The plant—pardon me if my geography’s wrong—sits just off Netherland Inn Road, not far from the Holston River. Its beginnings go back to the 1920s, and Hugh has been watching over the comings and goings of Eastman employees for nearly nine decades now. He’s a guardian ghost, you see.
When cold air coming down from the mountains meets warmer air rising from the Holston, they combine in a messy mist. And on nights when it’s especially foggy, workers arriving for the graveyard shift will tell the second shift, just on their way out, “Be careful. Ol’ Hugh’s out tonight.”
It was on just such a foggy night, in November of 1922, that Hugh’s life ended and the legend began.
Hugh had a son named Charlie who was out with a group of friends that night. In their late teens, thinking they were, as the saying goes, ten feet tall and bulletproof, they had all been drinking. Rain had fallen earlier in the evening and there was a thick fog as they approached the Rotherwood Bridge that crossed the Holston on Rogersville Pike.
The driver, a bit drunk like the rest, swerved to miss a dog that appeared out of the mist, and it was all over in a heartbeat: when help arrived, two were dead, a third was dying, and Charlie Hamblen and two others were seriously injured.
Hugh got a phone call in the late hours telling him of the accident. He immediately got up and dressed and went to the hospital, where he spent the rest of the night by Charlie’s side.
Charlie, miraculously, began to improve as the shock of the accident wore off. He had internal injuries and a mild concussion, but near daybreak the doctors told Hugh his son would live. Seeing his son out of danger, Hugh decided to go home and return later in the day.
As Hugh crossed Netherland Inn Road, a car slammed into him, knocking him off a twenty-foot embankment and then falling on top of him, crushing him. He lived just long enough to be carried to the hospital. The driver of the car that killed him, a young woman who had never even been behind the wheel of one before, would later say that “the car just got out from under control.”
Charlie Hamblen, it’s said, began to bleed from his ears the moment his father died, but he was well enough to attend the funeral three days later. Charlie, needless to say, was never quite the same again.
Within a very few years, people driving on Netherland Inn Road on foggy nights began to report seeing a man standing on the road, waving his arms in a “slow down” motion. At first, it was thought that the man, dressed in a trenchcoat and wide-brimmed hat, was a drunk lost in the fog. But that was before someone hit him.
That night, the form stepped in front of a car. Its driver stepped on the brakes, but hit the man before the car could stop. When he got out to look for the body, there wasn’t one. By the time police arrived, the driver was gone too—but a witness to the accident swore that the man who hit the figure in the fog was Charlie Hamblen.
That was when people realized that the man in the fog was no drunk; it was Hugh Hamblen, trying to spare others his fate.
And since that night, when quite possibly he saved his own son’s life, Ol’ Hugh has returned again and again, always on foggy nights, to warn drivers to be extra careful. And the workers at Eastman, when they see heavy fog, know to watch for him, and tell each other, “Be careful. Ol’ Hugh’s out tonight.”
And if a new employee asks, innocently, about Ol’ Hugh, they tell him the story of the man in the fog.
Hugh Hamblen is quite possibly Upper East Tennessee’s most famous ghost. His story is told in just about every book of ghost stories about the state that’s ever been written.