Ghosts of Bradley County, Tennessee

Every corner of the world has its own ghost stories. Ours is no exception. Some stories disappear with the sands of time. Others linger on, haunting future generations. Without further adieu, here are some of the most famous ghosts of Bradley County, Tennessee.

The Phantom Monk

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The first one of our ghosts of Bradley County appears on the banks of the Hiwassee in the 19th century. Charleston, Tennessee, located in Bradley County with a current population of only 651 residents, is the perfect small town setting for a ghost story. The most popular of these is the story of the Phantom Monk. Charleston is located on the south bank of the Hiwassee River, which historically flowed into the Tennessee River. (It now flows into Chickamauga Lake, an artificial lake created by the building of a dam in 1940.)

The story of the Phantom Monk begins with a massive flood in 1867.  The flood had caused massive infrastructural damage. It washed away a riverbank, causing the collapse of railroad tracks in Charleston. It is unclear whether the train ran into a ravine or into the river, however, the accident was fatal. Many died instantly and other later succumbed to their injuries. It is said a Dr. Bazemore tended tirelessly to the victims, even collapsing from exhaustion himself. Accounts state that all bodies ended up accounted for – save for one. The body of a monk traveling alone on the train had disappeared. 

Some stories present a more specific picture. The monk was of the Franciscan order and, as such, was unlikely to have a wife or children. Franciscan monks are notable for their dark brown habit, a white rope used as a belt, and the rosary that hung upon it. The monk was traveling from Baltimore to New Orleans, on a train that passed through Charleston. Some people claimed to have seen Dr. Bazemore treating the monk after the train accident.

 Image of hands with stigmata outside a Franciscan church.

Image of hands with stigmata outside a Franciscan church.

Dr. Bazemore later left Charleston to move to Cleveland and a Dr. Jacob Lake McClary moved in. (A trusted source of Dr. Bazemore’s life indicates he moved from Charleston to Chattanooga and then on to Cleveland.) On his first day, he was approached by a man who introduced himself as Hornsby, who warned the doctor that the house was haunted. He seemed particularly fixated on a skeleton Dr. Bazemore had acquired. Hornsby told the doctor that he had not been around at the time, but he knew that a few months after the flood, a skeleton had appeared in the doctor’s office.

Nobody knew where the skeleton came from, but everybody in Charleston knew of the doctor’s pride in his new possession.
— Kathryn Tucker Windham in Thirteen Tennessee Ghosts and Jeffrey: Commemorative Edition.

This was when the mysterious clicking sounds began, one characterized as sounding like the clicking of beads. Occasionally, the doctor would also catch a glimpse of a figure in a brown coat tied with a white rope. However, the spirit did not seem to be malevolent and the McClarys lived in the house in peace. When the house was demolished in 1932, a rosary and a brown habit were found inside the walls.

A number of historical facts in this story can be verified. There was a flood in 1867. Heavy ran lasted from March 7-11, 1867, causing the Tennessee River to rise approximately 58 feet higher than normal water level. It can be inferred that the Hiwassee, which drained into the Tennessee River, also suffered from this flood. Trains did pass through Charleston between Baltimore and New Orleans at the time. I can find no verifiable accounts of a train wreck in Charleston in 1867, however, damage was widespread, with bridges and buildings being destroyed. It is not out of the realm of possibility that train tracks could have collapsed. Dr. J. Lake McClary did exist and live in Charleston. He died in 1949. Dr. George Bazemore also existed and lived in Charleston. He passed in 1910.

Unfortunately, most other pieces of evidence cannot be verified. I could not locate a news story about the discovery of the rosary in the house in 1932. Nor could I find any firsthand accounts of the original haunting.

Most troublesome for the veracity of this story - the only verifiable account I could find of Dr. Bazemore claimed he moved to Charleston in 1968, one year after the flooding.

The Beck House



The Bleeding Craigmiles Mausoleum

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Finding physical evidence of a haunting is rare. Not so with the Craigmiles Mausoleum. Of a few facts in this story we can be sure. Nina Craigmiles was born in 1864 to John and Adelia Craigmiles. She often accompanied her grandfather, Dr. Thompson, on his calls in his horse-drawn buggy. Although the date is in dispute - one source claiming this took place on October 11, 1871 (Images of America: Cleveland) and another (The History of Bradley County) claiming October 18, 1871 - it is known that Nina Craigmiles was riding in a buggy with her grandfather when it was struck by a train. The details here are difficult to decipher and raises questions: how could a buggy be struck by a train? How could they have not heard or noticed the oncoming train? If the buggy got stuck on the tracks, why didn’t they leave the buggy? Regardless of these answers, Dr. Gideon Thompson was apparently ejected from the buggy upon impact and survived. Seven-year-old Nina did not. She was crushed beneath the cow-catcher, the v-shaped part of the front of the train to push aside obstacles, and died instantly.

It is said this tragedy resulted in the creation and naming of a new church by her father: St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, since she died on St. Luke’s Day. On the northeast corner of the church property is Nina’s mausoleum. Inside are the remains of Mr. and Mrs. Craigmiles, Nina, an infant son of the couple who lived only a few hours, and Mr. Cross, Adelia’s husband after John passed away.

 Image (c) Jeff Buchwald.

Image (c) Jeff Buchwald.

All these facts and events are supported by local history. The curiosity appeared after Nina Craigmiles’s death and the construction of the mausoleum. The carrara marble walls supposedly “bleed,” as a result of the violent deaths of its residents. I could not locate a legitimate source for the causes of death for John and Adelia Craigmiles and Mr. Cross. On this site, however, the causes of death for the couple were as follows: John, 1899 - blood poisoning after a fall on ice, Adelia, 1928 - struck by an automobile. No mention was made of Mr. Cross.

Attempts have been made to explain the appearance of the red on the stone, which has survived attempts to be washed off or removed. Some explanations indicate weathering of the limestone in the marble causing it to change color. However, if it is genuine carrara marble, as stated, this is unlikely. Carrara is a pure white marble and the coloring in other marbles is a result of other minerals present. The Find a Grave site above claims that the stained marble blocks have been replaced numerous times, but the new blocks soon develop the characteristic red stains.

So are the bloodstains a result of impure marble? Or of a haunting?

The Woman in Black

 Image (c) National Science and Media Museum

Image (c) National Science and Media Museum

Finally, we introduce one of the most famous ghosts of Bradley County. Tall Betsy is an eponymous name in Cleveland, Tennessee. A local legend, a Halloween spook, and a celebrity in her own right. Her story has been around for over 100 years, though not always in the form we now call Tall Betsy. In September of 1892, three young women were frightened by a woman in black. She wore a long, black dress, but curiously wore men’s yellow work gloves (Cleveland Weekly Herald September 27, 1894). The Woman in Black stalked some people at night over the following months, but never made a move to harm. Locals began to become curious about the Woman in Black. Some search parties were dispatched to find her, but came up empty. Her appearances were noted in the Cleveland Weekly Herald at the time. But most were skeptical.

That young chap who is disguising himself in female attire, and parading the streets every Sunday night frightening women and children, and who is commonly known as the ‘Woman in Black,’ and who is destined to meet with ‘an accident’ if he persists in such conduct.
— Note from a March 1893 issue of the Cleveland Weekly Herald

What these individuals were seeing cannot be determined, as the Woman in Black disappeared in late 1894, never to be seen again. Was it, as one reader suspected, a man who donned a woman’s dress to terrorize people walking late at night? Was it a ghoul? Of one thing we can be certain, the reports of this specter would inspire a later local legend: Tall Betsy.

During the 1920s and 30s, children were warned of a Lady in Black that they would encounter if they stayed out after dark. Her other names were Black Betsy or Tall Betsy. Cleveland entrepreneur Allan Jones would resurrect this legendary figure in 1980. For eighteen years, Tall Betsy emerged on Centenary Avenue on Halloween night. She disappeared for a time to reemerge in 2014 as a staple of Cleveland’s Halloween Block Party.

 Tall Betsy in 1993.

Tall Betsy in 1993.

She comes out only on Halloween
On Centenary Avenue she can be seen,
Tall Betsy is the Lady in Black,
For scaring “night-owls” she has a knack.

Now if you’re good and go home early,
You won’t get ‘et by this gruesome girlie.
But if you linger ’til after ten,
We want you to know you are a “has been.”

‘Cause Betsy will tuck you under her arm,
And you can bet, that is cause for alarm.
To Fort Hill Cemetery she will go,
To her mausoleum, with YOU in tow!

If you don’t escape before sunrise,
I warn you now you will be her prize.
She will have you for breakfast, I do not jest,
You’ll be on the menu but not as her guest.

Your bones, she’ll dump in that ole well,
At Arnold School and no one will tell.
Your parents, they’ll worry and fret,
They’ll search all over for you, I’ll bet.

So, go home early on Halloween night
And November 1st you’ll be all right.
Trick or treating is so much fun
But if you see Tall Betsy… RUN!