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- [Announcer] "Tennessee Crossroads" is made possible in part by. - [Phil] I'm Tennessee Tech President Phil Oldham. Here in Cookeville, Tennessee's college town, we are bold, fearless, confident, and kind. Tech prepares students for careers by making everyone's experience personal. We call that living wings up. Learn more at tntech.edu. - [Announcer] Averitt's Tennessee roots run deep. They've been delivering logistics solutions here for over 50 years, and though Averitt's reach now circles the globe, the Volunteer state will always be home. More at Averitt.com. Discover Tennessee trails and byways. Discover Tennessee's adventure, cuisine, history, and more made in Tennessee experiences, showcased among these 16 driving trails. More at TNTrailsAndByways.com. - This time on "Tennessee Crossroads," we discover a Franklin guy's passion for an ancient form of photography. Then we'll join some ghost hunters on a spooky tour of Nashville. We'll tag along with a team of paranormal researchers at Spring Hill, and get reacquainted with TV's one and only Sir Cecil Creape. Hi everybody, I'm Joe Elmore. Welcome to a rather spooky edition of "Tennessee Crossroads." Our first story may not directly involve Halloween, but you will see some ghostly images. Blake Wylie always loved photography, but several years ago, he discovered a basic historic process called tintype, and a picture this, he loves to share this old time adventure with visitors. While Blake Wylie's day job is in the tech industry, he's always had a sideline love for photography. First film, then digital, but later in 2005, Blake began to focus on a photographic process that's more than 170 years old. - I had been researching and known about tintypes before I saw a guy doing the process, and I think the term was if you like history, if you like, you know, working with dangerous chemicals, then, and I was like, "Well, this is for me, let's do it." - [Joe] Cheaper than its predecessor daguerreotype, tintype was a more affordable medium for 19th century family portraits. You've probably seen them in antique stores. Matthew Brady was a tintype pioneer credited with capturing Civil War era pictures, including this one of General Ulysses Grant, and even this famous photo of President Abraham Lincoln. Well, these days, Blake welcomes curious clients to his home studio, ready to have their image captured with this vintage process. For many, it's the nostalgia, and being part of such a non-digital adventure. - There's a bit of a yearning, I think in people for the old stuff, the old ways, right? Analog, you've got the record stores that are really popular today. It's very similar, right? You've got this very analog process that is, you know, and you actually get to hold something that is the actual, you know, picture that was taken. That's something that's gonna last for generations, and it can be passed through your family, or it may end up in an antique store itself one day. This camera, though, is a large format camera eight by 10. It's a century studio camera, very beautiful wood camera I got from a guy up in New York. The lens I use also is essentially an antique lens as well. The depth of field is very narrow on the process. I mean, sometimes I'll take a photo, and I can get somebody's nose out of focus and their eyes in focus, and when you're really close, so you have to, you know, it's something where you're under the hood, you know, under the dark cloth, and everything's upside down and reversed, and so you're having to look at each focal point, and get everything in focus as much as you can. - [Joe] Before using the camera, though, Blake has to prep the metal plate which will become the actual picture. - Trophy aluminum is what it is. You have to have a black background for the portrait, for the picture to be taken on, and we pour the film on the actual plate. Come on in, have a seat right here. All right. - [Joe] Well, today in his studio, Blake's subjects are Jason and Jenna Fessler, and the first order of business here is setting up this enormous light. That's because tintype likes lots of light. - [Blake] All right, just some focusing. - [Joe] Then the couple will need to stay still for the critical following step. - It's the focusing that's really the key piece, so if somebody moves even just by little bit forward or backwards, they're going out of focus, and I can't see that after I put the plate in the camera, so I can't see that they've moved. So there are some times where somebody's out of focus, and I may have to redo it. All right, one, two, three. Good job, guys. You can move and relax. - Yeah. - [Blake] I'm gonna put that right there. - [Joe] Finally, it's off to the dark room for developing, fixing, and varnishing the plate, and at last, the couple's finished tintype photo is good to go - For the people that come in, I really try to make it an immersive experience. So they get to see the process. I walk them through, tell them about the history. I get to show them. They get to smell everything as well, the chemicals, and I'll have people come in, and they're like, "This smells like my high school dark room," you know, when they were still doing dark rooms in high schools and colleges. - [Joe] Now, this story's not about me, but Blake insisted, and who knows? Maybe I'll wind up in an antique store someday. - [Blake] A little dramatic lighting, if you don't mind. - I love it, dramatic lighting. - [Blake] One, two, three. All right, now you can move. - [Joe] And what an incredible experience. But before leaving, I had a question for Blake. In those old tintype portraits, why did people never smile? - I think it was, you know, it's a new process, they don't understand, there's not this, you know, this selfie, you know environment that we have today. But it was a very new thing, and they were used to seeing portraits, painted portraits of people that were very still, and they were really, you know, it was really a continuation of that in a way. - [Joe] Anyway, Blake Wylie has a lot to smile about, enjoying his high tech day job, while pursuing this low tech craft in the timeless world of tintype. - It's kind of an honor for them to allow me to take their image like that, because it's a slow, the way the process is, you know, the engagement, and the fact that they get to place this in their homes and enjoy it for generations even. - Nashville's population is booming, and when folks do get here, well, many don't wanna leave. Some say that includes members of the dearly departed. Miranda Cohen takes us on the Ghosts of Nashville Tour, where they stop at all the local haunts. - [Miranda] The beautiful streets of downtown Nashville draw visitors from all over the world. Plenty of great things to see, celebrity sightings are common, but visitors and locals are excited for the things they can't see. - I'm here to see if I can find some sort of paranormal activity tonight with all the the war history and that sort of thing. I think the whole town is haunted, actually, but this is home to me, and I want to see more about what I can find when it comes to ghosts. - [Miranda] Rick Owens has taken plenty of ghost tours in other cities, and was intrigued to find one in his own backyard. - So Ghosts of Nashville, are you guys ready to get our tour started for tonight? - [Miranda] Tanya Curtis is hosting the popular Ghosts of Nashville Tour. The mile and a half jaunt through the streets of Music City is as much about the history as it is about the hauntings. - How many believers do we have tonight? How many believers in the paranormal do we have tonight? It's not just about the ghosts at all. We do tell the ghost's story, but we're also teaching about the rich history of Nashville, about the things that have happened here in Nashville. - [Miranda] And according to Curtis, plenty has happened to keep the spirits hanging around. - I believe that when like, traumatic and tragic things happen, like, it kinda leaches into the soil. I just believe it's the land that kind of makes Tennessee the paranormal hotspot that it is. - [Miranda] From the land's original settlers, the Native American Indians, to the Battle of Nashville during the Civil War. - But for 10 days, they battled here in Nashville. - [Miranda] Heartfelt, violent battles over the land, and even the buildings. - Tonight, we're actually gonna start out at our capitol, because we actually have one of the most beautiful and unique state capitols. - [Miranda] The stately brick-top landmark took 14 years to build, and two bickering architects didn't make the process any easier. - The first ghost story that has to do with our capitol is of Strickland and Morgan. While they were working on this project, they literally argued about everything. - [Miranda] As fate would have it, William Strickland and Samuel Morgan are both entombed in the walls of the capitol, and it seems they still just don't get along. - Employees have told us around 9:00 p.m. here at our capitol, they start hearing yelling inside the capitol, and it's two men still going at it about the building. - [Miranda] And the Volunteer state's capitol serves both as mausoleum and cemetery. James K. Polk was the governor of Tennessee who went on to be the 11th president of the United States. Both he and his wife Sarah are buried in this beautiful stone gazebo, but even here, Curtis says they aren't exactly resting in peace. - And every time they get close to this man at Mr. Polk's grave, he disappears right in front of them. They also say they see a lady in Antebellum era clothing, and every time someone approaches her as well, she does the same thing, she just disappears. Whatever's going on, we do know that the Polks are not at rest at all, and they do haunt our capitol. - [Miranda] The Ghost of Nashville Tour will wind through the streets and alleys of downtown. Every tour is different, and you never know who or what you will see. - I think there's this mystery to it that it's just fascinating to try and unravel. You hear the history and it's one thing, but you hear things that go on now, and you try and piece it together for yourself, and figure it out that way. - And don't think the ghost tours only go during the spooky season. In fact, they go 365 days a year. That's right, every day, because ghosts don't take holidays. - This tour is seven days a week. It isn't just spooky season that people wanna learn about ghosts, they wanna learn about it all the time, and we have a lot of out of town people that come to Nashville and wanna see a different side of Nashville, and this is a great way to do it. - [Miranda] The tour will stop at several churches that also served as hospitals during the Civil War. - Which is St. Mary's of Seven Sorrows. This is Nashville's second Catholic church. - [Miranda] But not all of the stories are scary, and not all of the ghosts are up to mischief. - Now, some ghosts are drawn because it was their favorite place. It was the place that they loved. Several ghost stories along our way talks about the fact that they're still there because they loved it. And the building we're actually gonna talk about is the building right there. It is The Hermitage Hotel. - [Miranda] Built in 1908, the opulent five star hotel seems to be a favorite haunt, and why wouldn't it be? Presidents, celebrities, even notorious bank robber John Dillinger all stayed there. It's no wonder folks never really want to check out, which brings us to the last stop on the tour, the world famous Ryman Auditorium, a place where in life, some people spent their happiest times. - That's mostly what the activity is at the Ryman. It is hearing, you know, really people from a rich musical past. They talk a lot about hearing Hank Williams Sr. there, and Patsy Cline, and I believe that the reason why they are drawn back to the Ryman is because that is where their dreams come true, where their story began. We are at the Ryman Auditorium. Now, this was named after Thomas Ryman. This is Mr. Ryman right here, and he was a riverboat captain on the Cumberland River right down there. - [Miranda] So whether you have a passion for the paranormal, a curiosity about the unknown, or just want to learn more about Music City, the Ghosts of Nashville tour is the way to go. Tickets and tour times are available on their website. - [Tanya] Enjoy the rest of your time everybody. Thank you so much. - Thanks, Miranda. Halloween only comes once a year, but for the team of investigators you're about to meet, ghosts are a year round obsession. Gretchen Bates joined a group of paranormal researchers a few years back over in Spring Hill. - [Gretchen] Rippavilla is well known as a beautifully preserved, historically rich reminder of Antebellum Tennessee. - [Chuck] The house was built by major Nathaniel Cheairs and his wife Susan between 1852 and 1855. - [Gretchen] But could it be that the Civil War era mansion is a link to more than just the past? Rippavilla docent Chuck Burns certainly thinks so. - I've seen Susan and Nathaniel Cheairs several occasions. They're two of our primary spirits. They don't like to be called ghosts. - I came here just to take a historical tour and learn about it. I met Chuck, and Chuck told me some of the paranormal activity. - [Gretchen] As director of Volunteer State Paranormal Research, Mike Sears is an expert on things that go bump in the night, so it was no surprise when. - A few months went by, and they asked me to come in to see if we could do a full fledged investigation. We try to specialize in historical research with our paranormal activity, to try to link the past with the paranormal. When we go into a room and do an investigation, we'll set up our equipment. We usually set up like motion detectors around the doors and areas where, away from us and walkway areas, and we use various motion detectors, from light sensors to chime motion detectors. Evidence of anything that we can capture on film or on our voice recorders, the biggest evidence we feel that's more tangible is EVPs, which is electronic voice phenomenon. Starting EVP session up here in Jenny's room. - There are two bedrooms upstairs, three bedrooms upstairs, actually, that seem to pick up more when they do EVPs. - The baselines have been set, the video recorders are rolling. The EMF meters are on. Now all we do is wait for something from the paranormal. - [Mike] Gretchen. - What? - Can you keep it down? We can hear you. - Oh, sorry. - I've had people come up to me and say, "Why is there a soldier standing over by the fountain?" or "Who's the child over there on the front porch?" And there's no one there, but yet there is somebody there. - We had one where we asked, "Can we get you anything?" And the reply was peppermint. So when we came back with that evidence we had asked, one of the investigators goes, "I heard you like peppermint. What kind of peppermint do you like? Do you like tea or do you like peppermint candy?" And we got a reply from a little girl that goes, "Candy." - [Gretchen] As you might expect, Mike runs into the occasional skeptic in his line of work, but he understands why. - To me, a skeptic is someone that just hasn't had a personal experience yet. I used to be one of those people, you know? When people would say, "Oh, I saw a ghost." Yeah, well, maybe you did, you know, maybe your eyes were playing tricks, you were tired, but I'm still skeptical when I investigate. You know, did I really just see that? You know, there's times I've seen a full body apparition appear in front of me, and I'll have a camera in my hand, and everybody's like, "Well, why didn't you take a picture?" Well, your mind's going 100 miles a minute going, "Am I really seeing this in front of me?" And by the time you realize it, let me get a picture, it's gone. - [Gretchen] While they may share an interest in the paranormal, don't confuse Mike's team with those characters from Hollywood. - [Mike] We don't go busting ghosts. We don't hunt ghosts. And people go, "Oh, you're a ghost hunter," and I say to me, ghost hunters are people that are just going out to look to have a personal experience to get scared. A cheap thrill, I call it. We're paranormal researchers. My whole team has had a personal experience, so we're not going out to search for that personal experience. We're trying to figure out what's causing those personal experiences or what's behind it. - [Gretchen] Regardless of what's behind it, these researchers will find it, whether the answer lies in this world or beyond. - We've had several requests to bring back a fan favorite, so we're gonna end this Halloween episode with a flashback, one that will conjure up spooky memories for some of you. We've ventured into the "Crossroads" catacombs and dusted off this classic with Janet Tyson from 1988. - I'm looking for a ghost from Nashville's not too distant past, so I thought I'd start my search here. Now, many of you may recall a goofy ghoul who haunted Channel 4's airwaves back in the early '70s, Sir Cecil Creape. Now, those were the days before the bizarre popularity of slice and dice horror movies, when fright flicks left a little to the imagination. Maybe we can resurrect Sir Cecil and return to a time when fright was all in fun. - [Announcer] This is "Creature Feature," exploring the realm of the unknown. - [Janet] From 1970 through '73, Channel 4 ran a Saturday night late movie called "Creature Feature." Those sometimes corny, sometimes camp old scary movies did attract an audience, but "Creature Feature" owed its popularity to its host, Sir Cecil Creape. - Did someone call? Oh, there you are. Trick or treat, ha, ha, ha. - [Janet] Sir Cecil lived in the catacombs beneath the WSM studios, unearthing old movies, screening them on his dilapidated projector, and inserting his own little mini dramas between the reels. For old times sake, I decided to find out what's become of Sir Cecil. I tracked him not to some dark, damp tomb, but to this sunny, tree-lined Nashville Boulevard, and the home of his creator and alter ego, Russ McGowan. Russ's century old historic house is really more like a museum filled with memorabilia and machines from the bygone days of film, radio, television, and the world of entertainment. It was Russ's flare for the theatrical that inspired the character of Sir Cecil Creape. - Well, he's 180 degrees out of phase. He sleeps during the day, he's up at night. Anything that's good is bad, anything that's bad is good, up to a point. He's never mean, he's never vicious, and he always fails. He really is a cross between the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Oliver Hardy. I mean, he gets frustrated, very. That sort of thing, and generally, that's not me. I'm a little bit more laid back than that. - Well, did you ever feel like you had created a monster? - I couldn't go out and cut the grass. The neighborhood children would come. They wouldn't say anything, they wouldn't do anything, just stand out in the street and stare. Then when they stopped doing it, then you start worrying about it. So I got where I can appreciate it a little better, and I've learned one thing, that real talent never refuses an autograph. I am about to create a disguise to wear as I go knocking on doors tonight. I hope to disguise my natural charm sufficiently so that I will be a frightening figure. - [Janet] "Creature Feature" was aimed at the high school and college age demographic, but it had quite a large children's audience as well. - One little boy wrote in that his mother would not let him sit up till 10:30 on Saturday night to watch show, so he would go to bed at 7:00, and set his alarm clock, and wake himself up, watch the show, then go back to bed. That's the only way she'd let him watch it. That does it. Sir Cecil has blown his cool. Huh? I'm more technician than I am or was. I shot the first color TV commercial on film in Nashville back in 1956 at Channel 4, believe it or not. So I'm more used to being on that side of the camera than on this side. - [Janet] But Sir Cecil made McGowan a local celebrity. Russ went on to appear in theater roles, but he's best loved and remembered as the silent, long-suffering husband Elrod in the Elrod and Elvira commercials for the Tennessee Department of Tourism. - Lovely family, didn't you think, Elrod? - Yeah, but don't them Yankees dress funny? I'm still recognized from both Sir Cecil and Elrod. We have not done anything with the Elrod and Elvira. We're hoping that we'll do something with it, because I think it's still popular. It's a popular character. - [Janet] So until Sir Cecil is summoned by some programming executive, Russ rehearses his lines. - Did someone call? Oh, there you are. - Well, with that, we gotta close the vault on this Halloween episode of "Tennessee Crossroads." Thanks for joining us. Hey, don't forget about our website, tennesseecrossroads.org, and while you're there, you can download that PBS app, and you can join us next week, so we'll see you then. - [Announcer] "Tennessee Crossroads" is made possible in part by. - [Phil] I'm Tennessee Tech President Phil Oldham. Here in Cookeville, Tennessee's college town, we are bold, fearless, confident, and kind. Tech prepares students for careers by making everyone's experience personal. We call that living wings up. Learn more at tntech.edu. - [Announcer] Averitt's Tennessee roots run deep. They've been delivering logistics solutions here for over 50 years, and though Averitt's reach now circles the globe, the Volunteer state will always be home. More at Averitt.com. Discover Tennessee trails and byways. Discover Tennessee's adventure, cuisine, history, and more made in Tennessee experiences, showcased among these 16 driving trails. More at TNTrailsAndByways.com.
October 26, 2023
Season 37 | Episode 15
Joe Elmore discovers a Franklin man's passion for an ancient form of photography. Miranda Cohen joins ghost hunters on a spooky tour of Nashville. Gretchen Bates tags along with a team of paranormal researchers in Spring Hill. And Janet Tyson gets re-acquainted with TV’s one-and-only Sir Cecil Creape.