Is Your Church Haunted?

Apparently our current church home is HAUNTED!

Could old Dickson School be haunted by a former teacher?

When renovation work began on the Dobbins building in Riverview, the Head Start program was moved to the old Dickson School on Virginia Avenue.

And that’s when the Head Start workers began noticing strange things. Social worker Martha Dixon says, “I personally have heard things in the building. Others report doors closing and things being moved out of place when no one is in the room but them.”

Martha says the Head Start workers are convinced the building is haunted, haunted by the ghost of a former Dickson teacher, Lola Pursley.

“Outside the old school is a plaque which reads, ‘Lola Pursley, March 28, 1955.’ It is my understanding that in March 1955, there was a fire at the school. Ms. Lola Pursley was a school teacher there. The story goes she thought there was a child who had not made it out of the building, so she went back in to make sure everyone was out. She made it back to the door, where she collapsed. Someone dragged her out by her feet, but she died that day from smoke inhalation.”

It was a Monday morning, March 28, 1955. Dickson students had just returned to school after the weekend.

The Times-News reported, “At 12:30 p.m. the teachers had been called to a short faculty meeting to make arrangements for sending flowers to the funeral of the former school janitor, a Mr. Good. On the way back to their rooms 10 minutes later, teachers saw smoke pouring out of the seventh grade room. Mrs. Faye Willis, first grade teacher, was in the group ahead. She said, ‘I turned around and said, “Look, Mrs. Pursley!” and she ran to the room.’ ”

Principal Herman Hall turned on the school fire alarm, and 665 students and 23 teachers used their fire drill training and quickly evacuated the building.

But 51-year-old Lola Pursley went back in.

Legend has it that Mrs. Pursley thought she had seen a little girl still inside. That’s not the way the newspaper reported it at the time.

“She had directed 31 seventh-graders from their smoke-filled room to the front campus and had gone back to get the next thing dearest to a teacher’s heart, her records and textbooks. At the foot of the steps outside the west entrance of the old wing of the school, Mrs. Pursley was seen to stumble, and the armload of books dropped from her arms. Some boys from her room ran to her then ran inside the building and brought some clothing to put under her head and on the ground under her body.”

That’s not to say she hadn’t gone back searching for a student, and when she didn’t find any more inside, decided to grab her grade book.

Rescue workers from the Kingsport Lifesaving Crew and the Kingsport Fire Department worked for an hour to revive her, but at 1:45 p.m. Dr. Paul W. Cox, whose office was in Highland, pronounced Lola Pursley dead of a heart attack. She’d had heart problems.

“If she hadn’t gone back, she would have been all right now,” a fellow teacher, Mrs. E. B. Barnes, commented. “She wanted to save her records.”

The tributes poured forth.

A “plaid shirted boy” told the newspaper, “She was the best teacher I ever had.”

Sullivan County School Superintendent J. Craft Akard told a reporter, “The big loss was the life of the teacher. Mrs. Pursley was an excellent teacher, well-liked and very cooperative. She took a deep interest in the students and the school as a whole. She was one of the best teachers in the county. Our regrets are deep. There is just not much you can s a y. ”

You could say that Lola Pursley has never left the building.

Now that Head Start has moved in, Martha says, “I believe Lola is worried because the building is full of children again, so she keeps us on our toes and tries very hard to make sure we are on alert to anything that might harm the children.”

Contact Vince Staten at vincestat or via mail in care of this newspaper. Voicemail may be left at 723-1483. His blog can be found at vincestaten.