Pictured above – Tech associate professor of history Paula Hinton speaks with show co-host and former NYPD homicide detective Steve DiSchiavi on location at Lantana Cemetery in Crossville on a recent episode of “The Dead Files.”
Show features paranormal investigations performed by both a psychic medium and former homicide detective
Cookeville – A Tennessee Tech University faculty member is making an appearance on the Travel Channel’s long-running paranormal crime series, “The Dead Files” – but thankfully not as the primary subject.
Paula Hinton, associate professor of history at Tech, appears on two episodes of the hit show this season as an expert guest. One episode, “Isolated,” which first aired Oct. 12, finds Hinton on location at Lantana Cemetery in Crossville, Tennessee where she offers viewers a history lesson on some of the cemetery’s most notable inhabitants.
Another episode, “The Eternal Haunting,” airs Oct. 19 and finds Hinton sharing accounts of a Civil War-era train robbery and the storied history of Franklin, Kentucky’s Octagon Hall, a museum and landmark that previously served as a residence, school, hospital, and hideout for confederate soldiers during the Civil War.
“I was a fan of the show, so it was really neat,” said Hinton, reflecting on the experience. “It was also a bit overwhelming because I wanted to get it right.”
Premiering in 2011, “The Dead Files” features a psychic and a former homicide detective who investigate allegedly haunted locations at the request of clients who write into the show.
For Hinton, the topic was a natural fit. At Tech, her courses include student favorites such as, “Ghosts, Myths and Legends in American History,” “The History of Crime in America,” and “Women Who Kill.” Still, the show’s format required her to be a quick study.
“There was a lot of work involved,” said Hinton, “The way the show works, they give you 10 to 20 possible angles or topics that could be unearthed during the psychic and homicide detective’s investigations. About 20 hours before my interviews took place, they called to say, ‘These are the topics we will end up using.’”
Hinton traces her own interest in true crime to her early days as an undergraduate student.
“I knew I would be a history major, but I didn’t have a focus yet,” said Hinton. “One semester, I took three really tough seminars: one on the Holocaust, one on African American history and one on women’s history. I had listened to these terrible stories of people being so badly victimized. When it came time to do my research paper in my women’s history class, I thought ‘I cannot do any more victims.’ What’s the opposite of a victim? It’s a perpetrator. So, I did my research paper on women who committed murder.”
Hinton says her research for the television series also provided creative inspiration for her lesson plans at Tech.
“The train robbery that we discuss in the second episode will definitely be coming up in my history of crime class,” added Hinton. “And the episode we filmed at the cemetery in Crossville gave me a deeper appreciation for the many individual stories that a cemetery holds. Each person buried there has a story that is compelling to one degree or another.”
Among the stories from the cemetery that most moved Hinton was that of a soldier who, in 1950, was on a military plane traveling from Alaska to Montana and disappeared over the Canadian wilderness. Forty-four passengers vanished, never to be found. The soldier’s mother waited nearly a decade before finally accepting that her son had perished and placing a marker in the cemetery.
The experience also caused Hinton to reflect on a beloved colleague and renowned authority on Tennessee history: the late Tech professor Michael “Birdie” Birdwell, who died last year.
“He wouldn’t have even needed to look anything up!” said Hinton. “He was an absolute expert on Tennessee history. I thought about him a lot and kept thinking this would have been perfect for him.”
With a television credit under her belt and the memory of her friend and co-worker close at hand, Hinton continues to teach history – with a twist.
“I’m teaching regular history but it’s through different glasses, glasses that are maybe a little more fun and intriguing,” concluded Hinton.
“The Dead Files” airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. central on The Travel Channel. For more information visit www.travelchannel.com/shows/the-dead-files.
Photo courtesy of Tennessee Tech.