The Spooky Southeast: Tall tales of Cleveland and Chattanooga
By Caleb Bell, Editor-in-Chief and Brianna Bentley, Online Editor
The Clarion went in search of Cleveland and Chattanooga’s most notable urban legends and ghost stories, and returned with tales from southeast Tennessee’s darker side.
The Craigmiles’ Mausoleum
There’s a mausoleum of a little girl and her family with marble that’s said to weep blood; a hotel room haunted by the ghost of a murdered girl; a ghoul that prowls the site of one of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles; and a goblin imagined by a local millionaire.
These are by no means the extent of the tall tales in southeast Tennessee – they’re merely the more recognized.
The area’s history provides plenty of fodder for local legends. Native American lore and Civil Was history both provide ghosts and creatures to tease storytellers’ imaginations.
And to Sean Phipps, a former tour guide with Chattanooga Ghost Tours, these stories are just another aspect of the area’s history.
“The passing of stories, urban legends and tall tales is just another way of recounting our history,” Phipps said. “I think they play a pivotal role in that they serve as an alternative to the stuff of history books. The reason they’re around is because people love telling them,” Phipps said.
Most people who work in close proximity to these stories didn’t really believe in them. Some saw the tales as an important part of their heritage, or even just a fun story to tell people.
The Craigmiles mausoleum is located at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, just blocks away from the southern end of Lee’s campus.
The mausoleum houses the body of little Nina Craigmiles and her family. The tomb was originally built for the 7 year old after she died in a tragic horse buggy accident in 1871. It’s said the white marble began “bleeding” soon after she was placed inside.
But tragedy worked its way through the Craigmiles family after her death. Nina’s mother bore an infant son who died shortly after childbirth. Her father, John Craigmiles, died of blood poisoning in 1899. And her mother Adelia died after being hit by an automobile in 1928. As the legend goes, the bloodstains on the mausoleum deepened.
Some sources say that the bloodied blocks of marble were replaced, only to have the stains reappear on the new pieces.
But one leader from the church explained that the congregation doesn’t put much stock in the legend.
“We don’t endorse the idea that there are ghosts in the mausoleum, but rather it’s acknowledging our cultural heritage,” said Isaac Doty, one of the leaders at St. Luke’s. “We like the stories, but we very much consider them stories.”
Doty said the supposed bloodstains on the mausoleum come from iron oxide in the Carrara marble, which was imported from Italy.
“Sometimes a light bulb will go out, and we’ll jokingly say ‘It’s Nina playing with the lights,’” Doty said.
Old Green Eyes
Chickamauga was the sight of the second bloodiest battle during the Civil War. But today some know it to be the home of a mysterious green-eyed creature.
No one is quite sure what the thing is: many sources say eyewitness accounts differ. Some think it’s a large creature with fangs and long hair that prowls the battlefield. Some reports say it walks on two legs and wears a cloak.
Others think it is the disembodied head of a soldier that floats around looking for his body. Still others think it’s a large cat-like animal. But the reports all include one feature: bright, green, glowing eyes.
Its origins are unclear. Native American stories and Civil War history are both possible options. Some say it’s a specter that came to feast on the bodies of soldiers after the battle.
The Read House – Room 311
Room 311 in downtown Chattanooga’s Sheraton Read House Hotel is said to be haunted by a murdered girl, Annalisa Netherly.
Accounts differ: some say she was a lady of the night, yet others say she was an unfaithful young bride.
Some speculate it was a Confederate soldier who requested Annalisa’s company on the night of her murder, killing her at the conclusion to their late-night affair. Others have suggested Annalisa may have been an adulterous young wife who was caught by her enraged husband in the act of her extramarital affairs.
The Read House Hotel, now owned by Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, is located downtown Chattanooga. It was originally established as the Crutchfield House in 1847, but burned down in 1867 and was rebuilt in 1872 by John T. Read.
As a result of the hotel’s reconstruction, the new building was reassembled with a new floor plan. According to one of the hotel’s night security guards, it is possible that a different room now resides in the spot which was once Room 311.
As a result her murder by her male counterpart, Annalisa’s ghost is said to be particularly unfriendly toward male visitors; especially those who smoke.
The hotel’s Executive Chef John Palacio also disclosed a few of his personal encounters with the entities of the Read Hotel.
“In 2004 … the hotel was getting renovated. … The restaurant was getting ready to open in August. I had to stay in the hotel, because it was so late. I went to bed, and then I was being thrashed around the bed … like, just being whipped around the bed … in my room on the 10th floor,” Palacio said.
Regardless of the true location of Annalisa’s murder, the paranormal activity of the Read Hotel is consistently lively throughout the building.
The security guard also confirmed that the present basement of the hotel was originally a hospital for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. He said sightings of a ghostly soldier wandering the hotel’s Silver Ballroom and hotel hallways have also been reported.
Tall Betsy is a well-known, albeit fictitious local legend created by local entrepreneur Allan Jones.
According to Jones in a documentary about Tall Betsy, she was based on a real woman who lived in Cleveland around the turn of the century. This tall woman would dress in black and walk the streets late at night.
Jones’ mother and others would try to scare their children into coming home before dark, telling them they’d run into “Tall Betsy” if they were out late.
A legend grew around Betsy, saying she lived in Fort Hill Cemetery and only came out on Halloween night. Jones also began displaying Tall Betsy at his home on Centenary Avenue between 1980 and 1998.
Local historian William R. Snell suggested in his publication “Bradley County Ghosts and Other Haunts” that Tall Betsy was based off the story of the Woman in Black.
Similar to Jones’ story, the woman was said to appear at night dressed in all black and then disappear mysteriously. The Cleveland Daily Herald even referenced her in columns between 1892 and 1895.
*The Clarion could not go to the battlefield for firsthand experience due the park’s closure after the government shutdown. Park officials weren’t available for comment either.