Jack was working the graveyard shift. He never liked working at night because ghost stories hung in the air like a thick Spanish tree moss. Despite working for years without ever seeing an apparition, his nerves were always perched on the precipice of his skin. It was around 1 am when he began to make his scheduled inspections of the area. Everything seemed to be humming along efficiently enough to keep pace with the demands of profit. Satisfied, Jack abruptly turned around to retrace his steps back to the break room. He was halted by the vaporous figure of a very tall dark-skinned man. The ghostly figure pointed silently at Jack and said, “Give all of your wealth to Kris.”
OK, so that last part isn’t true, but in the 22 years that I have worked at the DuPont, Old Hickory manufacturing facility, I’ve heard numerous stories similar to this one. Some of my coworkers (now retired) were so afraid of these ghost encounters, they would avoid the rumored haunted areas at all costs. Their stories taunt me as if to beg the question, why would a ghost haunt a chemical manufacturing facility. Those who had experienced a siting attached the haunting to an event that occurred in 1918.
In mid 1914, a political stew brewing on European soil reached a full boil. Shots rang out, an Archduke was killed, and war began. Fighting would continue for another three years before the United States would get involved. When the U.S. entered the war, the demand for gunpowder required an increase in its production. The country’s existing facilities couldn’t meet the demand. As a result, the U.S. Government joined forces with DuPont to build a gun powder facility in Old Hickory, Tennessee, a farming community along the banks of the Cumberland River. The project required the creation of an entire city to support the needs of the employees.
“War waved its red wand over a peaceful countryside and an industrial city sprang up as if by magic. Engineers carved streets in fields lately devoted to corn. Here on the banks of the Cumberland river, the largest powder plant in the world is being constructed.” ~mashup of Lou Cretia Owen and Merle Crowell quotes
Thousands of people were hired to work at the new facility, but with Americans being drawn into the gaping jaws of World War, there was a shortage of able-bodied workers. The government turned to nearby countries for help. Approximately 1400 Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Navajo Indians migrated to the area to supplement the work force. A separate village, known as the the Mexican Village, was constructed to house these workers.
Like most of the world, Old Hickory did not escape the effects of the 1918 Spanish flu, a pandemic which ended up killing 50 to 100 million people worldwide. The giant paw of illness swept across the Old Hickory landscape carrying with it hundreds of men and women to an early grave. The Mexican Village was hit particularly hard. DuPont and the government attempted to contact the families of those who died, but more often than not, the dead went unclaimed. Leaders of the Mexican Village were granted permission to consecrate ground for the burial of their dead. This consecrated holy ground went unmarked and remains unmarked today. Time eventually swallowed the exact location of the grave. New houses and roads have been built in the vicinity without mention of the Mexican village and its sacred resting place.
So here is the question, would dying at a young age and being buried in an unmarked grave give cause for a soul to roam the land for eternity? Maybe, it is the relatives of those who died who have traveled the purgatorial sphere to haunt the lands where their loved ones were buried because they didn’t get to say their goodbyes.
Part of me says ghosts don’t exist, but when I see the sincere fear in the faces of those who share these ghost stories, it is difficult not to believe. Belief or not, I do have passion for the forgotten and that is why I am writing this blog. Workers at the powder plant were extremely patriotic. They considered themselves soldiers on the home front. Migrant workers were no different and they deserve to be remembered for their service to our country.
Today, I decided to compare an old blue print of the Mexican Village with a current satellite shot to find an approximate location of the Mexican Village. At this point in time there is no way for me to physically prove the grave exists, but maybe someone will find this information and take it a step further. Hello History Detectives????
For more on the Mexican Village, take a peep at this web page I put together a few years ago. http://oldhickoryrecord.com/mexicanvillage.htm
Tennessean - November 16, 1918, October 8, 1918, October 11, 1918, W.S. Gregg to Senator Gerald P. Nye, April 26, 1935, Nye Committee Investigation, Diary of Lou Cretia Owen – available at the Tennessee State Archives , Merle Crowell – The American Magazine – 1915.