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  The back of the Ryman Auditorium as photographed from a garage on Commerce Street.
Ryman Auditorium

Location: 116 Fifth Avenue North, Nashville

County: Davidson

Property Type: Performance venue that is open daily for tours and on a regular basis for special events and performances.

Haunting Activity: With no less than three ghosts said to visit the building known as the Mother Church of Country Music, the Ryman Auditorium can indeed be considered haunted. Capt. Thomas G. Ryman opened the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892, intending the building to be used for religious activities. Renamed the Ryman Auditorium upon his death in 1904, the building soon became an entertainment venue, but the captain reportedly made his presence known following any performances that didn’t meet his approval. Legend has it that Ryman was so disturbed by one rather risqué musical event in the early 1900s that he proceeded to thrash about, creating so much noise that patrons couldn’t hear the performance.

A ghost of a quieter nature is a figure known as the Gray Man. While numerous employees and artists have reported seeing someone dressed in gray sitting in the Ryman’s balcony during rehearsals, this gentleman has never been seen attending an actual performance -- and has, in fact, never been found. A quick search of the balcony always reveals an empty seat, with no one dressed in gray anywhere inside the building.

The most famous ghost of the Ryman may also be country music’s busiest. Several Ryman employees report seeing white apparitions, but a few claim that they’ve come face to face with the actual ghost of Hank Williams Sr. Some say they have encountered Williams backstage, while one employee seems to think the white mist she saw onstage was Williams singing. A recent visitor is convinced that he ran into Williams in the alley between the Ryman and Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, another of Williams’ haunts.

Activity Reported By: Various employees, performers and patrons

  The alley beside the Ryman is where a patron once encountered the ghost of Hank Williams Sr. Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, another of Hank's haunts, may be seen on the right under the purple awning.
History: Captain Thomas Green Ryman (born Oct. 12, 1841) was a Nashville riverboat captain and owner of a successful line of riverboats and gambling operations. On May 10, 1885, he and a group of friends decided to head over to one of Rev. Samuel Porter Jones' weekly tent revivals so they could heckle the southern evangelist, providing themselves a few laughs. Instead, Ryman was converted and decided to build a permanent home for Rev. Porter so that all could hear his messages of salvation. Construction was soon begun on the Union Gospel Tabernacle, and in May 1890 the first revival was held within its unfinished wall. Canvas was used to cover the open roof.

The Union Gospel Tabernacle was completed in 1892, with the Indiana Church Finishing Company supplying the pews, which remain to this day, at an original cost of $2,700. Original seating capacity for the building was 1,255 persons, but in 1897, the balcony, also known as the Confederate Gallery, was added for the Confederate Veterans Convention held in conjunction with the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. This addition increased the seating capacity to its present 3,755. Final construction costs for the Tabernacle were $100,000, a huge sum for that day.

On Dec. 23, 1904, Captain Thomas Ryman died. At his funeral ceremony, Rev. Jones took a vote to rename the tabernacle the Ryman Auditorium, and he received a standing ovation from the audience in response. Rev. Jones continued to preach at the newly named Ryman Auditorium until his death in 1906. A memorial service was held at the Ryman in his honor on October 28 of that year.

Notables appearing at the Ryman through the years have included William Jennings Bryan, Edward Strauss and the Vienna Orchestra, Booker T. Washington, Sarah Bernhardt, Teddy Roosevelt, Carrie Nation, John Phillip Sousa, Robert Edwin Peary, Helen Keller, Anna Pavlova, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Enrico Caruso, Isadora Duncan, Rudolph Valentino, Will Rogers, Jascha Heifetz, Ethel Barrymore, Orson Welles, Tyrone Power, Helen Hayes, Nelson Eddy, Doris Day, Eleanor Roosevelt, Katharine Hepburn, Bela Lugosi, Bob Hope, Harpo Marx, Elvis Presley and many, many more. On June 5, 1943, it became the home to the WSM radio show “The Grand Ole Opry,” and that has brought the best of country music to it stages as well, including Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams Sr., Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn.

Films at least partially shot at the Ryman Auditorium include Coal Miner's Daughter starring Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones, Honky-tonk Man starring Clint Eastwood, Sweet Dreams: The Patsy Cline Story starring Jessica Lange and Ed Harris, Nashville starring Lily Tomlin and Ned Beatty, and Big Dreams and Broken Hearts: The Dottie West Story starring Michele Lee and numerous country music artists. Johnny Cash also filmed his national TV show there.

The Ryman Auditorium continues to be a vibrant and active concert hall with acoustics said to be second in the nation, behind only the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City for quality. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2001 and is open daily for tours.

Related Links: Ryman Auditorium on

Report Prepared By: D.L. Marsh



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© 2003 D.L. Marsh
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