The Nashville History blog reprinted an old article elaborating on Ferguson's church:
The site of 146 and 148 was previously occupied by the Church of Rev. Mr. Ferguson. Mr. Ferguson who was said to have been a brilliant orator, and a man of much personal magnetism, was a Campbellite (that is an obsolete word now but it used to be Campbellite, and as this sketch is largely about old names and old people I take the liberty to use it in this connection) but he became a convert to Spiritism or Spiritualism, and most of his flock went with him into the new faith. The church was totally destroyed by fire early one morning, about the year 1857.
Yes, it turns out that, when you tell a Church of Christ congregation that they don't need their Bibles, because they can just ask the dead about the afterlife, not only don't you get to be a Church of Christ minister anymore, you're going to have some difficulty keeping your new church, where you sit around and talk to the dead, safe from the mysterious fires of "you should leave town, buddy."
If any place were going to be haunted, you'd think it'd be a place where the doors between the mundane world and the spirit world were thrown open regularly for decades. But could there be a more ordinary stretch of city street? I went out there this weekend looking for a sign of anything mysterious. Nothing. I asked a person who used to do the downtown ghost tours if they had any stories about 4th and Commerce and she seemed baffled by the idea.
What went wrong? Why didn't Nashville's Spiritualist community create a haunted spot there? History provides us some clues.
First, let's talk Jesse Babcock Ferguson. The Unitarian Universalists fill us in on his Nashville antics:
Ferguson preached both Universalist and Unitarian doctrines from his Nashville pulpit and retained the vigorous support of the overwhelming majority of his congregation. But Campbell and others in the Church of Christ denounced him as an infidel and a heretic, even though, as Ferguson noted, those in Campbell's movement "professed to have renounced all authoritative creeds and ecclesiastical judicatories." Ferguson and his congregation foiled repeated attempts to oust him from the church.
Ferguson came to summarize his evolving religious views in the phrase, "One God, one race, one destiny." He claimed these views were stimulated by messages he received in séances, through several trance mediums including his wife Lucinda and daughter Virginia, from the "spirit" of William Ellery Channing. Campbell came to Nashville to bring back into line the many Churches of Christ in central Tennessee influenced by Ferguson's too liberal preaching. Ferguson declined to debate Campbell because, he said, Channing's spirit had counseled him against it. Influenced by the "spirit" of Channing, he declared, "I hail, with delight and satisfaction, the dawning of an era of liberty of conscience and liberty of thought. Man is no longer to be led; but he is to walk forth in the light of day."
There was one small problem with Ferguson's "spirit guide" — and it was a problem that didn't go unnoticed in his own time. William Ellery Channing, in life, was a strident abolitionist. But in death? He somehow failed to mention to Ferguson any opinion on chattel slavery. Ferguson remained ardently pro-slavery. Northern Spiritualists made regular fun of Ferguson for that.
Should we, like those Northern Spiritualists, doubt that Ferguson was really in contact with Channing? Or, perhaps, if Channing had such a change of heart after death, he had another one after the Civil War and is just too embarrassed to hang around haunting Nashville from both the right side and the wrong side of history?
And if Ferguson's ghosts are slightly suspect, the Gilmans' spirits are moreso. On July 15th, 1893, a reporter for the Daily American went back to 145 North Cherry to investigate whether the seances held there were real. His report is... well... convincing, but probably not in the way the Gilmans had hoped.
In making the examination The American reporter concluded to examine the chair occupied by the medium and there found a small bundle containing some articles that the unbeliever would have said were to be used in making the manifestations. there was a blonde bang, and several yards of filmy laces which were woven of fine silk. all these were enclosed in a black bag, and were under a plush-bottom chair. The discovery was a surprise and much wonder was expressed as to how they came to be there. The matter was then explained by the supposition that some enemy had done it for the purpose of injuring the mediums, and this was afterward substantiated by the spirits themselves, who said that some who were present the previous night had brought evil spirits along and the evil spirits had put the articles where they could be found by the reporter, and thus had attempted to bring reproach to the cause. This explanation was accepted as satisfactory.
I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am that evil spirits no longer leave presents for reporters. I mean, sure, I'm just a lowly blogger, who probably doesn't rate being given a bag of gauzy silk. But I'd be cool with being given some fake spider web decorations by evil spirits trying to discredit their enemies.
Anyway, 4th Avenue seems like the perfect spot for a haunting — the old old city cemetery at one end, the current old city cemetery at the other, and a nexus of Spiritualist activity in the middle. And yet, the area is haunted only by an absence of convincing spirit activity.