Imagine it's not long into the 20th century. You're sitting here on the handsome wrap-around porch of the Pickle Mansion looking out over Fort Sanders neighborhood from the top of the hill. Perhaps you're taking evening tea with your neighbors. The lowering sun is still shining benignly and life moves at a gracious, stately pace. I don't know if the Pickle Mansion is haunted, but I can see the ghosts, can you?
Although I really can't do this image justice in words, I know of someone who did...
Here is an excerpt from one of my favorite works by local writer James Agee, Knoxville: Summer of 1915. It's an autobiographical essay he wrote which was included in the preface to his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Death In the Family, remembering his life in his family's Fort Sanders home:
"We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville Tennessee in the time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child.
...It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street and the standing up into their sphere of possession of the trees, of birds' hung havens, hangars. People go by; things go by. A horse, drawing a buggy, breaking his hollow iron music on the asphalt: a loud auto: a quiet auto: people in pairs, not in a hurry, scuffling, switching their weight of aestival body, talking casually, the taste hovering over them of vanilla, strawberry, pasteboard, and starched milk, the image upon them of lovers and horsemen, squaring with clowns in hueless amber. A streetcar raising its iron moan; stopping; belling and starting, stertorous; rousing and raising again its iron increasing moan and swimming its gold windows and straw seats on past and past and past, the bleak spark crackling and cursing above it like a small malignant spirit set to dog its tracks; the iron whine rises on rising speed; still risen, faints; halts; the faint stinging bell; rises again, still fainter; fainting, lifting, lifts, faints foregone: forgotten. Now is the night one blue dew."
- James Agee, Knoxville: Summer of 1915.
There's lots more, and you should really read it to get a sense of Knoxville's essence at a singular point in time. And then come join me in looking for the ghosts in Fort Sanders.