The Ghosts of Octagon Hall — Franklin, Kentucky


• First off, thank you to Scott Flood for the invite to this incredible location.

• I normally don’t redact too much from the weird or disturbing things I record at locations, but the unnerving captures here set a new record in that vein for

• The possible inaccuracy of Mary Elizabeth Caldwell’s death was a surprise. From varying dates of her death (1854/1859), to conflicting census data potentially showing her alive decades later, it was too much to discount — especially since the age difference between the Mary E. Caldwell in the listings matches consistently with older sibling Fannie. Hopefully we’ll eventually hear back from Octagon Hall and get this clarified.

1860 Census
1870 Census: Andrew Caldwell’s daughter Fannie married James McElwain. She now appears in his household, as does Mary E. Caldwell as well as a young Caldwell boy.
A.J. Caldwell Family Group Sheet on file at Simpson County Historical Society — with a note by whomever compiled questioning Mary Elizabeth’s death as a child — probably a relative.

• My two favorite sessions in this video were the Geobox Session in Mary Elizabeth’s room and the Reverse Speech Box session in the family cemetery.

• The name Buckner that came through as a response has historical relevance to the Civil War and the Orphan Brigade of soldiers who camped at Octagon Hall. 1st Kentucky Brigade, the largest formation of Kentucky soldiers raised by either side during the Civil War, became known as the Orphan Brigade, so nicknamed because when the state remained in the Union these Confederate soldiers could not return home until the war had ended. Any Confederate soldier captured in the state would face martial law subject to a death sentence. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, the Orphans’ first commander, was one of Kentucky’s most prominent soldiers. Octagon Hall was utilized by the future Orphan Brigade as an overnight encampment after soldiers evacuated Bowling Green and headed toward the Confederate stronghold of Nashville, Tenn. in 1862. Re-enactments have commemorated the anniversary of the encampment on the property.

• The Reverse Speech Box still continues to blow my mind. How can anyone refute clear, direct and intelligent responses when all the audio of the radio sweep is being reversed?

Getting out ITC devices
Mike Culwell as Captain Happy

Octagon Hall

(Also referred to as Octagon House, Mayfair Farm(s), Eight-Sided Mansion, Caldwell-Williams House)

6040 Bowling Green Road

Franklin, KY 42134

Historic Timeline

• Foundation of limestone laid for the three-story brick family home of Andrew Jackson (AJ) Caldwell, a prosperous farmer and leather tannery owner, on plantation site/215-acre farm in 1847.

• Construction of home by slave labor completed 1859-1860.

▪ Edwin Hendricks, contractor; R. F. Haynes, bricklayer; Joe Thomas Ditmore, carpenter (Franklin Favorite, 1/25/2001)

▪ Bricks believed burned on property from red clay of surrounding countryside and lumber hewn from trees on farm.

▪ “Rumored first bricks fired as the cannons roared at Ft. Sumpter.” (Franklin Favorite, 5/21/1992)

▪ “It is said that one slave with a gift for wood carving alone cut and finished all the baseboarding and frame work.” (Courier-Journal, 9/20/1954)

▪ Caldwell relatives noted one of slaves who was skilled and talented craftsman said to have carved eight-sided posts and designs that are part of banisters on main stairwell and doorways. (Franklin Favorite, 5/21/1992; 1/25/2001)

▪ Four large rooms in addition to halls and alcoves on each floor.

▪ Full basement, two small subbasements

▪ Bottom floor considered basement, partially above ground, with kitchen, pantry and cellar; “but legends say also used as a dungeon.” (Franklin Favorite, 5/21/1992)

▪ Caldwell relatives say the sub-cellar “once described as a mystery-chamber was no more than a sweet potato cellar.” (Franklin Favorite, 10/6/1938)

▪ Large octagon-shaped copper lantern once adorned top of house; octagon-shaped chimneys

▪ Cupola hit by lightning and burned in 1920. Caldwell said to have once instructed slave to hide beehive there for safekeeping from Union soldiers.

▪ Rear porch added sometime after construction by Caldwell’s sons. A son also noted the Civil War stopped much of the construction operation and the house remained in that condition until long after Caldwell’s death. “The walls were put up and the inside partially finished.” (Park City Daily News, 2/8/1981)

▪ Old sundial in backyard with inscription: “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.” (Courier-Journal, 9/20/1954)

▪ Slave quarters located behind house.

▪ “By 1860, Caldwell had increased his wealth substantially. He had more than doubled his real estate value and was noted as owning $9,500 in personal property, of which a great portion was the value of his now 34-member slave labor force, who lived in three slave quarter buildings.” (explorekyhistory)

▪ Two cemeteries located on property, as well as “mass graves and bone piles.” (Franklin Favorite, 11/1/2018)

▪ Caldwell owned 62 slaves and many were buried on the property near the house. (Park City Daily News, 3/4/2010)

▪ “Many slaves and their children died at the plantation home.” (Franklin Favorite, 10/18/2007)

▪ Grounds also included a slave cemetery, two log slave cabins, smokehouse, carriage shed & barns circa 1862 and 1919.

• Caldwell believed to have died in home of typhoid fever in 1866 at age 47. Buried in Fairview Cemetery in Bowling Green.

▪ First wife Elizabeth Akers said to have died of measles/typhoid fever in June 1851 at age 29, within months of death of 18-month-old son in November 1851.

▪ “Buried in small family cemetery at Octagon Hall with 2 children. The fieldstone surrounding the graves was added later to protect the graves.” (findagrave)

• Linked graves are Mary Elizabeth Caldwell (1847-1854, grave description as buried next to mother) and A.J. Caldwell (1850-1851)

▪ Conflicting stories (age/year) of daughter Mary Elizabeth dying from injuries suffered after dress caught fire by basement kitchen fireplace.

• Mary E., age 11, listed in 1860 Census.

• Mary E. Caldwell, age 23, listed as residing with James and Fannie McElwain (sister) in 1870 Census.

• Record in family bible of Andrew Jackson Caldwell does not indicate death of Mary Elizabeth. Same death year as grave link (1854) for his sister Elizabeth Sutton. (usgenwebsites)

• Dr. Miles Williams, Nashville osteopath, purchased property from Caldwell’s second wife Harriet and restored residence, which had fallen into disrepair, in mid-1900s. Renamed as Mayfair; enjoyed retirement maintaining home and farm, “loved every brick” until death in 1954.  (Courier-Journal, 9/20/1954)

▪ Indoor plumbing and electricity installed in 1948.

• Residence received Simpson County’s first historical marker located in front of home in 1962: “an ante bellum landmark.” Original stolen by vandals in 1974.

• Listed on National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

• After Mrs. Williams’ death in 1981, ownership passed through descendants and used as rental property.

• Nonprofit organization Captain David C. Walker Camp 640 Sons of Confederate Veterans acquired in 2001 and opened to public, housing Confederate Studies Archive/Museum. (Franklin Favorite, 4/26/2001) Octagon Hall Foundation formed.

▪ Octagon Hall Museum, ghost hunts currently operated.

Why an octagon?

• During the 1850s, the concept of the octagon in domestic architecture incited the imagination of the country. This movement was given impetus by Orson S. Fowler in his book “The Octagon House: A Home For All,” first published in 1848. Fowler espoused the octagon as the perfect shape for architecture. He introduced to his readers “not merely a new concept of building but a fresh attitude toward housing: “Why continue to build in the same square form of all past ages? Nature’s forms are mostly spherical …” (National Register of Historic Places Inventory, 1980)

• “Caldwell determinedly said Southern Colonials weren’t for him.” (Courier-Journal, 9/20/1954)

• Some believe Caldwell decided on unique shape because of fear of windstorms. Eight-sided homes with 45-degree-angled walls said to have good ventilation and offer protection from strong winds. Caldwell relatives refuted theory, saying he wanted “something different.” Others say desired only octagon-shaped house in the state.

▪ 68 surviving octagon houses included on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places; Octagon Hall one of two in Kentucky.

▪ Deadhouses, structures used for the temporary storage of bodies before burial or transportation, were built in an octagonal shape in the mid-to-late-19th century unique to Ontario, Canada and thought inspired by the fad in U.S. promoted by Fowler (above).

Civil War importance (1861-1865)

Home’s construction completed just prior to Civil War’s start. Throughout Civil War, property used by both Confederate and Union forces as hospital and sanctuary for soldiers. Caldwell known to be staunch-Confederate supporter; relation Confederate Army colonel. Caldwell faced court-martialing if caught harboring Confederates. House’s location between Louisville-Nashville Pike and L&N Railroad, allowed to be used as observation post.

• Because one of tallest structures in area, said Caldwell and family could watch battle of Bowling Green from roof. (Franklin Favorite, 7/7/1983)

• Property utilized by “Orphan Brigade” in February 1862 as overnight encampment after Confederate forces evacuated stronghold in Bowling Green and took refuge at the site.

▪ Caldwell’s nephew Col. John W. Caldwell noted in diary of “camping at Andrew’s strange house six miles from Franklin.” (“Franklin Favorite, 2/22/2007)

▪ Estimated 8,000-12,000 Confederate soldiers camped on the grounds, generals staying inside, before retreating into Tennessee the following morning.

▪ Snow fell overnight on sleeping troops, and when they awoke and pulled back their blankets said to have “looked like the dead rising from the fields.” (Franklin Favorite, 1/25/2001)

▪ Two days later Union army came in pursuit of the Confederates and took occupation of the home.

▪ Buell’s Federal Forces said to have raided Caldwell’s beehives, livestock, food stores and killed Mrs. Caldwell’s pet cow Old Spot/Belle, storing the carcass in the well and leaving the family without water for days.

• Because of Confederate ties, Caldwell known to have harbored wounded soldiers from capture by Union forces and hid them in house.

▪ Story of soldier wandering up to house at night and over breakfast learning he was son of Caldwell’s sister in Texas, who had run away at 16 to enlist and was searching for “an uncle who lived in ‘a round brick house near Franklin.’” (Franklin Favorite, 10/6/1938)

▪ Numerous stories of discoveries of secret tunnels, passageways and hiding places on property, as well as soldier deaths.

▪ “Many were badly wounded and did not recover and are buried on the grounds.” (Franklin Favorite, 10/18/2007)

▪ Mrs. Miles Williams said to have told historical society of discovery of boot of Confederate soldier, cut as if taken off the wounded. (Franklin Favorite, 7/7/1983)

▪ One of soldiers put in attic to hide from Union; his foot was wounded and apparently after taking off boot to remove pressure bled to death; similarly another hiding in crawl space said to have died bleeding out from gunshot wound to leg; another found on front steps early one morning who apparently died there after his knocking at door wasn’t heard. (Franklin Favorite, 10/3/2003; 11/1/2018)

Thank you again to Eunice Spector for her impeccable research!

— Evel Ogilville

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