The lights of downtown Nashville fade in the rearview mirror, and everything becomes more surreal. The winding roads. The dark clouds looming over the trees. The lack of street lighting.
Turn right onto Elm Hill Pike and the Buchanan Log House stands tall and proud, taking up almost 50,000 square feet of Nashville land.
It looks exactly how a home built in the early 1800s should look. A large porch hugs the front of the log home, with four wooden beams holding up the canopy-like steel roof. Three glass windows peer out into the front yard, overlooking the nearby road.
Perhaps my nerves and paranoia are getting the best of me, but a mysterious aura seems to surround this historical landmark.
After weeks of emailing and texting back and forth, I was going to meet with a group of strangers. Four female paranormal investigators who call themselves the Bench Breaking Broads agreed to let me join in on their nighttime nonsense.
As I approached the house’s fence, an older blonde woman greeted me. She sported Goodwill camouflage cargo pants, brown hiking boots, hot pink leopard eyeglasses and a pink hoodie with the silver words “Bench Breaking Broads” embroidered on the left.
She introduced herself as Margaret Williams, or Maggs for short.
Maggs led a group of us into a smaller house located in the backyard of the Buchanan Log House, where I met Helen Rider, Sue Olson and Lisa Murray, all wearing the same pink hoodies as Maggs. With them stood Carol and Josh Grenner, security guards for the Buchanan Log House, and Miss Cathy, a member of the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities.
Inside this wood-paneled, shed-like building, my eyes immediately gravitated toward a table stacked with official ghost hunting equipment. From electromagnetic field meters to spirit boxes to an entire briefcase filled with extra AA batteries, these “broads” appeared more than prepared for the night ahead.
Two other paranormal enthusiasts also joined us on the investigation. Chris, who investigates paranormal activity in hopes of writing a book, and Mr. B, a high school history teacher and also the biggest skeptic of the group, constantly asking “Why?” and “What if?”
After reciting an opening prayer for protection against potentially evil spirits, Maggs and her fellow investigators led us to our first location, the bedroom of Lucinda and James Buchanan.
A long, traditional wedding dress hanging on a mannequin in the back corner grabbed my attention first.
“Was that Lucinda’s?” I asked.
“Not exactly,” explained Carol. “It’s probably something like what she would’ve worn, but we leave it in here for events.”
When not used for ghost hunts, the historic home serves as a prime location for weddings.
To the left, an all-white linen bed laid against a deep brown, wooden headboard. Wallpaper covered the ancient walls with images of baby blue and pink flowers. It screamed femininity.
“James Buchanan built a lot of this house for his wife. I guess she liked it so much that she decided to stay,” explained Miss Cathy.
As I made my way to one of the metal folding chairs at the center of the room, I watched Maggs, Helen, Lisa and Sue organize their equipment in a whirlwind of chaos.
“I’ll put an EFM up here on the fireplace mantle,” yelled Sue, walking toward the back wall of the bedroom, “and the rest can go in the center of the room.”
“Want to put the flashlights on the dresser again?” asked Maggs. “We put these three up here to encourage the spirits to turn them on. That’s one of the ways we know they’re with us,” she explains.
Within a matter of minutes, a lull overtook the chaos.
Carol shut off the lights and Helen pulled out her iPhone to begin a Facebook Live video feed.
“We like to go live on Facebook because they might see something we don’t see. That’s happened to us before,” explained Helen.
It felt like hours. We sat there and talked to the air. I felt myself getting discouraged, as if I just wasted $30.
“Mrs. Buchanan? Are you with us?”
“Mr. Buchanan? Are you with us?”
After about 10 minutes, Lisa broke the silence by suggesting Miss Cathy discuss the history of the house, hoping to stir up the spirits of James and Lucinda.
“The Buchanans came from Augusta County, Virginia in about 1780. And the reason they came was because James’s dad, Archibald, had gotten a land grant for about 640 acres,” she began.
“In 1807, James began building the two rooms downstairs and the one big one up here that we’re in now.”
Will anything ever happen?
“By 1810, James decided he really should get married. He was 46. Lucinda East was on the next plantation. She was 17 and raising her three brothers because both of her parents had passed. So he went over. He courted her and he married her in 1810.”
Still no sign of these so-called ghosts.
“James passed in 1841. Lucinda stayed on the farm here until she passed in 1865.”
Even after an extensive history lesson, Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan remained bashful. We never heard anything from them.
Taking a brief intermission to gather equipment and set it up in the next location, Helen, Maggs, Sue and Lisa explained how the Bench Breaking Broads got started.
“So Maggs and I were at an event at Old Southern Pittsburg Hospital. Basically, long story short, we were sitting on a bench with Sue, who we didn’t know at the time, and felt a shift. Like the kind you feel when someone else sits down. And then it just cracked,” chuckled Helen.
From there, more conversations sparked about past paranormal experiences, especially at the Buchanan house.
“There was one night where Maggs and I were here alone and heard footsteps coming from the kitchen. It sounded like a man in heavy work boots pacing back and forth and it was so clear that we thought someone broke in, so we called in security. We couldn’t find anyone. That was probably the weirdest experience in this house,” said Helen.
“For me, my scariest experience was Waverly Hill Sanatorium. We had an hour and a half conversation with the spirit of a nurse that used to work there. She told us not to go in the cafeteria, but we didn’t listen. Maggs left with bruises on her arms. I didn’t take my cross off for a month after,” added Lisa sternly.
Our next destination lies in the backyard of the log home, the Addison House, occupied by the spirits of Buchanan’s oldest son Addison and his wife Sarah.
“The Addison House definitely has a different feel to it. Every time we come out here, I feel like I’m being watched,” said Josh.
“Every time we go in there, shit’s rearranged,” added Carol.
After recognizing the different and somewhat negative energy coming from the Addison House a few years back, Josh and Carol decided to bring in a psychic medium to get to the bottom of their uneasiness. They later discovered Sarah felt upset by strangers coming into her home unannounced.
“That’s why we knock and announce ourselves now before entering that house,” said Josh.
The Addison House did in fact have a “different feel” much like Josh warned, but not for the reasons you may think.
The house quite literally resembles a box. With a dining table in the center, a vanity on the back wall, a fireplace to the left and a bed to the right, this leaves minimal room for a person, let alone a group of nine to make themselves at home.
After placing an EFM in a gravy bowl on the dining room table and another on a plate, Helen and Josh instructed everyone to take their seats.
“Be careful where you sit. There’s dead bugs,” warned Josh.
“But it’s winter, so at least there’s no snakes!” Helen chanted back.
Within just a couple minutes, EFMs began to light up, showing a strong spiritual presence in the room with us.
I eagerly stood up to get a better view of the EFM activity. Finally, the action I waited hours to see.
After a few questions, we quickly realized Sarah would do most of the talking, or at least as much talking as a ghost can.
When asked if Sarah knew about a hole in the home’s floor, the EFM light turned red, indicating the strongest signal of electromagnetic waves. The EFM continued to glow as she confessed about tricks she plays on Josh and Carol, setting off the alarm system on the same day each year and leaving three pennies, a leaf and feather on a dining table plate without an explanation.
After over an hour “talking” to Sarah in various parts of the Addison house, she eventually stopped responding, which Maggs and Helen assumed only meant she turned in for the evening.
“Thank you so much, Miss Sarah!” exclaimed Helen, eyes closed, pointing her head at the ceiling and making her way out of the house.
Our final spirit encounter of the night was in the basement of the Buchanan House. Before making our way downstairs, Carol handed each of us a surgical mask because of the basement’s mold problem.
Comforting, I know.
The decor of the basement in itself was scary enough for me. Entering the room, I immediately noticed the tan shag carpeting, brown wet spots on the ceiling and 70s wood paneling on the walls.
A previous owner of the Buchanan home, Bruce Greer, added a recording studio to the basement of the house in 1973. Known for his friendship with country singer Willie Nelson, Greer made his presence known through the overpowering smell of cigarettes.
I looked around the room, scared to admit what I smelled. Glancing at the other people in the basement, I prayed for a reasonable explanation, yet I did not see a single cigarette in sight.
Minutes passed and the smell of burning cigarettes became almost unbearable.
“Does anyone else smell that?” asked Carol.
“Yes! It smells like cigarettes or smoke,” I said from across the room.
Greer didn’t say much in our time in the basement, but he definitely made himself known.
Climbing out of the basement, I tore off my mask the second I felt the night’s cold breeze. With the investigation over, I took in large breaths of fresh air.
It was 2 a.m.. I felt relieved, to say the least.
Packing up my belongings, I started to think about how I would describe my night of ghost hunts.
I felt torn. On one hand, I couldn’t bring myself to fully believe the EFMs. They were simply pieces of plastic lighting up from time to time. Yet how could I explain the cigarette smoke in the basement?
Preparing to leave, Helen and Maggs asked me about my experience. I didn’t want to lie, so I expressed my doubts. I couldn’t bring myself to say I believe in ghosts or spirits, but I couldn’t say I didn’t.
“I’ll admit we are skeptics, even after 15 years, but I think that’s why we keep doing this. We just want to see if there’s an explanation for any of this,” says Helen.
This story written by Brianna Goebel.