Blog post #9:
by Jane Van Ryan
“Nobody had anything to do with her,” Mamie Winstead said. “They were afraid of her, afraid she’d shoot them.”
I met Mamie in July 1988 at her tiny white cottage on the grounds of the Confederate cemetery down the hill from the Mabry-Hazen House. The Winstead family had maintained the cemetery since about 1880, and Mamie had been born in the house. After her parents died, the Ladies Memorial Association owned the cemetery and gave it to Mamie around 1960.
Mamie also worked for Knox County as a librarian for the East Tennessee division of the state Supreme Court. Although she must have been in her 90s, she looked much younger. Her white hair was swept upward into a tidy bun, and she wore pearls around her neck. Her home was as meticulous and formal as her own appearance, a part of the hallowed ground where about 1,600 soldiers were buried in a trench, including an estimated 100 from the horrific battle at Fort Sanders. A statue of a Confederate soldier continues to stand guard over the cemetery today. With his back to the South, he faces north, watching for signs of Union aggression.
Mamie’s alert blue eyes scrutinized me carefully as I took notes, as though she wasn’t sure I could be trusted. The fact that I had been escorted to her home by Lucille LaBonte, my cousin and the executrix of Evelyn Hazen’s estate, encouraged her to discuss her knowledge of Evelyn, her life, and her landmark suit against Ralph Scharringhaus.
“She disgraced herself over nothing,” Mamie said about Evelyn’s infamous seduction and breach of promise to marry suit. Mamie said the suit was “a big scandal” in Knoxville, and stories were published in the local newspapers every day. “I was sorry she did what she did. It would have been better to let it drop.”
Although Evelyn lived very nearby, Mamie said she wasn’t aware of Evelyn’s ordeal. However, it was clear the community did not like Evelyn or her family. Some thought the Mabrys and Hazens were “haughty,” but she said Evelyn was always friendly toward her.
“Her mother was a love,” she added. “Her mother and my mother were good friends,” despite the fact the Winsteads did not belong to the same social class. Evelyn “was rich and well-to-do, and I wasn’t,” she said.
Mamie described Evelyn and her family as “bitter.” “I don’t think she was ever a happy woman,” despite the fact that she was very pretty. “She was Miss Tennessee at one time, at the University,” she said.
But Evelyn’s beauty did not prevent her fiancé from becoming interested in other women. As detailed in my book, The Seduction of Miss Evelyn Hazen, Ralph ended his relationship with Evelyn after they had been engaged for 15 years. According to Mamie, when Evelyn’s cousin Flem Hazen intervened on her behalf during a meeting in a New York hotel room, Ralph said he would rather jump out the window than marry her.
Some of Mamie’s information about Evelyn was second-hand, passed along from friends she and Evelyn shared in common, including the Birdsongs. Sadie Birdsong, whom Mamie described as “friendly and down-to-earth,” had grown up with Evelyn.
The Birdsongs had told Mamie about some tragic events that had occurred at the Mabry-Hazen House, including the wakes held for Evelyn’s deceased relatives. Mrs. Birdsong told Mamie she was glad when the brick walkway was removed from the front of the house because too many caskets had been carried there.
She also wondered what had happened to some of the items Evelyn inherited from her family. Mrs. Birdsong told Mamie the silverware that belonged to Evelyn’s grandmother had disappeared along with Evelyn’s sister Lillian’s wedding presents which had been stored in barrels in the basement. Mrs. Birdsong thought some of the people who had worked for Evelyn had taken the missing items.
Similarly, Lucille LaBonte remembered a sapphire and diamond ring that had belonged to Evelyn’s sister Marie. Evelyn gave it to Lucille as a present, but then she asked Lucille to return it. Sometime later, the ring vanished from the Mabry-Hazen House.
If these reports are true, it’s not surprising that Evelyn became distrustful of everyone around her. “I guess she just grew to hate the world,” Mamie said.