The legend of the Phantom Monk is excerpted from my book “Forgotten Tales of Tennessee.”
In March of 1967, one of the worst floods to hit the South covered much of Tennessee in water. The Knoxville Commercial reported: “We are now in the midst of a terrible flood. The waters are upon us and still continue to come …The rain continues to fall and is falling in torrents and the river rapidly rising. It is gloomy indeed.”
In the small town of Charleston, the waters left the banks of the Hiwassee River and ravaged the city.
As a passenger train entered town, the engineer was unaware of the severity of the flood. He could not see that the railroad tracks that connected the town to the world had washed away. The passenger train, now off the twisted tracks, slid into a ravine.
Many people would die that day, a tragedy that led to one of Tennessee’s enduring legends, the tale of the Phantom Monk.
Rescuers got to the horrific scene quickly and began pulling bodies from the mud and wreckage. Those who were not dead were taken to nearby homes because there was no hospital in the town, only a small clinic run by the local doctor.
Finally, after hours of grueling work, the rescue team was finished. All the survivors and the bodies had been recovered.
Or had they?
Town officials soon would discover one of the passengers on the train was unaccounted for. His name was unknown. People remembered only that he was a Catholic monk from Baltimore.
People thought it odd that all bodies would be found but this one. It was a mystery.
They wouldn’t learn until many years later that the monk’s body had been found.
According to legend, the body was recovered by a local physician who, for reasons unknown, decided to keep the body. He removed the flesh and cleaned the bones and hung the skeleton in his office.
The monk’s spirit could not rest, the legend says. It haunted the clinic for many years until the doctor’s death. The next doctor to take over the practice reported that he, too, had many encounters with the restless spirit.
The old building was finally demolished in 1932. Local lore says the crew responsible for tearing down the building found the monk’s cloak and a rosary.
Despite the absence of the building, local residents still report seeing the apparition of a young monk, walking along the railroad tracks at night, searching for peace.