680 Adams Avenue
A professor from the University of Alabama wasn’t expecting to meet any of the spectral occupants of the Woodruff-Fontaine House during his visit. During his tour he first witnessed “a presence forming before his eyes” and his wife mentioned to the guide that her husband had a sixth sense. In Mollie’s bedroom, the professor began talking with one docent and sent his family on to see the rest of the house. As they stood there they witnessed the sheets of the bed move as if as they were being smoothed by an unseen hand. Moments later, the pillows moved as if being fluffed followed by an indention forming on the bed as if someone had just laid down.
Later that day after the house museum closed, the professor and his family drove past the house and stopped. Glancing up towards the windows of the same room where he’d had his spectral encounter, the family witnessed the window shutters moving on their own accord. They quickly left having had enough of the paranormal for one day.
The Woodruff-Fontaine House was built as and remains one of the finest homes in Memphis. The noble French Second Empire-style home was built for businessman Amos Woodruff who had made his fortune as a carriage maker and banker while dabbling in many other businesses including the railroad. Woodruff spent $40,000 on his magnificent manse, a tremendous sum especially in the Reconstruction era South. Upon the home’s completion, Woodruff and his family moved in, just in time for the wedding of his daughter, Mollie.
Mollie and her husband, Egbert Woolridge, took up residence in the home along with her parents after her marriage. It was here in 1875 where the young couple’s first child died just after his birth. A few short months later, Mollie’s husband passed in the house after a bout with pneumonia. Mollie married in 1883, just before her parents sold the house to cotton trader Noland Fontaine.
Fontaine maintained the home’s elegant reputation and during his residency luminaries alighted upon the house including President Grover Cleveland, Vice President Adlai Stevenson, and musician John Philip Sousa. The home remained in the Fontaine family until 1929 when it was sold and became home to an art school until 1959. The home was acquired by the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities and has been a house museum for many years paying tribute to the Woodruff and Fontaine families.
Stories about the home’s spectral occupants have been circulating for years. Many who have had encounters with these mostly unseen residents have speculated that one of the primary spirits is Mollie Woodruff. More recently, the home was investigated by The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) team for the TV show Ghost Hunters. It’s interesting that Adams Street, where the Woodruff-Fontaine House sits was once known as “Millionaire’s Row,” and is now known as Victorian Village. Here, many of the mansions remain and many of them are noted as being haunted. Perhaps this is the most paranormally active street in Memphis?
- Brown, Alan. Haunted Places in the American South. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2002.
- Cunningham, Laura. Haunted Memphis. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2009.
- Harper, Herbert L. National Register Nomination form for The Lee and Fontaine Houses of the James Lee Memorial. 4 November 1970.
- Hudson, Patricia L. and Sandra L. Ballard. The Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: The Carolinas and The Appalachian States. NYC: Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 1989.
- Longo, Jim. Ghosts Along the Mississippi, Haunted Odyssey II. Louis, MO: Ste. Anne’s Press, 1993.
- Our History. Woodruff-Fontaine House. Accessed 25 February 2015.