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Fresh flowers flank Nina's sarcophagus. Assorted Craigmiles fill the walls.
Fresh flowers flank Nina's sarcophagus. Assorted Craigmiles fill the walls.

Bloodstained Tomb of Nina Craigmiles

Field review by the editors.

Cleveland, Tennessee

Nina Craigmiles was seven years old when she died on St. Luke's Day: October 18, 1871. A buggy in which she was riding -- or possibly driving; she was said to occasionally take the reins despite her young age -- was hit by a locomotive in downtown Cleveland, Tennessee. Nina was crushed beneath the engine wheels.

Entrance gate to the tomb of Nina Craigmiles.
Entrance gate to the tomb of Nina Craigmiles.

Her father, John Henderson Craigmiles, was overcome with grief and had the money to share it with everyone in town. He bought the land where both Nina and her mom had been born -- it was only a few blocks from Nina's death spot -- and commissioned a Gothic Revival style church to be built on the property. Named St. Luke's Memorial Episcopal Church, it opened on the third anniversary of Nina's death.

The church was a pretext for what came next: an elaborate, adjacent tomb for Nina (the church cost $22,000, the tomb $20,000 -- well over a half-million dollars in today's money). Built of white Carrera marble from Italy, with walls four feet thick and a spire over 37 feet high, Nina's mausoleum is big enough to qualify as a small house. On its ceiling, overlooking anyone who enters, are carved marble versions of Nina's face with wings, as well as a silver dove of peace visible through glass in the lofty cupola. The mausoleum was completed in 1875, and what remained of Nina was then entombed within a marble sarcophagus topped with a carving of a fringed blanket, a crown, and a cross. Unlike other churchyards with graves, St. Luke's only has this one.

Reddish stains above the mausoleum entrance: cheap marble or a bloody curse?
Reddish stains above the mausoleum entrance: cheap marble or a bloody curse?

Nina's head keeps watch from the tomb's interior ceiling.
Nina's head keeps watch from the tomb's interior ceiling.

Honestly, the Craigmiles would have been happier living somewhere other than Cleveland. Not only did Nina meet her doom in town, but Mr. Craigmiles died after falling on an icy Cleveland street in 1899, and Mrs. Craigmiles was run over and killed by a car in front of her Cleveland house in 1928. Both were interred next to Nina.

It's unclear when crimson blotches began to appear above the entrance to the Craigmiles mausoleum -- as well as on Nina's sarcophagus blanket and crown -- but local legend says that it began after a child's cry was heard coming from inside (This may have something to do with the word "Silence" inscribed into the step leading into the vault). Generations of paranormal investigators have called the reddish discolorations "bloodstains" and blamed them on the violent Cleveland deaths of the Craigmiles.

Additional folklore claims that Carrera marble is pure white and never has colored impurities that can appear over time (not true; it sometimes does, particularly in the second-class marble that was assigned for export); and that the stained marble on the tomb was replaced with new marble that stained again (this is very unlikely); and that a marble bust of Nina, carved in Europe and meant for a spot in the mausoleum, later sank on the Titanic (this is also very unlikely).

Lemmie outta here!
Lemmie outta here!

These embellishments, however, are unnecessary; the stains and the extravagant, solitary mausoleum are strange enough, and the presence of a children's playground behind Nina's tomb just makes it stranger.

The vault entrance is usually padlocked, but on Easter Sunday morning, by tradition, the mausoleum is opened to the public, and a procession of children from St. Luke's places flowers in Nina's tomb.

Bloodstained Tomb of Nina Craigmiles

4th St. NE, Cleveland, TN
From North: I-75 exit 25. Drive east on Hwy 60/25th St. Turn right onto US Hwy 11/Ocoee St. Drive south into town. Turn left onto 4th St. NE; the Crypt will be on the right. From South: I-75 exit 20. Drive east on US Hwy 74, then exit north onto US Hwy 11. Drive into town, turn left on Ocoee St. (still US Hwy 11), then drive north six blocks. The Crypt will be on the left, between Central Ave. and 4th St. NE. The stains are most visible on the underside of the entry arch on the Ocoee St. side of the crypt.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Exhaust Parts ManExhaust Parts Man, Cleveland, TN - < 1 mi.
Tow Mater TruckTow Mater Truck, Cleveland, TN - 2 mi.
Life-Size Stagecoach RobberyLife-Size Stagecoach Robbery, Ooltewah, TN - 10 mi.
In the region:
Rock City, Lookout Mountain, GA - 30 mi.

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