Bill Cardwell recalls Evelyn Hazen

 Evelyn Hazen's book on Occultism

Evelyn Hazen's book on Occultism

Blog Post #14

by Jane Van Ryan


I met Bill Cardwell at Fire House Station #4 in June 1988, a year after Evelyn Hazen died. He was a handsome man, fit and trim in his navy blue firefighter’s uniform. His blue eyes flashed as he recalled his complicated—some would say poisonous—relationship with Evelyn Hazen.

Cardwell said worked for Evelyn for about five years. He had done remodeling work on his days off from the fire department since about 1975, and Evelyn hired him to work on her house, her rental units, and run errands for her. He quit in October 1986, because he said she was “mean…[and] because she threatened to shoot [him].”

“The people who knew her for years said she was always a mean person. She shot at people. She’d argue a lot,” he said. Bill said he argued with Evelyn to “put her in her place…she thrived on it.” But finally, he said, “I just had all I could take.”

He said he first went to the Mabry-Hazen House in December 1981 or January 1982 looking for work. To his surprise, Evelyn immediately asked him to stay overnight. Sarah Jane Grabeel, Evelyn’s long-term companion, had just suffered a stroke and had gone to the hospital. Evelyn told him she had never been alone in the house at night.

Cardwell agreed to stay because he needed the money. He had broken his thumb and couldn’t work as a firefighter. Evelyn “caught me at a good time,” he said. For three weeks, he slept in Evelyn’s kitchen every night, although “the house was spooky,” and it smelled bad due to the cats.

“The second night I was there,” Cardwell said, Evelyn told him, “I had a visitor last night.” She claimed the ghostly apparition of Jack McKnight, her friend from New York, came into her room and stood next to her bed. She described what he was wearing and claimed Jack was watching out for her. Cardwell discounted Evelyn's story because he didn’t believe in ghosts, but it stayed on his mind that Evelyn was armed, might hear something suspicious in the middle of the night, and would shoot him.

Evelyn told Cardwell he reminded her of Jack. She also said she believed in the occult. Cardwell said she sent money to a psychic in Florida named Mary Burnett Burcell and would call her at night. Evelyn also believed her mother was haunting the Mabry-Hazen House. Occasionally, she would see her mother in the yard, tending her flowers.

Evelyn also told Cardwell she didn’t believe in God and did not want Him to be mentioned in the house. Cardwell learned about Evelyn’s views while Grabeel was in the hospital, and Evelyn gave him the biggest “cussing-out” he ever got. He responded by advising Evelyn to go to church or have a preacher come to the house. But Evelyn said she was an atheist.

“That bothered me more than anything,” Cardwell said. Then one day at breakfast after Grabeel had returned, Evelyn got up from the table and said, “Oh Lord, help me get through this day.” Bill told her, “You better call on someone that knows you.” Grabeel burst out laughing, and finally Evelyn laughed, too.

According to Cardwell, much of what happened in Mabry-Hazen House was not a laughing matter.  He claimed Evelyn was “cruel” to Grabeel and wouldn’t let her leave. “Every time I’d go in, she’d be cussing Miss Grabeel. [Then] she’d start on me to give Miss Grabeel a rest.”

Cardwell said Evelyn would go into Grabeel’s bedroom in the middle of the night and beat her with her crutch. He also claimed Evelyn threw things at her, such as her knife, fork and spoon when they were eating together. In Cardwell’s opinion, Evelyn kept Grabeel “in prison in that house.”

But the facts indicate Grabeel was able to leave whenever she wanted. At one point, she moved to Florida with a woman who had befriended her. She returned to Knoxville a few weeks later when it didn’t work out. Grabeel also moved in with Cardwell and his wife Sandy for about a month.  That convinced Evelyn that Grabeel and Cardwell were conspiring against her.

“She was real jealous of me and Miss Grabeel because I would take the poor old thing’s side,” Cardwell said. He speculated that Evelyn “probably thought we had something going.”

More on Cardwell in the next blog post.

Evelyn Hazen a "big talker" according to Sarah Grabeel

 Evelyn Hazen (left) during her travels abroad.

Evelyn Hazen (left) during her travels abroad.

Blog Post # 13

by Jane Van Ryan

Sarah Jane Grabeel probably knew Evelyn Hazen better than anyone. She lived in the Mabry-Hazen House with Evelyn for about 36 years, starting in 1951 when Evelyn hired her to care for an elderly uncle who had moved into the first-floor bedroom. When her uncle died a few months later, Evelyn invited Grabeel to stay.

When I met Grabeel in 1988, she was living at a personal-care home on Hiawasse Avenue in Knoxville. She was a tiny 86-year-old woman with large, round eyes and white hair brushed back at the temples.  While she and I talked on the porch, she sat on a metal glider and swatted at mosquitos. It was a cool, overcast summer evening, a pleasant change from the usual oppressive heat.

Grabeel called Evelyn a “big talker.” She said Evelyn often told stories about her trips to Europe, her work at the University of Tennessee, her job as a teacher at the Old Knoxville High School, and her friend Jack McKnight, who was an “awful good-looking man” she had met in New York.

Grabeel thought Evelyn was attractive, too. She called her a “beautiful woman…[who] had the name of being the most beautiful woman in Knoxville.”  Grabeel added, “She was older than me but always looked so young.”

But Evelyn never had any suitors while she was living at the Mabry-Hazen House, according to Grabeel. Instead she hosted “big suppers” for her colleagues at U.T. Laura Hill, the cook who had worked at the Mabry-Hazen House for several years, would prepare the meals. During one of the dinner parties, Grabeel said a professor admitted he was “crazy” about Evelyn. “I believe he was,” Grabeel said, but his infatuation never resulted in a relationship.

“She was a wonderful woman,” Grabeel said. “[She was] educated…she was interesting. I could learn a lot from her.”

“Miss Evelyn, she was raised up rich,” and her family “had come from England.” Grabeel added that Evelyn “acted English.” Evelyn even swore she met Queen Mary of England when she toured Europe with several other young women from Knoxville in 1930. According to Evelyn, the Queen liked her best, and said, “That is such a sweet little girl. She’s English.”

Despite her rather regal bearing, Grabeel said Evelyn could be difficult. She “could be trying with the renters,” she said. But Grabeel said she never witnessed the mood swings that some of Evelyn’s renters reported. Instead, she said “the last year of her life, [Evelyn] was very nervous…[and] easily upset…She would quarrel, [but] I overlooked that.”

Although Grabeel was complimentary toward Evelyn, she also was resentful because she was not allowed to live in the Mabry-Hazen House after Evelyn died. “I feel like I ought to be [there],” she told me. At the same time, however, she acknowledged that she could not live there alone and would require help. She said she had broken a hip 15-16 years earlier and no longer could care for herself adequately.

After Evelyn died, Grabeel considered taking legal action so she could stay in the house. “I was going to have a lawsuit,” she claimed, but an attorney told her she would have “lost every penny” she had.

According to Lucille LaBonte, the Executrix of Evelyn’s will, Grabeel could have continued living in the Mabry-Hazen House only if she were residing there when Evelyn died. Evelyn fully expected Grabeel to live there forever. But a few months prior to Evelyn’s death in June 1987, Grabeel left the house “of her own accord.” Lucille said Evelyn never forgave Grabeel for deserting her.

Lucille, who believed Grabeel was “a sweet little old woman,” tried to help Grabeel by sending her $200 a month for her living expenses. But Grabeel was bitter. Rather than blaming Evelyn, she blamed Lucille and Judge Howard Bozeman, Evelyn’s attorney, for preventing her from moving back into the Mabry-Hazen House.  In her view, Evelyn never would have kept Grabeel out of the house because she was “good and kind to people…[and helped] a lot of people in money matters.”

One of the people Evelyn helped was firefighter Bill Cardwell. After he broke his thumb, he was unable to perform his duties for several weeks, so Evelyn hired him to do maintenance work and run errands for her. Grabeel liked him and said he “was good to us.” But others claimed he created a lot of the turmoil that made Evelyn angry and upset.

More on Cardwell in the next blog post.


 Group photo at the top of the mountain. Evelyn Hazen may very well be taking the photograph.

Group photo at the top of the mountain. Evelyn Hazen may very well be taking the photograph.






Dorothy Standifer recalls Evelyn Hazen

 Evelyn Hazen's bedroom, where she claimed to have seen the ghost of Jack McKnight.

Evelyn Hazen's bedroom, where she claimed to have seen the ghost of Jack McKnight.

Blog Post #12

by Jane Van Ryan

For eight years, Dorothy Standifer did Evelyn Hazen’s hair. They first met at a beauty shop where Dorothy worked. Later, when Dorothy established her own shop in her home, she would pick up Evelyn on Sunday afternoons at the Mabry-Hazen House or handyman Bill Cardwell would bring her for her weekly hair appointment.  Evelyn brought her pocketbook and her gun with her.

For her own protection, Dorothy adopted Lucille LaBonte’s methodology for approaching the house.  She parked where Evelyn could see her car, walked up to the porch, stood at the side of the door, and stretched her arm to ring the doorbell. Both she and Lucille avoided standing directly in front of the door where they could be shot.

Dorothy spent virtually every Sunday afternoon with Evelyn, which gave her the opportunity to hear her stories and observe her habits. She told me how Evelyn would climb the staircase at the Mabry-Hazen House. She would lay the gun on one step, walk up a step, move the gun to the next step, go up another step, etc., until she finally got to the top of the stairs.

Dorothy said Evelyn had a card table in the foyer holding a big box of candy. She always insisted that Dorothy eat a piece of candy, which she said she hated. Dorothy also was not a pet lover, she said, so she wasn’t happy whenever Evelyn insisted that she feed the dogs. She had to do it exactly to Evelyn’s specifications, which meant Dorothy had break up the dog food from several cans into little bites.

There also were times when Evelyn asked Dorothy to clip her toenails. She would sit on the kitchen floor at Evelyn’s feet while the gun was pointed at her head. Occasionally Dorothy would raise her hand and turn the gun’s barrel in a different direction. Once when Dorothy did Evelyn’s hair at the Mabry-Hazen House, she said she twisted, turned, and “nearly stood on my head” to get away from the gun.

Yet spending time with Evelyn could be a pleasant way to pass the afternoon. Dorothy enjoyed Evelyn’s company and hearing her stories. “The only time I think she was happy was when she talked,” Dorothy said. She loved to talk about her work at the University of Tennessee, where Evelyn was employed as a secretary but was asked to teach classes as a substitute. 

Evelyn also talked about seeing the ghost of Jack McKnight, the handsome man she met in New York City in the 1920s. “She got to seeing Jack when she’d go upstairs to bed,” Dorothy said. “She just relived it all over…I think she couldn’t separate reality from fiction in her later years,” Dorothy added.

Once when Evelyn was in Dorothy’s shop, she suddenly became ill. “I got scared,” Dorothy said. Bill Cardwell had brought Evelyn to the beauty shop that particular Sunday, and Evelyn asked Dorothy to call him to pick her up. Because Bill was a Knoxville firefighter with some medical training, the request made sense to Dorothy. 

“She was sick,” Dorothy said. “It seemed like the color [drained] out of her.” When Bill arrived, he took her pulse, and helped her get into his car. Dorothy was worried so she called Evelyn’s home 20 minutes after they left, but got no answer. She called again in 45 minutes, but still there was no answer. When she finally reached Bill, he told her they had driven to UT and down Gay Street rather than going home or seeking medical help. Dorothy seemed perplexed by Bill and his priorities.

Interestingly, of all of the people I interviewed about Evelyn Hazen, only Bill Cardwell and Sarah Jane Grabeel expressed truly negative opinions about Evelyn. The rest tended to like Evelyn despite her ever-present gun.

Renter Archie Russ, for example, said he “had a lot of good times” at the Mabry-Hazen House. “To me it was like visiting a little museum” where he and Evelyn would sit up and talk half of the night. He said she “would tell you stories and make you laugh.”  When she died in 1987, Archie said, “We weren’t prepared for it.” He thought he would have at least a couple more years with her.

“I miss her more than any client I’ve ever had,” Dorothy told me in 1988. “When I had had all I could take, suddenly she would smile and say something sweet. Then I’d feel like a heel for having awful thoughts about her.

“I don’t know of anybody I miss more than her, really and truly.”




As Pleas said, she was an “animal lover.”

 A family of hawks still hunt on Mabry's Hill today. Evelyn would probably fear for the squirrels. 

A family of hawks still hunt on Mabry's Hill today. Evelyn would probably fear for the squirrels. 

Blog Post #11

by Jane Van Ryan

Pleas Lindsay, who was introduced in the last blog post, did much more for Evelyn Hazen than she ever knew. She was aware that he built a small casket to bury her favorite “inside” dog after it died. And Evelyn must have known he helped to keep her safe and secure.

But there also were times when he saved Evelyn from herself.

In the final months of her life, Evelyn developed the habit of feeding squirrels from a second-floor bathroom window.  Sitting on a stool, she would toss dried corn from the dormer window onto the roof and watch the squirrels as they crept close to her hand.  As Pleas said, she was an “animal lover.”

But there was a problem. Not all of the animals on the roof were squirrels. Some were rats.

When Pleas and Archie Russ, one of her renters, realized she was feeding rats from an open window, they immediately nailed a heavy-duty rat-wire screen to the window. Evelyn was not pleased.

She also was upset when a hawk swooped down and grabbed a rat in its talons. She asked Archie to kill the hawk, saying she was mad at God for creating a bird that would kill little defenseless creatures. Archie told her the animals on the roof were rats, but that did not alter her point-of-view.

After rat poison was placed around the downspouts on the ground, some 30-40 rats were killed. Evelyn’s outside dogs chewed on their carcasses, and Pinkie, one of her dogs, began foaming at the mouth. Archie said if Pinkie died, he never would have returned to the Mabry-Hazen House. “She would have been real angry,” he said.

“There were a lot of things that scared me,” Archie said. “There was a lot of time when I couldn’t sleep at night, and I wasn’t the only one…Twice she scared the hell out of me.”

The first incident occurred when Archie approached the Mabry-Hazen House to ask Evelyn about renting one of her apartments. After he banged on the door, he could hear two voices inside—one voice told the other person to open the door only a crack. Sarah Jane Grabeel, who lived with Evelyn for several years, opened the door slowly while Evelyn bellowed, “Who are you and what do you want?”

Archie explained that he was interested in the apartment on Southern Avenue, and the door flew open. Evelyn was standing there with her gun.

The second time occurred when Archie was helping to paint the house’s back porch. Archie said Evelyn would eat lunch in the kitchen and had the loaded pistol lying on a napkin. She picked it up and slammed it on the table, insisting that someone was coming to get her. Brandishing the weapon, she said, “I’ve got something for them!”

Archie said Evelyn talked about her mother’s relatives taking her away in 1932 and incarcerating her in Lyons View, the mental institution. Evelyn called several members of her mother’s family, including cousin Rogers Mabry, “low lifes.”

After living on Southern Avenue for a year, Archie moved across the street from the Mabry-Hazen House where he rented one of Evelyn’s other properties. By that time, he thought he knew her well. But occasionally he witnessed mood swings that surprised him. Some days Evelyn would treat him “like family,” then the next day she would not trust him or anybody else.

Lucille LaBonte worried about Archie and his willingness to help Evelyn. She said he was like an indentured servant who was paid small wages to cut brush, paint, and do all sorts of manual labor to assist Pleas and ultimately help Evelyn. There were times he was a little reluctant to go the Mabry-Hazen House because he said the house looked haunted.  He said it gave him an “eerie feeling.”

Archie probably wouldn’t recognize the house today. Under the terms of Evelyn’s will, the Mabry-Hazen House has been restored to original beauty.  The upstairs bathroom, which was added decades after the house was built, has been removed.

Archie, Pleas and others were responsible for preventing home’s complete degradation and for helping Evelyn survive as long as she did. Pleas died several years ago, and I don’t know what became of Archie. When I met with him, he was 36-years-old and was supporting himself by creating beadwork and sculptures which were sold at Native American pow-wows. In the first blog post, I described him as a Lakota Sioux. That was wrong. According to my notes taken during our 1988 interview, Archie said he was a Grand River Band Ottawa Indian.  He also was a good friend to Evelyn Hazen.

Pleas Lindsay on Evelyn Hazen "toward the end".

 Terry, one of Evelyn Hazen's many cats. More images of Terry at

Terry, one of Evelyn Hazen's many cats. More images of Terry at

Blog Post #10

By Jane Van Ryan

Pleas Lindsay was a family man who had a gift for maintenance work. Over the years he had learned to do some carpentry, plumbing, and could repair nearly anything.

He first met Evelyn Hazen in February 1987, when Lucille LaBonte called him about putting a new roof on one of Evelyn’s rental properties. Eventually he stopped caring for the rental properties and began to take care of the properties’ owner.  He stayed in the Mabry-Hazen House to keep Evelyn company and take meals to her “toward the end,” he told me. After Evelyn died in June, Pleas became the 24-hour-a-day security guard and caretaker.

Although he slept in one of the second-floor bedrooms, he confined his daytime activities to the rear of the first-floor. A space between the bathroom and the kitchen (now the office of Mabry-Hazen House Executive Director Calvin Chappelle) was his sitting room. It housed a sagging couch and a tattered chair, both of which were loosely covered with white sheets. A bare light bulb hanging from a cord in the ceiling illuminated the space.

For entertainment, he had a black-and-white TV and newspapers brought to him by his wife and children. They were his only link to the present. The house with its musty leather-bound books and gloomy portraits of Evelyn’s ancestors enveloped him in the past.

“She lived in a world of make-believe and reality all at the same time,” he said. The long furrows in Pleas’ kindly face bent slowly into a good-natured smile. “Lucille says she was eccentric. [I thought she was] cuckoo.”

I interviewed Pleas on the front porch of Evelyn’s home, where he sat in a worn rocker and occasionally took drags from the cigarette cradled in his thin, yellowed fingers. His voice was soft and low, full of patience for his former employer who often had talked about her past—her job at the University of Tennessee, her summer job at The New York Times when she was a young woman, and her trips to Europe.

Occasionally Evelyn had “flashbacks,” he said, making him wonder whether she might be suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. She also “was pampered as a kid,” he said, and “was used to having her way regardless. She wasn’t used to anybody crossing her. She didn’t know what no was.”

One of the stories Evelyn told like “a broken record,” Pleas said, involved taking her friends to her father’s grocery warehouse on Jackson Avenue and allowing them to pick out a few treats. There was tobacco stored in a climate-controlled safe, and she told Pleas the boys liked getting into it. She always told them they had to list everything they took, even if it was “one piece of candy.”

“If you could work around [Evelyn], make her think everything was her idea, you could get a lot of work done,” Pleas recalled. But you had to do things her way, he added. When he fed the cats, he had to put the food in the dish a certain way. Evelyn was an “animal lover,” he said. “More than one time” he saw a cat jump on the table and take a bite out of her food, and it did not bother her at all.

Pleas said Evelyn was “definitely out of the norm,” but he was able to get along with her. “She was friendly with me,” he said, although “we did have a fuss or two.” A conversation about the suit against her former fiancé Ralph Scharringhaus led to an argument. When she got angry, her eyes looked as if there “were fire coming out of them… If looks could have killed, she would have killed a lot of people.”

She also tended to “cuss” people behind their backs, Pleas explained. She criticized her renter John Green when he was out of earshot, but then she offered to give him the house he rented if he would continue to feed her dogs. Later, Lucille asked Evelyn if she wanted to change her will and leave the house to John. She responded, “Certainly not.”

Pleas said Evelyn gave him 10 shares of stock, but he gave it back to her two days later. He had heard how Evelyn used the stock she had given to her housekeeper as a weapon. Whenever Evelyn got mad at her, “she brought the stock business up,” Pleas said. “She didn’t know how to give in the true sense of giving.”

Pleas put out his cigarette and exhaled a plume of smoke. She was like a “puppeteer, you know. You danced to her tune.”

More from Pleas and renter Archie Russ next.

Mamie Winstead recalls Evelyn Hazen

 Mamie Winstead stands beside a commemorative plaque at Bethel Cemetery, 1985

Mamie Winstead stands beside a commemorative plaque at Bethel Cemetery, 1985

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.

More Stories Are Out There

 Evelyn Montgomery Hazen, 1920s. She was known for her beauty as well as for her temper.

Evelyn Montgomery Hazen, 1920s. She was known for her beauty as well as for her temper.

Blog post #8

by Jane Van Ryan

Do not write a biography unless you are willing to accept criticism. I was criticized very harshly when I wrote the first edition of The Seduction of Miss Evelyn Hazen.

A Tennessee resident gave me a tongue-lashing in an book review for dragging one of Knoxville’s finest families through the mud. Of course, that was not my goal. Rather I wanted to write about Evelyn Hazen’s remarkable story and raise money for the Mabry-Hazen House, an effort that continues today.

Knoxville is lucky to have the Mabry-Hazen House. It is the only preserved antebellum mansion in the city that contains the antique furniture, china, glassware, and silver that belonged to its owners. The fact that it was inhabited by a family which shaped history adds to its importance as a significant landmark.

The story about the shootout on Gay Street between two generations of Mabrys and Thomas O’Conner has been told many times, including by Mark Twain in Life on the Mississippi.  But no other books have been written about Evelyn Hazen’s court case against Ralph Scharringhaus, her former fiancé, for seduction and breach of promise to marry. Yet it was Evelyn’s suit that set the precedent for similar breach of promise to marry actions in Twentieth Century America.

To produce both books, I relied on the court transcript (2,000+ pages), Evelyn’s own affidavit provided to her lawyer, scores of letters she had received from Ralph during their 15-year-long engagement, bits and pieces of information gleaned from interviews, and notes written in Evelyn’s own hand. Putting Evelyn’s story into chronological order and figuring out the cast of characters was a daunting task. And in some cases, I feel certain I made some inadvertent errors.

For example, in the first edition of the book, I took a leap of faith and attributed all of the courtroom drama to only two lawyers – Judge Jennings, who was Ralph’s lead attorney during the trial, and Stephens L. Blakely, the Kentucky attorney who represented Evelyn and grilled Ralph on the witness stand.

Upon reflection, however, it is likely that Gen. Wesley Travis Kennerly of Knoxville also presented testimony at trial. In fact, as the lawyer who deposed Evelyn’s witnesses and was more familiar with the case than Blakely, it is likely that Kennerly led Evelyn through her testimony and laid out the substance of her suit in the early days of the trial. In the second edition of the book, this portion of the trial is attributed to Kennerly.

A few years ago, Kennerly’s grand-daughter called me at my home. She said she found boxes of papers about Evelyn’s trial in her grandfather’s attic after he passed away. I do not know what happened to those records and whether they still exist.

Carl Hazen also called me from South Carolina. Carl reported that he was Evelyn’s nephew and used to talk with her on the telephone occasionally. At that time, Carl also was producing a newsletter about the Hazen family and sending it to relatives in the United States and Canada. Unfortunately, I haven’t talked with Carl in years.

I also neglected to call Martin Hunt before he died last fall. As I mentioned in the last blog post, Martin and his aunt Mary Gill knew Evelyn personally and allowed me to interview them in 1988. Martin told me he remembered his father and W.T. Kennerly discussing Evelyn’s court case years after the trial was over.  It was considered quite scandalous, which explains why The New York Times, the wire services, and newspapers all over the country covered it.

Every tidbit of information about Evelyn and the trial adds greater understanding and texture to the Mabry-Hazen House’s history and its former residents. Anyone who has something to offer—an old newspaper article, a comment made by one of Evelyn’s contemporaries, or an observation by one of her students at Old Knoxville High School—is encouraged to call Calvin Chappelle, the executive director of the museum at 865-522-8661, or email him at

In the meantime, here’s another interesting factoid about Evelyn Hazen: She apparently inherited quite a temper from the Mabry family. According to Martin, the Mabrys were known for their terrible tempers. When Evelyn was furious with someone, she would call Martin on the telephone and “go on for hours.” 

“She’d run off all her friends and didn’t’ have anyone to talk to,” Martin added. He also said Evelyn “was a good shot,” with her Colt revolver, a fact that probably added to her isolation on Mabry Hill.

More about Evelyn in coming blog posts.

Evelyn Hazen, her collections, and acquaintances.

 This is the oldest known image of Evelyn Hazen. Sadly, the original photograph has not been located. If you know of any photographs of Miss Hazen, please contact the museum.

This is the oldest known image of Evelyn Hazen. Sadly, the original photograph has not been located. If you know of any photographs of Miss Hazen, please contact the museum.

Blog post #7:

by Jane Van Ryan

When I visited the Mabry-Hazen House in December, one of the docents gave me a copy of an old Knoxville Journal article about Evelyn Hazen. It was published about 40 years ago when Evelyn was in her 70s. At the time, she still was considered one Knoxville’s most beautiful women.

In a photograph accompanying the article, Evelyn stands with Pollyanna Creekmore, former chief of the McClung Historical Collection, at the Mabry-Hazen House dining room table. It is set with Evelyn’s Havilland china, crystal stemware, and the silver candelabra passed down from her ancestors.  Overhead a chandelier “dripping with crystal,” the article reports, offers a soft glow to Evelyn’s white hair.

Nearby is a Hepplewhite sideboard holding a silver coffee urn. “It belonged to my great-grandmother, who came here from Charleston, S.C.,” Evelyn tells the reporter. Taking off the lid, she points to the hollow cylinder inside. “Sticks of hot charcoal were put in here to keep the surrounding coffee hot.”

Evelyn gives reporter Pat Fields a tour of her home, pointing out the portraits of her great-grandparents and great-uncles whom were among Knoxville’s most respected and influential residents. Evelyn notes that her forebears donated the land for Market Square, and her mother provided the land for the Mountain View School. She points to a portrait of her relative George W. Churchwell, owner of Springdale Farm which eventually became north Knoxville.

At some point during the interview, Evelyn’s maid appears with homemade peach ice cream and sugar cookies, which are Mabry-Hazen House specialties. Evelyn’s maid was an African American woman named Laura, who cooked in the Mabry-Hazen House for several years.

Laura’s son Richard Lyons also worked for Evelyn. According to Knoxville shop-owner Mary Gill and her nephew Martin Hunt, Richard would go with Evelyn to the butcher to buy meat for her cats and dogs. Richard told them there were 16-20 cats in the house in those days, and the odor was overpowering. After 15 or 20 years of working for Evelyn, Richard quit because of the smell.

Gill and Hunt, who were long-time purveyors of expensive dresses and fine housewares in Knoxville, heard many stories about Evelyn over the course of several decades. And Gill was one of Evelyn’s childhood friends. When I visited their boutique on West Cumberland Avenue in July 1988, Gill was 93 and still working.

“She was beautiful,” Gill said, speaking of Evelyn. She had “beautiful hands, long fingers…Evelyn always admired her own hands.”

“She was in Sunday school class with me,” Gill recalled. She and Evelyn attended the First Presbyterian Church which was populated by Knoxville’s Southern aristocracy, while the Second Presbyterian Church was for Northerners. Ralph Scharringhaus, who was blamed for making Evelyn a “ruined” woman, was a deacon at the Second Presbyterian Church.

When Evelyn was a young girl, Gill said Evelyn’s mother always dressed her in beautiful clothes. As an adult, Evelyn would travel to Charleston, New York and Atlanta on shopping expeditions. On a few occasions, Gill went with her. In New York, they stayed at the Algonquin.  When they traveled to Atlanta, they met at the bus station and Evelyn nearly missed the bus. “She was late for everything,” Gill said.

Gill also rode with Evelyn in her car to collect the rent from her rental properties. On one trip, Evelyn was driving a brand new car and nearly tipped it over. “I was about to fall out,” Gill said, but Evelyn climbed out and called the police. “She left me in there, half in and half out,” Gill reported. “She never thought of anyone but herself.” The police came and managed to “set it up straight,” Gill said.

Despite the accident, Gill apparently remained friends with Evelyn, and Evelyn frequently shopped at her store. Some of the items she purchased included English andirons, some glassware, and a set of 12 goblets that had come from New Orleans. Evelyn also bought furniture in Charleston and at auctions. A few items were reproductions, but others were authentic. Regarding Evelyn’s antique satinwood table with the piecrust edging, Hunt said, “People had good taste in those days.”

More about Evelyn and her life in the next blog post.

John Green recalls Miss Hazen

 Front porch of Pine Hill Cottage, 1960s. If you look close you can see a dog sleeping in the right-hand corner.

Front porch of Pine Hill Cottage, 1960s. If you look close you can see a dog sleeping in the right-hand corner.

Blog post #6:

by Jane Van Ryan

“She was an attractive and well-kept lady…beautiful,” John Green said as he adjusted his fedora and reminisced about Evelyn Hazen.

John, Lucille LaBonte and I sat together on the steps of the house he rented on Mabry’s Hill overlooking Dandridge Avenue. He said he moved there in the early 1970s, but he had known his landlady Evelyn Hazen since 1962 or 1963, when she worked at the University of Tennessee and drove a 1956 white Buick.

Over the years, he had seen all sides of her personality. “She had the sweetest mouth when she wanted you to do things for her,” he recalled, but when she was angry, “her tongue would cut you like a sword.”

Evelyn frequently asked John to feed the dogs that lived in her yard.  Six were in pens on one side of her front porch, and four or five were penned on the other side. John said in the early 1980s, an intruder opened the pens on the porch’s left side, slit the dogs’ throats, hung a noose over the front door, and cut Evelyn’s telephone wire.

After that incident, Evelyn was convinced that someone wanted to harm her. John said, “She had a phobia that someone was trying to get to her, plotting against her.”

Evelyn would call John at night, claiming she had heard noises outside. She called the police frequently, but after a while, they “wouldn’t hardly come,” John said. One night at Evelyn’s insistence, he walked around her house five or six times but never found anything suspicious.

Eventually Evelyn began carrying a .32 Colt revolver with her virtually everywhere, even as she walked from room to room within her own home. She also had several lights installed around the house. At night, John said, it “was lit up like a Christmas tree.”

John confirmed Evelyn loved her animals, including the black Angus calf that wandered onto her land from the Lay Packing Company. Lucille and John said she knew it belonged to Lay’s, but she had an enclosure built and fed it for several years. When it was fully grown, John said it must have weighed “a ton.”

Needless to say, the Lay Company wanted to reclaim its steer. Evelyn held them at bay by making an unusual claim.

One day she called John and said, “That damn Lay Packing Company! Don’t you feel your house vibrate?” John told her he didn’t feel anything, so she called the police, phoned the Oak Ridge laboratory and asked for a seismograph, and then called her attorney Judge Howard Bozeman. They all showed up but found no evidence of a vibration. For the next seven years, according to Lucille, Evelyn tried to get Bozeman to sue the Lay Company.

Evelyn also stopped Knoxville from adding a lane to Dandridge Avenue, which would have required her to sell some of her property. She “raised a whole lot of sand about that,” John said.

Sulerner Hampton, Ms. Hazen, and her .32 Colt revolver

 1649 Dandridge Ave. as it appeared ca. 1950.

1649 Dandridge Ave. as it appeared ca. 1950.

Blog Post #5

by Jane Van Ryan

“You know her condition,” Sulerner Hampton confided. “We had to put up with it.”

Sulerner squinted up at the sun and adjusted her thick glasses as she and Lucille LaBonte stood on the back porch of the house she rented from Evelyn Hazen. Evelyn “could be the best thing you ever seen,” she said, “[but] she would put you out in a minute.”

At age 85, Sulerner had known Evelyn for several years before moving into one of the two houses next to the Mabry-Hazen mansion. As the story goes, the two homes were constructed for the Meek sisters who were devoted to each other but could not live together. They built two nearly identical houses that sat back-to-back. The front porch of one house overlooked Knoxville; the front porch of the other house faced Dandridge Avenue. Together, they looked like bookends separated by a distance of about 12 feet at their back doors.

Sulerner shook her head sorrowfully as recalled the last day she tried to help with Evelyn’s basic needs. At the time Evelyn had a stomach ailment and was reluctant to see a doctor.

“I had fixed her breakfast. She didn’t get up ‘til eleven, twelve sometime,” Sulerner said in her thick Southern African-American drawl. She asked Evelyn to come downstairs and have her morning coffee, but Evelyn refused. She “was having a spell,” Sulerner explained.

“Just get out!” Evelyn yelled. “Get out of that house…and bring me the key.”

Sulerner ran a hand over the dirty white scarf covering her hair and spat on the ground, discharging some of the snuff tucked into her lower lip. Through the screen door behind her came the sound of a whining dog and squealing puppies. In the dark hallway, I could see a filthy overstuffed chair buried under a stack of yellowing newspapers. Soot from the coal furnace had collected on the cobwebs and clung to the peeling paint on the ceiling.

“Oh, Lord a’ mercy,” Sulerner said, remembering the incident. “I hurried through [Evelyn’s] kitchen to the back porch with Miss Hazen on my heels. I didn’t want to leave without the poke sallet that I had picked that morning. It was in the freezer on the porch. Miss Hazen didn’t know it was there. I pulled it out while she was talking.”

Then Evelyn came at her with her crutch. Sulerner said she grabbed the end of it and held on. “We shoved it back and forth. I had enough. I ordered Miss Hazen to sit down, and I shoved her down into a garbage can…I ran off the porch like I was flying.”

Once Sulerner reached the ground, she heard a gunshot. Evelyn had fired the .32 Colt revolver she kept close at hand. The sound was terrifying. Sulerner hurried as fast as her old legs could carry her through the tangled thicket that separated Evelyn’s home from her rented house. She never knew whether Evelyn actually aimed at her or shot over her head. 

Evelyn asked Sulerner to come back to her house because she didn’t want to be alone. But Sulerner said, “I wouldn’t go back in there.

“She wasn’t mean until she got sick,” Sulerner recalled. “She was as good as she could be when she was herself, you know.”

In fact, Evelyn had been kind to Sulerner and had given her clothing and other items over the years. When I met Sulerner in 1988, she was wearing one of Evelyn’s navy blue dresses. Evelyn preferred navy blue clothing over black, because she thought black was too harsh and unflattering.

After Evelyn passed away in 1987, Sulerner was able to stay in her rented home under the terms of the will. It stipulated that none of the renters in her 14 rental properties would be forced to move and their monthly payments could not be increased. Eventually, however, the homes along the south side of Dandridge Avenue were torn down and a portion of the land was used for Morningside Park and the Alex Haley Memorial.

Sulerner died several months after Evelyn, but I have been unable to find an obituary or death records. One of her relatives told Lucille that Sulerner died from tuberculosis in her legs.

The rental house has been remodeled and now is occupied by a resident caretaker of the Mabry-Hazen property.  Its twin serves as a small meeting house.  When I was conducting interviews for the book, John Green lived there. More about John next.