SCREAMING WATERS IN ST. JOSEPH
The small town of St. Joseph lies peacefully in Tensas Parish, very near the Mississippi River and its oxbow lake named Bruin. Near the conclusion of the Civil War, when most of Louisiana had still not fallen to Union forces, St. Joseph was a vital location for the Department of Mississippi of the Confederate government. Becoming a chief route across the muddy water, it was protected by an implacable, almost invincible, Confederate cavalry.
In the early 1870s, when the Bayou State was grappling beneath the boot heel of Reconstruction, a large ship known as the Iron Mountain sailed the coffee-colored waters of the Mississippi. More than 180 feet long and 35 feet wide, propelled by gargantuan boilers, it was one of the largest vessels to sail the snaking Mississippi. One day in 1872, the ship embarked from Natchez brimming with freight. Fifty-four souls were also on board as passengers.
Somewhere on the river near St. Joseph, the unthinkable happened: The mighty ship simply disappeared. No debris, wreckage, freight or any trace of the 54 on board were to be found. The ship was last seen in Vicksburg, and it became the accepted belief that the unlucky ship had fallen victim to river pirates who stripped it and slaughtered everyone on board.
But not all traces of the ship have been lost to pirates, it seems. Over the past 139 years, like an heirloom passed down from one generation to another, reports of a woman’s screams erupting from the Mississippi River near St. Joseph have lingered in the area. In particular, a woman’s voice can be heard crying out in French, “Aidez-moi au nom de Dieu! Les hommes me blessent!” (“Help me, in the name of God! The men are hurting me!”)
No one doubts for a moment that the voice belongs to a victim of the mysterious tragedy of the doomed Iron Mountain.
QUIRKY PLACES II
SCHOOL DAZE IN SHREVEPORT
I am convinced that if I had grown up in the Shreveport-Bossier area, the abandoned and fire-gutted old school on Ellerbe Road outside of Shreveport would have been a magnet for my friends and me to explore, just as it has beckoned to many other teenage and not-so-teenage adventure-seekers-of-the-macabre. Even the sign posted by the property’s owner – promising to shoot all trespassers – doesn’t seem to act as a deterrent to some of the paranormally curious who reside in North Louisiana. The history of the school, decaying quietly in an overgrown field, holds a supposedly true story steeped in the grotesque: A pedophile janitor who preyed on the schoolchildren herded his victims into a gym where he trapped and burned them alive. According to Emily Buckmaster, who visited the school one dark and dreary night, the sight of the abandoned schoolyard overwhelmed her. Half an hour into their walk through the deserted area, Buckmaster and her companions were startled out of their skins by the sound of a slamming door. Undaunted, they pressed on to the former site of the gym, which consisted almost solely of weeds, except for the charred remains of bleachers that survived the fire. As they walked into a breezeway, the school bell began ringing and the air was filled with the sounds of children screaming for their mommies. Terror-stricken, the group sped back to their car, no doubt spurred on by the additional sound of a shotgun being fired.
Another nocturnal visitor to the school, parts of which rise out of the dark like skeletons from broken tombs, reported that his and his companion’s spectral sojourn to the school was, for the most part, uneventful. They wound their way through the graffiti-scarred ruins anxiously hoping to have their socks scared off – to no avail.
Only when they had reached their car and opened up a bottle of hooch in the front seat to congratulate themselves on their courage did the ghosts catch up to them. The black night was split by the sound of a little girl screaming.
On their quick and terrified flight to leave, they stopped briefly at the front of the school to take some photographs when, once again, the little girl screamed. Panicked, the two young men departed in haste after snapping four quick photographs from a camera they had no way of knowing was experiencing a strange energy drain – when developed, all four photographs were completely blank.
It is widely rumored that the school was built on a Civil War battlefield. Then there’s the water tower that is reputed to be the site where a satanic high priest and priestess once performed black magic rituals.
TYRONE PLANTATION IN ALEXANDRIA
Autumn has come to the Bayou State, and no doubt the roar from Tiger Stadium will reverberate from Baton Rouge throughout all parishes the moment the first LSU fanfare is played and Mike makes his royal appearance on field.
There in Rapides Parish, the owner of Tyrone Plantation, now open as a bed-and-breakfast, is retired Judge Rae Swent. Her Honor can bask in a little purple-and-gold pride knowing that it was on those very grounds that the inception of LSU took place. (And who’s to say the resident revenant, a Confederate soldier known to materialize in the hallways, doesn’t sit down to curiously enjoy, unseen, a Saturday evening LSU game along with guests when the windows are flung wide open to sweet autumn air?)
The home was built in 1843 by a Virginian, George Mason Graham. Graham reveled in plantation life and loved Louisiana, and he is credited with building the only known underground burial site on a plantation. It was there that
he lovingly laid his wife and son to rest – and it is from this underground tomb that the spirits that linger on the beautiful old place are said to rise.
By the time 1856 rolled around, Graham was a prominent leader and was named vice chairman for the state’s Board of Trustees, which was given the express purpose of establishing a state university. Since both the governor and Graham hailed from Rapides Parish, the school was established there and christened the Pineville Seminary of Learning. When the building, designed by the same architect responsible for the Old State Capitol, burned down in 1869, Graham’s good friend William Tecumseh Sherman used his pull with the government and obtained some federally owned property in Baton Rouge known as the Pentagon Barracks where the campus of LSU now sprawls.
The historic home is now a bed-and-breakfast, and the rooms are furnished in what can paradoxically be called “Spartan comfort.” There’s certainly charm here, but it’s combined with a soldier’s sense of duty. At certain times, the airy porch is filled with the sounds of running children. Footsteps are heard on empty stairways, and the aforementioned Confederate soldier has been known to make a vaporous appearance in the hallway.
LaSpirits, a reputable and skeptical paranormal investigation team with which I’ve had the pleasure of participating in two ghost hunts in the past, recently launched its own paranormal reality show broadcast on Acadiana Open Channel from Lafayette. One episode featured an investigation of Tyrone Plantation wherein the team used the controversial “ghost box,” a transmitter of sorts that is supposedly able to pick up spirit voices on the unknown paranormal frequency. The box used by the team members consistently broadcast the name Luke several times.
When a team member asked loudly, “Is this the room where you died?” the box mysteriously switched to a radio station with a live broadcast of a rosary recitation.
QUIRKY PLACES, PART II
MAGNOLIA PLANTATION IN NATCHITOCHES
Magnolia Plantation in Natchitoches has long had a reputation for ghosts. Two years ago, Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures team filmed there, and the evidence they captured was the most convincing and impressive. After the team was given a tour of the house and slave quarters – many of which boasted ancient black X’s on the walls, drawn by slaves who practiced voodoo – the ghost hunt was afoot. The revenants of Magnolia Plantation were not shy and seemed eager to substantiate any rumors about their presence. New Orleans voodoo priestess Bloody Mary led the crew in a ceremony that opened the door for the unseen to walk through, an invitation obviously not declined.
Without the benefit of electronic voice phenomena, or EVPs, the sound of disembodied laughter reverberated through the manor house, clearly heard on camera. As the group left the house and headed for the outbuildings, the light in a deserted slave quarter cabin switched on by itself. When the team challenged the spirit in the building to turn the light off and then on again, the spirit complied intelligently with each command. It was an eerie sight watching the light seesaw off and on to requests. But the night was still young. Two members sat in adjacent rooms in the slave quarter cabin where a voodoo priestess had lived and performed rituals, some of which reputedly had the power to kill. Once again, you could hear voodoo chanting faintly on camera in response to taunts from the Ghost Adventures team for spirits to “show themselves.” The sound of eerie chanting was even more audible on tape recording playbacks.
WAREHOUSE SPECTERS IN WASHINGTON
The Steamboat Warehouse Restaurant in the St. Landry Parish town of Washington is nearly 200 years old, and indeed the town itself, settled in 1720, is just two years younger than New Orleans. Bayou Courtableau ambles slowly in easy camaraderie alongside the eatery that was once a port stop for steamboats housing the cargo unloaded on its docks.
There is a really scrumptious menu of imaginative seafood dishes emanating from the kitchen of chef Jason Huguet here, but spectral entities have been known to waft along with delicious aromas. The claims of paranormal activity have been so consistent and marked that LaSpirits Paranormal Team filmed one of their television shows
for Acadiana Open Channel there recently. The viewing audience was not destined for disappointment.
Huguet, who also owns the eatery, returned there in the wee hours one morning to be greeted by the sound of clanking dishes in the kitchen. Some of his staff members have also had a frisson of fear performing their wait duties – one saw a cart roll several feet on its own at closing time while another was pushed in the back by unseen hands as she waited to pick up her order from the kitchen. And there on the banks of Bayou Courtableau, Huguet’s staff has seen a phantom woman with a young child meandering along the waterside.
According to LaSpirit’s Web site, and chronicled on the video, four members of LaSpirits traveled to Washington to set up overnight spectral shop in the restaurant. The night was filled with unexplained phenomena. The team reported hearing knocking sounds and untraceable voices. One of the seasoned investigators, Jennifer Broussard, was setting up a camera and was distracted by a noise. Broussard thought she had just seen someone pass by her and was about to dismiss it as an optical illusion when she began to hear a disembodied voice speaking.
The team’s investigation was a hotbed of activity none of them could debunk or explain. The sound of singing, the voices of both men and women and creaking noises were all around them. The spirits seemed to be playing a tantalizing game: When the team moved to the location from which the voices and singing were emanating, they would find the sounds were now coming from the spot they had just vacated. Thrown into the ghostly mix for good measure were the sounds of two men fighting outside. Upon investigation, the team found no one present. All team members experienced a drop in temperature readings while simultaneously seeing shadows walking up the stairs.
As it neared 3 a.m., very loud banging sounds erupted from the kitchen, followed by knocks in the dining and bar areas.
The Steamboat Warehouse, restored in 1972, remains a delicious and obviously spirited place in which to dine. If you like your seafood and quail washed down with wine and ghosts, you’re sure to spend a pleasurable evening here.
Charming overnight cottages are also available if you wish to spend a night on the haunted grounds.
QUIRKY PLACES II
BAYOU CONTRABAND IN LAKE CHARLES
Jean Lafitte has long been associated with New Orleans, and his blacksmith shop there in the French Quarter – now a bar – has long been reported to be haunted.
But Lafitte also belonged to the Gulf of Mexico and the ingratiating town of Lake Charles with its bayous and inlets. It is there that he is believed to have buried his treasure – and to have remained.
Many oil platform workers stationed on the turquoise waters of the Gulf claim to see with regularity, just before the sun slips beneath the horizon at twilight time, the ghostly billows of wooden ship sails heading eastward toward night. Sailors keeping night watch on vessels that supply the oil rigs hear the creaking of rigs and flapping of unseen sails as voices speaking in a Creole-Barataria patois call out orders across the water, while some small boats are nearly swamped by an unseen fleet that passes them, leaving a wide wake in the Gulf waters. Lafitte and his crew have become the Gulf of Mexico’s version of the Flying Dutchman: Sightings of his naval entourage have usually presaged tragic events – it was seen just before hurricanes Rita and Katrina cycloned into Louisiana.
BATON ROUGE/PLANTATION COUNTRY
SPECTRAL SAILORS IN BATON ROUGE
Moored on a bend in the Mississippi in Baton Rouge is a historical memory of World War II in the form of the U.S.S. Kidd, one of only four surviving Fletcher class destroyers that were built especially to meet the demands of World War II combat. This class of destroyers, named for Adm. Frank Fletcher, was a cut above its problematic predecessors: sleeker, carrying increased anti-aircraft weapons and possessing stronger structural bones. The ship, named for Isaac C. Kidd Sr., who was killed aboard the Arizona during the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, remains the only known restored destroyer to maintain its original World War II configuration.
The U.S.S. Kidd Veterans Memorial and Museum is a monument to veterans of all military branches, showcasing military memorabilia, a large collection of exhibits and artifacts and a huge collection of ship models. This military enclave also offers overnight stays for children to camp out among the berths where real- life heroes who fought the war that saved our free world once slept, enjoying an evening replete with thrilling stories of their wartime bravery.
But not only echoes of the military past reverberate among the ghostly gray confines of this noble ship – for some time now reports of paranormal activity occurring fairly regularly on the U.S.S. Kidd have been wafting about like residual smoke from cannons.
The ship’s primary action occurred in the Pacific Theater during World War II. In 1945, while fighting in the Battle of Okinawa, a plane flown by a Japanese kamikaze crashed into the starboard, or right, side of the Kidd. The suicidal pilot took 38 American lives. Reports have circulated that the spirits of these men whose lives were suddenly cut short have remained on the U.S.S. Kidd. Half-materialized apparitions of the crewmen have been witnessed in the area where the 38 men perished. Legend likewise says that the souls of former crewmen who lived for years after the war still return to the ship upon which they served. In some ship areas, cold spots have been experienced, and in some instances, you might receive a tap on the shoulder from the spirit of an old salt who wants to grab your attention.
If, having read all of this, you would still love to overnight on this fine ship, reservations may be made by calling (225) 342-1942, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. An overnight information packet is available at no cost.
RODDY ROAD IN ASCENSION PARISH
Officials in Ascension Parish recently held a ribbon-cutting to commemorate the re-opening of a section of the old Roddy Road where it meets Airline Highway. Plans to improve the length of the road all the way to Louisiana 42 were also reported to be in progress, much to the relief of many commuters, for Roddy Road is the most traveled byway that’s owned by Ascension Parish – and, perhaps, the most haunted.
Roddy Road was once known as The Lighted Lane of Gonzales. According to Historic Haunted America by Michael Norman and Beth Scott, for years witnesses reported dancing lights, or what could perhaps be called spectral orbs, bobbing along the darkened roadway at night. Witnesses compared the lights to the appearance of a match being struck and the flame then traveling along the roadway. In 1951, Sheriff Hickley Waguespack witnessed the strange phenomenon. The sheriff reported the yellowish light glowed softly without casting a beam of direct light and allowed no one to approach it. For decades, Roddy Road at night was filled with what appeared to be the lights of flickering candles glowing in the intense black night.
Legend said that the lane was haunted by the spirit of a young woman who was buried somewhere along the roadside who, in life, was afraid of the dark. Someone once left a light on her grave to keep the dark away, and it seems the light to keep the spirit’s fear at bay never went out. Skeptics try to dismiss this strange phenomenon as swamp gas.
In paranormal circles, orbs of light are considered to be spirits of the dead; in Louisiana, these mysterious spirit lights reign in Bayou legend as the “feu follet.”
GREATER NEW ORLEANS
SPIRITUAL RETREAT IN OLD NEW ORLEANS
With its rosy walls rising on the tree-lined colonnade of old Esplanade Avenue in the French Quarter, the Lamothe House bed-and-breakfast is filled with charm that can be described as somewhat faded but homey, quaint and enchanting nevertheless. The home is filled with chandeliers that cast a prismatic – almost spectral – glow on walls tinted in azure, sage and soft tangerine while dancing on the checkerboard pattern of the front lobby floor, and the curved davenports and antiques transport you to a forgotten era of the Crescent City. Sit in one of the quiet rooms, and hear the sound of mule-drawn carriages clop by on Esplanade Avenue – you might be bewitched enough to imagine gentlemen in Panama hats sipping mint juleps, hoop-skirted ladies waving their fans and slaves wearing tignons wafting by with trays. And when the autumn equinox is at its peak, you just may actually see the Lady in Red and become acquainted with some of the other more permanent unseen “tenants” of the old place.
Guests have seen a lady completely dressed in red materializing from one of the rooms. Other visitors have been awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of untraceable children’s laughter, combined with sightings of a woman who is believed to be their mother looking for them. This has occurred when no children are present.
Former night auditor Yolanda Jones, who worked the graveyard shift there four years ago and never heard any previous stories of haunting, spent a few nights at her job with her hackles rising. She vividly recalls hearing the sound of mumbling coming from the empty dining room in the wee hours of the morning before the 5 a.m. preparations for the continental breakfast were begun by the kitchen staff.
“The words were never clear,” Jones says, “but they were also above a whisper.” Jones says that when she sat at her desk near the dining room, she could see a human-like shadow in her peripheral vision, accompanied by the persistent feeling of being watched although she was completely “alone.”
“There were two rooms upstairs on the third floor that were rarely used,” Jones says. “On two separate occasions I heard pacing when no one had checked into those rooms. I was always too frightened to check the rooms myself.”
Jones remembers that the highest amount of unexplained activity occurred around Halloween. With each scary incident, Jones, a mother of two, reports that she said the Lord’s Prayer and left the area immediately.
One honeymooning couple that was given a room on the ground floor felt an instantaneous revulsion the minute they entered. After one night, they decided to leave, telling the management they had experienced supernatural events of a nature they would not disclose, adding that one night in the Lamothe House had turned them from skeptics of the paranormal to true believers.
FORK IN THE ROAD
PARANORMAL PORTAGE IN NEW ORLEANS
Café Beignet on Royal Street in the French Quarter is a charming and convenient spot to dip into for some pretty good coffee and beignets, not to mention traditional New Orleans red beans and rice, jambalaya and catfish cakes, all accompanied by some fine Crescent City jazz. Along with all of that great food, you might also get a taste of the paranormal side of this eatery in the form of its American Indian maiden ghost.
It’s always fascinated me that the French Quarter lies so close to Bayou Road, the original portage used by the American Indians and settlers as a shortcut from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain. You can almost sense them all drifting by you late at night when the full moon casts its witchery over New Orleans. Whether or not this maiden traversed the portage, she seems to remain on Royal Street in what may be termed a residual haunting at Café Beignet. She has been witnessed wafting through a wall in the building, apparently caring for someone in need, eternally carrying a blanket or animal skin. The maiden usually makes an appearance at closing time when patrons are few; employees who remain late to close up have reported numerous encounters with the spirit
of this Indian maid.
Drop into Café Beignet for some excellent coffee and beignets laced with powdered sugar for a late-night snack before you return to your own personal tepee after a night in the Quarter. You may just have a spirited encounter of your own.