By: Mason Stemple, Heritage Foundation Summer 2022 College Intern

Mason Stempel

When I first moved to Franklin, Tennessee from Pompano Beach, Florida, I was really concerned about ghosts. Now, this fear needs a bit of context. When I was in 4th grade, before we picked up and moved states, my mom, who used to teach English, decided to homeschool my younger brother and me. One of my fondest memories of being homeschooled was listening to an ancient history audio textbook on drives around Pompano. So easily, my mom instilled in me an appreciation for history and sparked a passion that I am continuing to fan throughout college with both my coursework and my internship with the Heritage Foundation. It wasn’t until I was older, in high school, that I truly understood the significance of living in such a historically rich and well-preserved area. But when I was younger, all I could think about was how the history of the place was going to haunt me–literally.

South Florida wasn’t much of a historic anything, unless we ventured down to St. Augustine. The only old building I remember growing up around was my family’s favorite burger place that had been around since 1972. So, when my parents announced to 12-year-old Mason that we were going to be living in the historic Battlefield of Franklin… I was not too pleased. I used to close my eyes and imagine the glowing, spectral forms of rifle-toting soldiers walking languidly across my back yard. I would often wonder who had died right where I was sitting. What made matters worse was the tangible reminder of this history in my neighborhood.

Much more than the roadside sign denoting the area as the Battlefield of Franklin (one of the deadliest battles of the Civil War), if you took a turn down a Chattahoochee gravel road instead of staying on the pavement, you would find yourself at the circa 1828 Douglass-Reams House. And the Reams family cemetery. As an imaginative child that watched far too much Goosebumps growing up, that discovery did nothing to dampen my apprehensions of the supernatural residents of my new home. What horrors lay inside that house? How many souls were trying to claw their way out of the wood and dirt that confined them in the cemetery? Like I said, imaginative.

Then came high school, and with it, the revelation that the ghosts of history weren’t poltergeists, but rather, the horrors and atrocities that people were able to commit on other people. The ghosts were the hurt, the oppression, the stigma, that carried through generations and haunted them like a curse. The ghosts were regrets and mistakes and the desperate wishes that we could go back and re-do things. But we don’t get do-overs; that’s what the ghosts tell us. But also, the ghosts were sometimes benevolent. Family traditions. Celebrations. Togetherness. Art, literature, architecture… Ghosts were not always harmful, but they always have something to teach us.

I started to listen to the ghosts, follow them, and learn about this piece of history that was so accessible to me. Built in 1828 by Thomas Logan Douglass, a Methodist minister that my neighborhood’s named after, the Douglass-Reams House is a Federal-style brick building with a circa 1860 porch and a 1900 side addition. The house used to have outbuildings, namely a separate kitchen that was destroyed in a 1920 tornado.

After using the Douglass-Reams house as part of a class project for my Advanced Placement Human Geography class, it became the final puzzle piece, the perfect framework for fully understanding history and its personal relationship to me. I began to look at the house and cemetery not as foes or threats, but simple markers of a different time and values and ideas. A reminder to learn, and to be compassionate, and to listen to others. Most importantly, it became a reminder to not forget.

I once again used the Douglass-Reams house in my AP U.S. History class in 2016 when we began discussing the Civil War. There’s always this interesting mix of pride and shame I battle with when talking about Franklin during the War. I love where I live. I’m grateful to live here, but it’s certainly not without its problems, its ghosts. Reconciling with the sins and mistakes of a place and a people is an important part of healing a wounded community, but you can’t do any of that without first knowing the history.

I’m so grateful for the opportunity to work and learn alongside experts like Senior Director of Preservation and Education Rachael Finch and Dr. Blake Wintory. Just watching them work this past summer and soaking in all of what they’ve told us when we visit old homes and sites has been so enriching and completely invaluable. This summer has changed the way I look at a building, at a property, at history. I still see ghosts, probably even more, but now, I know that I need to dig deeper and understand them in order to help heal the haunting.

Mason Stempel is a 20-year-old rising junior at Georgetown University. She is studying Anthropology, Art History, and Classical Studies. She has deep, life-long passions for archaeology, historical preservation, and conservation. Mason finds so much purpose in continuing to tell stories that would otherwise be lost to time and hopes to find a career in museums and historical sites after she finishes school. In the fall, she will be studying abroad in Galway, Ireland, a place rich with centuries of history and culture.