Woman in White

The Bloody Past of The Read House Hotel

When I started working for the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, my eyes lit up with joy when on my first day I was handed a history book of the Federation’s story since 1946 titled Sportsmen United: the Story of the Tennessee Conservation League. To my surprise, what I found on the first page sent shivers down my spine, “On February 12, 1946 in a room in Chattanooga’s new Read House, fifty-three men from around the state gathered to build a new organization on the ashes of an old one.” 

My jaw dropped. I had recently been researching the Read House; however, not for its ties to the state’s conservation efforts, but for it’s haunted history.  The Read House stands in a location that has served as a hotel of some name or another for almost 170 years.  Beginning as the Crutchfield House built in 1847, it, like every other ornate building with a nice porch, was used as a civil war hospital by Union troops in 1863. Thomas Crutchfield purposely built the hotel in front of the Western & Atlantic Railroad stop in Chattanooga, which made it all the more convenient for trainloads of mutilated soldiers with body parts dripping off to arrive by the hundreds.

Just a few years later in 1867, Chattanooga was immobilized by a flood that covered the town of then 5,000 people.  One report tells of steamboats from the river floating all the way to 5th St. The Crutchfield house flooded up through the first floor, and what the waters didn’t destroy, a fire shortly after finished. A prominent Doctor, John T. Read took over and rebuilt the hotel as The Read House, where the most elite travelers would stay.

In fact, legend has it that one such traveler never left. Her name is Annalisa Netherly and like any good ghost story, she is shrouded in mystery. Some say she arrived sometime in the 1920’s with a suitor. The version I like the best goes that the gentleman she came to town with caught her with another man and was so angry he “neatly” decapitated her while she was bathing in room 311. In another version, Annalisa is a prostitute who was murdered by a soldier. Yet another, and the most dull, is she committed suicide with no back story.

Countless guests and employees have seen her, and all know one thing for sure: Annalisa doesn’t like cigarettes or men. She appears to many as a woman in white, and most often manifests herself to children. Another tragic detail is that Annalisa is pregnant.

Annalisa still makes it her business to keep out unwanted guests to room 311 so if you want to see her, leave your smokes at home.

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The White Bluff Screamer

All around the world, visions of “white ladies,” or “ladies in white” can be found haunting old homes, cemeteries, forests, mountains, etc.

The universal thread is that they are always women dressed in white, and usually have had some form of tragedy surrounding their own legendary death.  The old folks say that they are bad omens and when they appear it is a sign that someone will die.  Some draw parallels from the Woman in White to the Banshee in Irish oral tradition; a wailing woman who was a harbinger of death. Many of the settlers in Appalachia and the Southeast in general share roots with the Scotch/Irish people and have kept with them many of the same traditions and stories that their families migrated with long ago.  This is not the first story with probable roots in the Old Country.

Tennessee has it’s own White Lady, named the White Bluff Screamer.  In rural White Bluff, Tennessee down Trace Creek Road lies a hollow where stood an old country house.  The owner of the house is now lost in time, but the story goes that he was being kept up each night by howling and screams from somewhere in the woods.  One night, he couldn’t take it anymore and he headed out with his gun to hunt whatever was making such a racket.  He searched and searched but then heard screams from back inside his house.  When he ran back to his house he found his children and wife ripped to shreds and saw a woman in a white mist.

It is said that she still haunts that area, and burns the grass anywhere she appears from the white mist.