The Holston Salt and Plaster Company reopened an old well on August 25, 1874. The shaft was made decades earlier, when locals attempted to find water. Residents dug around 120 feet down, but it was dry. They then dug another 130 feet into salt rock, but never found water. Since the shaft was dry, they filled it with brine water and covered it. The well was 9 feet in diameter, and dropped 250 feet. No one wanted to leave such a dangerous space open.
The Holston company wanted to see if there was anything that could be of use within the well. Workers opened it and partially drained the brine. They rigged a rope and pulley system so people could be lowered to inspect the interior.
Lewis Brown, a “colored” employee, was first lowered into the mine to retrieve several timbers that fell as the well was opened. Brown was accustomed to heights in his work with the company. He’d gone down several times before with other wells. The company used a pulley mechanism called a “bucket” to lower men. Workers lowered Brown, as they had with all the other wells, but soon heard a cry. “Hoist quick,” came from below. The men quickly pulled the bucket up, but Brown was not inside.
The men were more puzzled than afraid. Any possibility of the unknown wasn’t even a factor. William Beattie offered to go help his friend. He figured he’d just fell out. He told coworkers not to tie him to the platform, as they did with Brown. They lowered him. Several witnesses claimed they heard a struggle, so the bucket was frantically lifted a second time. Just like with Brown, Beattie was not in the bucket.
Foreman Palmer was ready to get his men out of the shaft. He offered $100 to any man brave enough to retrieve the others. No one would. Finally, an Irishman volunteered. The men tested the air at first to ensure it was safe. They lowered a candle, but the flame never twitched or went out. The air was fine.
The Irishman was terrified, but remained true to his word. The workers lowered him four times. The first time, he said he believed the men were alive. The second time, he said he saw bodies, but didn’t think any were alive. The third time, he retrieved Brown’s body. The last time he went down, there was no trace of the other bodies.
The Irishman said the air was bad, although he couldn’t specify why. Company management did not support his claim. Days later, workers located the body of William Beattie. No reason for their deaths was ever released.
Rumors suggested the spirits of those who died building the well remained down there, and wouldn’t allow anyone else to escape. What became of the cursed well remains unknown.