MTSU Sidelines, Connor Burnard, October 19, 2017
The 19th century plantation was home to the Davis family, known and named for Confederate soldier Sam Davis, who was hanged in 1863 by Union General Grenville Dodge after being charged as a spy. As a popular historic tourist destination in Smyrna opened in 1930, the Historic Sam Davis home sees all sorts of visitors. Civil War re-enactors gather regularly on the property and volunteers dressed in period clothing populate the home and adjacent museum. However, visitors and employees contend that not everyone seen in 1800s garb at the home is a volunteer — they might not even be alive.
Lee Lankford, a Middle Tennessee native that has been a tour guide at the Sam Davis Home for nine years, served on the board of directors for eight years and was a volunteer at the property for more than two decades, says that some residents of the plantation never truly left their home.
“It seems like every time I’m downstairs I hear footsteps upstairs,” Lankford said. “I don’t even bother going to check anymore because I know I won’t find anybody.”
Lankford said that over the years, he and other employees have had many mysterious experiences that they can’t explain, regardless of the time of day. Furniture has been moved and people in period clothing have been seen only to disappear seemingly out of nowhere. In one instance, he saw a woman standing across a room while locking up the house, only for her to be gone when he looked back.
“I unlocked the door, set the (security) alarm, turned around and there was a woman standing right there,” Lankford said. “She had her arms folded and was looking at me.” Lankford said he was afraid a visitor had lingered in the house after closing and would set the motion detector off. After turning the security alarm off, Lankford said he turned around to an empty room and a search of the house proved it to be totally empty, but that was not the last he saw of that woman.
“Two weeks later, I had locked up and was on the sidewalk and just glanced up, and in the window upstairs, she’s standing there, arms folded, looking down at me,” Lankford said. “My first thought was somebody’s in the house and I just set the alarm. I took about three steps before I stopped. She was there last time, but I couldn’t find her. If I go in there, I won’t find her this time either, so I just didn’t bother.”
Lankford said that another employee at the home described seeing the same woman in the house before, and that apparently, the woman watches people to ensure they aren’t doing anything to harm the house, then totally disappears.
The list of supposed paranormal sightings is lengthy, including an apparent premonition of Jane Simmons Davis, Sam Davis’s mother, walking from the house toward the cemetery, women in the dining room and garden disappearing seconds after being seen, a young boy running from the side porch directly through a closed door, Grandmother Simmons’ heavy rocking chair rocking steadily when a tour guide misspoke her name, and crying sounds coming from the formal parlor on the anniversary of Sam Davis’ wake in that room, where his mother and grandmother are said to have cried over his coffin for hours.
Lankford said that some employees refused to be in the house alone and spoke of at least one instance in which a skeptical employee was pushed to believe in the paranormal activities after having an experience on the rear staircase.
“We had a guy that worked here who told everybody they just had active imaginations, that there’s no way that any of the stuff they were talking about could possibly have happened. He wouldn’t believe a thing,” Lankford said. “But he was up here on tour one day, and he heard footsteps coming up the steps. So he goes around and looks over, but there’s nobody there. He walked around to the top of the stairs and he could still hear the steps as they came up, right up to in front of him. We asked him why he hadn’t moved. He said, ‘I couldn’t.’” Lankford said that following the experience, the employee firmly believed the house was haunted.
Despite the long list of unexplained events that he has witnessed or heard about, Lankford said that he has never felt threatened.
“I’ve never felt in danger before. There have been times I felt someone watching me while I was doing something, and I would turn around and nobody was there,” Lankford said. “And when I went back to doing whatever it was I was doing, I would feel watched again.”
With so many firsthand accounts of spirits and haunted activity at the Historic Sam Davis Home, some can certainly make the argument that the original residents of the property perhaps have never left.
The home offers Ghost Tours during the month of October, which offers a great opportunity to any skeptics seeking proof, or lack thereof, of ghosts or other unexplained presences at the home.
The Historic Sam Davis Home can be found at 1399 Sam Davis Rd. in Smyrna and online here.
This story originally ran in MTSU Sidelines’ September 2017 print edition. For more information, contact Editor-in-Chief Brinley Hineman at firstname.lastname@example.org.