One need not wait until October to get their fill of frights—the Big Easy is widely renowned as one of America’s most haunted cities. Take New Orleans Haunted History Tour and you will discover hardly a block goes by in the French Quarter without setting foot upon a spirit-infested dwelling. While walking by the LaLaurie house may send shivers up some spines, imagine spending an entire evening in a house reported to be haunted.
Or … how about staying overnight in one of the most haunted houses in the country?
Just outside of Baton Rouge in St. Francisville, about 85 miles from New Orleans, lies the Myrtles Plantation. Now a bed and breakfast, the more than 200-year-old historic estate’s grisly past is tainted with tales of poisonings, hangings, yellow fever, dismemberment and shootings. Today, the victims of these misfortunes, as well as several others, share occupancy with guests of the residence’s 16 lodging quarters.
My interest in haunted habitats began after attending a tour of a purportedly possessed plantation with my parents outside of San Diego when I was 10. When I returned home, several of the photos taken with my Fisher-Price film camera during our guided presentation had very detailed orbs in them. These images would later be authenticated as signs of spiritual activity by (supposed) paranormal specialists contracted by the residence where they were taken.
Hoping to capture another ghostly photo that I could post alongside a handful of hashtags this time around, my fiancée and I decided to book an evening at the Myrtles. We drove up on a Friday evening after work, making it just in time for the 8 p.m. Mystery Tour. This tour, held on Friday and Saturday nights, gives an overview of the plantation’s many haunted sightings.
The first room of the tour offered promise. The only indoor location during the tour where photos are permitted, it is the scene of two of the home’s most haunted additions. The first is a mirror alleged to contain the spirits of Sara Woodruff and her two children, poisoned by a slave named Chloe who was the mistress of Sara’s husband, Clark. The ghostly markings of a woman’s face, as well as children’s fingerprints and what are believed to be Sara’s claw marks trying to tear her way out of the mirror, always eventually manifest in any mirror hung in the precise spot of the original fixture. The space is currently on its third mirror to date.
The second metaphysical manifestation can be found on the staircase—the sight of the only verified murder in the house. William Drew Winter was shot on the front porch in 1871, subsequently crawling back into the house before making his way to the staircase and dying on its 17th step. Photographs often capture streaks on the stairs, believed to be Winter’s blood. The spectral splatter always returns, no matter how often the stairs are cleaned or the carpet replaced.
Our next photo op came in the courtyard. Many guests have captured images of aforementioned inhabitant Chloe roaming the courtyard. Chloe was put to death by her fellow slaves, fearing retribution for harboring her following her confession of the Woodruff murders. Our tour ended with this story, as well as an interesting fragment of Myrtles’ recent history. In 1992, an insurance application filed by the Myrtles’ estate was rejected, as all required photos submitted with the paperwork were supposed to feature no people. Having abided by all of the agency’s stipulations, the groundskeepers found that the image called into question clearly depicted what they believed to be Chloe’s ghost. The negatives were later submitted to National Geographic for authentication. A laborious investigation not only verified that the image was not doctored, but also uncovered the apparitions of what appeared to be two children sitting on the roof. The verification tests are framed alongside a printing of the original photograph.
One of the bummers of the digital age is that you get to see your photos a split second after snapping the shutter. The suspense of waiting to see if the unthinkable has made itself known in your images until you get them developed is dead. Thus, I was not surprised, yet unrealistically disheartened, when all of my photos revealed nothing more than elegant antiques.
Still, we had yet to settle in for the night. The Mystery Tour was full of tales of ghosts tucking guests into their beds and kissing them goodnight, children jumping on the feet of mattresses, and confederate soldiers folding clothes—all while waking guests and propelling them to a mad dash to their cars during early morning hours in the process.
“There’s no need to be scared of the ghosts here,” Hester Eby, tour manager for the Myrtles, said. “Many of the ghosts here were servants. We are their guests … they are just taking care of us as they have always done.”
We spent the night in the Cypress Cabin, one of four cabins built on the outskirts of the main house in 2012 to allow more guests to stay overnight on the property. Remote, quiet, and free of all electronic distractions like television and computers, it was the perfect getaway from the hectic hustle of the workweek. The porch provided two rocking chairs, offering a stunning view of the plantation’s rustic landscape, imprisoned from the outside world by a fortress of oak trees cloaked in spectral Spanish moss.
Though late additions to the property, tenants of these cabins often reported hearing reoccurring knocks on the doors and the sides of the cottages throughout the night; others reported hearing a horse galloping by outside and footsteps on the front porch.
Honestly, after a long drive up and an onerous five days in the office, every ghost on site could have gotten lit AF in our bedroom and partied like it was 1799 and still not disturbed my acute hibernation.
Supernaturally unfulfilled, I made my way to breakfast the next morning. The plantation breakfast is complimentary and quite good … a traditional Southern spread of eggs, grits, sausage and biscuits, with a schmorgasboard of jams and coffee that is deceptively stronger than it tastes. While serving myself, I made small talk with one of the cooks, asking him if he has ever had a haunted experience at the house.
“The other day while I was mopping, children’s footprints began to run through the moisture on the floor,” he recalled without a hint of surprise.
I asked him if he was shocked. His reply: “Nah, you get them a lot. I just let them know that I would be closing the door when I was done so they’d have a chance to get out before I locked up.”
While no spirits welcomed us during our stay, the Myrtles is an incredible getaway. As I mentioned, the bucolic backdrop is as peaceful as it is picturesque. It’s nice to be away from the calamity of the city, the hum of a computer monitor, and an interminable barrage of smart phone alerts. If you want to spend a weekend away with a special someone, it’s really a wonderful experience to be alone together and removed from the noise of the outside world. It’s as if time stops for the two of you, waiting to pick up again when you reenter the rest of the world.
If ghosts aren’t your cup of ectoplasm, the daily Historic Tour is equally as fascinating as the Mystery Tour, delving into not only the antique décor and architecture of the plantation, but also the lifestyle and formalities of the property’s antebellum age.
Looking for some first-rate Southern cooking? Try the on-site Carriage House Restaurant. The Sampler Platter lets you sample up to three entrees: I recommend the Red Beans and Rice and the Chicken Dumplings, of which we got two sides. Don’t forget to leave room for dessert—Kane’s Bread Pudding, made with croissants, will baptize your taste buds in a surge of sugary sweetness.
Though my trip to the Myrtles was without its frights, one story I heard did make my hair stand on edge.
I met Jonathan Moss, former owner of the Myrtles who recently handed over management of the property to his son, who shared the story of when the gift shop caught fire in August of 2014.
“It was a three-alarm fire,” Moss said. “It took the fire department nearly seven hours to put it out.”
Standing on the back patio, Moss gestured to a small walkway between the rebuilt gift shop and the plantation house.
“As you can see, the space between the gift shop and the house is maybe eight feet at the bottom—five feet at the top at most,” he said. “And do you know that the house never once caught fire? The fire chief said there was less than a one percent chance that the house could not have caught fire in such near proximity.”
Maybe it was luck … or maybe something more.
“Maybe the spirits were looking after the house,” suggested Moss.
Maybe you’ll have to find out for yourself. Visit MyrtlesPlantation.com for tour times and room availabilities, or call 225-635-6277.