Knoxville’s notable past marked in the Old Gray Cemetery

Tennessee

Old Gray Cemetery in Knoxville, Tenn. (WATE)

It’s a hidden gem just off of North Broadway Avenue in North Knoxville.

Old Gray Cemetery, with its Victorian-era marble headstones and ornate statues, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

It has also served as a setting for some spooky ghost stories.

If you visit the tree-lined trails that wind through Old Gray cemetery,  you might get a glimpse of a woman wearing the widow’s weeds of a bygone era.

Old Gray Cemetery in Knoxville, Tenn. (WATE)

Don’t let appearances fool you.

“I am Laura Still,” the woman says, “and I am the storyteller and tour guide for Knoxville Walking Tours, and I’m also partnered with the Knoxville History Project.”

This peaceful park-like setting, established in 1850, is one of Laura’s favorite stops on her haunted Knoxville tours.

She doesn’t see spirits; she feels their presence.

“The ghost stories, to me, are kind of very peaceful stories,” Laura says. “There’s nothing violent or evil about any of them. All of these people are people who actually lived.”

People like the beautiful artist Catherine Wiley and her mentor, Lloyd Branson.

“She was our best-known American Impressionist from this area, and he was probably our first professional artist from Knoxville, ” Laura explains. “He had a studio on Gay Street.”

“Their names were somewhat linked and there were rumors there was more to it than a friendship,” she said.

Catherine died in 1958; Lloyd, far earlier in 1925.

Now, they are linked forever by their final resting places at Old Gray.

“They meet sometimes, maybe for a moonlight stroll. They’ve been spotted hand-in-hand at twilight, so it’s kind of nice. They’ve been able to get together after all that time,” Laura said with a smile.

Old Gray Cemetery in Knoxville, Tenn. (WATE)

More than 9,000 people are buried at Old Gray; some with headstones that date to the 1820s; some, with ornate statues in their likenesses.

Pause at the grave of noted 1890s author Virginia Rosalie Coxe.

Laura says somberly, “she died young. She had a kidney ailment.”

In 2010, someone broke the hand off of her statue.

Perhaps, our tour guide says, creating the newest ghost story at Old Gray.

“Rosalie wanders through the cemetery, looking for her hand, so if you meet her, tell her the board has it. They found it a few years later and they’re going to re-attach it. So, she’ll probably be satisfied with that answer.”

So many stories to tell of notable people from Knoxville’s past.

Most were laid to rest here in the Victorian era.

“There is some empty space and at some point, they want to reopen it for people who want to purchase a plot here,” Laura says, with a twinkle in her eye.

So, don’t worry. There’s a chance you can rest here, too, one day, when it’s your turn.

If you’d like to visit Old Gray Cemetery, Knoxville Walking Tours is offering private tours for small groups right now during the pandemic.

Call 865-309-4522 or visit knoxvillewalkingtours.com

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