Tuesday, May 30, 2017

HGB Ep. 204 - Earnestine & Hazel's Juke Joint

Moment in Oddity - New Jersey's Clinton Road

There is a twisty stretch of road about 55 miles northwest of NewYork City in New Jersey known as Clinton Road. It's only ten miles long, but its reputation is much bigger than that, with lots of people claiming that this is the most cursed road in America, if not the world. There are stories of an old castle, Cross Castle, being used by devil worshipers, haunted houses and hell hounds. There is a story that if you toss coins off of a bridge on the road, a young boy who drowned in the creek below will appear as a ghost and throw them back to you or leave them in the middle of the road. Strange creatures are said to lurk in the woods. And there are even claims of snow falling here in July. A menacing black truck appears out of nowhere and tailgates aggressively while flashing its lights and then just as you pull aside, it disappears. Lights have been reported over Clinton Reservoir and claims of UFO sightings have occurred as well. This road has just about every bizarre type of legend out there connected to it. That includes its very own Deadman's Curve. Are any of these claims about Clinton Road true? We're not sure, but the road that runs parallel to Clinton Road and seems more desolate, has no legends about it and that, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Lindbergh & Earhart Cross the Atlantic

During the month of May, on the 20th, aviation logged two amazing feats, one in 1927 and the other in 1932. Charles Lindbergh was a 25-year-old aviator when he took off at 7:52 a.m. from Roosevelt Field in Long Island on May 20th, 1927. He was aboard a plane called the Spirit of St. Louis and he was attempting to win a $25,000 prize for the first solo nonstop flight between New York City and Paris. The journey was 3,600 miles and he accomplished it in thirty-three hours, landing in Le Bourget, Paris. He was called "Lucky Lindy" and become a worldwide hero after that feat. On May 20th in 1932, Amelia Earhart would follow in the footsteps of Lindbergh as she began a trip that led her to become the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. She departed from Newfoundland, Canada and flew 2,026 miles to Londonderry, Ireland. She did that in thirteen hours.

Ernestine & Hazel's Juke Joint (Suggested by listener Ivy Johnson)

Memphis, Tennessee is home to the Blues and it is only fitting that it is full of bars and juke joints where one can hear live music or spin a record on a jukebox. Earnestine & Hazel's Juke Joint is one such establishment. It is said to be the best dive in Memphis and maybe even in Tennessee. The bar was once a place to buy dry goods before transitioning to a cafe and then the current bar. For part of its history, the second floor served as a bordello. The dive has been featured in multiple movies, been written about in Esquire and Playboy Magazines and hosted celebrities. Music itself has an enduring history at this little establishment and something else that endures here, are spirits. There seem to be several that manifest on occasion in various ways. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of Earnestine & Hazel's Juke Joint!

The Mississippian Culture were the first people in the Memphis area. They were mound builders who formed trading villages throughout the Midwest near the Mississippi River. The culture died out around 1600 AD, with a bit of it remaining near Natchez, Mississippi until the 1800s. The Chickasaw arrived after that time. Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto was the first European to explore the Memphis area. The French followed in the 1680s. For the most part, Memphis was disorganized and remained the land of the Chickasaw until the Jackson Purchase in 1818. Shortly thereafter, Memphis would be a departure point along the Trail of Tears. Andrew Jackson joined fellow investors James Winchester and John Overton in founding Memphis on May 22, 1819. They named the city for the ancient Egyptian capital on the Nile River. It was incorporated as a city in 1826. The city grew to be a major market for the cotton business, in fact the largest inland cotton market in the world, and thus it was a slave market. The Memphis & Charleston Railroad came to town in 1857 and facilitated the export of cotton. During the Civil War, Memphis was a Confederate stronghold until the Union won the Battle of Memphis and the Union remained until the end of the war.

After the war, Memphis suffered a series of blows. Yellow Fever nearly wiped out the entire population. People fled the city and there was an economic collapse that led to bankruptcy. It lost its charter and became a taxing district in 1879. Robert Church, Sr. was a wealthy black businessman and he would breathe life back into the city after buying large pieces of land, primarily on Beale Street. Beale Street would become a central gathering place for blacks and Church built Church Park and Auditorium. His son, Robert Church, Jr., began the NAACP in Memphis in 1917. He also founded the Solvent Savings Bank, which became the largest black-owned bank in the world by 1921. In the late 1800s, a church was built in downtown on South Main Street.

The church thing never really worked out and the two story building opened as a sundry shop and pharmacy owned by Abe Plough. Abe was born in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1892. His father, Moses, moved the family to Memphis the next year. When Abe was sixteen, his father lent him $125 to start his own business, which he opened as the Plough Chemical Company. He had learned the drug business working for free at George V. Francis Drug Store. His first product was an antiseptic healing oil he created himself. Success came quickly and soon Abe branched into cosmetics. Aspirin was also added and Abe 's drug business even grew during the Depression. Abe would eventually incorporate and go on to build an empire that would merge with the Schering Corporation to become Schering-Plough. While at the Main Street location, Plough created a product that could “straighten the hair out.” The product was a sensation from New York to New Orleans. People liked something that allowed them to slick back their hair. *Fun Fact: Abe developed Coppertone suntan lotion.* With all this success, he decided to sell the building to two sister hairstylists who were running their salon upstairs, Earnestine Mitchell and Hazel Jones.

Earnestine and Hazel decided that they would turn the place into a cafe. Since they had been renting space upstairs, they kept in mind that they could turn around and do the same thing now that they owned the building. And they had a good idea of what would bring in some good money. They invited some ladies of the evening to run the upstairs as a brothel. Earnestine's husband was a music producer and promoter known as Sunbeam, and he opened Club Paradise near his wife's cafe. He booked little known acts such as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Chuck Berry. Then the acts and crowds would head over to the cafe for after parties filled with food, booze and some fun with the ladies upstairs. Many of these acts would stay two blocks away at the Lorraine, which is where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. This little dive developed a strong history with blues music. According to legend, Wilson Pickett and Steve Cropper put together two of their biggest hits here:  Mustang Sally and The Midnight Hour.

Club Paradise shut down in the 1970s, but Earnestine and Hazel's Cafe kept on running. The brothel probably did a lot to keep the place open. By the 1980s though, Earnestine and Hazel were getting older and it was harder for them to run the place. A man named Russell George bought the place in 1992 after a friend took him there for some food. He convinced George that it would make a great bar. George was born and raised in Memphis and although he was a white boy, he had a lot of soul. His parents raised him to be a dancer and he had all kinds of moves. He could keep his torso upright and move his legs around like James Brown or Elvis. George even entered the James Brown Dance Contest at the Mid-South Coliseum when he was ten-years-old. He was the only white kid there and he was the one James Brown chose as the winner. His passion for dance moved to bar keeping and by the time he was fifteen, he had opened a not-legal bar in an apartment that he dubbed Jefferson in the Rear.

When he was in his twenties, George helped open Murphy’s Oyster Bar on Madison Ave. He also joined the R&B band The Memphis Icebreakers as a dancer and became their manager. Now he was the new owner of the building on South Main Street and he envisioned a place where B.B King, Bo Diddley and Jackie Wilson types would perform. He kicked out the prostitutes and restored the building. He decided to use the grill behind the bar to offer a one-item menu and that was his famous Soul Burger. It was a standard burger, but what made it unique was its Soul Sauce, which is proprietary. George no longer runs Earnestine and Hazel's because he committed suicide upstairs in 2013. He died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. George had been a skeptic when it came to ghosts before he owned the juke joint. But after only a short time there, he realized something weird was going on. It started with the haunted jukebox.

Now most people might be tempted to claim that perhaps there is an electrical issue that causes the jukebox to play when no one has made a selection. But how does one explain how well these songs match up with events inside the bar? Employees tell stories about women coming in after getting divorces and Tammy Wynette's “D.I.V.O.R.C.E.” Lynard Skynard's "That Smell" played after a businessman came in and told an employee how bad it smelled after his co-worker threw up in a cab.

The group Paranormal Inc. investigated the bar and caught an EVP of a moan near the piano and they also caught another moan on the recorder that was also audible to the investigators at the time. They do emphasize that the bar is similar to Bobby Mackey's in that it is very old with uneven wood floors and stairs and that this can unsettle equilibrium and make people feel out of sorts. Perhaps this causes a feeling that something paranormal is occurring. Memphis Paranormal Investigations have declared on their web site that Ernestine and Hazel's is one of the most haunted places in Memphis. They claim to have captured on film the transparent face of a man at the top of the staircase. Another transparent man was filmed walking in front of the building and then entering the front door. The door of a second floor bedroom had a woman's face on it in another picture.

A bartender who has worked at Earnestine & Hazel's for over a decade named Karen Brownlee wrote an article for Munchies in 2016. In this article, she shared that bizarre and unexplained stuff have happened at the bar the entire time she has worked there. The piano has played by itself and she hears the sound of people walking around upstairs when no one is up there. She wrote, "There was this guy who used to work here for 15 years. He went upstairs one day, and I swear, he came running down through the bar, out the door, all the way home. He will not go upstairs to this day. He saw something in here that scared him to death, man. He couldn't explain what it was." A cleaning guy claims that he hears voices all the time. Many times, the voices say "Here he is again" when he enters a room.

Brownlee also backs up the stories about the jukebox. She claims it has come on by itself many times and played what seems like a random song, but then she and her customers will realize that the song pertains to something that they are discussing. She said, "One time, my coworker and I were talking about James Brown on the day that he died. All of the sudden, the jukebox blared on out of nowhere, scared me half to death, and started playing "I Feel Good." Another time, a paranormal investigator was in here talking about exorcism and stuff with Russell, and all of the sudden the song by the Rolling Stones, "Sympathy for the Devil," started playing on its own, I swear."

Brownlee says that none of this activity scares her. There was one situation that did unnerve her though. One time, she felt something touch her while she was standing near the jukebox. She warns people to not diss on the sisters when at the bar because one time some patrons did just that and all the lights started getting brighter, dimmer, brighter, dimmer, until the bar ended up as bright as the sun. The people quickly left. Money bags have gone missing, apparitions and orbs have been witnessed and disembodied whispers are heard. The most bizarre money bag story involved an incident that happened twice in one week. Someone was shooting pool and accidentally shot the cue ball off the table and it rolled under a couch. When the couch was lifted, a dusty and cobwebbed money bag was found. What makes this really weird is that the very next Saturday, another pool ball ended up under the couch and when it was lifted, the same money bag was there again.

There are stories that more than one prostitute killed herself upstairs. Russell George also killed himself upstairs. Earnestine and Hazel loved their little place. Could any or all of these people still be walking the rooms and hallways of this bar in the afterlife? Is Earnestine & Hazel's Juke Joint haunted? That is for you to decide!


  1. What was the name (or link) to the east Texas podcast you mentioned? I was out walking when listening and didn't get a chance to write it down. Thanks!

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