Chattanooga group explores local history

Ryan Lowery visits the grave of Joe Engel, professional baseball player and former owner of the Chattanooga Lookouts, in Forest Hills Cemetery.

Did you know that Desmond T. Doss, the combat medic who inspired the film "Hacksaw Ridge," is buried in the Chattanooga National Cemetery? Or that Adolph Ochs owned The Chattanooga Times before going on to purchase The New York Times?

Ryan Lowery knows such stories of the city's history, sharing those and more with fellow residents curious enough to ask. The Hixson resident is the founder of Chattanooga History Hunters, a club that meets monthly to explore historic and haunted sites around Chattanooga.

"Chattanooga is one of those cities that is like a sleeping giant waiting to be discovered," Lowery said.

Lowery had long had an interest in history, but it was a ghost tour of Hales Bar Dam that inspired him to start the club in 2013. The site is considered by many to be haunted and has been the subject of several paranormal investigations.

Lowery said that while on the tour, he felt something touch his arm and heard a voice telling him to "Get out." Though afraid, his interest in history overpowered the fear. He stayed for the rest of the tour, and said the experience helped him realize he wanted to share his knowledge of history with others.

As an adult with autism spectrum disorder, Lowery partnered with the Chattanooga Autism Center, a nonprofit that provides services for people with autism. The center helped Lowery turn his hobby into a club, with volunteers like Donna Wittmann acting as co-founders.

"This is a perfect example of one of our programs that was started by an individual with autism because they had an idea that wasn't being done and they were willing to put in the volunteer time," said Dave Buck, executive director of the Chattanooga Autism Center.

The majority of the programs sponsored by the Chattanooga Autism Center are started by adults with autism like Lowery, those who have children with autism, or other advocates. The center can help with grant writing, advertising, managing Facebook groups and lending office space when needed.

If the founder can volunteer his or her time, the Chattanooga Autism Center facilitates the program as best it can, Buck said.

Lowery's group was founded under the name Chatt Aspies History Hunters - Aspies is a term for people with Asperger's syndrome, a type of autism spectrum disorder - but the name was changed to show that the group is open to everyone.

April Jagger, a volunteer with the Chattanooga Autism Center and the club's current co-administrator, said Lowery makes the events accessible to people on the autism spectrum and fun for those that are not. Jagger added that the events have been attended by all ages, from elementary school-aged children to senior citizens.

Past events hosted by the Chattanooga History Hunters have included tours of the Chattanooga National Cemetery, Forest Hills Cemetery, and talks by renowned locals.

Lowery said one of his favorite events was a lecture by David Carroll, anchor with Channel 3 news, who spoke about local figures he knew personally, such as radio broadcast legend Luther Masingill.

Jagger's favorite event was a live demonstration by Chickamauga, Ga., makeup artist Darla Wigley, who has done horror makeup for several movies as well as Ruby Falls' Haunted Cavern.

Lowery said he has long held a "big time"fascination with history, making him a perfect fit to lead the club. He often does vast research on a location and the people connected to it before the group visits. When there is no personnel available at the site, Lowery personally leads the group's tours.

Jagger said she loves Lowery's events because they are never dull.

"Everything Ryan does, probably coming from his autism, is all interactive, hands-on; and unlike a lot of autistic individuals, Ryan is extremely social. He's a really good spokesman," said Jagger.

One way Lowery's tours are unique, she said, is the way he integrates music. A drummer with The Chattahooligans, Chattanooga Football Club's fan club, Lowery is knowledgeable about music. He sometimes researches the music associated with a particular time period and plays that music for the history group.

"He can just make people see music in a way they never have before," Jagger said.

Those interested in learning more or finding out about upcoming events can check out the group's Facebook page,

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