East Texas Paranormal

Investigating paranormal activity in East Texas

Memphis and Voodoo Village – Haunted or Not?

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If you know about Voodoo Village, then you must have lived in Memphis, TN. I, being Martha Decker – Founder of CCPRS, took a road trip this week with a colleague who used to be a police office for Memphis PD. She asked me if I had ever heard of Voodoo Village and my mouth opened so wide that my bottom lip hit the gas pedal and the car went into G-force mode. I had not heard Voodoo Village mentioned since leaving Memphis in 1973. I grew up in Memphis and not only knew of Voodoo Village, but had visited several times as a teenager because I one of the lucky ones to have a car.

Voodoo Village is a very strange place and there were many tales told in the 1960′s and 70′s about this place. I remember this as being one of those infamous dark roads. It is located at the end of Mary Angela Rd and is now alleged to be haunted. I can’t tell you how many times I was told to “be sure to back down the street to Voodoo Village because you’ll be surrounded and they won’t let you leave.” Well, that was enough of an incentive for me to check it out.

Voodoo Village is a fenced in compound that consisted of very colorful buildings. The building are unique and have all kinds of odd things nailed into or attached to them. We visited Voodoo Village as teenagers to try and see the people who lived on that road. The people were unique to Memphis and no one could figure out who the were or why they were there.

After I was asked if I know about Voodoo Village and told my colleague “Why yes I know about it,” we became very interested in knowing if it was still there or if anyone else know of the place. Curiosity almost killed me so here I am writing this blog post and looking up Voodoo Village on Internet. Both of us were about ready to change our McAllen, TX road trip into a Memphis, TN road trip so we could try and find Voodoo Village once again.

I remember the thrill and chills we got as teenage daredevils plunging down Mary Angela Rd in drive and not in reverse. We never were surrounded, but I have never seen any place like Voodoo Village. Even then it was a place that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. This place has its own “feel” and it’s one that is hard to describe. My colleague talked about seeing old people waling around with goats when she would get a call from the area. She drove in with a patrol car and remembers no one would talk to her. She also got that “creeped out” feeling when she went to Voodoo Village. At the time I heard a lot of stories and of it as a haunted place. It was not a place I went to alone.

Instead I chose to Google it and was surprised to find out there is a lot of Voodoo Village online. I have added some of the links to my post should you decide to look for the information.

HauntedAmericaTours.com calls Voodoo Village “A MYSTERIOUS LITTLE CORNER OF HAUNTED MEMPHIS.” They describe Voodoo Village on their website as, “The hoodoo empire of Walsh Harris’ Voodoo Village, (a fenced compound of brightly colored houses and signs in deep South Memphis) Home to a variety of artistic and intellectual practitioners. ” HauntedAmericaTours.com also says on its website, “It first gained attention in the early 1960’s when conflicts between gangs of white youths and the black residents of Voodoo Village made headlines. Ever since, Voodoo Village has been a site of many teen dares and initiations, and its reputation for weirdness has only grown over the years.”

I don’t remember much about gangs of youths having conflicts there in the 1960′s, which is when I was visiting, but maybe this is why we were told to back in so we could drive out if we were surrounded. I have slept a few nights since then and only remember bits and pieces about the place. Some things you never forget and this place is one of those memories I will never forget. I rarely think about the place, but now I may have to visit it and see if I get the same odd feelings I did as a teenager.

What really got me is that there were several places in Memphis with nuttsy stories that were just too wild to believe – except for Voodoo Village. You can find out more be reading the Voodoo Village information at Urban Legends.

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Written by mardeck

April 11, 2010 at 5:44 pm

13 Responses

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  7. I remember this place during the early to mid 70′s. It was creepy. Around that time everyone was flocking to the Drive in to see the Exorcist. Afterwards we would drive by Voodoo village. That was a treat.

    Sly Stone

    August 2, 2011 at 2:02 pm

  8. From No Space Hidden: The Spirit of African American Yard Work. Judith McWillie / Grey Gundaker. University of Tennessee Press 2005. Please join us in trying to get the City of Memphis to honor the work of Washington Harris and the Temple Community. Posted below is the result of a 25 year friendship with Doc Harris and the Temple Community:

    The temple’s founder, Bishop Washington “Doc” Harris, renounced his worldly pursuits during the 1950s and purchased several acres of rural wetlands south of the city. He built a compound for
    his family and established the temple as a church and a center of traditional medicine. For over forty years, under Bishop Harris’s direction, the temple community also created monuments, tableaus, and wooden assemblages for display in the buildings on their property and in their yard. Designed as instruments of teaching, “The Degrees of God,”28 as Bishop Harris called them,
    were off-limits to unexpected visitors.

    In the early 1960s, attracted by the brightly colored wooden structures near the compound’s perimeter, local newspaper reporters appropriated the temple as an urban legend and named it “Voodoo Village.” Bishop Harris tried, without success, to persuade them to focus on the temple’s actual purpose. In 1961 he told a staff writer for the Memphis Press Scimitar, “We have an eternal organization here. A church. Our temple is the most beautiful place in the world. All these things have a meaning. They are symbols of God.”29 In a short feature article, the reporter described what he observed and heard during his visit:

    “A canvas awning was pulled back, and he [Bishop Harris] motioned into the temple. The floor, walls, and ceiling were covered with colorful pieces of satin. The little building was filled with
    other symbols and dolls, illuminated by tiny electric lights.

    “It took me four years to make this. Sometimes I would go in in the morning and not come out until the next. How did I do it? By the power of God.”30 As the legend of “Voodoo Village” spread
    across the city and beyond, Bishop Harris and his family endured frequent harassment from thrill-seeking teenagers, hostile religious zealots, and Halloween pranksters.”

    This account from the Memphis Commercial Appeal describes one incident in 1965:

    “A sheriff’s deputy arrested three youths early yesterday after a cursing and shooting incident near “Voodoo Village” in southwest Shelby County. The deputy was on still-watch . . . when the youths drove up and started cursing. A gun was fired and the youths attempted to flee before the deputy stopped them and placed them under arrest. The name “Voodoo Village” has been given to the area because of figures and symbols in the yard of Wash Harris. . . . He calls his home St. Paul’s Spiritual Temple.”31

    Nineteen years later, in 1984, little had changed.
    Another reporter from the Commercial Appeal condescendingly described the temple as viewed from an adjacent road:
    At first glance, much of it looks like the exaggerated objects in a children’s playground—a candle eight feet tall, a set of wheels connected by a crosscut saw, a giant figure with outstretched
    arms, fans, spindles, spinners, all in rainbow colors—but the mood is serious rather than whimsical. . . . There’s one gizmo with a propeller big enough to take off and another that looks like a Thunderbird with a pair of horns. There are painted stumps and towering crosses. There are things that make your head real [sic] to look at them. “I’m the only one who understands it,” he [Bishop Harris] said. “God told the black man and the Indian some things he didn’t tell nobody else. The only way you’re ever going to find out what all this means is to get like me.”32

    The temple fared no better in the alternative press where, for the first time, Bishop Harris is described as an “artist.” Steven Russell of the Memphis Flyer wrote that he found the temple “both startling and striking, resembling a sprawling playground constructed by a near-sighted artist on hallucinogens.”33 He continued: “The artist in this case, however, is Wash Harris, a reclusive man who has claimed in the past to be part African-American and part Indian. Reportedly in his early 80’s now, Harris has grown tired of the curiosity his commune inspires and has
    ceased speaking with those who are merely intrigued. I had been told that it’s nearly impossible to talk with him, and that, in fact, gaining entrance to Voodoo Village would be highly improbable.

    As we cruised by the first time, entering seemed unlikely. The entire site is surrounded by a metal fence and the main driveway is blocked by a heavy iron gate. When we returned just minutes
    later, however, the gate was flung wide open. I parked the car, facing the main road (having been warned not to get trapped in the dead-end street), and we quietly slipped inside the compound,
    wondering how many eyes might be watching. We marveled at the rough craftsmanship and artistic intricacy of the displays, which looked like products of a whittling disciple of Salvador Dali.”34

    In 2003, one Memphis citizen devoted two pages of his personal Web site to the so-called Voodoo Village and reminisced about an intrusion in 1968:

    “Voodoo Village was nothing more than a few houses on a dead-end street in remote southwest Memphis. Before we pulled in, Charlie asked me to drive so he could take some pictures. I drove
    past a couple of small houses with what appeared to be some really interesting lawn art. I don’t know how many photographs Charlie took as we drove past because I was eager to get turned
    around. I turned the car around in a cul-de-sac at the end of the road and headed back the way we had come. Off to the left, from the houses we’d just past [sic], a couple of young men
    appeared to be coming out to the street to meet us. As I drew even with the houses, one man had come into the street and was gesturing for us to stop. Which would have been the normal
    thing to do with someone standing in the middle of the street. But somehow I never considered stopping. Not for a second. In fact, I put it to the floor. And never swerved. The fellow got out of the way and I must have been doing 50 by the time we pulled back onto the highway”.35

    When we met Bishop Harris in 1986, he emphatically refused to refer to his works as “art,” preferring the terms “craftwork” or “The Degrees of God,” borrowed from Freemasonry.36 Promoters and collectors from the “folk” and “outsider art” constituencies had attempted to persuade him to let them photograph the temple and buy some of his work. Rejecting their advances, he reinforced
    his longstanding ban on photography, citing the temple community’s desire to shelter the meaning and interpretation of their work as well as its aesthetic integrity. He told us that, by photographing or displaying elements of the temple out of context, “you can make it mean anything you want it to mean. It is not for that. This is God’s work. This is a holy place.”37

    Bishop Harris stood his ground until his death in 1995 at the age of eighty-nine. Subsequently, Marvin White, the husband of his granddaughter, assumed pastoral responsibilities while also working for the local public utility company and studying for his degree in electrical engineering at the University of Memphis at night. Pastor White helped Bishop Harris complete the
    last of his works, lending his own distinct sensibility to the monuments and tableaus of the 1980s. In a letter to Judith McWillie in 1988, he cited continued disruptions from unwanted publicity: “[T]hat which is irreplaceable continues to be plagued by the very real threat of sudden disaster.”38

    In September 2003, he directly confronted the Commercial Appeal in a published letter to the editor:

    “Doc Harris did not build a compound named “Voodoo Village.” He built Saint Paul Spiritual Temple, a Christian church. Voodoo Village is a disrespectful, false characterization spread by this
    newspaper. Although many people who believe they are victims of voodoo seek help from us, our ministry is strictly one of healing. The structures outside the Temple support our ministry. They are physical expressions of our faith. They protect our unapologetic love and reverence for Jesus Christ.”39

    It remains to be seen whether Pastor White’s letter will have a substantive effect on the media’s representations of the temple community. The Saint Paul Spiritual Temple has no precedent or context in the minds of those who view it as a tourist attraction or as “outsider art.” Several members of the third generation of the Harris family who grew up there have now left for college
    and the temple community’s resources are beginning to wane. Pastor White’s decision to “go public” with his letter to the editor and with the statement below, given to us in December 2003, represents a new initiative in the lives of the temple community as they struggle to weather the shocks of time and change:

    “When is art not art? In seeing a cross dripping red, I am reminded of the blood Christ shed. Seeing another allover white, I recall my Lord’s sinless life. I see another like a candy cane: stop, think, then understand; sweeter than honey in the Honeycomb is Christ the living word. I am shaken as I turn around and see two caskets raised above the ground. One is there, I gather, to gather the eagles around the carcass of the slain. And the other, I see, is the Savior being lifted up from the earth. He said, “I’ll draw all men unto me.” As minister of Saint Paul Spiritual Temple for more than 25 years, I still marvel at the exquisite simplicity and beauty of the church that Doc built. But despite its spiritually uplifting purpose, for more than 40 years, our Christian church and community has endured the vulgar and false label, voodoo village. Thousands of people yearly are attracted to our place of worship. Many, if not most however, come to poke fun or to do far worse. Young, old, black and white alike seem to abandon their civility and take delight in hurling insults and hard objects at the Temple and its people. In
    light of the pleadings of our late founder, Bishop Wash ‘Doc’ Harris, it is difficult for me to understand how such extremisms for or against our church can exist, let alone persist for more than four decades. Yet, presently, some website operators, radio disc jockeys, and newspaper writers continue to defame us as voodoo village. Some art collectors, though, take a different approach. In the art world, our sacred place of worship is some kind of folk art which, some say, should be opened to the public. The dollar amount that a few art promoters predict that the
    Temple would receive by “going public” is astounding. Nonetheless, the artist’s secular desire for the spiritual work is as distasteful as the disdain others have for it. For the sake of argument, let us say that the spiritual work of God created at Saint Paul Temple is “folk art.” If so, what art in recorded history has invoked such intense reaction, either for or against,
    so as to motivate literally thousands of people each year to risk peril in the dark of night for a speedy five second drive by glimpse of the “art,” as they do at Saint Paul’s Spiritual Temple?
    If we argue that voodoo is the attraction—regardless if one has a passion for it or against it—Beale Street merchants publicly offer voodoo trinkets and books of spells. Yet there are no
    clandestine visits to their establishments in the dark of night. There are no blaring automobile horns, no beer bottles thrown and no pistols or shotguns being fired at any of them as it is the case almost nightly at Saint Paul Temple. One would think that if voodoo was the motivation for such uncivilized behavior, dealers of voodoo paraphernalia would have more bullet holes in their doors than we who cleave unto none but Christ. It has been said that our church is a secret society. No, we are not. We are simply Christians. However, our church ministry, as other ministries, requires that a reasonable measure of privacy be maintained. We minister to both the ordinary and the extraordinary spiritual needs of the general public. Anyone, regardless of race or religion may seek an appointment to speak with the church minister: single mothers not apt to handle business, young men seeking direction or confirmation, couples on the brink of divorce. We also minister to some individuals who insist that they are ill despite being diagnosed as healthy by qualified physicians. Many of these individuals or their families believe
    deeply and wholeheartedly that they are victims of voodoo or witchcraft. All these and others seek and find understanding, strength and healing at Saint Paul Temple. Some say the spiritual works have secret meanings. All of the works have meaning. Most have clearly obvious meanings. Others have meanings that require thought to reveal. Still others exist on a higher plane where it is impossible for man to discern their meaning except it be revealed to him by the Holy Spirit. Ordinarily, no earthly being can articulately describe these works of the Spirit. The essence of spirituality is that spirit defies the physical senses. Theoretically, that which is totally spirit has no physical description. Many of the spiritual works at Saint Paul Temple have
    an indescribable physical description that sublimes into a spiritual identity. Make no mistake however, the physical structures themselves, which are made mainly of wood and paint, quickly decay and are not to be adored; they are mere vessels used to attract attention. The physical structure can be compared to a preacher who is not to be idolized while the spiritual message represented by the works is similar to preaching. It is another silliness of God40 that communicates visually rather than audibly. Both are avenues for the Holy Spirit. Others say that we are unfriendly. It is not unfriendliness; we simply do not try to push our convictions onto others nor do we aggressively solicit membership. In fact, we, the caretakers of the temple, will only consider unsolicited petitions for membership from adults who feel led by God to this specific work of the Spirit. But, it is true that onlookers and sightseers are discouraged and there
    are no public tours. Furthermore, it is contrary to church policy to photograph any part of Saint Paul Temple; as photographs capture imperfections created by time and weather, which,
    without corrective commentary, inaccurately reflect the spiritual message. For this reason, consistent with this present effort, we will offer a series of sketches41 [see plates 17, 18, 19] of some of the Temple spiritual works for limited public viewing.

    The opening ode is an attempt to convey the visual affect of a quick glance of the Temple grounds. Via this medium [word and print], however, much is lost in the translation of these scriptures: Psalm 119:103 and the dual scriptures Matthew 24:28 and St. John 12:32.42″

    Pastor White’s statement draws clear distinctions between “spiritual” and “secular” contexts, with the Saint Paul Spiritual Temple belonging to the former and art to the latter. The temple community’s complex and many faceted works require a degree of immersion unavailable in museums and art galleries. In the meantime, in less complex circumstances, Bessie Harvey and other individuals who intentionally made objects that could be transported into galleries and museums discovered that Western concepts of “art” somewhat mitigated the pressures felt from family and skeptics.

    Judith McWillie

    June 16, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    • Thank you for posting this comment. It’s very informative.

      mardeck

      August 20, 2011 at 7:29 pm

  9. This has brought back some tremendous memories! It had to be in 1966-67 when four of us would pack up in my car and drove down there. When we would pass by the property (which seemed a block long) the brightly colored items were nailed to trees or fixed into a shrine of some sort. The people in the “compound” would notice us as we drove by and it seemed like they were just keeping an eye on us – not so much a stare. I think they had been harrassed so much that they just wanted to be sure nobody threw something at them. Artsy – eclectic – not sure but I know the many times we would drive down there as nosey teenagers, we felt creeped out . . . but never threatened.

    Jimmy Mac ~ Las Vegas

    October 27, 2010 at 8:09 am

    • They story for us back in the early 70s and late 60s was that the driver should back in because you drove into a cul-de-sac and could get blocked in but we never did. When I was doing research for this post I read a report that it was dangerous to go there because of gangs and turf problems. I don’t remember anything to do with gangs and the area when we used to visit.

      mardeck

      October 27, 2010 at 7:21 pm

  10. We visited Voodoo Village too. It was freaky. I wish I could talk with someone who has been inside. Anyone out there?

    Thanks for sharing the info. I teach sociology and research Southern folklore. Until this week I had never heard of this place.

    I’m always up for more stories!

    Tee

    October 13, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    • I hope to talk with someone on the inside on my next trip to Memphis. I was unable to make the connection this summer when I drove through.

      mardeck

      October 13, 2010 at 2:23 pm


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