Most days in a history department are what you would expect. We teach classes. We talk to students about issues that they may have. We grade. Boy, do we ever grade. We also find time to serve on committees, do research and perform other activities. However, there are a few days when something different happens, and we have a historical mystery drop into our laps. That’s when our historian/detective curiosity kicks into gear.
It happened several months ago when I was looking at the website for The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily newspaper. They had put together a slide show of historical sites in our area. It included the usual suspects: the Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson; the Jack Daniels Distillery. You know, things that people around the country may have heard of.
As I scanned the photos, it was surprising to see the Mitchell House, a historic home in my town.
It was more surprising to read that Margaret Mitchell had written Gone With the Wind in the same house. This couldn’t have been true because Margaret Mitchell was from Atlanta, and she was writing about Atlanta. Besides, no one had ever heard of this before.
I told all of this to my cohort, who has a great blog about Jacksonian America, and he went into action. He contacted experts and discovered, not surprisingly, that she did not write the book in my town. After that, he contacted The Tennessean to tell them how wrong they were. As far as I know, the mistake was never changed.
I wonder how many Gone With the Wind fans have found themselves at the wrong house.
Today, another mystery appeared when we received an email from a man who graduated from our university in the early 1970s. According to the story, he and several students were interested in archaeology, but the school did not offer classes in this subject. With the help of a faculty member, they formed an archaeology club and organized a dig a few counties over.
To their surprise, they found the skeletal remains of a Native American women who died over 300 years earlier. They exhumed the remains and sent them to the University of Tennessee to be further examined. After that examination, the remains were returned to our university and placed on display in the administration building.
(I interrupt this story to make an observation. It is hard to believe that there was a time when displaying the remains of a human in a lobby was considered acceptable. Happily, things have changed through the years.)
The man who emailed wanted to know what happened to the remains, and that is where the mystery begins. Both of us, myself and my history cohort, graduated from the university that we now work, and neither of us has ever heard of the skeleton in the lobby. Because of that, we are going to contact some “old timers” to see if they know anything.
Hopefully, we can locate the remains and return them to a proper burial, but I suspect that they are lost. When we bury our loved ones, it is hard to imagine someone digging them up and putting them on display. But, it can happen. Just ask any Native American.