JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – It’s no surprise that the Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site, a complex with centuries of recorded history, carries with it an abundance of stories. What may shock some, however, is just how many of those stories are being told from beyond the grave.
“This site is extremely active,” Matthew Frye, co-director of the site. “So it becomes hard to pick and choose which stories to tell.”
Frye is a professional historian and hobbyist paranormal investigator. He’s spent years on-site with Tipton-Haynes, and has worked closely with the Southern Research Society (SRS) based in Washington County, Virginia.
First constructed in 1784 by John Tipton, the log cabin home on the site has seen dozens of different occupants over its centuries-long lifespan. Now, it’s a museum home and is full of original and donated artifacts.
“We talk to many different spirits,” Frye said. “It can be attached to the house, it can be attached to items or they can be attached to the person that comes with us.”
While the site itself seems to have a strong pull for spirits and the paranormal, Frye said he thinks his work with the SRS has bridged a gap to the other side.
“We say we are willing to talk, we would like to know your story, we’d like to help you,” Frye said. “So I think it’s opened up that doorway to allow even more access to that spiritual realm.”
Even without seeking it out, Frye said the spirits inhabiting the house will make themselves known on occasion.
“You’ll hear footsteps, you’ll hear like a little whisper go by your ear like a lady’s talking to you,” Frye said. “We’ve had people touched, of course, anytime you open that door you’re opening your whole body to an experience.”
By Frye’s calculations, nine adult deaths have taken place inside the house. With high infant mortality rates and poor record keeping, the true total of lives lost in the house is difficult to tally. Despite the morbid total, nothing close to a dangerous paranormal experience has been reported.
“They’re willing to talk… There’s no malice to it,” Frye said. “Not here, anyways.”
As a historian, Frye traffics in well-documented facts. But sometimes, a nudge from beyond the veil can send him in new directions for his research.
“There are some things that are just really hard to believe, historically,” Frye said. “It does become hard sometimes, but we’ve taken some stories from the investigations here and what [I] and my coworkers have felt, and we’ve gone into the books and started researching. Some of them have turned out true, and some have not.”
What Frye does know, however, is that he feels a power in the Tipton-Haynes house.
“It really can challenge, it can,” Frye said. “We have several skeptics that come in, and they’re not skeptics when they leave here anymore.”
The land that the Tipton-Haynes estate sits upon was originally Native American land, and one of the location’s stories involves its earliest occupants.
“Our Springtime in Haynesville event is a civil war reenactment,” Frye said, retelling a story from the 1990s. “And one of the reenactors was waking up early in the morning and noticed that there was fog coming across the field.”
The appearance of fog wasn’t unexpected, it had made its way across the grounds many times before. What struck the reenactor was the large group of Native Americans in full regalia, which he said rode on horseback through the mist toward a nearby cave.
“We have a cave at the bottom of the hill that dates prehistorically,” Frye said. “And we do know that the natives used it as a little hunting station. They’d come and stay there, so highly possible. And he saw the remnants of their energies going across the field.”
The Phantom Patriarch
Many of the house’s phenomena are surprisingly mundane. Samuel Simmerly, who lived and died in the home, spends much of his time in contact with the living world through descriptions of his everyday life.
“He ends up talking quite often about his operations of the home, working here on the farm,” Frye said. “Just depends on which line of questions you go down.”
Sharing the little details has helped fill in Frye’s understanding of Samuel, and other spirits in the house have let him know when he could be doing a better job. After Frye opened up a hole in the wall to inspect water damage in the house, an unidentified spirit filed a complaint during an investigation.
“One of the paranormal group asked ‘Do you like what’s happened to the house,'” Frye said. “And it said no. And so we asked why, and it said ‘hole.'”
When investigators asked specifically if the spirit liked what Matthew had done to the house, the entity reportedly laughed through a nearby spirit box that was playing white noise in hopes of picking up interference.
Politics and Poltergeists
Taking a grudge to the grave is nothing new, but Frye said one of the site’s prior owners took his well beyond.
“It surrounds Landon Carter Haynes’ history,” Frye said. “Between Landon Carter Haynes and Andrew Johnson they had a rough relationship.”
From political rivals to wartime enemies, Haynes and Johnson would never be mistaken as friends. The two had run for the same offices and aligned themselves on opposing sides of the civil war. Johnson eventually became the president of a victorious United States, and reluctantly pardoned Haynes — a southern senator — due to his strong connections in the confederacy.
When his rival’s old work desk was donated to the museum and moved into his former home, Frye said Landon wasn’t happy about it.
“Their relationship was quite tumultuous at best,” Frye said. “So a lot of energy surrounds that desk. We always have to be careful when talking to Landon because he’ll actually get mad talking about that desk.”
The furniture in question is a rather plain-looking desk that was removed from Andrew Johnson’s Greeneville tailor shop and gifted to the site. It sat on the house’s second floor, until Haynes made his demand loud and clear over a spirit box to “pitch it.”
“He wanted the desk pitched,” Frye said. “He wanted it pitched out of this house.”
Now the desk sits in the site’s visitor center, where it can be better preserved. Frye said Landon doesn’t make a fuss about it in the house now, but if he stumbles across listeners in the museum he’ll still express his disdain for the rogue piece of furniture.
“The energy just shifted from here to the museum, along with the desk… Along with Landon,” Frye said. “His attitude is still there, still surrounds the desk. It just doesn’t have as strong of a pull in here. We still talk to Landon, but not with the anger surrounding it.”
In fact, several local phenomena seem to have an opinion on the décor. Frye said a former employee from the 40s has been contacted before, and expressed frustration that a work desk had been moved out of the house.
“Each thing, we do watch,” Frye said. “And when we move things around it is ‘What does go with it?'”
Pick Your Own Ghosts
For those that do plan to visit the site, Frye said it’s not all that hard to have your own experience. All you need is an open mind.
“There’s no real worry to it,” Frye said. “Just come out. Be willing, be open to talk. Be willing to talk to many spirits because there are so many attached to this place.”
Whether you meet a Tipton, Haynes, Simmerly or someone else entirely, Frye said there’s nothing to be afraid of.
“Just come out, enjoy and be willing to talk,” Frye said. “They’ll be willing to talk back.”