Do you believe in ghosts?
At least I don’t think I do.
Nonetheless, when I learned of a ghost tour while I was in Memphis, I jumped at the opportunity. I wasn’t really interested in ghost hunting; rather, I thought it would just be an interesting walk around the city in the evening and a chance to learn a little more about the history of Memphis.
The tour (run by Backbeat Tours) kicked off at the corner of Beale and 2nd Streets with Erica, our enthusiastic and self-deprecating guide, and about ten fellow ghost hunters. As Erica introduced herself and the tour and asked about everyone’s interest in and experience with spirits, I realized that I was the only one who was not on a serious mission to find some ghosts.
Our first stop was on Main Street, across the street from the Orpheum Theater. There, we learned that a young girl was killed outside of the theater when she was hit by a streetcar. Now, she haunts the theater and even has a favorite seat (C5) in the balcony where she likes to hang out (the theater allegedly even keeps the seat open for her). She plays pranks like opening doors, turning off lights and even laughing out loud – and enjoys playing the organ. My research after the tour proved that this may be Memphis’ most famous and well-documented ghost.
Next, we stopped across the street from the Potontoc Hotel – an imposing grey stone building that has been a hotel, brothel and boarding house since it was built in the early 1900s. The story goes that the manager of the boarding house was a drunk who annoyed most of the boarders when he would loudly arrive home late at night. One morning, people awoke to the smell of charred hair coming from the basement and soon discovered the body of the manager burnt to a crisp in the boiler at the bottom of the stairs! Of course, the lingering question was whether he fell down the stairs in a drunken stupor or was pushed down.
For whatever reason, this guy doesn’t haunt the basement of the Pontotoc Hotel, though – he seems to haunt his former room on the third floor. Erica told of a family who briefly lived in the room whose daughter reported visits from the spirit almost every night. They were so spooked that they moved within a couple months. Years later, the hotel was purchased and turned into a home and recording studio. Interestingly, the recording studio sits on the first floor while the family lives not on the second or third floors, but in the basement. The windows of the third floor are mostly boarded up.
As we moved on from the Pontotoc, I realized how serious some of the other ghost hunters in the group were. One guy eagerly approached Erica to show her images he had just captured on his phone. He flipped through several blurry photos of the building before showing completely clear photos of another nearby building, convinced that the blurriness was caused by the presence of a spirit. Erica and others seemed to buy it. Me? Not so much.
Next up was the John Alexander Austin House, less than a block away from the Pontotoc. A Victorian era mansion, it is said to be haunted by two lovers, although neither died on the premises. I confess, I kind of drifted off while Erica explained what happened at the house and why it might be haunted. I can’t say I was completely buying it all. From there, we headed back to South Main Street and, after a quick bathroom break at a convenience store that was once the site of a murder, we were on our way to our final stop – Earnestine & Hazel’s.
This was the only stop where we actually were able to go inside. We entered through a side door and headed up some uneven stairs to a stuffy second floor hallway, barely lit by a glowing red light at the far end of the building. Erica explained how Earnestine & Hazel’s was once a brothel and is now known as one of the most haunted places in Memphis – haunted by the spirits of prostitutes who were murdered there. The jukebox in the bar below is said to play on its own, visitors upstairs have seen shadowy figures and others have reported feeling spirits pushing or tugging at them (Erica even claimed to have experienced that herself).
The place did feel a bit creepy and I took my share of photos in the dark rooms, ever so secretly hoping that maybe they would turn up the images of a ghost or two. While I was not successful, the same guy from before claimed to have captured a spirit on his camera – a women’s face. As he passed it around, everyone was quite excited by his discovery, although I failed to really see anything. He was nice enough, though, to send the picture to everyone in the group and when I uploaded it to my laptop and started adjusting the brightness, I started to change my mind. Judge for yourself:
What do you think? Do you see a potential ghost in the picture? Do you believe in ghosts?