The Search for Cleveland's Tall Betsy Continues Tonight
“To Fort Hill Cemetery she will go, to her mausoleum, with YOU in tow!”
A century-long mystery will soon be investigated. Tonight (October 24) at 7:30 p.m., acclaimed ghost hunter Miranda Young, a.k.a. Ghost Biker, the founder of Ghost Biker Explorations, will visit the mausoleum at Fort Hill Cemetery in Cleveland. Her mission? Communicating with the spirit of Flora Shields, whom many suspect to be the basis of Cleveland’s official spook, Tall Betsy. The brainchild of businessman and Tall Betsy legend creator Allan Jones, the paranormal event will be streamed live on the Ghost Biker Explorations Facebook account.
Miranda has been investigating the paranormal for nearly a decade and travels around the country on her motorcycle investigating, researching, and telling the history of local legends and lore. She and her co-producer, Josh Neyman of NEYTIME Film & Design, document these investigations and travel on the hit web series “Ghost Biker Explorations.” While exciting, this is a live online event and the public is asked to stay away from the mausoleum, as Ghost Biker requires complete silence in order to complete the investigation and hopefully interact with these spirits.
Why is Jones, the King of Halloween, bringing Ghost Biker to town?
“It’s Halloween,” Jones said. “Whether you believe in this kind of thing or not, the Legend of Tall Betsy and this whole paranormal investigation are just for fun.”
According to Jones, the legendary Tall Betsy is a 7-foot 6 1/2-inch official goblin known worldwide for her Halloween appearances at 150 Centenary Avenue in Cleveland, Tennessee. However, she hasn’t always been the “official spook of Cleveland.” She was a real person at one time.
Jones believes Shields was an awkwardly tall person who was also socially inept. “She lived at home with her parents and had no social life,” he said. He added, “Flora Shields could indeed be the real Tall Betsy, and we’ll find out when we ask Flora directly with Ghost Biker live on October 24.”
Living in the early 1900s, Tall Betsy was a very tall lady who walked the Cleveland streets at night. And until now, her true identity has been unknown. Could Flora Shields be Tall Betsy? That’s what the paranormal investigation hopes to undercover.
Whatever her true identity, Tall Betsy was the perfect fodder for legend. For decades, Cleveland parents told their children that if they failed to come home before dark, they would likely encounter Tall Betsy, sometimes called Black Betsy or simply The Lady in Black.
Over the years, Jones became enamored with the spine-tingling tale told him by his grandmother, Marie Schultz Slaughter. Mrs. Slaughter lived on 8th Street and grew up where Arnold School is located today and lived her life on the corner of 8th and Milne Avenue NW, where many 8th street parents in the early part of the century told stories of Tall Betsy. Mrs. Slaughter’s father and Jones’s great grandfather, Dr. William Herman Schultz, a physician kin to Mayor Bill Schultz, actually saw Tall Betsy at the corner of 8th and Ocoee near the monument. Jones relished the opportunity to dress up as the legendary lady. He also spent a lot of time wondering about Flora Shields, the lady buried where Tall Betsy lived, according to the legend manufactured by Jones.
Unable to contain his curiosity any longer, Jones hired Michael Slaughter—one of the nation’s most respected genealogical researchers—to uncover who built the mausoleum and when. Jones also tasked Slaughter with finding out who’s interred there, and when and where they lived. He wanted to know who Flora Shields was, and why none of her family members complained that her grave had been transformed into Tall Betsy’s home.
According to Slaughter, "Ms. Shields was born in August 1866 and died in 1951. She was essentially an old maid who never married and never worked, living off the family wealth. And though interred here in Cleveland, she spent only a handful of years here (1866-1870), after which her family moved to Oregon and Florida. Nearly 70 years after her death, Ms. Shields has no surviving family members. So no one complains about Tall Betsy taking up residence in her tomb. The Shields mausoleum was likely built between 1900 and 1908, with Flora and her parents, John Caswell Shields—who died in Bradley County on November 12, 1908—and Emily Howell—who died in 1924, its only occupants."
Interestingly, the real-life Tall Betsy appeared on the Cleveland streets the same time the mausoleum was being built. A few years later, she suddenly disappeared. Could it be because Flora Shields was Tall Betsy? And that she disappeared when she moved with her family to Oregon?
Is Flora Shields truly Tall Betsy? Tune in to the Ghost Biker Explorations’ Facebook livestream as Ghost Biker, Miranda Young, attempts to find out on October 24 at 7:30 p.m.
Want the fuller scoop? Read on to enjoy Slaughter’s original research in its entirety.
According to “The Legend of Tall Betsy,” she sleeps in the mausoleum at Fort Hill Cemetery. The mausoleum in the legend was based upon a real one built for the Shields family many years ago. I was given the task of finding out who built the mausoleum and when. Also, I needed to find out who is interred there, and when and where they lived. Here is what my research revealed.
The first of this particular Shields family to arrive in Bradley County was William Shields and his family. They came over from Polk County sometime after 1850. William Shields was the son of Banner Shields and Margaret Weir. He was born February 17, 1803 in Tennessee and died March 11, 1891 in Bradley County. William was buried in the Shields-Harris family cemetery. He married Elizabeth Lea in McMinn County on February 27, 1840. She was born August 1, 1817 in Tennessee and died September 28, 1905 in Cleveland. Elizabeth was the daughter of Abner and Mary Lea. Elizabeth was also buried in the Shields-Harris family cemetery.
William and Elizabeth Shields had eight children that this researcher has found: John Caswell, Martha E., William Banner, Eliza Jane, Joseph W., Marshall Napoleon, Susan E., and William B. There were two children named William in the 1870 census listed as children of William and Elizabeth. I have found no further record of the second William.
John Caswell Shields, the eldest son, was born November 27, 1840, probably in Polk County, and died November 12, 1908. He married Emily Avaline Howell on November 15, 1860 in Murray County, Georgia. She was born in December 1840 in Haywood County, North Carolina and died in 1924 in Dade County, Florida. Emily was the daughter of Evan Shelby Howell and Camilla Ermina McLeod. John and Emily had five children: John Caswell Jr., Charles Milton, Emma Flora, William C., and Joseph Edward.
According to the Find A Grave website, John Caswell Shields owned a grocery store in Cleveland on Ocoee Street across from the courthouse. He married in Georgia in 1860 and had his first child in Georgia in 1861, even though he was living in Bradley County in 1860. Therefore, he and his family probably were in Bradley County after 1861. In the 1870 census, John and his family were living in Smith County, Texas, and his occupation was listed as physician. He could only have had a grocery store in Cleveland for a short time, between 1861 and 1870.
The one previously known occupant of the Shields mausoleum at Fort Hill was Flora E. Shields. The Find A Grave website lists three members of the Shields family at Fort Hill: John Caswell Shields, Sr., Emily A. Shields, and Flora E. Shields. On each of their separate web pages, there is a photo of the Shields mausoleum. I surmised that Flora E. Shields was the same person as the Emma F. Shields listed in census records as the daughter of John and Emily. I searched the census records thoroughly to check the validity of this surmise. In the 1870 census of Smith County, Texas, the daughter of John and Emily is listed as Emma, age 4, born in Georgia.
The next census, in 1880, is interesting. It shows John living with his oldest son in Eugene, Oregon. It shows Emily and the rest of their children living with her mother’s family in Murray County, Georgia. The next available census, 1900, shows the family back together, living in Umatilla County, Oregon. According to a Confederate Pension Application (#D18300) filed by Emily in 1910 in Dade Co., Florida, John died in Bradley County. So it seems that John, Emily, and Flora moved back to Bradley County sometime after 1900. Emily is listed with her daughter, Emma F., and an unnamed granddaughter as living in Miami, Florida in the 1910 census. John’s brother, William Banner Shields, had moved to Miami by 1910, so it is possible that Emily moved to Florida with her daughter to be close to other family. William and his wife died and were buried in Florida.
In the 1920 census, Emily is still living in Miami, but her daughter is now listed as Flora. Also living with them was Emily’s granddaughter, Esther, and her husband, a Mr. Dupont (his first name is unreadable in the census). Emily died in 1924 in Dade County, Florida. In the 1930 census, her daughter is again listed as Emma F. Shields. She was then living with a niece, Lena B. Donovan, who was born in Oregon. In the 1940 census, the daughter is now listed as Flora E. Shields, living by herself in Homestead, Florida. That census also indicates that Flora had attended one year of college and was living in Homestead in 1935 as well.
The next information on Flora came from a family tree on Ancestry.com. Her name was listed as Emma Flora Shields, and the tree stated that she died September 27, 1951 in Dade County, Florida. According to the Find A Grave website, John Caswell Shields was interred in the Shields mausoleum in 1908, his wife, Emily, in 1924, and their daughter, Flora E., in 1951. I have found no other records of other interments in the mausoleum.
The other children died in other parts of the country. John Jr. (a physician) died in Oregon, Charles (a farmer) died in Florida; William (a watch repairman) died in Oregon, and Joseph (a dentist) died in California. I believe the Shields mausoleum was built by John Caswell Shields, and John, Emily, and Flora seem to be the only occupants. Since John only lived in Bradley County sometime between 1861 and 1870 as a storekeeper, and then again about 1901 until 1908, after his career as a doctor, I believe he had the mausoleum constructed sometime between 1900 and 1908.
“When Flora’s family returned to Cleveland for a stent between 1900 and 1908, Flora would have lived here from age 35 to 43,” Jones said. “This coincides exactly with the appearance of Tall Betsy. If Flora was the real Tall Betsy, her family moving to Oregon would explain the sudden disappearance of Tall Betsy. This whole legend started when I just kind of picked this mausoleum as Tall Betsy’s home. Thanks to Slaughter’s research, I think I may have picked the right person and mausoleum on accident. I was guided there because I was fascinated with the mausoleum at highest point of the cemetery when I discovered it in 1970, during my senior year of high school.”
For more information, videos, and pictures about Tall Betsy, visit TallBetsy.com. To watch the live paranormal event, visit Facebook.com/GhostBikerExplorations on October 24 at 7:30 p.m. To learn more about Ghost Rider and Ghost Rider Explorations, visit GhostBikerExplorations.com and like/subscribe to the Ghost Biker Explorations Facebook and YouTube Channel.