Lucille LaBonte & Miss Evelyn Hazen

Condition of the Mabry-Hazen House, circa 1987

Condition of the Mabry-Hazen House, circa 1987

Blog post #3:

by Jane Van Ryan

Lucille LaBonte probably knew Evelyn Hazen better than anyone during the last few years of her life. Lucille handled Evelyn’s legal affairs, managed her care, and received numerous phone calls from her in the middle of the night.

Lucille met Miss Hazen—as she unfailingly called her—at Judge Howard Bozeman’s office, where she worked as a paralegal. When Miss Hazen walked in one day, Lucille said Judge introduced her as “a former teacher of his at Old Knoxville High School.”

“When I first met her, I liked her,” Lucille told me in June 1988. Her initial meeting with Miss Hazen led to several additional encounters, including taking her out to dinner to celebrate her birthday.

Miss Hazen was around 70 years-old at the time, and she commented it was the first time she had been presented with a birthday cake at dinner. “I thought how could a woman live her whole life and not have a birthday cake, but she told me that,” Lucille said.

As my book The Seduction of Miss Evelyn Hazen explains, Miss Hazen fell out of favor with her family and the community in the 1930s when she sued her former fiancé Ralph Scharringhaus for breach of promise to marry and seduction. As the result of the scandal, she lost her teaching position, many of her friends rejected her, and she never married. As she aged, she became very cautious of anyone entering her home.

Lucille said Miss Hazen kept a card table at the front entrance of the Mabry-Hazen House with one chair for her and another chair for a visitor. Overhead was a single light bulb on a long cord, casting a dim light on the dingy interior of the house.

Although Miss Hazen would not allow most people to go beyond the front entrance, Lucille said she never had trouble going into the rest of the house. Miss Hazen often asked her to go upstairs or elsewhere to fetch something. Sometimes Lucille would be sent to the tiny alcove where Miss Hazen’s “Jenny Lind” child-sized bed was located. Half of the bed was piled high with newspapers, magazines, men’s wool socks, money, bank deposit books, letters, bills, and candy boxes.  “She loved good candy,” Lucille said.

The crowded sleeping conditions did not bother Miss Hazen. “She told me she never went to bed until 3:00 o’clock” in the morning, Lucille said, and then she slept until 8:00 or 9:00 a.m.  “Some nights I’m not sure she slept at all…she’s called me at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning many times.” Lucille would tell her how late it was, and that she had been asleep. “She’d say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry,” and then she’d go right on.”

Miss Hazen shared her house with several cats and dogs, and she did not clean up after them. “You had to watch your step,” Lucille reported. “The cats and dogs used the kitchen, the pantry and the room leading to the bathroom…I thought they’d die in there.” She added, “Miss Hazen would step in it.”

When Lucille would mention the condition of the house to Miss Hazen, she would say, “Evelyn, have you lost your mind?” Then she would ask Lucille to clean it up.

In her later years, Miss Hazen would stomp through the house leaning on a crutch with a pocketbook swinging from her arm, and carrying a gun in her free hand. She had reason to fear for her safety. In the early 1980s, intruders had hung a noose over her front door and had slit the throats of the dogs she kept in cages near the front porch.

But Miss Hazen trusted Lucille, who had been a Sunday school teacher since childhood and never took advantage of Miss Hazen.  In fact, Miss Hazen believed Lucille was rich because she never expressed an interest in having any of Miss Hazen’s possessions.

“She thought I was aloof,” Lucille told me, adding that Miss Hazen said, “I don’t know why you do for me like you do.”

Lucille answered, “I probably care for you more than any person you know.”

Lucille did care for her deeply. She admired Miss Hazen’s intelligence, her ability to speak fluent French, and her generosity. But the relationship was complicated, Lucille said. Miss Hazen would have sudden outbursts of anger, leading several people to suggest that she was dangerous and might be possessed.

More about that in future blog posts.