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Ghosthunters revel in historic town’s spooky vibe

In downtown Jonesborough, nestled between antique shops selling stained glass and rustic wooden furniture, is a small red sign that piques the interest of those who walk by, calling all who dare to explore not only the history of Tennessee’s oldest town, but also its ghosts.
East Tennessee Ghost Tours and Paranormal Technology is where visitors can explore what makes Jonesborough one of the top 10 most haunted places in America, according to, a popular website for paranormal enthusiasts.
Located at 111 E. Main St., the little room that makes up the Ghost Tours offices is lined with eerie photos of local churches and businesses where people have claimed to have experiences with ghosts. Images of shadowy figures and smoke-like apparitions hang on the walls as proof there’s something spooky going on in Jonesborough.
The owners, Kathy Shepard and Robb Phillips, sat at desks only a few feet apart with a dry erase board behind them filled with lists of places in town — some marked with stars and others with check marks.
The ones with stars were the houses they had already investigated, and the ones with checks were the ones that needed their attention. A big white cartoon ghost sat in the corner with glowing green eyes and a hat on its head as if saying, “I’m a friendly ghost.”
Phillips sat on a small wooden stool, his eyes blue green and his goatee a peppered mixture of light brown and blonde. A pack of Marlboro red cigarettes sat on a desk cluttered with papers and yellow sticky notes. The normally shy man became animated as he talked about the paranormal and his love for helping people.
“I use to help cast out demons from people in our church. Outsiders would get turned away and had to go to their own church. That’s when I kinda decided I would like to help other people,” said Phillips.
The paranormal team, which has been together for six years, set up shop four years ago in Jonesborough. When asked why they chose Jonesborough, they both offered an expression that indicated it was a no-brainer.
“The haunted location of Jonesborough is one of the top 10 most haunted towns in America, and the oldest town in Tennessee, so why not?” said Phillips.
Phillips believes the main reason for so many paranormal sightings is a cholera outbreak that killed almost half of the population.
“New people were settling here, new houses were being built, new businesses were coming together, and all the construction had to stop so the healthy could build coffins and dig graves for the dead.”
Shepard, who has inviting brown eyes and a short edgy haircut, recalled her own experience with paranormal events.
“I’ve heard a horse galloping down Main, and people say they saw Andrew Jackson on the horse. We also have a few pictures that capture apparitions in some of the local businesses,” she said, a wide grin on her face.
Many of the business owners in Jonesborough tell similar tales. At the Olde Courthouse Diner, owner Lance Davis and employee Opal Pagan claim the restaurant is haunted.
Davis has owned the restaurant for a year and a half. He says the building was once a pool hall and a bail bondsman’s office. A bullet hole in the front window is where they claim a man was shot in the building sometime in the 60s.
“Lots of times I’m here late at night after everybody’s gone and you’ll hear a crash in the other room, and you’ll go and see something laying on the floor for no apparent reason,” Davis said.
Pagan, who has long wispy brown hair and silver rings on her fingers, believes that maybe whoever was shot in the building is the one causing all the trouble.
“We call him George,” she said as she laughed at the thought of giving something invisible a name.
“Two weeks ago I was putting dishes away in the kitchen, and a bowl came off the counter, and this past Sunday I got pushed. It pushed me so hard,” she said.
At the AmericInn hotel, owner Gary Robertson and manager Nick Banderbegte sat in the airy lobby in two yellow chairs next to a brick fireplace. Robertson, a Jonesborough native and owner of the hotel since 2006, laughed at the rumors of guests who claimed to see a ghost opening and closing doors at the hotel.
“Well, when you own a property like this, you’re happy with anything that will open the doors,” he said, chuckling.
Banderbegte says guests frequently tell him they have spotted figures in the lobby late at night.
A guest recently told him that she saw two apparitions, one reading a paper, and the other just walking around the hotel. “I think it’s fascinating that other people are fascinated by it,” said the Minneapolis native.
Phillips and Shepard will be featured on the Destination America Channel series, “A Haunting,” with their first episode airing Sunday, Aug. 24, at 10 p.m.
“‘Haunting’ airs in 100 countries. People can watch that show and see how we helped someone else. Maybe they experienced the same thing and can say, ‘Hey maybe they can help us too.’ That’s what we’re shooting for,” Phillips said.
Anais Briggs is a journalism student at MTSU. She was one of eight students who recently spent a week in Jonesborough writing stories for the Herald Tribune.