Taw Ridge Haunting (Book 5) Research

The Taw Ridge Haunting is Vol 5 in the Jack Raven Ghost Mystery Series. It takes place in the fictional town of Taw Ridge, Tennessee. Jack is hired to eradicate a haunting at the Herman Hotel, but she first has to find out who’s haunting the place.

Tennessee maybe the buckle of the Bible belt but it is not without its sinners, and Taw Ridge had more than its share. Below are some things about the state and a few tidbits of what I used in the book.

About Tennessee

  • The word Tennessee comes from the Cherokee Native word, Tana-see. It means the meeting place.
  • The state motto is Agriculture and Commerce.
  • The state flower is the iris.
  • The state bird is the mockingbird.
  • Bristol is known as the birthplace of country music.
  • Graceland is the second most visited house in the country.
  • Tennessee has more than 3,800 documented caves.
  • Chicken isn’t chicken unless it’s cayenne pepper hot chicken.
  • Tennessee is the buckle of the Bible belt.
  • Saying bless your heart is just a Tennessean’s way of responding to your stupidity.
  • Y’all isn’t just for rednecks.
  • Coca-Cola was first bottled in 1899 in Chattanooga.  The bottling rights were purchased for $1.00.
  • Davy Crockett was born near Greeneville. A replica of his log cabin is available to the public.
  • Jack Daniel’s whiskey is produced in Lynchburg.
  • The Grand Ole Opry holds the title as the longest radio show in history. It is broadcast on Friday and Saturday evenings, and has been since 1925.
  • Dolly Parton’s theme park Dollywood is located in Pigeon Forge.
  • The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is in Nashville.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed in 1968, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The motel where he lost his life is now the American Civil Rights Museum.
  • The Alex Haley boyhood home in Henning is the first state-owned historic site devoted to African Americans in Tennessee.

Tennessee Desserts  

Every state has its favorite desserts. These are Tennessee’s.

Nutella Cream Pie: This no-bake pie uses a graham cracker crust and Nutella®, which is a sweet hazelnut-cocoa spread. It’s similar to chocolate mousse pie.

Jam Bundt Cake: Plan on making this cake only if you’ve got a kitchen stocked with ingredients and time on your hands. If you’re ever in Nashville, stop by The Loveless Cafe where they serve Big Momma’s version of this favorite made with blackberry jam and buttermilk. Recipe is on the website.

MoonPie: Tennessee born and bred. MoonPies are two round graham cracker cookies with marshmallow filling and dipped in a flavored coating. They were created at the Chattanooga Bakery in 1917, and were just five cents each. One hundred years later, they are still under $1.00 each. Today, the company produces about one million MoonPies a day.

Mountain Stack Cake:  This cake is made up of several thin layers of cake separated by a spiced apple filling. Legend says it originated as a wedding cake, with guests each bringing a cake layer for the bride.

Banana Cream Pie: This pie’s a Tennessee winner with a yearly festival where Miss Banana Pudding is named.


In Book 5, Agustina Cortez sends Jack to Taw Ridge with protection made by a Brujo.

Brujería is Spanish for witchcraft. The practice is a form of folk magic involving charms, spells, curses, hexes, or divination.

In Mexican culture, the female sorceress or witch is called brujo and the male is bruja.

The brujo/bruja can also be a spiritual healer, spiritual counselor, and spellworker (hechizos).  Brujería is a practice of interacting with the living energy of the universe.

A brujo is often feared and revered due to the belief that she only engages in black magic or countermagic. Unlike the curandero, the brujo is not limited by ethics in practicing her magic, though she must accept the consequences of choices made.

The brujo may leave her hexing agent in the person’s home. If a doll is used, it must be found and destroyed.

A curandero is often called upon to heal those suspected of being a victim of brujería. If that is the case, the curandero must then identify the kind of witchcraft used and even the brujo who put the hex on the person.

The treatment may also involve the removal of objects magically injected into the victim’s body such as a worm. Love hexes may counteract the countermagic.

The curandero may contact the brujo through supernatural means or directly to demand that the curse be removed. If the brujo refuses, the curandero may hex the hexer.

13th Floor

You can’t have a haunted hotel without a 13th floor. I couldn’t find one in Tennessee, except for the Herman Hotel.

Triskaidekaphobia is the extreme superstition regarding the number thirteen.

The early designers of tall buildings feared the financial repercussions of the superstition more than the superstition itself, and omitted the number thirteen on floors and elevators. The practice soon became commonplace in the United States.

Early critics of New York architecture warned against the thirteenth floor arguing that it would cause  street congestion and ominous shadows as well as lower property values.

In 2002, Otis Elevators did a study that revealed 85% of the buildings with Otis brand elevators did not have a floor named labeled the 13th. A representative for the Westinghouse Elevator Company estimates it is closer to 90%.

Buildings that brave the feared phobia are the Palmer House Hilton, the Hotel Burnham and Virgin Hotels in Chicago, Marriott in Grande Dunes, South Carolina, the Plaza, Waldorf Astoria, the Flatiron Building, and the Empire State Building in New York. The World Trade Center also had a 13th floor.

The Coral Gables Biltmore Hotel is famous for its 13th floor. Gangster Thomas ‘Fatty’ Walsh was killed by another gangster on the thirteenth floor in 1929. His ghost has never checked out.

Hoja Santa

If you need protection from a spirit, use this herb.

Hoja Santas is primarily culinary. The leaves have a fragrance similar to sassafras. It is used as a healing tea.

Hoja Santa (also known as Hierba Santa and Yerba Santa) is known as the sacred leaf. It is an aromatic herb that grows in tropic Mesoamerica with a soft, heart-shaped leaf.

In spiritual practices, this herb is used for protection, healing, dreamwork, and for increasing divinatory abilities. In magic work, it is used in making poppets and tinctures. Putting it in bath water is thought to bring out inner beauty.

It can be used for dressing for altars, kept in medicine bags, and as an ingredient in potpourri. Some Native Americans believe that burning the plant neutralizes negative energies and can heal as well as reduce fear and emotional injuries such as grief, depression, melancholy, and despair while providing a boundary of protection.

Curanderos call it the holy herb. It is used as an altar offering along with other sacred herbs and roots.

The following is a recipe for incense from the Herbal Riot.

  • Yucatan Incense
  • 3 parts Copal
  • 2 parts Frankincense
  • 1 part Rosemary
  • 1 part Sage
  • 1 part Lemongrass
  • 1 part Bay
  • ½ part Marigold
  • ½ part Yerba Santa
Photo Credit  – Forest Starr & Kim Starr http://www.starrenvironmental.com

Hotel Murders

After researching hotel murders, I never plan on staying in one again. Besides the nasty bedspreads and bedbugs, and security guards who might not be all that trustworthy, methamphetamine labs have become a serious problem. A single meth lab has a 15% chance of catching fire or exploding.

While those things are bad enough, at least they are believable. What isn’t is… bodies under the bed.

In 2003, Sony Millbrook was murdered and hidden inside the bed’s box frame at a Budget Inn in Memphis Tennessee. Despite the odor, the room had been cleaned and rented out five times before her body was discovered. Her boyfriend was later convicted.

A man was found at the Capri Motel in Kansas City. He was under the mattress and in an advanced state of decomposition.

A couple slept over the remains of a man in the Burgundy Motor Inn in Atlantic City. Ten days of complaints by guests led to the discovery of a woman in a Travelodge in Pasadena, California.

Murderer Jerry Lee Dunbar killed two prostitutes on separate occasions after taking them to motels. At his trial he stated that little men who glowed were following him in the jail. He said they came with their suitcases and that he liked them and they made him laugh.

When people say fiction is unbelievable, I always roll my eyes.


In the legends of Papua New Guinea every man is a sorcerer (barau) and every woman a witch (werabana). In Polynesian culture, the werabana is a demon entity.

In An Encyclopaedia of Occultism by Lewis Spence, the werabana is described as an evil spirit that inhabits dark places and wanders in the night while giving witches their power to smite all around.

A werabana can apply to witches but also to the vessels of the werabana who are given their terrifying powers. The werabana and the barau are often blamed for physical illnesses. They are the most feared humans in the village. Their magic is always hostile and meant to destroy the community through illness or injury.

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