Monday, December 3, 2012

Haunted Printer’s Alley

Newsboys in Printer's Alley

If it were not for the Country Music industries’ influences Nashville, Tennessee would probably be known as the Printing Capitol of the World. * 

Printer’s Alley, which fronts Fourth Street, was named after this publishing industry, many of the cities earliest presses were located here. 

The area also became the center for the cities nightlife. In the late 19th century this part of Nashville in daylight was considered respectable but after sundown, no decent lady would be seen in the area for it was known as the “Men’s Quarter” and it hosted saloons and brothels. 

In 1895 the Southern Turf Building was completed on Fourth Avenue North, it housed the most elegant saloon in Nashville. Later it was to house two of Nashville’s most famous ghosts.

Southern Turf
With the onset of Prohibition, the glitz and glamour of Printer’s Alley began to fade. A man by the name of Ice Johnson managed the Southern Turf Building, he also lived in an apartment on the third floor for many years. 

When the saloon closed in 1916, Johnson left a note stating he would rather die than move from his beloved job and building. He shot himself and died instantly. 

Shortly after his death and with the building now abandoned, many residents of Nashville started to report seeing a man standing at a window on the third floor. 

At first, these reports were not believed. But with decades of similar eyewitness accounts that stated a man was seen at the windows on the third-floor people started to entertain the fact that this might be Johnson's ghost.

When the Southern Turf Building was refurbished and space was leased it became apparent to these new tenants that Ice Johnson remained in the building he loved. 

Many strange accounts started to be reported. At first employees in the building took note that things were moved or disappeared off their desks. 

Then the activity became more pronounced. Several employees saw Johnson appear in front of them in various locations around the building, this freaked out several workers who promptly quit their jobs.

The activity then slowed down once again, at least during the day. Visitors to Printer’s Alley at night started to report seeing a figure dart very quickly from one window to the next in Johnson’s original third-floor apartment. 

Some witnesses stated this figure moved faster than humanly possible. Needless to say this scared more than one onlooker.

Ice Johnson seemed to pick on one tenant at the Southern Turf Building more often than all the rest. David “Skull” Schulman became a long time tenant in the building. 

He opened the famous “Rainbow Room” in the basement of the Southern Turf Building in 1943. Skull, as he preferred to be called, stated that he heard Johnson moving around his club on many nights as he prepared to close. 

He stated that Johnson was fond of moving items around in his storeroom and that he often would move bar stools and tables around in the lounge in an attempt to scare him.

Photo of Skull
in 1992.
As legend would have it, this activity stopped when the ghost realized that nothing would scare Skull. This was widely believed because Skull Schulman was a very unusual man. He was a very tall, thin man who was known to wear suits out of boldly printed patchwork designs. He also wore colorful hats with his wardrobe. 

He was the eccentric unofficial mayor of Printer’s Alley. 

To everyone’s amusement, he was often seen walking his faithful little untidy white poodle, Sweetie. It is said this little leashed dog pulled him around the Alley with great force. Despite his eccentricities his business peers and his loyal clientele loved him.

Here he is with the
Hee Haw Ladies 
Skull’s patrons included many of Nashville’s elite, from both the business and music industry. ** It is said that John Lennon during his solo career visited the Rainbow Room and wrote a song there. 

Skull was often known to wear bib overalls where it was said he stashed large amounts of money. It was his habit to sit at the end of his bar every day at 4:30 P.M. reading the newspaper just before he opened the club. 

Unfortunately, in January of 1998 at the age of 80 his luck ran out.

Two homeless men, *** one who had worked for him as a custodian, entered with the intent to rob him. Foolishly Skull refused to turn over the cash at which point a knife was put to his throat, he still refused. 

One of the thieves slashed his throat three times. As he was screaming for help this same man then smashed a liquor bottle against the side of his head. He was found later clutching his throat on the floor and rushed to the hospital where he died the next morning.

The man that slashed his throat and hit him was later found and convicted of murder. 

Skull’s death resulted in the second ghost that is seen in Printer’s Alley. Schulman's presence is often felt throughout the Alley. 

Many witnesses have seen a man being pulled along by a small white dog. He is most often seen walking away from these witnesses; they don’t find it unusual until they see both him and the dog disappear into thin air. Many patrons of the bars that line the Alley after seeing this apparition swear off booze.

The Rainbow Room closed after Skull’s death and it remains closed but a group of tourists visiting Printer’s Alley recently saw a man and his dog approach the alcove that leads to the Rainbow Room’s front door. To their shock and surprise, this twosome walked right through the closed door.  

When they approached the doorman at a nearby bar and described what they saw, this man told them that many people had seen this apparition walk right through the door—he told these tourists that he had himself seen this apparition. 

“At his graveside funeral, they all came--the celebrities, the politicians, the drinkers, and the bartenders and servers who keep Printer's Alley open. One last time, the rich and famous stood shoulder to shoulder with the broke and the forgotten, brought together by a man who welcomed them all. That night, the Rainbow Room remained locked, its lights out. The Alley may always be there, but it will never be the same.”

                                                                --Michael McCall

*  In the 1960s Nashville was the home for over 36 printing companies, not to mention the various businesses that support this industry. The last company to leave the Alley was Ambrose Printing Company in 1977.

**  Nightclubs first opened in Printer’s Alley in the 1940s. This Alley became a showcase for performers such as Boots Randolph, Chet Akins, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, and Dottie West. At one point the Rainbow Room was used as a strip club--as Skull stated he was able to adapt to the times.

*** Skull Schulman’s death was even more tragic because he was known to be very generous to the Alley’s homeless population.

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