Thursday, May 10, 2012

Shootout on Historic Gay Street

If you have ever had the pleasure of visiting downtown Knoxville, then I’m sure you've seen Gay Street.  It is one of the oldest streets in our city and it is still thriving today.  Our downtown area has undergone some much needed revitalization over the past few years, but you can still walk down Gay Street and catch a glimpse of the past.

There must be thousands of stories about Gay Street.  It was the first paved street in the city of Knoxville, way back in 1854.  Both Union and Confederate forces had recruiting stations on Gay street, at the very same time!  Gay Street has even been mentioned in the works of James Agee. My very own grandmother ran a soup kitchen there in the 1930s. 

But, the story that I am going to tell you today sounds less like history, and more like a movie plot.  Imagine the scene:  A gentleman steps out of the Merchants Bank on Gay Street, spies another man walking toward him, grabs a shotgun and kills him instantly.  The victim’s son, hearing the shots, runs forward and shoots the gentleman.  The gentleman (can we still call him that at this point in the story?) is mortally wounded but manages to grab a second shotgun from inside the bank building.  He shoots the son to death and wounds several innocent bystanders before dying from his injuries.  The whole thing took about two minutes and resulted in three deaths and seven wounded citizens. 

Who were these people that would shoot each other on sight?  Knoxville wasn’t exactly the Old West back on October 19, 1882, but things certainly got serious on Gay street that day. Where these men criminals?  Where they outlaws?  Did they serve on opposite sides during the Civil War?  No, not by a long shot.

Thomas O’Connor was one of the wealthiest men in the South and his opponent Joseph Alexander Mabry wasn’t far down the list.  Both men had served in the Confederate Army during the war, and both men had made a lot of money in railroads after the war. 

O’Connor made even more money by leasing convicts to work in coal mines and to manufacture the ever popular ‘Tennessee Wagon’ for farmers.  Eventually, O’Connor created and became the first President of The Mechanic’s National Bank.  He even went on to become a trustee of East Tennessee University, the school that later became The University of Tennessee.

Joseph Mabry made his money in railroads and property development.  He was also appointed as a trustee of the East Tennessee University, and in 1870, he was a member of the State Constitutional Convention.  He and his brother-in-law actually donated the property for downtown’s Market Square. Mabry started to fall on hard times though, he had to sell some land and some horses just to make ends meet.

The tragic shooting was set in motion during a poker game.  It seems that Joseph Mabry had sold his second mansion to O’Connor back in 1880, but his son, Will Mabry, won it back with a well played hand of cards.  Rumor has it that O’Connor refused to honor the bet.
Now, poor Will was shot and killed in a fight on December 24th, 1881. His father, Joseph, just knew O’Connor had to be behind the murder.  He got drunk and approached O’Connor at the Fair Grounds in South Knoxville on October 17th, 1882.  O’Connor refused to speak with him.  That night, Mabry sent him a note threatening that he would “kill him on sight.”

Sure enough, two days later, O’Connor steps out of his bank and spots Mabry walking down Gay Street.  He must have believed the man’s threats, because he did not hesitate to shoot him dead. One of Mabry’s sons, an up-and-coming attorney named Joseph Mabry III, runs to the bank.  He sees his father dead and shoots O’Connor.  O’Connor grabs a second shotgun and kills him in the street, but not before injuring seven bystanders.

Bankers and Developers fighting over money?  I know, I know, it’s hard to believe, especially with our current economic times.  Let’s just hope that none of our wealthiest citizens take up poker, we don’t need any more bloodshed on Gay Street.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"A Discriminating Death" is released - and I get Pygmy Goats!

So, there is nothing mysterious about this blog update - please forgive me!  I promise to come back to our interesting Tennessee history in the next post.  For today, I am celebrating the release of my second novel 'A Discriminating Death' and my recent acquisition of two of the cutest Pygmy/Dwarf Nubian goats you have ever seen!

First the book;  "A Discriminating Death" is the second in the Jane Brooks series.  It is published by Rainstorm Press and is currently available for Kindle.  It should be out in paperback within the next few weeks.  Follow Jane and her friend Rodney as they discover the truth about the Melungeons and a missing client.
You can find the book (for free if you have Amazon Prime!) at

Next, let me tell you about my goats!  If you have read my post from January, you'll remember that one of my goals in life was to have Pygmy goats.  I have wanted one since I was a kid (pun intended!).  We now have welcomed Agnus (my six year old favors the Latin spelling!) and Daisy into our yard and hearts.  They are about five weeks old and still require bottle feeding.  We love them!

My next goal is to have the first draft of the third Jane Brooks novel finished before my next birthday.  It will be hard but I think I can do it!  What are your goals and dreams?  I would love to hear what you are working on.  It is hard to figure out what you want in this old life, but it is a lot of fun too!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

University of Tennessee Ghosts

                While doing some research on local ghost stories for my third novel, A Haunted Death, I have come across quite a bit of information about the spirits that haunt the University of Tennessee campus in Knoxville.

                I’ll admit that I never saw anything supernatural during my years at U.T., but apparently lots of other folks have.  Let me share with you a few of the more interesting haunts (or haints if you are from East Tennessee).

                Of course there would be Civil War ghosts running all over campus.  That just makes sense seeing as how the graves of eight unidentified Union soldiers were found when the school was digging the foundation for Blount Hall.   The bodies were removed, but the spirits linger on.  Some people claim eight men in Union uniform can be seen talking and comparing maps near their original graves.

                Anyone who has ever attended a class on ‘The Hill’ knows two things.  One, the climb is steeper than it looks.  Two, you have to watch out for the barghest.  Okay, so maybe most people don’t know to watch out for a supernatural dog with big teeth and claws that haunts the hillside day and night.  I’m not real sure how this one got started, but large ghostly dogs have shown up in English folklore over and over again.  Maybe this is a spirit that came over with a couple of our ancestors back in the day.

                My favorite ghost is The Evening Primrose.  She pulls books off of the shelves in Hoskins Library.  A fairly typical spirit, except for the fact that she announces her presence with the smell of baking cornbread.  Only in East Tennessee do you get ghosts like that!

                Have any of you UT alumni encountered anything strange on the campus?  If so, I’d love to hear your story!

Thursday, February 16, 2012


It’s February and I've been thinking about Melungeons a lot lately.  If you don’t know much about Melungeons, you are not alone.  If you live in East Tennessee, I am fairly confident that you actually know a Melungeon or two.  Do you work with a Collins?  Live next to a Cox, Freeman, Mullins or a Campbell?  I’m sure you've got an acquaintance or two named Goins.  

No one is really sure where the name Melungeon originated.  Some scholars think the term originated from the French melange meaning 'mixture/mixing', while some think it came from the Turkish words melun and can, translated as 'damned soul'.   

According to legend, the Melungeons settled in the East Tennessee area before 'white' settlers arrived.  The 'white' settlers imagined that they were going to a brave new territory, ripe for the picking and completely uninhabited as long as you didn’t consider those pesky natives.  What they discovered was a group of dark skinned people claiming to be Portuguese had already settled in the fertile bottom land.

The 'white' settlers looked at the dark skin and the rich farmland and quickly made a decision.  This group of people would be labeled as 'free persons of color' and therefore could not own land.  They could not sue a 'white' man in a court of law and they could not marry a ‘white’ person.  Problem solved.

The Melungeons moved farther and farther back into the hills and kept to themselves.  They learned to deny their heritage and hide their ancestry.  Soon, they became a thing of legend.  They were the 'boogeyman' in a tale to scare your children into behaving.  

The true origin of the Melungeons is still in question, but theories abound.  They have been thought to be the lost tribe of Isreal, the missing settlers of Jamestown and the spawn of the devil.  DNA analysis now shows that many Melungeons are of Moorish/Berber descent.
The classical image a Melungeon is someone with dark skin, dark hair, and blue eyes.  People used to think that all Melungeons had six fingers on one hand, and while the trait is slightly higher in that population, it certainly isn’t true of everyone.

Could you be a Melungeon?  You'd be in good company.  Scholars think that President Lincoln and even Elvis Presely may have had Melungeon ancestry.

Check out the Melungeon Heritage Society’s webpage for more information.  Even better, if you get a chance, stop in for stop in for the Sixteenth Union:  A Melungeon Gathering, June 28-30, 2012,"Home to the Hills" Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State park, Big Stone Gap.

So, start rooting around in your family tree and remember that there is a whole world of  mystery right here in our backyard!  

Monday, January 9, 2012

"The Weeping Mausoleum of Cleveland, Tennessee." Or "How I decided to get pygmy goats."

Okay, I'll  be honest.  So far it has been one hell of a New Year.  We have had to deal with illness and some serious family problems.  Problems that so far remain unresolved.  For me, it has been easy to sink into the gloom of winter.

Thankfully, my friend Jeff Lindstrom helped me see things another way.  I was chatting with him on facebook, because he is literally half-way around the world, and bemoaning my inability to find good quotes about local ghost stories for my third Jane Brooks Novel, "A Haunted Death".  Jeff reminded me about a marble mausoleum that weeps red tears in Bradley County, Tennessee.

Granted, it wasn't the most upbeat of topics, but it did get me thinking, and researching.  Turns out, the mausoleum in question belongs to the Craigmile family of Cleveland, Tennessee.  In 1874, the Craigmiles built the Gothic style St. Luke's Episcopal Church and constructed the mausoleum as a memorial three years after the death of their seven-year old daughter, Nina.

It seems that the wealthy Craigmile family had decided their daughter could do much better than attending the local public school and hobnobbing with the town's children.  They hired a tutor to come and teach the girl at home.  The years went on and poor Nina grew lonely.  She had money, education, and family, but what she wanted was friends. 

The story goes that on the day of her death, her grandfather gave her a porcelain doll.  Nina named it Camellia and took it with her on a ride through the country in her grandfather's buggy.  She never came back.  The buggy was hit by a train while crossing the tracks and she was killed instantly.   

It was in the 1920's that the local school children first noticed the blood red trail of tears running down the front of the white marbled mausoleum.  The trail is still there today.  Back then, everyone assumed that it was poor Nina, crying for the playmates she had missed out on in life.  I think they may be right.

What we miss, we miss.  Thanks to Jeff, I realized again that life is short and I am tired of missing out. I'm going to buy two pygmy goats.

All my life I have been drawn to the little creatures, but it wasn't until last fall's first grade field trip that I finally seriously thought about getting a couple. I was a chaperon on the trip to a local  farm and I fell in love with a goat all over again.

You see, we have had our little house in the country (not really the country, it is in a subdivision, but we are zoned for goats - I checked) on the market for the past year and although we had almost fifty showings, we did not get one single offer.  Did I want something different - like my own office instead of a laptop on the dining room table?  Yes.  Did I get it? No.  If we are going to be here, I might as well enjoy pygmy goats standing on the patio table looking at me while I'm working on the dining room table.

That problem was pretty easily solved, the rest of my problems are more troublesome.  But, I am not seven years old.  I am thirty-seven and there is a lot I can do with my life while I am still here.  It's true that recent events have reminded me that I have a lot of thing to fear and a lot of things to be angry about. We all do.  But, I can wear this cloak of anger and fear and still enjoy playing at the park with my kids.  I can walk with sorrow and still find peace reading a bed time story about dinosaurs.  I can do whatever I choose, because unlike poor Nina, I am not dead yet.  And neither are you.

I know that one day I will be.  My goats may be sad when I pass, but I fully intend to live my life so that my mausoleum does not weep.