Thursday, February 26, 2015

A spirited ‘leap of faith’—Update on the Tennessee Brewery

Tennessee Brewery
495 Tennessee Street
Memphis, Tennessee

The Tennessee Brewery will be saved. A local businessman and school board member has taken up the cause of the massive, decaying Romanesque structure and is transforming it into a residential building that will join the efforts to remake this specific part of town into an arts district.

In April of last year, when last I wrote about this story, plans were underway to hold a beer garden in the old building under the name “Tennessee Brewery Untapped.” This effort was successful in arousing local interest in the structure. The owner at that time had indicated that he would likely demolish the building by the end of the summer unless a buyer came forward. “If not for Untapped, I don’t think people would have focused on the building,” said Billy Orgel, the building’s new owner.
 
2011 view of the Tennessee Brewery by Reading Tom.
Courtesy of Flickr.
Orgel, CEO of cell phone tower developer, Tower Ventures and also a Shelby County School Board member, led a small group of investors in purchasing the building. Plans have been made to turn the building into lofts with a small amount of possible commercial space on the ground floor. The new owner has said that project will require “a leap of faith by a lot of people.”

There’s no word on what the brewery’s spirits may think of this, though the building’s new owner doesn’t believe there may be anything there. After being approached by a production company wishing to produce something about the building’s haunted history for the Discovery Channel, Orgel responded, “we said we are not interested. We’re not really sure if anything ever even happened in there.” Perhaps the spirits are just enjoying a cold one before resuming their regular haunting activity.

Sources
Maki, Amos. “Brewery developer calls for ‘leap of faith.” Memphis Daily
     News. 14 January 2015.
Poe, Ryan. “Developer unveils details about Tennessee Brewery’s future.”
     Memphis Business Journal. 3 October 2014.
Sells, Toby. “Tennessee Brewery plans unveiled.” Memphis Flyer. 13
     January 2015.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A napping specter—Tennessee

Woodruff-Fontaine House
680 Adams Avenue
Memphis, Tennessee

A professor from the University of Alabama wasn’t expecting to meet any of the spectral occupants of the Woodruff-Fontaine House during his visit. During a tour of the house the professor first witnessed “a presence forming before his eyes.” His wife mentioned to the guide that her husband had a sixth sense. In Mollie’s bedroom, the professor began conversing with one docent and sent his family on to see the rest of the house. As he and the docent stood in that bedroom they witnessed the sheets of the bed move as if as they were being smoothed by an unseen hand. Moments later the pillows moved as if being fluffed followed by an indention forming on the bed as if someone had just laid down upon the bed.

 
Mollie's bed in the Woodruff-
Fontaine House, 2011. Courtesy
of the Memphis CVB on Flickr.
Later that day after the house museum closed, the professor and his family drove past the house and stopped. Glancing up towards the windows of the same room where he’d had his spectral encounter, the professor and his family witnessed the window shutters moving on their own accord. The professor and his family quickly left having had enough of the paranormal for one day.

The Woodruff-Fontaine House was built as and remains one of the finest homes in Memphis. The noble French Second Empire-styled home was built for businessman Amos Woodruff who had made his fortune as a carriage maker and banker while dabbling in many other businesses including the railroad. Woodruff spent $40,000 on his magnificent manse, a tremendous sum especially in the Reconstruction era South. Upon the home’s completion, Woodruff and his family moved in, just in time for Amos’s daughter, Mollie’s, wedding.

Mollie and her husband, Egbert Woolridge, took up residence in the home along with her parents after her marriage. It was here in 1875 where Mollie’s first child died just after his birth. A few short months later Mollie’s husband passed in the house after a bout with pneumonia. Mollie married in 1883 just before her parents sold the house to cotton trader Noland Fontaine.

Fontaine maintained the home’s elegant reputation and during his residency luminaries alighted upon the house including President Grover Cleveland, Vice President Adlai Stevenson and musician John Philip Sousa. The home remained in the Fontaine family until 1929 when it was sold and was home to an art school until 1959. The home was acquired by the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities. It has been a house museum for many years paying tribute to the Woodruff and Fontaine families.
 
The Woodruff-Fontaine House, 2011. Courtesy
of the Memphis CVB on Flickr.
Stories about the home’s spectral occupants have been circulating for years. Many who have had encounters with these mostly unseen residents have speculated that one of the primary spirits is Mollie Woodruff who spent a few happy years in the home before tragedy struck. More recently, the home was investigated by The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) team for the TV show Ghost Hunters. It’s interesting that Adams Street, where the Woodruff-Fontaine House sits was once known as “Millionaire’s Row,” and is now known as Victorian Village. Here, many of the mansions remain and many of them are noted as being haunted. Perhaps this is the most paranormally active street in Memphis?

Sources
Brown, Alan. Haunted Places in the American South. Jackson, MS:
     University Press of Mississippi, 2002.
Cunningham, Laura. Haunted Memphis. Charleston, SC: History
     Press, 2009.
Harper, Herbert L. National Register Nomination form for The Lee and
     Fontaine Houses of the James Lee Memorial. 4 November 1970.
Hudson, Patricia L. and Sandra L. Ballard. The Smithsonian Guide
     to Historic America: The Carolinas and The Appalachian States. NYC:
    Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 1989.
Longo, Jim. Ghosts Along the Mississippi, Haunted Odyssey II. St. Louis,
     MO: Ste. Anne’s Press, 1993.
Our History. Woodruff-Fontaine House. Accessed 25 February 2015.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Introducing the Southern Spirit Guide Store!

I have just added a page for buying Southern ghost books! If you're looking for something new, Southern and creepy to read, please check out my recommendations. On this page, I'm providing a list of the best books about Southern ghosts with a brief review and a link to purchase each book. Each purchase will help to support this blog.

This page will be updated regularly, so be sure to bookmark it and check back often!


Liberty Hall, Frankfort, KY, a haunted location featured in Alan Brown's Haunted
Places in the American South,
one of a number of books featured in the Southern
Spirit Guide Store. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs
Division.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Encounter with a Gentleman—New Orleans

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar
941 Bourbon Street
New Orleans, Louisiana

In the world of paranormal stories and legends, many people often speak in generalities when talking about hauntings. Singular personal encounters are sometimes grouped together as a hauntings are described so, a frightening encounter hearing a voice may be reduced to “disembodied voices have been heard.” A singular incident which may be very telling may sometimes be stripped of detail and even importance as an author retells the event. Indeed, I am guilty of this as well, though I’d like to rectify this in highlighting specific encounters with Southern ghosts.

As I have been searching for events, I have come to realize just how these generalizations often harm the subjects they are describing. Where a number of fascinating stories of encounters may exist, these encounters have been grouped together and only render the nature of a particular haunting in general terms. At times, generalizations about a particular location may serve to obscure the singular encounters. This problem often tends to rear its head when places gain notoriety for being haunted; places like the famous Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar in New Orleans.

After searching a number of sources on New Orleans ghosts, I finally was able to locate a long and very detailed description of an encounter at this most famous and historic of NOLA watering holes. This encounter is documented in Dan Asfar’s 2007 Ghost Stories of Louisiana. The author speaks of a couple spending their honeymoon in New Orleans. After taking a ghost tour, the couple stumbled upon the bar and was drawn into the curious building, though their ghost tour had made no mention of it being haunted.
 
Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar, 2004, by Lobberich. Courtesy
of Wikipedia.
Once inside, the wife was enchanted by the dark and crowded bar: “You couldn’t see across the bar because it was so dark and crowded inside, but it was so special. It’s hard to explain, but it was so real inside, you know? We could have been sitting down there 200 years ago, and I think it would have looked very much the same.” After sitting down, the wife felt an odd chill, though she dismissed it after it dissipated quickly.

The chill returned a few minutes later, “It wasn’t like a normal cold from cold weather. It was more as though the cold was coming from inside. I felt it like a cold hand in my back. It came so fast it made me jump in my seat.” Her husband noticed behavior and asked if she was ok. She asked him if he felt the cold, but he did not. The woman rose to head to the restroom and she felt something following her as she walked. The feeling left her in the restroom and she calmly returned to her table.

Upon sitting, she noticed an odd gentleman nearby. He was standing among a group of people talking, though they did not seem to notice him. “It was dark, but from what I could see, he was a very handsome man. He had broad shoulders. It was hard to see his face clearly, but I could see that he had a very big mustache, and also a big hat.”

She saw him and the cold, clammy feeling she had felt before resolved and the young woman felt “normal again.” “Even though I couldn’t see his face too clearly in the dark, I knew this man was smiling at me.” She felt herself smiling back.  Her husband noticed and inquired as to who she was smiling. She turned away for a couple to second to ask, “Can you see that man?” When she pointed to where the smiling gentleman had been standing there was no one there.
 
An anonymous, early 19th century portrait
purported to be Jean Lafitte. From the Rosenberg
Gallery.
Later, when the couple was on a history tour, the guide described Jean Lafitte and mentioned that his spirit is supposedly seen within this building that he supposedly built.

This ramshackle structure may be one of the oldest buildings in this ancient city, but like everything else in this city, that is arguable. Most likely, the building was built in the 18th century, most likely the latter portion of that century. Legends hold that this building was associated with the famous pirate, Jean Lafitte, a swashbuckling and romantic hero who appears in countless Louisiana legends and ghost stories.

Lafitte is supposed to have used this building as a cover for his operations within the city. Here he may have carried on operations dealing with ill-gotten goods as well as some of the “black ivory” (African slaves) that may have also dealt with. Historians have argued that the building may have never actually been used as a blacksmith shop, though others imagine that a hammering blacksmith may have served as a good cover for the illicit dealings taking place in the back of the building.

Woven into this legendary history are many mentions of ghosts, including the possible shade of Lafitte. While imbibing in Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, be on the lookout for a smiling gentleman. If you see him, smile back but don’t look away.

Sources
Ambrose, Kala. Spirits of New Orleans: Voodoo Curses, Vampire
     Legends, and Cities of the Dead. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press,
     2012.
Asfar, Dan. Ghost Stories of Louisiana. Auburn, WA: Lone Pine
     Publishing, 2007.
Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans. Gretna, LA:
     Pelican Publishing, 2007.
     New Orleans.” Preservation Nation Blog. 20 November 2014.
Sillery, Barbara. The Haunting of Louisiana. Gretna, LA: Pelican
     Publishing, 2006.
Snell, Charles W. National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings for
     Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. 10 May 1968.