My older niece, the beautiful and talented poet and photographer Amanda Gamble, turned twenty-one yesterday. I happened to remember this “birthday ghost” story last night around midnight–so it’s a day late.
There’s a street in a rundown area of Knoxville, Tennessee that is haunted by a very curious ghost. He appears as a black shadow hovering under the streetlamps, on nights–or early mornings–when someone along the street has a birthday.
They say they are awakened from sound slumbers to the sound of whistling–Not only that, but the ghost seems to know only a single tune.
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you. . .
The whistling ghost has been given the name Jack, or Whistlin’ Jack, and no one knows for certain who he was in life. Some say that he was a postman who delivered mail along that street for many years, walking along and exchanging news and views with citizens, who would whistle that little tune to anyone who mentioned they had a birthday that day.
Others say that he was an oldtime lamplighter, which explains why he might stand under the streetlamps of today, electric though they may be, but doesn’t explain the whistling.
Then there’s a third candidate: a Knoxville city policeman who knew everyone along that beat, birthdays, joys, sorrows and all. This policeman was killed in the line of duty by a drunk he tried to arrest one night, and has returned ever since in the guise of Whistlin’ Jack.
One story about his appearances will suffice: it dates to the last ten years or so.
A lady living on that street in that rundown area of Knoxville woke early one morning to the sound of whistling just outside her window. A bit scared–there had been some problems with burglars and home invasions in the area recently–she cautiously pulled a curtain aside and peeked out to see an odd sight: a black shadow, obviously male, silhouetted in the circle of light under the streetlamp in front of her house.
He whistled through whatever he was whistling, and then vanished before her startled eyes.
She tried to wake her snoring husband to tell him what had just happened. He glared at her, told her she was either overtired or just plain losing it, and went back to sleep.
Which she did. As she drifted off to sleep, she remembered something: this was her birthday.
And the whistling from outside had sure sounded an awful lot like Happy birthday to you. . .
This story comes from Charles Edwin Price’s 1999 book Mysterious Knoxville.
And a late happy birthday to Miss A! ❤