LOCATION: Ellis Middle School, formerly Hendersonville Middle School, is located at 100 Indian Lake Road at the corner of East Main Street and Indian Lake Road in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Although the school faces Main Street, the entrance to the school grounds is on Indian Lake.
DESCRIPTION OF PLACE: It’s a round two-story structure around a circular gymnasium and upstairs balcony and stadium. There are four downstairs entrances to the gym and six upstairs entrances to the bleacher seats under a large domed ceiling supported by steel beams. The round gym even acts like a giant loudspeaker – amplifying all noise in the gym; the screaming and yelling of the students during school pep rallies can become quite deafening. The staff and guidance offices are at the front entrances with the cafeteria in back of the school between the back entrances and an upstairs library in front. There are two wings with classrooms; the newer section once comprising a garage for automobile classes and a second library, now used for night classes. There used to be an auxiliary gym and auditorium, which has since been razed. The outside grounds once included a driveway circling the building, but it has been redesigned for a more hairpin turn and parking area. Opened for the first time in 1966, the structure was built with a considerable amount of steel, which might be responsible for the nature of the hauntings occurring there.
GHOSTLY MANIFESTATIONS: The concept of a haunted school is not an unusual concept. The United States is full of numerous schools and colleges that are considered haunted by ghosts, but the majority of these locations are old buildings which have fallen into disuse and have been fenced off to prevent the idly curious and the bored vandal from getting hurt on weak floors and unstable stairways. However, the majority of these so-called schools are infested by unlikely local urban legends: the young boy killed by a cruel teacher or the innocent young lady who was locked inside after dark. There are several college dorms haunted by suicidal teens before the night of a major exam. The former Hendersonville High School structure seems to be the exception to the majority; a supernatural location with a genuine history and spirits witnesses by both the educated and the uneducated. Many of those witnesses have since passed on and have shrugged off this mortal coil. Since the school was originally built in 1966, unusual and unexplained noises have been heard at night. The former night watchmen, Link Wingo and Bufford Rush, retired Principal William Clevenger, former Coach Bill Cummings and the night cleaning staff, Eva and John Wright, and others have witnessed a number of strange occurrences on the supernatural kind within the school. It seems as if the noises only occurred when someone was alone and always occurred on the second floor when the lights went out. While John and Eva cleaned up at night, they never roamed around the location. They kept every light on upstairs Clevenger recalled.
Bufford Rush and Link Wingo spent more time in the odd hours of the school than anyone else, and apparently, had more experiences than anyone else. Having worked for the school for ten years, Rush describes but one of the myriad experiences he has had there: “I have heard things of a morning at 4AM or thereabouts of running upstairs, dragging a chair over a floor, footsteps walking behind… I don’t know what it was.
“One night I heard the trash cans being thrown around on the floor of the men’s room. I thought someone was in there, you know, a vandal or something. I figured I’d catch whoever it was. I opened the door, the crashing stopped and there wasn’t anyone. There was only one exit to the room, and I was standing in it. There was no other way to get out of there.”
Another time, he had gone to close a window that wasn’t supposed to be left open. As he stood before the closed door of a classroom, he heard an unmistakable sound of a chair being dragged across the inside of the room. Quickly, he opened the door, fully expecting to find someone, and again, he found the room deserted and abandoned.
“It leaves you to wonder.” Rush continues. “There was just a door between me and that dragging. I never did find out what it was, but I heard it. I knew there was something.
“Nearest I ever came to seeing it was one night I was outside the school and I glanced up. It looked like someone had walked across the window in front of the light. I had seen a figure. I went rushing up there, but there was nobody in the building. “
On one occasion, he had glimpsed a person’s shadow. At first, he thought it might be his own shadow at a distorted angle, but as he experimented to see if it was his, he noticed that his shadow was actually hitting the floor at quite a different angle.
The thing Rush heard most was footsteps. He would be walking the upstairs hall, and realize that other steps had fallen in alongside his, or were rushing up loudly ahead of him. The frantic steps would continue until the lights went on, and like Clevenger before him, he would hear someone, or something, running upstairs while he was on the first floor.
Link Wingo also spoke of the footsteps and rushing in the hall. He recalled once sitting in the office and then hearing an enormous noise upstairs. It got louder and louder with tremendous roaring, enough to force him to think that “an airplane had crashed into the roof” and had caused the windows in the library to shake loose. When he traveled upstairs to make sure everything was all right, he discovered not a single thing out of place or disturbed. Everything was still very much intact, but yet, the sound had seemed very real, enough to have him springing to his feet.
Wingo also recalled one night going down the back stairs near the cafeteria. To his surprise, the double doors to the cafeteria were locked. In front of his eyes, the doors suddenly flung wide open and just as quickly snapped back closed and locked once more. He’s never been able to explain it. As part of the fire prevention system, the doors will slam shut all over the school to contain any fire, but they have to be open to begin with. They cannot spring open from a locked position and then back to lock once more.
Former football coach Bob Cummings also had encountered the mysterious footsteps for himself. It was around ten o’clock at night, and he had returned to claim his own property. While he was upstairs, he heard someone walking toward him so he called out to see who it was. He figured it was Bufford Rush, but he didn’t get a response to his query.
“I didn’t want to surprise him, and I didn’t want him to surprise me either.” Cummings replies in a newspaper article. “It wasn’t a echo, I’m sure of that. I definitely recognized footsteps. They didn’t have anything to do with my footwork. It seems like I wasn’t even walking when I heard them coming. It wasn’t very dark in there (since) the exit lights were on. It was just light enough to see a person coming toward you. I didn’t see anyone… just the footsteps, so I exited in a hurry!”
Thereafter, if Cummings had any reason to be in the school late at night, he rounded up former professional football player and Hendersonville High School Assistant Principal Robert Langford among others to accompany him and watch his back. Langford is six feet and two inches tall, more or less, and an intimidating structure to deal with if you’re a high school student with a long and continuous discipline problem. However, even the school brings out something to fear and respect out of the massive figure of a man.
“I definitely heard footsteps.” Langford recalls. “It was 1972, and we had recorded grades on a Saturday. I was in college so I had to go in on a Sunday. No one else was there. I went in that front door in the side (where the offices are). The light switch is on the other wall, so it was dark. I heard heavy footsteps – like heavy leather boots in the room. I thought it was someone who had broken in. I was next to the exit, so they couldn’t get out without passing me. I turned on the lights, but there was nobody there.”
The students who attended Hendersonville High School through the Late Eighties felt they had heard the ghost several times and to have even seen him. They even nicknamed him, “The Colonel,” after Colonel Horatio Berry who once lived in the adjacent property known as Hazel Path. Several students have claimed to see him standing in the windows of the second floor library over the front offices when the school is supposed to be closed. In fact, for a few years, some student, usually a boy, used to race down to the front office to describe a strange man in the boy’s bathroom. The descriptions that Langford received during this time has been oddly similar: “an old man with a great black bushy beard, dressed in a long coat, like an old time coachman.”
Frank Helms was the manager of the Hendersonville Bowling Center during this period of the school history. He wrote sport stories and after one football game on the field behind the school, necessity and a sense of urgency required him to enter the empty and dark school for a forgotten notebook.
“I’d left the statistics in Coach Greer’s office.” Helms tells the story. “The coaches just gave me the key and told me to go get it. I knew exactly where it was, so I didn’t bother turning on the lights. I walked across the gym and was just coming out the exit when I heard these footsteps coming (down the hall outside the gym). I figured it was Bobby Joe (Langford) trying to scare me so I sneaked over behind the door. I was going to jump out and get him before he could jump out and get me. I heard the footsteps coming, and I heard them pass right by me, but there wasn’t anybody there. I don’t know if the gym door was locked or not, but I got out of there.
“They were loud. It sounded like a man, not a woman. Slow and methodic, one… two… that’s the reason I thought it was Bobby Joe. He’s the only one big enough to make that noise walking so slow like that.”
“It was 4:30 or so.” Barbara Loper was once a guidance counselor at HHS. “There was nobody else in the building that I know of – maybe a janitor or something, and I heard the typewriter in the other room. I wondered who was using the typewriter. I looked out and nobody was there, so I went back to my office. Within five or ten minutes, I heard it again. I distinctly heard it so I packed up my things and went home!”
In 1980, two students named Jeff Reynolds and Bob Lunsford were granted permission to stay overnight inside the school while accompanied by a chaperone. Hoping to actually see the ghost, they rigged the upstairs hallway with infrared photography equipment and remote-controlled tape recorders. Unable to find anything to photograph, they were able to record sounds at 3:30AM that sounded like footsteps in heavy shoes coming toward their equipment and then possibly pausing over the tape recorder. Jeff and Bob suspected they also heard the sound of breathing on the tape just before the footsteps receded into the distance.
Both Lunsford and Reynolds wore soft-soled sneakers that night, and their chaperone never went upstairs.
By 1989, Hendersonville High School was no longer suited for the size of the growing cities. Portable trailers placed on the property were used as auxiliary classrooms, and a much more larger and much more adequate high school was built on adjacent land. Principal Paul Decker for Hendersonville High School was often asked if he thought the ghost would move to the newer and so much more larger up-to-date structure, but, no, it stayed behind. The Sumner County Volunteer Rescue Squad used part of the old school, and one member of the squad was required to be on duty through the night. In 1992, squad member Russell Coleman described hearing sounds from the main part of the building. He would describe the noises as someone tossing around the trash cans near the gym, and in order to investigate, he had to leave the wing of the building used by the squad, enter through a door adjoining to the main building and look for whoever had broken in, but no one was ever there.
In later years, the old high school would be heavily restored and renovated into the new Ellis Middle School structure. An extra gym was demolished and the property was redesigned, removing the outside classrooms and moving the entrance from the heavily traveled main street to the much slower side road. The students of today are unaware of the ghosts, but then, there is no longer a night cleaning staff, and the school no longer keeps a night watchman to help fuel another generation of their paranormal legacy. Custodian Danny Kizer believes the school is still haunted. He and his staff often have to stay late into the night cleaning up after every basketball game.
“The upstairs is extremely spooky at night.” Danny replies eager to add his experiences to the haunted history. “One night, someone was shaking and rattling the back doors trying to get inside, and I could look down the stairway to those doors, but there wasn’t anyone there.”
Allegedly, there was one teacher sitting in the upstairs balcony of the gym who heard someone coming in behind her, but no one ever appeared in her line of vision. Today, the students skipping classes, ignoring their lessons and defying authority are just as self-absorbed and opinionated as the kids of yesteryear if not more than that with just a touch of the rudeness and obnoxiousness of an inner-city teen transplanted into small town suburbia. The present Ellis staff doesn’t support or repeat the old stories, but maybe someday, one of those future America’s Most Wanted candidates will connive another teacher to go to the restroom, and the Colonel will be there to convince him of the value of a good school education.
HISTORY: The old Hendersonville High School sat on land that was once the plantation of General Daniel Smith of nearby Rock Castle in the Late Eighteenth Century. It was passed down to Sara Berry, daughter of Colonel Horatio Berry and Nannie Smith-Berry, a descendant of General Daniel Smith of Rock Castle nearby. They both lived at Hazel Path, a historic mansion located next door. According to oral tradition, Sara donated the property to the city. School caretaker, Link Wingo, once worked at Hazel Path.
The high school opened in 1966, with Ellis Middle School established after the structure sat empty for a time. In 1982, the producers of the ABC network television program, “That’s Incredible,” mulled over the prospect of doing a story upon the school’s ghost, but sadly, they dropped the project in favor of more sensationalistic stories.
IDENTITY OF GHOSTS: For several years, it was long assumed that the ghost was that of Nannie Smith-Berry, whose name also adorns another local Hendersonville elementary school nearby. However, it is also guessed the ghost could be that of Colonel Horatio “Harry” Berry, a World War One veteran whom Nashville’s Airport, Berry Field, was named after. It is also conceivable that the ghosts of former students who have passed on could be haunting the school, but no one really knows for sure.
Since the renovation of the school in the 1980’s, there have been no more reports of paranormal activity on the grounds of the school. Did the renovation finally put the spirits of the long departed to rest?
Sources & Related Links
SOURCES: “Volunteer Ghosts” by William Uchtman, Copyright 2008, PublishAmerica
“Who Haunts the Halls of H’ville High?” by Jan Shuxteau, The Hendersonville Star News, October 25, 1989,
“Will the Ghost Move to the New HHS?” by Jan Shuxteau, The Hendersonville Star News, 1992
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