Blog Post #22
by Jane Van Ryan
Eighty-four years ago this month, Evelyn Hazen suffered two life-changing events that ultimately led to her landmark suit against her former fiancé Ralph Scharringhaus for breach of promise to marry and seduction. First, she received a letter dated June 1 from Ralph breaking off their 15-year-long engagement. Ralph wrote he no longer could endure her “punishment” and accused Evelyn of ruining his life. As he put it, “There is no solution but to stop.”
Then on June 4, Evelyn’s father Rush Strong Hazen died. His death was a terrible shock to Evelyn, especially considering that his condition supposedly was improving. Rush had been hospitalized in a sanatorium earlier in the spring for persistent flu-like symptoms, according to Evelyn. (At least one other person told a different tale, insisting that Rush had suffered a breakdown after learning that his youngest daughter had embarrassed herself and the family by having relations with Ralph.)
Having to endure both cataclysmic events back-to-back was devastating to Evelyn. She had been working on reconciling with Ralph and thought they were communicating better. Evelyn was hoping Ralph might give her a wedding ceremony, even if they did not live together as a married couple. She also was depending on her father to convince Ralph to make her an honest woman. Unfortunately he died before she could enlist his help.
When Evelyn learned of her father’s death, she was staying with her friend Mary Burnett. She had moved there temporarily after receiving Ralph’s letter because she was convinced she would receive no sympathy or assistance from anyone in her family. During her father’s hospitalization, she said her mother and her mother’s brothers made her life miserable, largely because her father wasn’t there to protect her.
It was Saturday evening when Evelyn got the call about her father’s death. She wrote she was “stunned…I actually felt something die within myself, and I turned both limp and to stone at the same time.” Evelyn left Mary’s and returned home where she was met by her cousin Fleming Hazen. She described him as far more sympathetic and distraught over Rush’s death than her immediate family.
On Sunday, June 5, several friends and business acquaintances came to the house to pay their respects and offer their condolences, but Ralph was not among them. He and his parents were traveling on one of their numerous vacations and refused to cut their trip short to return to Knoxville for the funeral. Instead, Ralph sent a telegram stating, “Nothing in my life has ever saddened me so much as the news of your father’s death.”
Evelyn, who was overcome by her father’s death, was infuriated. “He makes me so mad I would like to kill him!” she exclaimed. Her remark, made during one of her legendary outbursts, provided fodder to Ralph’s “subsidized witnesses” who testified in court that Evelyn had threatened to shoot him.
A day or two after Rush Hazen’s funeral, Evelyn received a letter from Ralph postmarked in Cincinnati. He told her he was “distressed” over her father’s death, adding “There is so little that any of your friends can say at a time like this that has any real comfort in it but I think it helps to know that others are sharing your loss with you.”
Evelyn was struck by the “impersonal” and “stereotyped” language in the letter, and she vowed to have a show-down with Ralph. Meetings were held and Evelyn’s and Ralph’s lawyers attempted to negotiate a settlement. After considering various options, even including murder, she decided to sue him.
In keeping with Southern funeral practices in 1932, Rush Hazen’s body was available for viewing at the Mabry-Hazen House for a couple of days before being interred at Knoxville’s Old Gray Cemetery. He was neither the first nor the last deceased family member to be viewed there.
According to Mamie Winstead, the former caretaker of the Bethel Confederate Cemetery on the north side of Mabry’s Hill, several funerals were held there. In fact, years later Evelyn's childhood friend Sadie Birdsong told Mamie she had seen "too many caskets come out of there."
Evelyn Hazen was the last of the Hazen and Mabry families to live at the house. She died in 1987 and was laid to rest near her father.