Later Residents of Pine Hill Cottage

Blog post #4:

by Jane Van Ryan

When Evelyn Hazen died in 1987, the Mabry-Hazen House and its environs were quite different than today. The house was in terrible shape, with a tree growing through the roof of what she called “Uncle Churchwell’s room.” Outside, a tangle of bushes had overtaken the lawn and the driveway was nearly impassable.

Evelyn apparently ignored—or truly did not see—how badly her home had deteriorated. Instead, she seemed focused on her animals (dogs, cats, chickens and a runaway steer from the nearby stockyard) and her rental properties, which included two homes next door and several houses perched on the hillside across Dandridge Avenue.  One of the houses across the street had been inhabited by her Uncle Churchwell Mabry and his wife.  All of these homes are gone now, replaced by Morningside Park.

Lucille LaBonte often interacted with the renters at Miss Hazen’s direction. The renters included an ancient woman who lived with a pack of dogs, a soft-spoken elderly man who worked at the Cherokee Country Club, and a Sioux Indian who attended pow-wows. They told me they worried about Miss Hazen, especially the fact that she lived in squalid conditions and was alone beginning in late 1986 or early 1987.

But Evelyn hadn’t always been alone in the Mabry-Hazen House. Her mother lived there until 1953, and both of her sisters, Marie and Lillian, came home after they divorced their husbands. They died in 1937. Lawrence Mabry (Evelyn’s Uncle Lon and a lawyer) also lived there in the early 1930s. Although Evelyn said Uncle Churchwell lived there, it is more likely that Uncle Lon was there for a few months before he died in 1952.

At the time, Evelyn’s mother was bedridden upstairs, and Evelyn was finding it difficult to care for two invalids by herself.  She put an ad in the newspaper and hired Sarah Jane Grabeel to assist with her uncle’s nursing care in 1951. After Lon died, Grabeel’s services were no longer needed, but Evelyn invited her to continue living in the house. Grabeel stayed there for 36 years until she suffered a leg injury that wouldn’t heal. She went to the hospital for two weeks and then moved into a nursing home.

Evelyn could afford to support Grabeel and herself because she had invested wisely and had inherited the property of both sides of her family—the Mabrys and the Hazens. By purchasing the rental properties, she also had a steady source of income.

For a few years, Evelyn also worked as a secretary in the University of Tennessee English Department, where she apparently was both respected and feared. I have been told that she sat at a high counter where she would glare at staff members who passed by.  One man reportedly developed the habit of bending his knees and stooping low when he walked in front of the counter to avoid her unsettling gaze.

It’s likely that some of her renters tried to avoid her, too. Some of them said Evelyn had frightening mood swings.  In the middle of a pleasant conversation, she suddenly would fly into a tirade and begin cursing. They claimed her eyes would become an unearthly green. Two people told me they believed Evelyn was possessed by a demon.

Evelyn frequently would curse God because she felt He was unjust, partly because animals suffered, and partly because she suffered. She admitted that she liked animals more than people. Lucille LaBonte reminded Evelyn that on balance she had had a “pretty good life” with a home, money and family. Evelyn responded by saying she “felt she had been deprived of everything.”

Evelyn made the same comment just before her infamous court case in which she sued her former fiancé Ralph Scharringhaus for breach of promise to marry and seduction. She blamed Ralph for making her a “ruined” woman and depriving her of everything a woman could want—a loving husband and a home and children of her own.

Evelyn’s anger boiled over one day in the 1980s and nearly caused her to shoot one of her renters. More on that in the next blog post.

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.

Hazen v. Scharringhaus and Barkes v. Gilbert

Evelyn Hazen outside courtroom in Covington, KY, 1937 - courtesy Knoxville News Sentinel

Blog post #2:

by Jane Van Ryan

Many Knoxvillians are familiar with Evelyn Hazen’s story. They know she was descended from the prestigious Mabry and Hazen families; they know her antebellum mansion has been converted into a museum; and they have heard that she sued her former fiancé. But few are aware of her impact on legal history.

Hazen’s suit against Ralph Scharringhaus became the litmus test for breach of promise to marry suits in Twentieth Century America. When the suit was filed in the 1930s, marriage was viewed largely as an economic transaction between a man and a woman, and society generally assumed women would continue to be financially dependent on men. By 1997, when the Kentucky Supreme Court considered a similar suit, those views had changed.

The 1997 decision was generated by Suzanne Barkes’ suit against her former fiancé Dr. Alvin D. Gilbert, a prominent Louisville chiropractor. He had proposed; she had sold her home and moved in with him; and she had agreed to an early buy-out from her job at Philip Morris, assuming they would be married within six months.

But during a motor-home vacation, one of his former lovers suddenly showed up, claiming that she was supposed to have a date with him that evening. Barkes told me during an interview that she never felt she “could trust him after that.” She filed suit and sought compensation for the loss of her home and her job.

The Barkes v. Gilbert case touched off a debate about the validity of Hazen’s landmark case against Scharringhaus. Hazen won her case and was awarded damages.  The Kentucky Supreme Court upheld Hazen’s victory on appeal and stated “…[I]t is proper to consider anxiety of mind produced by the breach; loss of time and expenses incurred in preparation for the marriage; advantages which might have accrued to plaintiff from the marriage; the loss of a permanent home and advantageous establishment; plaintiff’s loss of employment in consequence of the engagement;…the defendant’s conduct and treatment of plaintiff…” and various other factors.

Gilbert’s attorneys argued that Barkes could not meet the test established under Scharringhaus v. Hazen, and asserted that the breach of promise to marry action had become antiquated. The Kentucky Supreme Court agreed. As Chief Justice Robert L. Stephens wrote, “…[W]omen today possess far more economic, legal and political rights that did their predecessors…We believe the cause of action for breach of promise to marry has become an anachronism that has out-lived its usefulness and should be removed from the common law of the Commonwealth.”

Simply put, the Court ruled Barkes had loved and lost and did not deserve compensation. The decision also added Kentucky to the list of states that legislatively or judicially had abolished breach of promise to marry as a cause of action.

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