Friday, July 26, 2013

Inside the Black Cat Tavern

It’s an obscure landmark, but one that harkens back to an era that is both dark and fascinating all at once.   The Black Cat Tavern operated as a popular nightclub on the outskirts of Murfreesboro, Tennessee in the period during and after prohibition. It is best described as a cave to which a manmade entrance was added, creating an enclosed space. It consisted of three rooms which included a dance hall, a dining room and a kitchen in addition to the natural cave area with an underground stream.  Situated alongside a major highway but hidden by dense foliage, it remains virtually invisible to the average passerby.  

Little can be confirmed regarding details of this establishment’s history.  Although enough rumors and second hand stories exist that indicate it was a place that your mamma would have probably told you not to go. That didn’t discourage those back in the 20’s from hanging out at the underground jazz joint that some have  termed a “speakeasy”.  It’s even believed that Jean Faircloth MacArthur , the 2nd wife  of American General Douglass MacArther  of WW2 fame partied  here on occasion. 

Overwhelmed with curiosity to learn more about the Black Cat, we decided to take a small expedition to this underground hideaway and see for ourselves.  Arriving at the location we cautiously slipped through the bars that block the entrance.  We then examined each room of the dank edifice with our flashlights, clearing away a jungle of cobwebs as we made our way through.   I’ll be the first to confess that the Black Cat is a little spooky.  It’s not a place that I recommend going for a night out.

But the tavern wasn't always such an eerie place. The walls were once covered in cedar planks and heat was provided by a set of fireplaces which surely provided a warm ambiance during its heyday.  It’s easy to imagine this place as a fun underground venue for nightlife.

We've all got romantic ideas about this era that are given to us by pop culture. But in reality it was still a relatively dark period in American history.  Poverty and disease were rampant.  At the local hospital women were often given scopolamine, tied to tables and left to hallucinate for days before giving birth. Sexy times eh? The Black Cat Tavern was nothing fancy. It was basically just a hole in the ground where people went to get drunk. But still it represents a part of American culture.  Even the darker elements of our past in my opinion should not be forgotten.

The property is currently managed by the Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation Department and closed to the public. Safety and adequate funding are likely the reasons that Black Cat has remained a low priority for historic preservation.  The collapsed floors and broken beer bottles left by previous visitors make it a hazardous hangout.    

 Many fascinating monuments to American cultural history such as this are lost either through urban development or simply allowed to deteriorate.  Some remain hidden because they represent dark and uncomfortable periods in the past and others are simply hazardous and inaccessible.

With enough encouragement from others who are aware of its historical significance, I think a gradual restoration of the Black Cat site might be feasible. It’s certainly worth a call to city officials at the Murfreesboro Department of Parks and Recreation to express your support for the idea of preserving this old-time venue. What you do you think?

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Featured in the August 2013 Edition of the Murfreesboro Pulse