Step inside the doors of the historic Ryman Auditorium and you’re greeted by legends.
Minnie Pearl and Roy Acuff are seated on a bench in the lobby. Dolly Parton’s dress sits inside a case at the back of the theater, alongside Johnny Cash’s suit and handwritten lyrics from Hank Williams.
But is there somebody else roaming the halls of the Mother Church of Country Music too?
The Ryman has been the site of numerous reported supernatural sightings over its 130-year history. From the ghosts of Hank Williams to Patsy Cline, many have claimed to see spirits roaming about the historic building.
But there’s one ghost who seems to make his presence known more than any other: The Gray Man.
According to Joshua Bronnenberg, Museum Curator for the Ryman Auditorium, the Gray Man is the most frequently-seen of the spirits that haunt the Ryman, usually sitting in section 11 of the balcony.
In one instance, the figure was reported by a security guard who was watching over the empty building:
“There was a security guard that supposedly was doing his rounds across the stage and sees a man sitting in the balcony. He thought that someone had just snuck into the building. So he runs upstairs to intercept the person and the person was gone.”
And Bronnenberg says that even one of his employees claims to have seen the Gray Man:
“He claimed that he went in one morning to open the balcony and he saw what he thought was an older gentleman standing there as soon as he opened the door, but then he mysteriously vanished.”
The Gray Man has also been seen by performers, like Ian Munsick, from the stage before crowds filled the room:
Many claim that the “Gray Man” is a confederate soldier, one of many who used to frequent the Ryman during post-Civil War gatherings.
But according to Bronnenberg, that theory may come more from the history of the balcony itself:
“The balcony was constructed in conjunction with the Tennessee centennial celebration in 1897. It was constructed to accommodate members of the confederate veterans organization that came to town, and as part of that the board used this as an excuse to finish the design of the architect.
The notion was that family and friends would be up in the balcony, the veterans would be downstairs, and so they raised the money locally…
Construction began and they got the balcony done, and they had their series of meetings here.
Since the gallery was constructed for this confederate veterans reunion, some people say that it’s a gray-ish specter, they say, ‘Could it be a confederate veteran?'”
Whatever the man’s identity, people are convinced they’ve seen him lurking in the building, along with the ghosts of country stars like Hank and Patsy. And his story only adds to the lore of one of Nashville’s most iconic buildings.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you feel about ghosts) I’ve never seen the Gray Man for myself, but I first heard about him a few years ago on Halloween when I took the Ryman’s annual Haunted History Tour. These tours aren’t offered year round, but the Ryman recently announced that they would be returning this year on Saturday, July 29 and Friday, August 4, with tickets going on sale this morning.
If you’ve never toured the Ryman, or even if you have and are interested in all things haunted history, these tours are unique in that you not only get to tour the building and hear the ghost stories, but you also get to see under the historic stage – something you can’t do on any other tour.
While I may not be totally sold on the ghosts, the history of the Ryman Auditorium is unmatched in Nashville – or anywhere for that matter – so getting to see under the stage and hear about the reported ghost sightings was an amazing experience for a country music fan.
And hey, you just might catch a glimpse of the Gray Man while you’re there.