Nashville’s Marathon Village full of spirit — and spirits

Editor’s note: During each Chips Quinn orientation and multimedia training in Nashville, Tenn., scholars are required to complete a mobile media reporting module, which includes producing videos and reporting and writing stories. Their work is displayed here.

By Nathan Ruiz

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Lorraine Frances doesn’t hesitate when asked what her favorite part of Marathon Village, a group of renovated warehouse buildings, is.

She could cite the building’s architecture or history, but to Frances, the answer is more mysterious.

“The ghosts,” she says. “This building is old and creepy and haunted. You feel it everywhere.”

The emblem of Marathon Motor Cars is painted on the side of what is now known as the main building of Marathon Village in Nashville, Tenn. (Nathan Ruiz/Summer 2016)

Frances owns an eponymous jewelry and clothing store in a building on Clinton Street. Red brick lines its exterior, with the words “Marathon Motor Cars” painted across various walls, a reminder of the business that called the structure home before the spirits did.

Inside, sheets of metal cover the wooden floors. The interior is not well lit; more light streams in through the windows than from the light bulbs hanging overhead. Pieces of machinery peppered with dust stand by the wall like suits of armor in a castle.

Southern Engine and Boiler Works, eventually renamed Marathon Motors Cars, used the building as a factory for three decades from 1884 to 1914. The company grew rapidly before financial limitations forced Marathon out of the building and Nashville itself, leaving the structure abandoned for most of the 20th century.

Despite its age, the architecture has its appeal.

“It is majestic,” Frances says. “It really is majestic when you can come in and you go, ‘Wow.’”

A woodworker named Barry Walker bought the building in 1986 and began to renovate it. The first phase of Walker’s renovation included redevelopment of the 32,000-square-foot office and administration building, which hosts businesses, including Lorraine Frances jewelry, and offices.

The village covers four blocks and holds artists’ and photographers’ studios, offices, a radio station and a fitness center. More than 40 businesses call Marathon Village their home. Among them is Antique Archeology, which is owned by Mike Wolfe, creator of the History Channel television show “American Pickers.”

Walker still owned the complex when Frances moved into the building about four years ago. Her son, Larry Wilkes, moved his business, Larry Wilkes Jewelry, into the village the same day.

Wilkes had driven by the old Marathon building several times before finally persuading his mother to move in. But that was before he knew about the spirits.

Twice, Wilkes has had customers tell him he has a ghost in his shop, he said.

“I have not felt it; I’ve just had psychic people tell me,” Wilkes said. “Really, I didn’t ask them for it. They just said, ‘You have a ghost in here, and she needs to sit in a white chair in that corner.’”

Last May, various business owners, including Celena Cavala of Carousel Ink, a clothing and art boutique, and Mandy Judge of Garage Coffee Company, hosted a séance in Carousel Ink to speak with some of the building’s old souls. Neither could be reached for comment on what happened at the séance, but Frances caught wind of rumors.

Business owners in Nashville’s Marathon Village held a séance among the racks at Carousel Ink, a clothing and art boutique, in May. (Nathan Ruiz/Summer 2016)

“They brought forth some people that we can’t see,” she says.

Martin Øebakke, Cavala’s husband and co-owner, says although he has never interacted with the spirits, he believes in their existence.

“I’m open to it,” Øebakke says. “I don’t have any problems with it at all. I’d love to see something. They just don’t show themselves to me.”

Regardless of whether they’re seen or heard, Frances is adamant the spirits are felt.

“You can feel the energy that they’re here, especially if you’re here by yourself at night when it’s quiet,” Frances says. “It’s all good energy.”

Video: Antique Archeology

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