Sullivan County has two abandoned tunnels which are said to be haunted. Click Tunnel on Sensabugh Hollow Road in Church Hill, Tennessee, was originally a natural tunnel which was widened by the Clinchfield Railroad when it laid tracks in the 1920s. Sensabaugh Tunnel off Big Elm Road in Kingsport, Tennessee, was cut by Sensabaugh Branch. In 1920s, sixteen men died when the tunnel was being widened. Because the two tunnels are so close to each other, they share the same ghost stories.
According to one legend, a slave woman who had borne three of her master’s children sought refuge in the natural tunnel. She was planning to wait for a ferryman to come down the Holston River and pick her up. When the slave owner finally tracked the woman to the tunnel, he was so angry that he grabbed the youngest child and slammed its head against the tunnel wall. He then pulled out his pistol and shot the slave woman and their other two children. The site of this story is probably Click Tunnel.
Another legend has it that years ago, a vagrant stopped at a farmhouse not far from Sensabaugh Tunnel. He offered to chop wood in exchange for a hot meal. In his book More Haunted Tennessee, Charles Edwin Price wrote that while the man was eating dinner, he noticed a silver cup that appeared to be valuable. He tried to hide the cup in his clothes, but the farmer saw him and ran for his pistol. Meanwhile, the vagrant picked up the baby sleeping in a cradle and ran out the door. He had intended to use the infant as a shield, but by the time he arrived at the tunnel, he decided that the baby would just slow him down. The desperate man dropped the baby in the creek that flows through the tunnel and drowned it.
In a third variant, a young, unmarried woman walked into Click Tunnel to have her baby. She was in the throes of labor when her father arrived. Insane with rage, the man stood by until the baby was born. He then picked up the newborn infant and drowned it in the creek.
The fourth version deals with a woman who was driving with her baby to Church Hill. She drove into Click Tunnel to escape a downpour. She was trying to wait out the storm with the engine running when suddenly, the car died. The next morning, she and the infant were found dead in the car.
The last version of the story concerns Mr. Sensabaugh, whose house was located within one hundred yards of the west-end of the tunnel. One night, Sensabaugh went insane and killed his entire family, including his newborn son. He dragged their bodies to the tunnel and tossed their corpses into the creek.
A common thread running through all five stories is the death of a baby. All of the stories end with the baby’s mournful cry, which passersby still claim to hear. People have also heard phantom footsteps, voices, and screams inside the tunnel. It is also said that if people drive inside the tunnel and turn off the engine, their cars will not start again. Locals who are bold enough to test the veracity of the legends have parked their cars inside the tunnels and observed in their rearview mirrors a shadowy form walking toward their vehicles. Occasionally, curiosity seekers who turn of their engines feel their vehicles rocking back and forth. When they return home and climb out of their vehicles, they notice small hand-prints on the side panels. In 2003, a young man and two of his friends drove their pickup truck inside Sensabaugh Tunnel and turned off the engine. Suddenly, they saw a light moving toward them from the end of the tunnel. The driver attempted to start the truck, but the engine stalled. Looking over his shoulder, he noticed that the light had dropped into the creek and disappeared. On his second attempt to start the truck, the engine started, and the terrified boys sped out of the tunnel.
In October 2006, Haunted South TV, a syndicated program that airs in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, conducted a scientific investigation of Sensabaugh Tunnel in Kingsport. Using sound wave imagery, the team photographed a disturbance that resembles a woman walking down the tunnel. The team also caught the image of a moving orb on film.
The ghosts of crying babies are staples of local folklore in many isolated communities in the South. Because the tales take place in out-the-way locations, young people who drive out there to party are the primary transmitters of the legends. Folklorists are not at all surprised that the abandoned tunnels in Sullivan County have generated such a large number of stories, not just because of their remoteness, but also because tunnels are, by their very nature, very creepy places.