When it finally comes into view after hours and hours of strained paddling, it's reason for absolute euphoria. Grizzled paddlers will invariably feel the compulsion to grin through the pain when the spectre of the old derelict Hales Bar Dam reveals itself---signifying the final stretch of the arduous 31 + mile Chattajack race.
But the dam's history goes deep, and when not appearing in it's alter-ego state as an angelic symbol of completion to wearied Chattajackers, it lives on in the ominous role as a haunted landmark. Drawing visitors, paranormal investigators and even television.
Chattanooga Ghost Tour guide Maria Chattin-Carter gives a brief overview of the origins of the purported Hales Bar Hauntings.
Chief Dragging Canoe was once a great war chief of the Cherokee Indians, a mighty role model for the younger braves. His Indian forces fought many battles and kept the white settlers away for a great number of years.
In spite of his attempts to resist the encroachment of outsiders, his people agreed to a treaty in 1775, the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals, which surrendered land to the white settlers. Dragging Canoe was furious. He refused to accept the treaty and spoke a curse on the ground he had fought for.
Years later in 1905, the building of Hales Bar Dam began on that same land the mighty War Chief cursed. One reason they started this project was to tame whirlpools along the river that threatened anyone's life who got too close. The Indians believed whirlpools were souls in the water reaching up to pull more down, perhaps they didn't want to be tamed.
Men lost their lives during the building of the dam. Some even fell into the cement mixer and were built into the walls of the dam. The Tennessee Valley Authority bought Hales Bar in the late 1930's, spending several years trying unsuccessfully to fix leaks that plagued the dam from the beginning of construction. The dam was eventually shut down when it was discovered that the foundation was flawed and would never be water tight.
In the 1960s the dam broke and flooded the land surrounding it. The water flooded local cemeteries, disturbing many graves including a number of children who perished during the Spanish flu epidemic. Part of the dam still stands under water today with a small whirlpool to remind us of those lost souls. The land is said not to be worth much because it has been sinking for years. The limestone it stands on has been shattered and resulted in caves throughout the foundation.
Some theorize that these occurrences are due to Dragging Canoe's curse. He was a warrior in life, and after death still wages war on the men who took his land.
He's not the only one that is hanging onto Hales Bar. Many people have heard women and children's voices, maybe a whisper in their ears. Strange shadows have been seen moving about the dam, including a man dressed from the 1940s. Several guests have been touched lightly, with some claiming to have been scratched and even strangled. Visitors have left gifts for the spirits in areas that are said to be haunted by children. Most of the gifts disappear from one visit to the next.
Hales Bar has been the site of numerous "Ghost Hunter" paranormal investigations including television portrayals.
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