There are the ghost stories most Memphians know: A little girl, Mary, haunts the Orpheum. Mollie Woodruff, who died in 1917, still roams the halls of the Woodruff-Fontaine House. Earnestine & Hazel’s is home to a haunted jukebox — and that’s just the beginning of the lore there.
But what about other, lesser-known paranormal activity in the Bluff City?
We talked to some Memphians about their experiences with things of a supernatural sort.
In 2014, they opened The Broom Closet, which sells myriad metaphysical supplies — from Tarot decks to sage for cleansing to incense. The shop also offers workshops as well as personal services like Tarot readings.
“We founded Historical Haunts Memphis in 2016 as self-professed paranormal researchers,” Stephen said. “A variety of tours are offered, but all of them are focused on telling ghost stories and reaching beyond the veil in an effort to make spirit contact.”
While the Guenthers deal with the paranormal year-round, this time of year normally brings an uptick in interest from the public.
“There’s a theory that the veil between the mortal and the paranormal worlds is thinner in the fall,” Stephen said. “More people are coming into the shop this time of year, and with the holidays approaching, more people want to hear from a loved one or someone significant to them.”
Among the Downtown spirits Stephen cited is Claude Pugh. According to the story, the 10-year-old boy drowned in the Hebe fountain in Court Square in 1884. Back then, the fountain was about 6 feet deep, with a sloped bottom covered in algae, and was stocked with catfish and turtles. Claude was playing with a toy boat in the fountain and fell into the water. Although the park was reportedly packed with people, no one stepped up to rescue the boy.
To this day, Stephen said Claude still interacts with people. Using instruments that measure electromagnetic fields, spirits such as Claude are said to be able to manipulate the devices to give responses to questions.
“Energy is neither created nor destroyed, but it can change forms,” Stephen said. “Spirits are energy. So, in other words, they never really go away. Interestingly enough, we’ve found that Claude is more active when there are other children about. He seems to be most comfortable interacting with them.”
Another situation with which Stephen has had first-hand experience involves the property that houses his businesses at 546 S. Main St.
“In 1918, a policeman name Edward Broadfoot was murdered in our building,” Stephen said. “He and his partner were searching for some suspects, and there ended up being a gunfight on the first floor, not far from where my office is now. My encounters with Officer Broadfoot have been numerous and ongoing.”
ENTERTAINMENT:Boo! Here are 7 things to do for Halloween in Memphis
During one of the summer tours Historical Haunts offers, the group spends an hour on a walking tour and then returns to the South Main Street building and visits the basement.
“We often hear a voice, that we believe to be Officer Broadfoot, coming through one of our devices,” Stephen said. “You don’t actually hear the voice in real time, but it is audible when you play back a recording. It’s called an electronic voice phenomena, or EVP.”
Emily said that as investigators, their team doesn’t automatically expect everything they do to be supernatural.
“Our investigative teams works separately from the tours that we give,” she said. “When we are called about a case, we start from the standpoint that there might be a logical, or natural, explanation for whatever is happening. Sometimes people feel uneasy at a property and those feelings are valid — but not always based in the paranormal. For instance, people can be affected by the Earth’s electromagnetic field, especially if they live near towers for power lines, or if they are in the flight path of airplanes that fly fairly low overhead.”
But other cases involve phenomena that aren’t so easy to explain.
Emily said the team is currently working a case where a homeowner “described hearing unexplained knocking and cabinet doors swinging open without reason.”
“When our team arrived at that house, we all felt a sense of uneasiness. Some felt tingling and pressure, and one member developed a headache. At one point, I heard an audible growling that had an unknown source,” she said. “We were there a really long time and concluded that there was indeed a spirit who had passed away and was still roaming the property. Additionally, her spirit had attracted some negative, parasitic spirits.”
The team plans to go back to the home and is still working to resolve that case.
The ghosts of entertainers past
When Ric Chetter, founder and owner of Radio Memphis, moved his studio into the Emmons Building at 4745 Poplar, he was warned he would likely hear and see some strange things.
“I didn’t put much stock in that kind of talk,” Chetter said. “I thought it was probably just a trick of the mind or whatever.”
It didn’t take too long for Chetter to change his mind.
It was Halloween night six years ago when Chetter moved his internet radio station into the East Memphis building. The spot was formerly a recording studio. “Some fairly high profile people had recorded some good music there,” Chetter said. At one point it was PM Studio, owned by Pete Matthews and Brad Dunn (nephew of Donald “Duck” Dunn of Booker T. & the MGs.) Charlie Rich was another former owner. His studio was called Silver Fox Records, which he used for demo recordings and rehearsal space.
Although Rich died in 1995, Chetter believes he spotted him in the studio.
“I started seeing things out of the corner of my eye, like someone moving around, but I knew I was the only person in the studio. One day I looked up to see what appeared to be Charlie Rich walking towards me. I could see him clearly,” Chetter said. “He was wearing a long-sleeved black shirt with a white vest. When he got to the doorway of the control room where I was working, he simply vanished.”
And that’s not the only logic-defying experience at Radio Memphis’ residence.
“We’ve had a guy who was a music promoter show up in a party picture — but he had been dead for years,” Chetter said. “Also, we’ve heard unattributable voices. One time when a co-host and I were interviewing a musician who was performing on the air, we all heard a fourth voice join in the conversation. No explanation for it other than it was paranormal.”
Chetter said he firmly believes the recording and control rooms are “full of activity with the ghosts of entertainers who formerly spent a lot of time there.”
“By my count, there are eight or so specters in there, but none of it gives a sense of foreboding. We talk about it on the air and have fun with it,” Chetter said. “Memphis is so rich with entertainment. It is just an odd touch to the history of the local music scene.”