Creepy Mysteries: Ghosts of Earnestine and Hazel’s
With this edition of Creepy Mysteries I get the privilege of welcoming you wonderful readers into a dark little corner of my hometown Memphis, Tennessee. Historic bars and pubs are the kind of establishments that tend to have more than the drinkable spirits lingering about. In the South Main neighborhood of Memphis, one such bar has become a beloved landmark of the city. The two-story dive Earnestine & Hazel’s wears every bit of its gritty 100 year history proudly. It began life in the 1910’s as a pharmacy and sundry store. Once the pharmacist hit it big by inventing a little substance called Coppertone he decided to sell everything to Earnestine Mitchell and Hazel Jones with whom he shared the building. As expected, they had no interest in running a pharmacy, instead Hazel had a husband who was a concert promoter. He brought up the idea that they should run a place for musicians to head after a show. To this day, the dingy walls pay tribute to the music legends who walked through the door from: Chuck Berry to Ike Turner to BB King and more. Alcohol flowed and mischief was managed, and before long women began working out of the rooms upstairs at an hourly rate. Of course, urban legends abound of a few of these practitioners of the oldest profession meeting violent ends at Earnestine & Hazel’s.
This legendary bar has withstood urban blight, economic downturns, ownership changes and countless other obstacles. In 1992, Russell George purchased the bar and returned it to its former glory as a dive bar with the history of a city etched into its very soul. By midnight every weekend night people from all walks of life in the Bluff City fill the upstairs and downstairs as the beer is poured and the flat top grills are filled with their famed Soul Burgers. But patrons and employees began to notice strange happenings at Earnestine & Hazel’s and it was not long before the bar became just as famous for the spirits which haunt its halls.
The most famous paranormal phenomenon in Earnestine & Hazel’s is the haunted juke box downstairs. As a landmark of a city world-renowned for its musical heritage it seems fitting that an old juke box would seemingly have a life of its own. For decades now bartenders have witnessed the machine, not only turn on and start playing music on its own, but play songs relevant to a conversation going on. Once a group of guys were talking about the subject of exorcisms with Russell George when “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones kicked up. In the 90’s a woman who came by with her friends to celebrate her recently finalized divorce was treated to “D.I.V.O.R.C.E” by Tammy Wynette. This is something that has been witnessed too many times by too many people to be a mere coincidence. One former employee who wrote about the hauntings at Earnestine & Hazel’s for a Vice article, talked recounted how one night when it came on she went to check it out and felt touched by a disembodied hand.
The hallways and rooms of the old juke joint’s second floor are naturally filled with supernatural activity. During the colorful history of the bar, these rooms were where a number of women of ill-repute practiced their trade. When Ray Charles made his trips to Memphis, he always found his way up there to do drugs with the women at work. For years there have been tales that at least one prostitute met a violent end here. While that has never been proven there was undoubtedly abuse going on. Today in these dimly lit halls the disembodied voices of women can often be heard at night and just out of the corner of your eye you may see a shadow pass by. Occasionally employees see full-figured apparitions roaming around.
Earnestine & Hazel’s stands the de facto capitol of the South Main area, which as a whole has had a shady and colorful past. Many of the businesses have secret rooms and basements which were used extensively by many smugglers, gangsters, cutthroats and overall ne’er-do-wells. Of course, this tends to mean the spirits of those who made this history still haunt the neighborhood. The new age magic shop The Broom Closet the next block over is haunted by Officer Edward L. Broadfoot who was killed there in the line of duty during Prohibition when a restaurant occupied the space. The world-renowned Orpheum Theatre is famous for the ghost of Mary, a little girl who died in the lobby decades ago following a trolley accident. Down the street is the Green Beetle, which opened in 1939, is home to the ghost of a blonde young woman who likes to meddle with the glassware and sometimes manifests in the bathroom mirror.
Once again, Earnestine & Hazel’s is for sale as a new owner is needed to serve as steward over this piece of Memphis history. Over the decades this gritty and wonderful place has been filmed for movies and television, featured in the pages of magazines and, most importantly, served as an iconic local watering hole. Whoever ends up owning this piece of history must know that they will also be getting the spirits of the place as well. Angela Chittom-Merigian knows this firsthand as she was once married to the bar’s owner and despite her skepticism of the paranormal she has said that about “the ghosts’, the spirits” there that if you “open the door, and they come”.