Yellow fever is one of the most gruesome viruses known in medical history. Once inflicted with the hemorrhagic fever, the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth bleed as the virus attacks blood vessels. And if you think that’s dreadful, I assure you what’s happening on the inside is even worse. As Yellow Fever spreads throughout its victim, it attacks the brain leaving them in a state of delirium. Internal organs are liquefied as hemorrhaging blood is digested revealing the infamous black vomit commonly associated with the deadly epidemic. And in 1878 it struck the lower Mississippi Valley leaving a trail of 20,000 cases, and the bodies of 5,000 Memphians in its wake of three or more outbreaks. Perhaps this is why there are so many haunted places in Memphis.
Memphis, TN is one of the best places to travel to in the U.S. Laced with American music history and culture, it’s a bucket list destination for many. Travelers from all over the world flock to places like Historic Beale Street, Sun Studio and Graceland, home to the King of Rock n’ Roll, to pay homage to the great legends of our time. But what you might not know is that Memphis is one of the most haunted cities in the U.S. next to New Orleans, LA and Charleston, SC. And why wouldn’t it be? With its dark history of slavery and yellow fever, there was certainly a lot of tragedy in this Mississippi riverside city.
And you know what, that makes it my kind of place. During our little parent’s getaway this summer, we had the opportunity to explore some of the most haunted places in Memphis. Special thanks to Memphis Tourism and the good folks at Historical Haunts who took us to some of the city’s creepiest places embodying some of the most sinister legends in American haunted history.
Haunted Places in Memphis with Historical Haunts
It was a warm July afternoon. We had just arrived at the Rock n’ Roll capital of the world. The city streets were lined with historic buildings where the greatest music legends of our time began their musical journies. The air was warm and thick with southern humidity that you could cut with a knife, and it carried with it the sound of rhythm and blues. My eyes scrolled the thirteen floors of the Historic Peabody Hotel. Its architectural ornaments whispered stories of legends who passed through its doors. And legends who never left. We set out at twilight to meet with the guides from Historical Haunts so we could learn a bit more about the dark side of Memphis.
I’ve never been very keen on ghost tours. In my opinion, they are diluted by the presence of thirty plus tourists and a tour guide who struggles to keep everyone interested in a two-hour lecture. Often times, your mob is herded around a busy city on foot, much to the discontent of passersby. The locations are stale with no photo ops, and I find myself wondering why people pay for the tours in the first place as sweat and mosquitos contend for your attention. But the tour with Historical Haunts is much different. It’s as if they took all the crappy things about ghost tours and turned them upside down.
With Historical Haunts, we were not shuffled through a crowd of tourists like a cattle drive. We were carted around in an air-conditioned coach. We did not have to sweat and swat mosquitos, we were given bug spray. We weren’t a group of thirty, we were a group of fifteen, and I could hear everything the guide was saying. And we weren’t surrounded by waves of tourists because many of the locations were off the city streets. From the decommissioned Civil War Hospital to the Victorian Village, the places we explored offered photo ops and the chills all in one setting. Here were some of my favorite spots along the tour:
The Orpheum Theater
Built with all the 1920’s ornate art deco flair, the Orpheum Theater is a hotspot for Paranormal investigators. Following reports of a little girl ghost by the name of Mary. Mary died in front of the theater after she was hit by a trolley and has since taken residence inside. She’s usually spotted in her favorite seat, C-5 and is known to play pranks on the living. If you visit, you might hear her laughing out loud or see her in her old 1920’s white dress sitting in seat C-5. It is said by investigators that there are actually as many as six other specters living at the Orpheum Theater which has given this location the notoriety as one of the most haunted places in Tennessee. Plan a visit to the Orpheum.
The Court Square Fountain
If you were to visit the Court Square Fountain today, you would see a beautiful statue with a normal fountain and a cast-iron fence around the basin. But in 1876 when it was first unveiled, it was actually much more than this. The basin was about six feet deep with catfish and turtles, and even an alligator or two. At the time, there was no fence, and surely it was a hazard for any child. In 1884 that hazard revealed itself when a 10-year-old boy named Claude Pugh fell into the water and drowned. Surrounded by passersby, not one single person tried to help him. The story became an outrage from media who were disgusted at the lack of humanity of those who stood idly by as the little boy died.
Today, Claude likes to visit the fountain. During our tour with Historical Haunts, we were able to use EMF detectors to communicate with him. He was mildly active during our visit, but it is said that he gives much more attention when there are kids around. Bring him some candy and a couple trinkets, and you might just get a visit from Claude.
The Woodruff-Fontaine House
The Woodruff-Fontaine House is a marvel of French Victorian architecture complete with a Mansard roof and commands the attention of anyone who passes by its lawn. Built in just one year by Amos Woodruff, a successful entrepreneur, the house has been standing since 1871. Mollie, his daughter, inherited the home and lived there her entire life, she even married there. Following her death, the Fontaines moved in, thus naming it the Woodruff-Fontaine House.
Paranormal investigations have concluded that there are two entities in the home today. One of which is thought to be Mollie who is said to be very active in her old room, the Rose Room (or Mollie’s Room), which is located on the second floor. Museum staff has reported that Mollie, in her death, has actually instructed them as to where to place the furniture in her bedroom! If you look at her bed, you might see impressions of where she sits (even though it’s roped off and no one can touch it). She can also be seen in other areas of the home where she has been known to follow people around.
The other entity in the home is thought to be a male who is far less pleasant than Mollie. A staff member once reported that her necklace was ripped off and believes it was him. He’s been reported on the first and third floors.
Ernestine and Hazels
If you love a good dive bar (I know I do), then you must check out Ernestine and Hazels. Once home to a brothel upstairs, this bar is thought of as one of the most haunted places in all of Memphis. Ghostly figures have been spotted wandering around the bar and the upstairs area as if they are partying with the rest of the crowd, whether a crowd is there or not. And the jukebox often comes on all by itself playing a song that someone just mentioned. Not much is known about who or what haunts this place, but being a bar and all, there are probably a few scenarios to choose from.
Decommissioned Civil War Hospital
Perhaps one of the creepiest places I’ve ever seen next to the Hellfire Club in Dublin is the abandoned decommissioned Civil War Hospital in Memphis. The now dilapidated hospital opened its doors in 1884 to treat Civil War soldiers and conduct research aiming towards a cure for yellow fever. It’s a massive property which in its prime, was surely stately in its form. Now, falling apart and adorned with boarded windows and heavy chains, it is an eerie sight to behold. Most of the paranormal activity comes from the morgue which has a body chute in the basement. It’s not uncommon to hear disembodied voices or feel like you’re being watched. Check out the interior photos of the building here. We were not permitted inside, that is an appointment made only by special request with the owner.
There are certainly other haunted places in Memphis, a city rich with the magic of music, hope, and fame, and engraved with death and tragedy. If you find yourself in or near one of these places, take a moment to take it all in. You never know, you might just see a haunt or two.