Around Louisiana: Halloween Edition
HALLOWEEN STORIES SPIRITUALS IN SHREVEPORT
The Caddo Parish Courthouse in Shreveport is the third building to rise on this site; the original, in 1865, was the center of Louisiana’s government during the Civil War. After Richmond fell in 1865, the building was very briefly the Confederate capital until Louisiana finally surrendered two months after Appomattox.
In 1915, Thomas Hughes, the first native of Shreveport to ever hold the post of sheriff of Caddo Parish, was elected. Since Caddo Parish was growing rapidly, he was instrumental in expanding the size and budget of his department. Ten years after his first election, work began on the present-day courthouse.
The upper floor of the current structure was used as the parish jail, where seven hangings took place until the state updated its method of death by using the traveling electric chair usually placed on Floor 7 (another rich tale for a different point in time).
Over the next 24 years, during his tenure as sheriff, Hughes witnessed the rowdy eras of the gangster and the oil boom of the Ark-La-Tex region. During 1934, Hughes, along with Texas Rangers and Louisiana State Troopers, set up the ambush near Acadia that killed Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.
Hughes was sheriff during the infamous “Butterfly Man” case, something that gained national attention. Bunce Napier, aka “the Butterfly Man” because he sold paper and wooden butterflies door-to-door, was accused of the brutal rape and murder of a 15-year-old Shreveport girl whom he lured from her home with his wares. Her body was discovered horribly mutilated at Cross Lake, not unlike the notorious rape and murder of Mary Phagan in Georgia. Napier was a suspect in the murder of the teenaged Phagan; sadly, in a case of both circumstantial evidence and anti-Semitic hatred, Leo Frank was wrongly convicted then lynched by a mob of Marietta residents in Georgia. Had it not been for Hughes, Napier in Shreveport nearly suffered the same fate as Frank.
Arrested and held on the top floor of the courthouse before his trial, an angry mob amassed in the square below, hungry for a necktie party and ready to storm the castle-like structure. With deft thinking, Hughes evacuated employees and threw tear gas bombs down stairwells and into corridors and stymied the mob’s intent long enough until the National Guard could arrive to thwart the mob’s entry into the building. His deputies then dispersed them.
Napier was tried a few floors down from his holding cell. He was convicted and sentenced to hang for the murder of the young girl. The last man to be hanged in Louisiana, the sentence was carried out on May 18, 1932. The doors to the gallows were sealed not longer after.
To this day, some court clerks who work on the top floor of the building, site of the jail and old gallows, refuse to stay there alone. They feel uncomfortable with the poltergeist activity that manifests and the cold spots. But perhaps most disconcerting to them are the sounds of “old Negro spirituals” that emanate from the calls connected to the older cells – even when they are empty.
HALLOWEEN STORIES PHANTOM PATIENTS IN PINEVILLE
Central Louisiana State Hospital, an operating asylum, opened in the first decade of the 20th century. In addition to an enormous dairy barn, the hospital grounds are also the site of a cemetery containing more than 2,500 graves; Fort Randolph, a Civil War battlement; and the Rose Cottage, scene of the morgue.
When the moon is full each month – and definitely each year at Halloween – the staff and patients seem to have their hands full coping with flare-ups of paranormal activity. An employee who works in the administration office allegedly hears untraceable noises of activity in empty hospital hallways. Then, there the two units numbered 7 and 2. When Unit 7 reopened in 1999, witnesses saw lights glowing under the doorways of empty rooms, and the sound of voices chattering likewise emanated from vacant offices and rooms. Chairs that were neatly set up in a room for a meeting were found turned over and askew. An ectoplasm-like mist was observed wafting about a staircase like fog on a bayou.
An elevator in Unit 2 travels the floors by itself all night long, while frequently, the unit’s halls reverberate with the eerie staccato cacophony of slamming doors.
HAUNTED HARDWARE IN DERIDDER
Now that fall is here, visits to hardware stores will be necessary for any autumn restorations or projects: soil to plant golden and bronze mums; perhaps plant those sweet pea seeds so they’ll bloom come March; pot red amaryllis bulbs now so they’ll bloom in scarlet glory at Christmas. You might need paint or a stain to refinish an old table or dresser you find on the curb.
I have had, all of my life since childhood, what might be called a tomboyish love of hardware stores.
Unfortunately, not all former hardware stores produce such happy memories or experiences.
Although the quaint edifice in DeRidder is no longer an enclave for the handy and useful, it once was the Selig and Baughman Hardware Company, Inc. It has stood on the same spot since 1916. Mr. Selig is reputed to have shot himself to death in the basement many years ago. According to the website for Louisiana Spirits Paranormal Investigations (www.laspirits.com), the property was purchased by the Davis family in 2007, and they began the arduous task of transforming it into a café and antiques store with an apartment in the rear. Kathy Davis immediately began to experience eerie and unexplained phenomenon as though she were a target: Her hair was touched, she heard a disembodied male coughing and always felt she was being watched. Employees and patrons witnessed objects being physically moved on their own.
Davis called Louisiana Spirits Paranormal Investigations for an investigation. Cameras were positioned in the basement and upper floor. Early into the night, the case manager and another investigator were accosted by a swirling mist.
When Davis felt someone touch her, an investigator quickly snapped a picture of her and captured a bright orb on the side of her head where she felt touched.
Another picture of an employee who claimed to have been touched on his hand revealed an orb hovering over his hand. While attempting to perform Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP), two investigators both felt someone lay a hand across their backs. The EVP session yielded a bounty of the bizarre: Several responses were recorded to questions asked by the team while the loud crescendo of a resounding untraceable crash was also captured, causing one to wonder if some huge phantom bucket of nails had been overturned. One of the ghostly voices is caught saying “Backman,” the correct pronunciation of “Baughman.”
HALLOWEEN STORIES TORTS AND TERROR IN LAKE CHARLES
Having celebrated its centennial birthday one year ago, the Calcasieu Parish Courthouse, with its beautiful dome and Beaux Arts architecture, fills Ryan Street in Lake Charles with graceful dignity. But the stately, almost temple-like building has housed some regular unholy terrors in the past; one of them apparently decided to stay.
It’s a theory tossed around in paranormal circles that jails and prison are usually the most haunted of places, largely because the evildoers who were once incarcerated there don’t want to step out of their earthly boundaries into hell where eternal damnation for their wicked crimes certainly awaits. They linger in prison so as not to give the devil his due.
This hypothesis might explain the otherwise-unexplainable events that have been regularly occurring at the Calcasieu Parish Courthouse since 1942.
Her real name was Annie Beatrice McQuiston, a stunning dark-haired beauty from Shreveport who grew up in a rough home environment.
Consequently, by the time she was 16, McQuiston was addicted to alcohol and drugs, and reduced to prostitution to support her habits. She changed her name to “Toni Jo.”
In 1939, while working in a brothel, she met Claude “Cowboy” Henry, who became enamored of the beautiful girl and married her.
They honeymooned in California, and Cowboy was able to guide the 23-year-old Toni Jo back to sobriety. Cowboy, so gallant and loving to his new bride, was also wanted for murder in Texas, and following the couple’s return to Louisiana, he was extradited back to the Lone Star State, where he was convicted of murder and sentenced to spend half a century at the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville.
Toni Jo desperately missed her Cowboy and lapsed back into addiction and prostitution. With an accomplice named Harold “Arkie” Burks, she began hitchhiking to Texas with the express plan to spring Cowboy out of the hoosegow. When they were outside Lake Charles, the unsuspecting and trusting Joseph P. Calloway, in a Ford V8 coupe, picked up the pair. Near Jennings, Toni Jo and Arkie forced Calloway to exit the road, strip and suffer torture.
Allegedly, Toni Jo callously shot him between the eyes, dumped his body in a ditch and took off in his stolen car.
The murderous pair then went on a drunken odyssey through Texas, stopping at watering holes where they bragged about the murder they had just committed.
They were arrested and returned to Lake Charles to stand trial.
But Toni Jo’s beauty and vivacity as a defendant transformed her into a jailhouse darling. She was allowed to keep a pet in her prison cell and enjoyed special privileges. Convicted of murder, she was sentenced to death in 1940. In less than two years, she was granted three new trials, all of which resulted in the same verdict and death sentence. Her request for a fourth appeal was denied.
Normally, on the day of an execution, a prison barber was summoned to cut off the doomed prisoner’s hair, but on the day of Toni Jo’s execution, a hairdresser was recruited to do the task.
In November of 1942, Toni Jo Henry became the only woman to ever die by the electric chair in Louisiana.
Since the date of her death, the courthouse has regularly experienced eerie events.
Courthouse workers report hearing disembodied footsteps in addition to the sultry, throaty whisperings of an unseen woman.
Regular whiffs of Toni Jo’s 1940s-era perfume have been smelled. She died in Louisiana’s traveling electric chair, supposedly placed on a stair landing from which some claim to hear disembodied blood-curdling feminine screams accompanied by the smell of burning hair.
A rotating file system located in one of the offices suddenly turns off for no reason; employees checking the switch find it turned to the “off” position – when no one visible has been near it.
BATON ROUGE/PLANTATION COUNTRY
HALLOWEEN STORIES GRAY GHOSTS AND HIGHLAND ROAD HAUNTS IN BATON ROUGE
September and October are magical months in Baton Rouge, when the flowers of the Southeastern Conference take to emerald fields in air as crisp and intoxicating as a glass of green-gold Gewürztraminer.
Admittedly, that crisp air happens mostly in October, but nevertheless, it’s time for Tiger football.
Driving to LSU games many years ago, or visiting a cousin who was enrolled there, we always took a shortcut to the campus down beautiful, rolling Highland Road. It always mesmerized me. From many accounts over several years, the LSU Tigers aren’t the only ones actively appearing near Highland Road during late September and October.
As the earth reaches its autumnal cycle, and the slant of sunlight becomes a softer shade of amber by day while at night the moon scuttles across a windy indigo sky, visitors from the past cross a portal to visit Highland Road. Several witnesses have reported seeing the apparition of a troop of ragged and bloodied Confederate soldiers eerily tramping near the intersection of Lee Drive.
Early in October 1999, local police were besieged by several calls from citizens who shared a common denominator: All reported witnessing a “filthy and bloodied” young man dressed in a Confederate uniform lurch and stagger across the very busy intersection. Police immediately searching the area found no one answering that description. Could the staggering soldier still be seeking solace at Mount Hope Plantation on Highland Road? During the Civil War, the beautiful plantation was a home to Confederate troops. Perhaps the poor soldier was looking for the dark-haired lady who now reportedly haunts Mount Hope. I wonder, when our cheers erupt from Tiger Stadium on those crystal autumn nights, are they all listening to us?
Also located on the haunted corridor that is Highland Road is a popular bar known for live music called The Spanish Moon. This place is actually on the National Registry of Haunted Places. The red brick building that resembles an old warehouse looks and feels haunted. Built early in the 20th century, it was originally reputed to be a feed store with livestock housed on the premises. Legend has it that a little girl who was trampled to death haunts the bar today. Not long after her tragic death, it was used as a morgue to house the victims of Catfish Town flooding. The area got its name because the residents caught catfish from their doorways during the annual spring flooding of the Mississippi River before a viable levee system was built.
Some of the bar’s employees have witnessed glasses shifting positions. Strange, unaccounted-for noises have been heard. Pool balls roll about seemingly on their own volition. Something unseen and only felt repeatedly brushes up against some of the bartenders.
Dez Crawford and her husband own the old building that houses The Spanish Moon. She reports incidences of seeing the little girl and flying glassware. In addition to four other people, she has seen the ghost of a young man, described as wearing a white undershirt and khaki pants, his hair styled in the ducktail from the ’50s peeking out from behind a post. Previous owners have stated they saw beer taps turn on and off; ashtrays were hurled from the bar and securely attached artwork was wrenched from the wall by unseen hands. Sightings of shadow figures abound. One vendor, who only entered the building when it was empty, heard voices speaking to him and the sound of rattling chains during another visit. He also heard whispers.
Mount Hope Plantation, 8151 Highland Road, Baton Rouge, (225) 761-7000; The Spanish Moon, 109 Highland Road, Baton Rouge, (225) 383-6666.
GREATER NEW ORLEANS
HALLOWEEN STORIES BEWITCHED ON A BAYOU
Moss Street, wrapping loving arms around both banks of Bayou St. John near City Park and its neighborhood of old, charming mansions and cottages, has always held deep enchantment for me, as though the heart and soul of all New Orleans from its beginning were palpably encapsulated there. One transplanted Easterner also felt its glow.
This Halloween season, if you find you are in a more mellow mood and are seeking enchantment rather than a case of the creeps, a good place to settle would be in your easy chair with a copy of Constance Adler’s memoir, My Bayou: New Orleans Through the Eyes of a Lover. I recently spent one of the best summer vacations ever by staying at home, hurrying nowhere, with a stockpile of books for company. I spent the bright summer mornings and silvery rainy afternoons comfortably sprawled out, devouring several books. One of the most enjoyable books of the lot was this memoir.
A successful journalist once based in Manhattan, where she was very happy to live at the time, one night Adler had a dream of walking down a strange, dark and atmospheric street filled with trees and old buildings. Accompanied by the presence of a woman she could not see, a voice in the dream told her, “You would be a more interesting writer if you moved to New Orleans.”
Adler quickly points out the voice told her she would be more interesting, not a great writer. She opted for interesting as the better choice and visited New Orleans for the first time and fell under its spell. One day she took a walk in the French Quarter and found the exact street she had dreamed of without having ever been there before.
Back in Manhattan, she found she hated the constant noise of the city, could not identify with the status-driven esprit de corps of the populace, and found her writing assignments for a major magazine dismal.
She moved to a cottage in St. John’s Court on Bayou St. John and embraced the water spirits that dance throughout New Orleans.
A native New Orleanian who loves the Big Easy will recognize that the city is Adler’s spiritual home. As a child, her parents had her encased day and night in a metal body cage to punish her for slouching.
Reading Adler’s story you’ll feel she has earned the rich, laid-back and creative life she’s found by the banks of magical Bayou St. John.
Through her vivid, frank, beautiful words, she underscores the elemental, almost-mystical quality of the bayou and its community. The book is filled with a lively narrative of her life on Bayou St. John: Accounts of dog near-drownings; the vivid description of the St. John’s Eve Voodoo ceremony held each year on Magnolia Bridge (also the site of her wedding) that spans the bayou and her own brief possible possession during the ritual; the disintegration of her marriage; her discussions with Voudou priestess Sallie Ann Glassman; the devastation and recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Like many native New Orleanians, Adler blends her Catholic faith with mysticism. Adler, like myself, found the last issue of the Times-Picayune delivered the Sunday before Katrina hit weeks after she was finally able to return home. The headline “Katrina Takes Aim” both upset and haunted her as a kind of post-traumatic reminder of the tragedy.
Adler’s memoir is the voice of someone who is uniquely her own woman having one hell of an enriching time in her adopted home.
Although you might find some of her gardening techniques unusual, her work weaves a spell that encompasses the syrupy summer sun on crape myrtle trees near Bayou St. John and the enchantment of its tradition of Voodoo where Marie Laveau once danced on its banks. After reading it, I felt that I had vacationed in my own hometown. Not only is it a love letter to New Orleans, it’s a fascinating chronicle of one woman’s unpretentious spiritual growth.
My Bayou: New Orleans Through the Eyes of a Lover, The University of Michigan Press.