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.