to check on him, and he sat in the doorway staring down the hall, and meowing at the top of his lungs with the fur up on his neck. I cautiously checked around, think there might possibly be an intruder every time he did this, but never found anything. What made it strange is that he always looked in the same place whenever he made that sound, no matter where he was in the house. Was he seeing something that I could not? Some paranormal researchers believe that animals are much more sensitive and in tune to spirit activity than humans. Their senses are much stronger than ours, particularly smell and hearing. Dogs are especially keen at listening and can hear frequencies that humans and other animals cannot. If your dog reacts to something that does not seem to be there, you may want to investigate further.
For years, nothing else happened. When I moved to Tennessee however in 2007, another spirit came calling. I rented a three-bedroom house in Estill Springs, Tennessee for the first year I was here. It was small and non-descript in a quiet neighborhood of similar homes adjacent to a large cattle pasture. There were no streetlights, so at night, it was very dark. My son was 4 years old at the time and did not like the dark, so I would leave his side lamp on overnight. He also suffered from night terrors and would get up throughout the night because he didn’t want to be in his room alone. Across the hall from his room was my office. I could not see his lamp or his bed, but the lamp softly lit his room, and I could clearly see into it from my desk. When he would get up, I could see his shadow before I saw him. One night while working late, I sat at my desk while the house was quiet and still. I saw a shadow go across his room, which was not an uncommon occurrence with him getting up, but this shadow blocked out a good portion of his light. I told him from across the hall to go back to bed, and the shadow went away. I assumed he did. In the wee hours of the morning, I was about to stop working for the night when I saw the shadow again. I told him to go back to bed, but the shadow did not move this time. I repeated myself, and still no movement. I got up from the desk, making audible sounds to make him aware I was getting up. That usually was enough to deter him from getting out of bed, but still, it did not move. After I took a couple steps toward the door, the shadow went away. I went to check on him anyway, expecting to find him laying there with a tear in his eye because I made him go back to bed. To my surprise, he was sound asleep and by my estimation, hadn’t moved in a while.
My first thought was sleepwalking. His night terrors would put him in a wakened state, but trance-like. He would not respond to me but would appear awake. He would cry and scream while his mind played out whatever caused the night terror. The only thing I could do was hold and console him until it passed. When it finally passed, he would fall back into a deep sleep rather quickly. A couple nights later, I was working in the office again and the shadow returned. This time I said nothing, got up quietly, and started toward his door. As I approached, the shadow went away. When I rounded the corner, my son was fast asleep and had not moved since I tucked him in for the night. The shadow did not return that night, and when I asked my son, he didn’t seem to know what I was talking about, so I didn’t mention it anymore. I would occasionally stake out his room from my office, but I did not see the shadow again for a long while. Then, about two weeks before we moved into a new house, the shadow returned.
I arrived home after dark one evening, and no one else was home. The bathroom light was left on so the house was not completely dark. Ironically, that bathroom was right next to my son’s room in the hallway where I had seen the shadow before. When I opened the door, the bathroom light was completely blotted out, and then suddenly came on again. My first instinct was that there might be an intruder, but as in the previous cases of seeing this shadow, nothing was found.
My last experience has three parts, and all happened in the same building. When I worked as a civilian for the Air Force, I was the manager of the Officer’s Club, called The Lakeside Club, at Arnold Air Force Base. The cavernous building had many interconnected hallways and rooms, and due to the isolated location, was very dark at night. Many of the staff had claimed the building was haunted, and though I am a believer in the paranormal, I did not give it a second thought. At least not until I saw the ghost myself.
The first time I encountered this ghost was shortly after I started there. We had just finished cleaning up from an event, and myself, a waitress and the bartender were the only ones left in the building. Each night, we would do a walk-through to ensure the building was locked and all the lights were off before leaving. While crossing the ballroom to check the back door, the waitress walked with me as we checked doors. At the back of the room was a small dining room with large windows and a beautiful vista view of the lake. On this night, the moon was out. When the interior lights were off, the moon’s reflection on the water silhouetted all the furniture in the dark dining room to where you could see the outline of it, but no details. As we walked towards the room, the waitress paused and touched my arm, asking if it looked like someone was sitting at the back table by the window. We stopped, peering into the darkness, and I could see what she saw. It was clearly the silhouette of a man’s head and shoulders seated at the back table. I called out, but he did not move or answer. We cautiously stepped closer and as we approached, the shadowy figure dissipated right before our eyes. Had someone else not been with me, I might not have believed my own eyes. We turned on the lights and found no one else in the building. After that night, the waitress asked to have her schedule changed to work only day events.
The next time I met this apparition, it spoke to me. Our chapter of the Air Force Sergeant’s Association would host residents of the local VA hospital every year. It was a heart-warming and uplifting event to see these current active-duty airmen spend time with the veterans from the VA home. It was a day of fun, reverence, and service for them, and we put on a grand show. Part of that set up involved a flag display of all the services. One of my parade flag poles had a broken thread at the center, and if not handled gently, would come apart and drop the flag on the floor. The First Sergeant and some of the officers came to help me set up that morning, but the staff had not arrived yet. As I assigned them set up tasks, I took care of the flags because I knew how to handle them without the pole breaking. Of course, this time, it broke anyway and the American flag in the display fell to the floor. I quickly picked it up and screwed the threads back together. At that moment, a voice directly behind me said, “Thank you.” I turned, expecting to see one of the airmen behind me, but no one was there. I walked to the back dining room to find all the airmen there working on decorations. I asked if any of them saw me drop the flag, and after the usual grief I would expect from such a blunder on a military base, they all said no. I was alone in the room, yet the voice was directly behind me, and as distinct and plain as the nose on your face.
The last time I saw him was the only time I was startled and felt uneasy. A few months after the flag incident, all was quiet. I did not see or hear the ghost again for quite a while. Then, much like the first time I saw him, I was checking the building after an event and turning off lights for the night. As I walked back through the dining room where I saw him the first time, I could see the kitchen door and the small window in it. The kitchen was dark and black. Nothing could be seen behind the small square of glass, though this time, I did see something. Framed in the small pane was the grey outline of a face. I could not make out any features or details, but there was clearly a face in the window. At first, I thought it was my staff playing a joke on me, but in the dark building and my previous experiences, I did not find it funny. I took small steps towards the door trying to make out who was pranking me, or if I was simply seeing things in the dark. As I finally had settled on the idea that I was just seeing streaks in the glass and there was no face, I took a few steps, and then I froze. The glass frosted, like a large exhale of breath on a cold piece of glass, and the face disappeared with it.
My experiences have all been benign and never have I felt threatened. I have read accounts of terrible hauntings and haunted places that truly terrorize people and families. I suppose that makes me lucky to have had these minor brushes with the spirit world with no negative results. My father still has experiences which he attributes to being visited by his brother, my uncle, and visits from my grandmother. His TVs turn on by themselves, clocks that belonged to passed family members will stop and start on their own, and the occasional object at his house will move.
Psychology Today printed an interesting article where the author surmises that in order to see the paranormal, you first have to have a belief that paranormal occurrences can happen. When my father in law passed from Parkinson’s Disease in 2014, one of his last cognizant days was spent seeing family members who had passed. He was an engineer, and that type of personality is very practical and analytical. While he was spiritual in the religious sense, his practicality did not lend to the belief in the paranormal, yet I saw him interact with people who were not there with my own eyes. In my wife’s time as a hospice nurse, she tells stories of many spiritual and paranormal occurrences around patients who are actively passing that both she and the patient’s family members witnessed, and there is little that the practical world can offer as an explanation for it. There is a thin veil between the world of the living and the hereafter. Sometimes things break through and manifest. I consider myself lucky to have seen and heard these spirits, and while I haven’t had any experiences in a while, I have a feeling I have definitely not seen my last ghost.
Thank you for listening to today’s Tennessee Ghosts and Legends Podcast episode. I cordially invite you to visit my website at www.lylerussell.net if you’d like to learn more about this and other stories I’m working on. If you have had a paranormal experience, I would love to hear about it. Feel free to send me a message through my website and tell me about your brush with the spirit world. I am your host, Lyle Russell, and remember, the dead may seem scary, but it’s the living you should be wary of. Until next time.