When the Bristol, Tennessee, Public School System was organized in 1888, school administrators were forced to use older buildings as schools. The District rented out the Baptist Academy on Anderson as the girls’ school. “Cornfield Academy,” the nickname given to an old building on the corner of Anderson and Tenth Streets, became the boys’ school. The first new public school building, which was constructed in 1893 next to King’s College on Fifth Street, was called “Fifth Grade School.” The new school, where grades four through ten were taught, had a staff of seven teachers and one principal. The early elementary grades were taught at cornfield Academy. The next new building, which was completed on Alabama Street in 1916, housed the first Tennessee High School. The original section of the present-day Tennessee High School, which included the Stone Castle, was built in 1939 on Edgemont Avenue. Additions to the high school were made in a series of ten-year phases. Following extensive renovation to the main building, an 8,000 seat arena was added in 1977. Today, Tennessee High School prides itself on its traditions, which include the “Class Night” ceremony, during which the senior class officially passes down the symbols of the school to the junior class. Another important legacy of Tennessee High School is its three ghost stories.
One of the school’s best-known ghosts is that of a former student named Agnes. Many years ago following the College Night ceremony, she was on her way to a dance when the car she was riding in was struck by a train at a notoriously dangerous intersection. Agnes was killed instantly. Since that fateful night, her ghost has been seen many times in the original part of the school. Before the corridors were carpeted, students and staff heard ghostly footsteps echoing through the school. Even though no one hears her footsteps anymore, janitors working after hours have felt her presence. Some people have even seen the white figure of a girl passing down the hallways. In his book Haunted Tennessee, Charles Price says that every night at midnight, members of the chorus rehearsing for an operetta saw Agnes’ ghost floating out of the attic and sitting on the rail above the clock, usually contentedly swinging her legs. Sightings of Alice ceased at the same time that the production of operettas and plays was halted.
Another ghost that makes an occasional appearance at Tennessee is the spirit of an athlete who was walking home from a game one night when he was run over by a car. The athlete was so attached to his school that his ghost is still seen in the Field House during games. His ghost is not nearly as well-known as is the ghost of Agnes.
The third ghost that haunts Tennessee High School is not spirit of a living being. For many years, the spectral image of an 19th century steam engine has been seen rumbling down the hallway to the old vanishes, usually late at night. The train’s ghost is so noisy that the vibrations of the engine have been known to cause the entire building to shake. Locals say that at one time, a railroad passed through the site where the high school is now located.
Hauntings have been an important part of school lore in the United States for many years. For many teachers, administrators, janitors, and students, school is more than simply a place to work or learn; it is a world unto itself, a world that is difficult to say goodbye to. At Tennessee High School, the phrase “school spirit” takes on an entirely new meaning.