Hey everyone and welcome back to Unearthed Memphis!
I’m Alan and I’m Tara
We hope you enjoyed our last episode about Memphis Hoodoo and the St. Paul Spiritual Holy Temple. I did! I’m still googling things about it. It’s just so fascinating!
We even got a facebook thank you from the Secret History of Memphis Hoodoo Author, Tony Kail, for mentioning his book.
Admittedly, I got a little low key excited. Haha! After I read the comment, I looked at his Facebook page and found out there is a conjuring shop on Summer Ave. We’re going to have to check them out soon!
In our last episode, we talked about the Elmwood Cemetery Cinema Event. Well, we went and it was fantastic. The first film they showed was a filmed version of this year’s Soul of the City tour. Since we missed it, I’m glad we got to see the film. The actors did a great job, as always. Hopefully next year we won’t have quite so much going on and we can make it to the tour.
Then we watched the original 1922 version of Nosferatu. I hadn’t ever seen it all the way through.
And I hadn’t seen it since college, so my memory of it is a little foggy.
Turns out, it was far more comedic that I remembered. Being that it is a silent film, there are title pages and subtitles (at least in this version) and some of them linger over multiple scenes. Tara took the most amazing picture of one of those scenes. We previously posted it on our social media, but we’ll add it to this page for your viewing pleasure. It’s still making me laugh thinking about it.
The stage makeup and exaggerated expressions made for some entertaining moments as well. But it really was a great film for its time, a truly classic horror film that I think everyone should watch.
But I am glad technology progressed like it has.
Alright, I know what you’re thinking… yall, two episodes in one month, don’t tease us!
I know, but it’s spooky season and we wanted to get in a little more spooky before the month was over.
So, we thought we’d do some Halloween shorts. We found a few stories that didn’t have quite enough info for a standalone episode, but we didn’t want to not tell them.
We want to give a shout out to another great local author, Laura Cunningham. She has two books, Haunted Memphis and The Ghostly Tales of Memphis, that we used for some of our research. Definitely check them out.
The first story is about Claude Pugh and the Court Square Fountain.
A little backstory on Court Square. The park is located between Main and Second Streets at Court Avenue. The plan for the park was to have the courthouse built in it, but no courthouse was ever built there. The park, however, has existed there since the early 1800s and it did eventually become home to the first school house.
The Court Square fountain was built in 1876. Hebe, the Greek mythology cupbearer to the gods, stands tall atop the fountain. The Hebe Fountain, as it is actually called, is cast iron, 20 feet tall, and weighs about 7000 lbs. Originally, the basin of the fountain was 6.5 feet deep and filled with fish, turtles, and allegedly, an alligator at one time. It also had no fence around it. Clearly a safe place to be. Nothing bad could possibly happen…
Noooo… nothing bad at all…I don’t know about you, but if there were no sea creatures in it, that sounds like a great place to go swimming! Or get tetanus…
Well, in 1884, a 10 year old little boy named Claude Pugh was possibly thinking the same thing… swimming, not tetanus. While sitting on the edge playing with his toy boat, he leaned over too far and fell in. Apparently, algae coated the stones in the fountain and little Claude couldn’t get his footing. After struggling to stay afloat, I’m guessing he couldn’t swim, he went under and never came back up. According to The Memphis Daily Appeal, the park was full of people but no one went to help save him. The paper was not afraid to put those folks on blast. This quote is from their article, “Stalwart men stood silently by with staring eyes and gaping mouths. Their hearts must have been made of stone, and the milk of human kindness in their breasts sour whey. More consideration would have been given a dumb beast”.
A fireman finally showed up and it took 15 minutes to recover him. Claude Pugh drowned on August 26, 1884 and is buried in Elmwood.
In 1980, the fountain was renovated. The basin was filled in so that it would not be so deep and a fence was erected around it so that hopefully no one else would suffer the same fate as Claude Pugh.
Even today, people still bring toy boats and ducks to little Claude at the fountain. They say his spirit still lingers there. Apparently, if you put the toys in the water, they’ll move about like they’re being pushed, but if you ask Claude to move the toys to you, they’ll change direction and come to you. Even a 100 years later, the 10 year old little boy still just wants to play.
I’ve been to that fountain numerous times but I haven’t ever put any toys in it. We may have to do that and see what happens.
Next up is a story that takes place in one of our favorite places to visit…Overton Park.
Overton Park, in Midtown Memphis, is a 342-acre public space that includes paved trails, a nine-hole golf course, it houses the Memphis Zoo, the Brooks Museum, our wonderful outdoor concert venue the Levitt Shell, and it is really just a fantastic place to be outside in the world. Overton Park also happens to be the home to Rainbow Lake, a concrete-lined, 2-acre lake that used to have arcing spray fountains with colored lights installed in the middle of it, which created a rainbow-like effect when they were turned on… hence the lake’s name.
At some point in the 1960s, although I couldn’t pin down even an approximate date, a woman’s body was recovered from Rainbow Lake. It was determined that she had been stabbed to death, but some sources say that she was drowned. I’ve also heard the detail that this horrific act was perpetrated by her husband. She was wearing a blue dress or nightgown when she died.
According to many people throughout the years since this tragic event, the spirit of this woman, still clad in her blue dress or nightgown, has never really left Rainbow Lake. Countless park goers have claimed to see a lady in a lightly-glowing blue dress walking in the area surrounding the lake, while some have claimed to see her rising out of, or even floating above the water. Others have seen flashing blue lights floating around the lake. When people happen to see the lady in blue, some say that she has an arm outstretched to them as in a plea for help, or an effort to fend off her killer. Sadly, she vanishes when anyone makes an effort to approach her.
Oooooh… this is a story I’ve heard a lot over the years, but I’ve never been over at the lake after dark.
This next one is about a place I have parked in front of for years and was always jealous of the person who lived there because I thought it would be such a cool house. Now that I’ve researched it, I’m even more jealous of the people who live there.
The Hotel Pontotoc is located on Pontotoc between Main and Front Street. Built in 1906, the hotel had 18 bedrooms and nine bathrooms on three floors (this includes the basement). During its time, Pontotoc was a hotel, a boarding house, a bordello, and a club before it’s current resident purchased it in 1980.
The building was a thriving hotel when Dan Touliatous and his family owned it. Several Memphis Greeks would spend their time there, eating, drinking, and relaxing. It was also one of the places actors and Vaudevillians would stay while in town. The creator of the Crystal Shrine Grotto in Memorial Gardens, Dionicio Rodriguez resided there while he worked on that project. And then there was the story that this was the place that Elvis “got lucky” for the first time.
Clearly this place has a long history and I imagine a lot of stuff happened there, but where do the ghosts come in? The story I read was that allegedly the hotel’s caretaker liked to come home drunk and make a lot of racket. This annoyed those staying at the house. Apparently, one morning the lodgers awoke to a terrible smell, like something had been charred. Upon investigation, they found the caretaker at the bottom of the basement stairs, burned to a crisp.
Did the patrons finally get fed up with his disturbing behavior and push him down the stairs into the boiler, or did he just drunkenly fall down the stairs and accidentally end up in the boiler? We will never know, but it is said that his spirit still resides at the hotel. He doesn’t hang out in the basement though, apparently he likes to reside in his former room on the second floor. Legend has it, that’s why the owner hasn’t renovated it, because he won’t let her. It’s also rumored that you can still smell the burning smell in the basement.
Memphis Magazine did an interview with the current owner and she said that while she’s sure there are spirits in her home, why wouldn’t there be because so much has happened at the hotel, there is nothing malicious. She gets a positive vibe from her home.
She did mention, however, that the story of the caretaker dying has a little bit of truth to it. But he actually lived next door and was carrying coal to the boiler room and there was a fire and he died when his clothes caught fire. She said that there is no burning smell in the basement.
Also, she hasn’t renovated the second floor because she just hasn’t gotten around to it.
So, from the horse’s mouth, while the Hotel Pontotoc has spirits, the alleged hauntings you may hear on a ghost tour are not totally accurate.
Haunted or not, I love that building.
And last, but not least…
The McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College was not always the performing arts center it is today. It was actually the sorority house for their chapter of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority. Urban legend has it that a young woman named Annie was distraught after not winning a bid to join the sorority. This led Annie to take her own life by hanging herself from one of the rafters in the sorority house.
School officials refuse to corroborate this claim, insisting that there was never a suicide in or around the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority house. There is also no substantial evidence to support this, as this particular ZTA chapter folded in the mid-70s and was in dire need of membership by its end. I even read that their sorority’s picture for the 1975 yearbook was taken with the 17 members gathered around a black hearse. Seems like they knew they were on their way out… Or there was a side-hustle of some sort happening?
The school’s insistent stance on the building’s history hasn’t stopped the legend from doing what legends tend to do… grow.
For many years, students have reported claims of disembodied voices in the theatre, items moving with no apparent cause or force, images of a young woman – presumably Annie – in the mirror when nobody was present, lights flickering or moving around the building… and they even attribute some unlucky happenings in the theatre to Annie.
It has become a Rhodes theatre tradition to “invite” Annie to the opening performance of any show, in hopes that it will bring good luck to the run… or prevent bad luck anyway. Allegedly, there was a time that they did forget to invite Annie to one of their shows, and the entire run had to be canceled due to an ice storm. So, Annie might actually be able to control the weather too? Who knows… I thought Pudge controlled the weather.
Thanks for listening to our Halloween shorts episode! We hope you enjoyed it!
We hope everyone has a safe and Happy Halloween!
And as always…
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Disclaimer: We are not historians, we are simply two people who are interested in memphis history. We have done research and are trying to provide accurate history as best we can. There is a possibility some of these statements are incorrect, but we have tried to verify all the info so that we are not putting out any untrue info. To the best of our knowledge, what we are saying is correct, but let us know if you have any things to add or correct. In the show notes, you will find links to the articles we used and book titles, etc to gather our information.
Thanks for listening! BYE!
Ghostly Tales of Memphis Laura Cunningham
Cunningham, L. (2021). The ghostly tales of Memphis the ghostly tales of Memphis. Arcadia Children’s Books.
Haunted Memphis Laura Cunningham
Cunningham, L. (2009). Haunted Memphis. The History Press.