Thursday, July 08, 2021

Strange daze: A 'hypnohistory' session at a Tennessee fort

Before the hypnosis session at Fort Granger, I was a bundle of raw nerves.

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Before leaving home to be hypnotized at a Civil War fort in Franklin, Tenn., a clause I never in the history of ever thought I’d write, Mr. B offers me a piece of her mind.

“Don’t come back clucking like a chicken.”

Also: “Wear pants.”

I’m not quite sure what she means by that, because I wear pants 50 percent of the time at home and ALMOST 95 PERCENT OF THE TIME OUTSIDE, which I think is admirable for a man my age.

Humorist/retired lawyer Jack Richards offered 
hypnotic suggestions while I was blindfolded.
Anyhow, hypnosis at Fort Granger seems like just the kind of thing to complete a whirlwind of recent weirdness. In the span of 17 days, I examined up close the "World's Largest Moon Pie" in Bell Buckle, Tenn.; shot a selfie at Little Hope Cemetery (like, no kidding) near Mammoth Cave in Kentucky; stomped my feet at the Smithville (Tenn.) Fiddlers’ Jamboree; and ate blazing-hot chicken tenders at the Music City Hot Chicken Festival in Nashville. (In early June in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, my car and I lost a stare-down with a bull and a herd of cows at the Widow Pence farm on the Cross Keys battlefield, so there’s a pattern developing here.)

Whew! I’m nearly out of breath just typing that last paragraph.

Naturally, the hypnosis trip started with a text from my friend Jack Richards, a full-time humorist/retired lawyer who loves history.

Funny guy:We get to Fort Granger early in the day, before any crowds. I bring folding chairs. We find a quiet place. We take 20-30 minutes and do a hypnotic session with an emphasis on what happened there in 1864. … Want to meet there around 6:30 a.m. tomorrow. P.S. I was a Psych major at Penn State with an interest in hypnosis.

Early morning reporting essentials at Fort Granger:
toilet paper (don't ask), a notebook, and a pen
Me:“Hell yes. Let’s do it.”

A millisecond after sending the reply, extreme doubts creep in. Firstly, “Psych major” and “Penn State”? Seems sketchy. Secondly, what if under deep hypnosis I babble about some long-ago transgressions? At West Virginia University, pals and I dangled a small person by his belt from an upper floor of the freshmen dorm. Will Mrs. B seek an annulment if she reads this?

Throwing caution (and potentially 29 years of a solid-gold marriage) into the wind, I head to Franklin at 5:55 a.m. anyway. I am armed with toilet paper (don't ask), a reporter's notebook and pen, and an open mind. Arrival at Fort Granger: 6:21 a.m.

Let the hypnosis begin!

But first, a primer: Built with the aid of Black labor, the fortification on Figuers Bluff above the Harpeth River was completed in early 1863. In its heyday, more than 10,000 Federal soldiers were stationed at Fort Granger and the surrounding area.

During the Battle of Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864, U.S. Army artillery from the fort devastated brigades in William Loring’s division on the Confederates' right flank, roughly a mile away as a cannon ball flies. "After sundown, the sparks of rifle fire and the lightning, thunder and groaning of the heavy cannons was splendid and awe-inspiring for the eye and ear," wrote a German immigrant in the 15th Independent Indiana Artillery Battery who witnessed Granger's guns blazing.

Stay off the earthworks!
Decades after the war, the fort was left to nature and hobos. Today it’s a fairly well-maintained city park, with paths along massive, well-preserved earthen walls.

No hobos or any other humans are in sight when Jack and I plop our lawn chairs near the middle of Fort Granger. Then he offers his guinea pig hypnotic subject a green-and-white checkered bandana for a blindfold. “Relax,” Jack tells me. “Put this on.” I envision early rising fort walkers thinking, “Why is the man in a lawn chair holding that other man hostage at 6:35 a.m.?” 

The next 25 minutes are a blur of hypnotic suggestions and historical tidbits.

Tune out everything,” Jack says.

Concentrate on my voice.”

Focus on your feet.”

"Focus on your knees."

And then come words that make me feel really queasy: “Focus on your thighs. They are the biggest part of our bodies, and we rarely think about them.”

Oh, Lord.

Our hypnosis session was held near the middle of Fort Granger.

I nod off into some strange netherworld. You’d probably feel the same if you drank a few cheap beers, burned incense, and watched The Twilight Zone on Netflix.

Union troops hanged two Confederate spies here on June 9, 1863,” Jack says.

Fort Granger guns, commanded by Captain Giles Cockerill, tore at the Confederates with vicious enfilade fire.”

An overgrown area near the war-time entrance of the fort.
Fort Granger fired 163 rounds during the battle, or about 40 per gun.”

Think about the passage of time.”

Now I’m not saying I was transported back to Nov. 30, 1864, but I did hear while under hypnosis church bells playing “My Country, Tis Of Thee” / ”God Save The Queen” and roosters crowing. Who knows if those sounds were real? I also heard cannon fire, but that was just my hypnotist playing a YouTube clip practically inside my eardrum.

Afterward, Jack and I compare notes and listen to “La Wally,” an excellent operatic song, from his robust Spotify collection. It's an otherwordly experience, for sure. Then a dog walker finally shows up, no doubt wondering what the oddballs in the lawn chairs are up to.

“Hypnohistory,” Jack calls our session.

“Is that a thing?” I ask.

“It is now.”

We chuckle as only two Civil War nerds can.

Hypnotist Jack Richards walks on a trail near an imposing, earthen wall at Fort Granger.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? Email me here.

  • Fout, Frederick, The Darkest Days of the Civil War, 1864 and 1865, Translation of Fout’s 1902 Die Schwersten Tage des B├╝rgerkriegs, 1864-1865.


  1. That was a laugh out loud kinda post!!!

  2. Potential time machine???!!!

    Rob FNQ,Au :)

  3. Tim Fagan9:31 AM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Did it work? Tell us about that.

  5. My great-grandfather and his brother (125th OVI) helped build Ft. Granger. Family lore has preserved a conversation between them standing together admiring their handiwork upon completion. "Wesley, someday men will visit here and under hypnosis and with a roll of toilet paper (what we'd give for a couple of those !) under his arm endeavor to time travel back to this very spot to seek a mind expanding understanding of what occurred here...or to write an Internet blog."

    1. That's pretty funny, Fish. You might need to go on tour. :)