A Ghostly Getaway

Our friends thought we were crazy when we told them that we were spending the night in a haunted hotel. Most of them said, NO WAY would they ever be convinced to do it, especially not in October, the most frightening month of the year. But we were not deterred, and since you are reading this, it should come as no surprise – we survived! And had a scary amount of fun.

The Thomas House Hotel was built in 1890 by Zack and Clay Cloyd, the owners of the local general store in Red Boiling Springs, TN. The hotel, along with two others, was built to capitalize on the area’s popular mineral hot springs and in its heyday, Red Boiling Springs brought visitors from all across the area – politicians, businessmen, and wealthy landowners. Before (and during) Prohibition, the city was a hotbed of drinking and gambling. Some folks even called it a mini Las Vegas. The original Cloyd Hotel was destroyed in a fire in 1924 and reopened as the Thomas House Hotel in 1927. The hotel is open year-round and hosts a variety of events, but none more popular than its Ghost Hunt Weekends.

Angie and I have had this on our “wish list” since we first learned about it in 2015. On October 12, we finally got the chance to go. We arrived at 5 PM and checked in to our room – #42. We later learned that previous guests in the adjacent room had once overheard a murder being planned in room #42 (at a time when there was no other guests staying there) and on multiple occasions, guests and staff have seen someone pacing in the room, turning the light to the bathroom on and off. We didn’t experience this, but…

Before dinner, we explored the old church across the street. It is inhabited by the ghost of Reverend Good. Despite his name, it is rumored that he is not a very nice ghost. Guests have reported being scratched by him and witnessing the front door flying open when it was chained shut. We didn’t experience this, but…

Old church across the street

All meals are included with the Ghost Hunt package – breakfast, dinner, and even a midnight snack. As a foodie, I must confess – this was my favorite part. The owners of the hotel (the Cole Family) live on-site and David is an amazing Southern chef. I know I’m not the only one there who may have over-indulged in the biscuits…and maybe the fried chicken too. During dinner, we watched the episode of SyFy’s Ghost Hunters that featured the Thomas House Hotel. The video showed a ghostly shadow making its way across the dining room. We didn’t experience this, but…

The actual ghost hunt started at 9:30 PM. Guests were divided into 3 groups to tour the 3 most haunted places in and around the hotel – the upstairs hallways, the seance room, and the church across the street. The lights were out during the tour but we were allowed to use flashlights when walking to/from each location. And to make it even more creepy, it was raining the entire time.

Room #37 is supposedly the most haunted room in the hotel. It is inhabited by the ghost of a little girl named Sarah. Guests leave dolls in the room for Sarah and in a voice recording taken during the Ghost Hunters episode, you can hear the voice of a little girl talking about toys. There are also two other ghost children on the property – Edwin and Robbie. When we were on the hall with Room #37, our guides tried to coax the children to come play with a ball. A fearless 10-year-old girl in our group even stepped up to call out for them. Sadly, we didn’t experience this either. But…

After midnight snack (which was hot dogs, chips, and snack cakes, by the way), we met as a group to try to talk one of the ghost children into playing the piano. None did but we did hear a very distinct child’s voice singing at one point. Everyone in the room heard this and there was only one real child in the group, who happened to be sitting right in front of me and was definitely NOT singing. But that’s not the only experience we had.

Back of the Thomas House Hotel

As Angie and I toured the property on our own, I got a severe, stabbing pain in my temple. It happened out of the blue and faded just as quickly. We learned later that this can happen to people who are sensitive to paranormal phenomena when they are near the site of something tragic. Then, as we stood in the blue hallway during our tour, I know that I saw a dog walk in from the veranda and lay down by the door. There were no real dogs on the property but one of the ghost children reportedly had a dog named Buster. I didn’t tell anyone about this and later on, as we were laying in bed, Angie laughed and said, “For a minute, I thought Caesar was here. I just felt something jump up on the bed.” I felt it too, so I told her about the dog. We may or may not have slept with a ghost dog at the foot of our bed that night. Good thing we like dogs…and ghosts.

There was absolutely nothing scary about our experience at the Thomas House Hotel, which was great. The owners were welcoming and friendly. The Ghost Hunt staff were knowledgeable and professional. They didn’t try to create a cheesy Halloween experience and we really appreciated that. We had an awesome time and would definitely go back or even try another Ghost Hunt Weekend event. (Angie has her eye on a haunted prison in Ohio.)

Disclaimer: Angie and I both believe in ghosts and have for a very long time. When I was 14, I saw a woman writing on the calendar on the side of our refrigerator early one morning. When I spoke to her, she disappeared. I later learned that our elderly neighbor had died that night in her sleep. To this day, I believe she came to our house to leave a note of her passing. Together, Angie and I witnessed a spirit close the door to the bathroom in a haunted restaurant in Fort Collins, CO. There was no one in the bathroom and staff later told us that this happens frequently. 

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A Pit Stop in South Pittsburg

South Pittsburg, TN may not be considered a destination city (unless you’re going to the National Cornbread Festival in April) but it is worth a pit-stop if you’re travelling between Nashville and Chattanooga on I-24 E. I’ve passed this quaint little town several dozen times on my way south over the years and have never taken the time to stop, despite the fact that I once misread the road sign for Russell Cave National Monument as the Russell Crowe National Monument (which if it were a real place would be worth a visit just to take photos for his biggest fan – my mother).

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Seeing what’s cooking…

On our way to Cleveland, TN last weekend, we decided (on a whim) to stop at the Lodge Factory Store in South Pittsburg. After learning more about the eco-friendliness of cast iron, Angie and I had been talking about getting an iron skillet. Lodge Cast Iron is made in South Pittsburg, at a foundry (Lodge Manufacturing) that was originally established in 1896. The factory store is one of the coolest places I’ve been in a while. When we walked in we were greeted like family and given snacks. (Everyone knows the way to our heart is through free food!). After snack, the wonderful Lodge Ladies directed us to the area we were most interested in – the factory seconds. These items have small, indiscernible blemishes in them that make them unsalable as first quality merchandise and are therefore discounted. Seriously discounted in some cases.

We bought a Dutch oven (for camping), 2 skillets, and 2 pizza pans (or griddles, I suppose) for less than $60. I still can’t find the blemishes in any of them. These items will last our entire lifetime and then some.

After leaving the Lodge Factory Store, we made our way to Russell Cave. And by “made our way”, I mean it was quite a scenic drive to get there. Russell Cave National Monument is part of the National Park Service and if you collect passport stamps like we do, you’ll be happy to know, they offer two of them. The second is for the Trail of Tears, of which the park is a part.

The walk to the cave is relatively short on a completely shaded boardwalk. The cave itself is huge. Primitive settlers used it for shelter and archaeologists are still excavating tools, weapons, and remains from the site. You can’t enter the cave but you can see inside the mouth of it from the platform at the end of the boardwalk.

If you have extra time, there’s a 1.2 mile nature trail that’s worth a look too. However, USE BUG SPRAY! Douse yourself in it like it’s cheap perfume. Or take a bath in it. I don’t care – just don’t casually spray just your ankles and socks like I did. The mosquitoes are fierce and they will bite through your clothes, leaving you looking like a leper. Trust me, I know!

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Effective for knocking down spider webs, no so much for swatting mosquitoes!

While you’re hiking, be sure to look for the “J” tree. I’m pretty sure this is the most photographed spot in the park.

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Fun in Flori-Bama

We’re in Florida. No we’re in Alabama.

That was the debate Angie and I had last week when we camped along Perdido Bay in Lillian, AL, which is just steps from the Florida state line. I’m fairly certain we kayaked across that line at least once, giving us the right to brag to our friends that we paddled all the way from Alabama to Florida in a single day. That don’t need to know that it took about 15 minutes to accomplish this feat.

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The Gulf Shores/Pensacola KOA is located right on the bay and from our cabin, we could watch the sun turn the water a beautiful shade of pink in the evenings and catch a Great Blue Heron hanging out on the dock every morning.

My favorite part of the trip had to be just being able to walk out into the warm waters of the bay to go for a swim. We spent so much time out there that other campers thought we had to be water-logged. What can we say? We’re water people! We also employed a bit of knowledge from our Florida Master Naturalist classes and showed some “bored” children how to spot all of the amazing creatures in the bay, including blue crabs, hermit crabs, clams, and an assortment of little fish.

We also went on an outing to see the Pensacola Blue Wahoos minor league baseball team take on the interestingly named, Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. The Wahoos won and we enjoyed all-you-can-eat popcorn, served in a sand pail complete with shovel.

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No trip to the coast is complete without a day at the beach though, so we did that too. For most of the week, the yellow and purple caution flags were waving on shore but luckily on the day we went, the water was pretty calm and absent of any jellyfish.

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We had a great time but the true highlight of the trip was meeting two friends from Arkansas on their version of a Thelma and Louise trip (minus the ending, of course!). Dana and Tonya are neighbors who decided spur of the moment (like the day before) to take off for the beach. Though they never said exactly what was going on, it was obvious that something heavy was happening in their lives at home. Yet, what stood out most to us about them was their carefree attitude…and the fact that they slept, just a few feet from the shore, on a giant air mattress. No tent, just an air mattress shaded by a picnic canopy.

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I really do believe that the people you meet on your journeys are what make the experience worthwhile.

Playing in Pigeon Forge

The frigid temperatures of Winter finally broke just in time for the long President’s Day weekend (and our 7th anniversary) so we decided to take a short drive to the Smoky Mountains. For a lot of folks, the Smokies are just a place to shop, dine, and partake of cheesy tourist attractions (like hillbilly dinner shows and redneck comedy barns). We like the other side of the mountains – the less traveled, more serene side – the one with rocks and trees.

We spent the biggest part of our 2 day excursion searching for letterboxes. In total, we found 17 of them – some were in the cemetery, most were in parks, but one was actually hidden next to an outhouse from the 1800s. I know I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, letterboxing really does take you to places you might not otherwise know existed.

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When we go somewhere that we’ve been before, we like to find one “attraction” that we’ve never visited and give it a try. With the help of Groupon, we decided to check out RainForest Adventures Discovery Zoo. Angie loves monkeys and this place was full of them – from tamarins to capuchins. We love zoos and wildlife parks BUT have very specific criteria for selecting which ones to visit. Our preference goes to rehabilitation centers or sanctuaries that take in neglected or exploited animals. Though RainForest Adventures doesn’t tout their work in this area, with a little digging I was able to find out that they were among several facilities to rescue animals from an abusive (and now permanently closed) zoo in Alabama last year.

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We enjoyed watching the monkeys play and eat and we enjoyed feeding the goats, especially the tiny little babies that were born just last week.

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The highlight of our trip was hiking to one of the area’s lesser-known but no-less beautiful waterfalls – Spruce Flat Falls.

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The 2-mile round trip hike is rated “easy” in the guidebook. As we stood panting 1/10th of a mile up the first bend in the trail, we wondered who writes these guidebooks anyway?? The trip is not difficult but it is definitely not one that I would take a small child or a even picnic basket on. There are too many steep climbs and drop-offs to manage either.

We managed to make it though and like any other major (or minor) accomplishment, we were pretty psyched at having done so. The view at the end was phenomenal. I only wish it were summer and we could have played in the waterfall.