St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Broad Street in Downtown Cleveland, Tennessee was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. It is one of the oldest buildings and the second oldest church building in Cleveland.
The Church was built in 1872, in the Gothic Revival Style to honor the memory of the 7-year-old daughter of John H. Craigmiles. Nina was killed when the buggy she was riding in with her grandfather, Thompson, was struck by a switch engine at the Inman Street crossing on October 18, 1871.
The Legend of the Blood-Stained Mausoleum:
At the rear of the church is a marble mausoleum that, over the years, has attracted curiosity seekers from all over the region. The tomb is the burial place for the Craigmiles family, four members of who died tragically. The white surface of the stone is marred with streaks of crimson stain… the dark color of blood.
John Henderson Craigmiles came to Cleveland from Georgia around 1850. He and his brother, Pleasant, operated a successful mercantile business but John soon grew restless with small town life and traveled west to the California gold fields. He soon discovered that prospecting held little appeal for him, but out west, he did make a discovery that would both change his life and create his fortune. He realized the travel and supply needs of the western territory and soon discovered that a large amount of money could be made in the shipping business. He managed to purchase a small fleet of six ships and began a shipping line between California and Panama. Not only could he trade back and forth between Central America and the West Coast, but he could also carry passengers from the eastern United States who booked passage to Panama and then on to California.
The shipping business prospered for some time, then disaster struck. Mutinous crews hijacked five of John’s ships at sea and made off with the vessels and cargo. Claims from his creditors soon wiped out his fortune, but Craigmiles refused to give up. He borrowed $600 from his brother, Green, and set out to rebuild his business with the one ship that he had left. By 1857, he returned in Tennessee, once again a very wealthy man.
Soon after his return, John began courting a young woman named Adelia Thompson, the daughter of local doctor, Gideon Blackburn Thompson, and on December 18, 1860, they were married.
A few months after the wedding, the Civil War began. The Secretary of State for the Confederacy, Judah P. Benjamin, recognized John’s head for business and appointed him the chief commissary agent for the South. He held this position throughout the entire war and reportedly used it to great advantage. Buying cattle and speculating in cotton, he sold goods to the Confederacy at a profit and made a fortune from the war. He was also wise enough to know that paper money was of little value and only traded in gold. After the defeat of the Confederacy, when the paper money printed in Richmond turned out to be worthless, John was not ruined as many other southern businessmen were.
In August 1864, Adelia gave birth to the couple’s first daughter, Nina. John soon became absolutely devoted to the little girl and along with her mother, grandparents and uncles, she became wonderfully spoiled. Perhaps no one loved the little girl more than her grandfather, Dr. Thompson. He took long walks with her in downtown Cleveland, Tennessee, where she was popular with the shopkeepers, and often took her on medical calls in his buggy. They would spend entire afternoons enjoying the fresh air and journeying about town.
It was during one of these outings that tragedy came to the Craigmiles family. The day was October 18, 1871 and Nina and her grandfather were off on a short jaunt in the buggy. No one knows how the accident happened, but somehow, Dr. Thompson steered the carriage in front of an oncoming train. He was thrown clear but Nina was instantly killed.
The whole town grieved for the little girl. John, Adelia and the entire family were crushed by the loss and could barely function during the funeral services. When it was over, John began making plans to build a church in memory of his daughter. The Episcopal congregation in town had no permanent meeting place and John felt that a new church in Nina’s honor would be fitting. The ground was broken the following August and Saint Luke’s was completed on October 18, 1874, the third anniversary of Nina’s death.
Almost as soon as the brick and stone church was completed, the family began construction on a mausoleum for Nina’s body. It was placed at the rear of the church and was built from expensive marble with walls that were four feet thick. A cross tops the marble spire of the tomb and rises more than thirty-seven feet off the ground. Inside of the tomb, six shelves were built into the walls and in the center was a marble sarcophagus, into which Nina’s body was placed.
As time passed, the other members of the family followed Nina to the grave. The first to die was an infant son who was born to John and Adelia, but only lived a few hours. He was never named but his body lies in peace next to his sister.
John Craigmiles died in January 1899 from blood poisoning. Apparently, he had been walking downtown one day and slipped and fell on the icy street. An infection developed and turned into blood poisoning. He died a short time later.
Adelia, who married Charles Cross some time after John’s death, was also tragically killed in September 1928. She was crossing Cleveland Street when she was struck and killed by an automobile. She was laid to rest with the other members of her family in the mausoleum.
The stories say that the bloody stains first began to appear on the Craigmiles mausoleum after Nina was interred there. With the death of each family member, the stains grew darker and more noticeable. Some of the locals began to believe that the marks were blood, coming from the stone itself, in response to the tragedies suffered by the family.
To this day, the bloody marks remain. What may have caused them, and why they refuse to be washed away, remains a mystery.
Reference: The legend is an excerpt from Troy Taylor’s book Beyond the Grave