Tall Betsy was started in 1980 by Allan Jones, who at the time was a single parent raising his daughter Courtney and living at 150 Centenary NW. Jones had heard his mother, Gincy Slaughter Jones, tell stories of Tall Betsy as he was a child growing up at 480 21st Street NW here in Cleveland, TN. Mrs. Jones learned the stories from her mother, and Allan Jones' grandmother, Marie Schultz Slaughter, who lived at 463 8th Street NW, next door to Arnold School. Jones’ great-grandfather Dr. William Herman Schultz (father of Marie) had actually seen the real Tall Betsy years ago. Dr. Schultz was a medical doctor and lived where Arnold School is today. He was a tall man about 6'3''. He passed Tall Betsy one night. She stepped off the curb of the sidewalk to let Dr. Schultz pass, and she still towered over him. Tall Betsy was a very tall woman who walked the streets of Cleveland, TN in the early 1920s. She always wore black and was referred to by the townspeople as Tall Betsy, Black Betsy, and the Lady in Black. Marie used the stories of Tall Betsy to get young Gincy to be home before the street lights came on because that is when "TALL BETSY" comes out.
Young Allan was amazed by the story and wanted to dress up like Tall Betsy on Halloween when he was in high school and too old to trick-or-treat. He didn't get his chance until 1980 when the downtown Cleveland group Central City Action Association, now known as MainStreet Cleveland, wanted to create a goblin for a downtown promotion. Jones agreed to pay for the outfit and play the character if they would pick Tall Betsy. They agreed!
Tall Betsy first appeared in Johnston Park downtown from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. for the event on Halloween day, 1980. Jones' mother was keeping Courtney and hosting a party for Courtney and her friends before they went out trick-or-treating. Courtney was a first-grader and attended Arnold School. Jones left Johnston Park and got a friend in a pickup truck to allow him to lay in the back and deliver him to the party at 150 Centenary Avenue. Jones appeared in the backyard and scared the kids. Those kids were the first to see Tall Betsy. As they left to go down the street trick-or-treating, Tall Betsy walked in front of the Jones house and stood waiting for young trick-or-treaters.
The rest is history. In 1993 the Jones house kept count and set a world record of 11,201 pieces of bubble gum given away one at a time to young kids coming to the Jones’ door.
Your bones, she'll dump in that ole well,
At Arnold School and no one will tell.
Your parents, they'll worry and fret,
They'll search all over for you, I'll bet.
Tall Betsy appeared from 1980 to 1998 at 150 Centenary Ave NW. Thousands came to Jones' door each year and thousands more simply drove by. Jones retired Tall Betsy in 1998 when he moved to Creekridge. Tall Betsy still lives in the hearts and minds of thousands of kids growing up in Cleveland, TN. Today Jones is still known as "Mr. Halloween"!