The Walking Horse Hotel

Hidden in the rolling foothills of the Cumberland Mountains sits the vacant Walking Horse Hotel. The historic structure in Wartrace, Tenn., is well known for housing the world’s largest picture and memorabilia collection of the Tennessee walking horse. However, former proprietor George Wright knows it housed more than just memorabilia. The 25-room hotel was also the home of famous horse trainer Floyd Carothers and the legend of his spirit that inhabited the hotel years after his death.

The hotel, built in 1917 and unoccupied since 2003, is tentatively scheduled to reopen in the fall under new ownership. Joe Peters recently acquired the property and plans to once again fill the halls with light and music. The kitchen will open and renovation will begin in each room. Peters will take special care in preserving the nostalgic, antique charm of the hotel, but even with these efforts to restore the facility, Wright believes something will always be missing.

Original owners Jesse and Nora Overall sold the hotel to Floyd and Olive Carothers in 1933. Floyd was one of Tennessee’s finest equestrian trainers. He came upon a three-year-old walking horse named Strolling Jim in 1939, purchased the large horse, and within months they were competing on the show circuit together. That same year, Carothers and Jim won the World Grand Championship Honors at the first Walking Horse National Celebration in Wartrace. The Walking Horse had only recently been recognized as a breed four years earlier in 1935.

To honor his equine champion, Carothers changed the name of the hotel, originally opened as the Hotel Overall, to the Walking Horse Hotel.

Carothers sold his horse the next year, but continued to train until he died of cancer in 1944. Strolling Jim went on to win show after show for the next eight years, and finally retired to the stables behind the Walking Horse Hotel in 1947. Jim died in 1957, and visitors can see his gravesite near the stables on the hotel property.

After her husband’s death, Olive Carothers took over as the hotel manager. It served as a boarding house for veterans for years. As she aged, and the hotel attracted more business, she started searching for a new owner.

Wright left the corporate world in Atlanta, Ga., in 1969 and came home to Wartrace. Although his intentions were simply to spend some time with his family during his sabbatical, the visit turned into a permanent relocation. Wright decided to purchase the Walking Horse Hotel in 1980.

“I kept up the hotel’s most famous tradition by becoming an enthusiastic trainer and breeder of walkers,” recalled Wright. “The stables were my pride and joy.”

Shortly after his purchase, Wright became aware of a presence in the hotel. He could only guess that it was the spirit of Floyd Carothers watching over his business investment – and his wife. Wright never felt threatened, and kept the suspicions to himself.

On Christmas Day of 1982, Wright and his family were having breakfast at his mother’s house. He suddenly felt like something was terribly wrong.

“The feeling wouldn’t leave me alone; it was like something crawled all over me,” said Wright.

He rushed over to the hotel to find the sump pumps broken in the basement. Luckily, he arrived in time to prevent any serious damage. To Wright, this experience confirmed his suspicion that someone was watching over the hotel. On three other occasions Wright experienced the same feelings of dread, leading him to the hotel. Every time, he arrived in time to prevent tragedy from striking. Once he found a small fire in one of the rooms. Another time he reached the stables just as one of his mares was having birth complications. Wright summoned professional help and Lucky Chance was born. He attributes these warnings to Floyd, who Wright describes as a protective spirit.

Hotel guests over the years have reported sightings of an apparition by the staircase, and strange ghostly figures in photographs. Wright also claims Floyd interfered with security cameras.

Frank Moore, a guest from Georgia, believes that he experienced something paranormal when he visited in 1987.

“I went to bed and had a dream I was walking around the property,” said Moore. “In the morning I went down to the kitchen, opened all the right cabinets to find what I was looking for, went into the dining room and my hand naturally found the light switch, and sat down at the head of the table. Later I asked George about a room I had never even seen. It was like I had been there before, but I hadn’t.”

In 1985 Wright hired Ed Camera, an aptly named photographer from New Bedford, Mass., to visit the Walking Horse and take some photographs for a travel brochure. Camera developed the photos and was shocked to see apparitions in two photographs from the main dining room. One features Wright sitting with a guest, Edwina Chilton. Two apparitions appeared behind them. The second shot captured an empty dining table. Four figures appeared in the photo, one behind each chair.

“Ed called me when he had them developed and told me I wasn’t going to believe it. I cut him off and told him I’d believe it,” Wright said with a laugh.

Wright’s story attracted international attention in 1989 when a British author, Robin Mead, contacted Wright for information she was gathering for a book. The Walking Horse Hotel was highlighted in her book, Haunted Hotels: A Guide to American and Canadian Inns and their Ghosts. The book was finished and published in 1995. Mead theorized that not only Floyd, but other spirits inhabited the hotel, including a young man in a naval uniform.

Although the hotel did host many veterans, Wright says that information was misconstrued. However, he has his own stories about other spirits. Two of Wright’s brothers, Virgil and Phil, were killed at ages 23 and 22, respectively. Virgil, a Navy Seal, was killed in May of 1968 while serving on a secret mission. His submarine went down and he was lost at sea. Phil died in an automobile accident.

“They were both just babies,” Wright said. “We always left an empty seat at family dinners to remember Virgil. We have pictures of an apparition dressed in uniform at the empty seat.”

Wright believes he has also captured Phil in photographs at his mother’s house, not far from the hotel.

“In one photo you can see something in the background that looks like Phil rising up out of a coffin. It’s bizarre,” said Wright in amazement.

Wright says he was skeptical at first, but the repeated sightings and images from different cameras made him a believer.

“Mother studied communication with the dead and ESP [Extrasensory Perception]. I never really paid any attention. With the family photographs though, as well as my experiences at the hotel, I had to give it serious consideration.”

As it turns out, Olive Carothers knew all along Floyd was still with her. Olive visited the hotel one evening to visit with Wright, and a guest at the hotel questioned them together about strange goings on in his room. Wright looked over at the previous owner, afraid to say something wrong. Olive just laughed and told the guest it was the spirit of her deceased husband keeping an eye on his favorite place. She assured the guest Floyd was harmless, and she apologized for any inconvenience.

“I was shocked,” said Wright. “I mean, I knew what was going on, but she never told me she knew, too!”

Olive passed away in 1991 and her family asked Wright to participate in her funeral as a pallbearer. She was an integral part of the community and Wright was deeply saddened by her death.

“When Ms. Olive passed, she took a lot of history with her,” said Wright.
According to Wright, she even took Floyd with her. Six months after she died, business at the hotel had slowed noticeably, and he felt like something else had changed as well.

“I turned to a friend and said things just didn’t feel right. Then I realized why. Floyd was gone. No one has ever felt anything there since.”

Wright sold the hotel in 1993 to pursue a career with his two brothers in acrylics. He lives with his wife Stephanie on his mother’s property, not far from the Walking Horse. His mares Lucky Chance and Perfect Ten have moved out of the stables and now enjoy acres beyond acres of pasture behind Wright’s mother’s house. Wright says ever since Floyd left, the hotel has been comparatively unsuccessful. The owners that succeeded Wright closed the hotel 10 years later and it has sat empty and dark ever since.

When it reopens as the Hotel Overall, guests will relax in the living room among antique and lace décor and enjoy gourmet cooking once again. Wright wonders what kind of atmosphere will radiate from the historic building.

One thing is certain: even though Floyd is gone, the history and the legend of the prestigious horse trainer and his hotel will never die.

– Natalie Krause

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