So what is it about ghosts and haunted tales? When I give lectures and book talks about The Haunting of Louisiana, The Haunting of Mississippi, or The Haunting of Cape Cod and the Islands, the most popular question is: Do you believe in ghosts and have you ever seen one?
Since I produce documentaries for public television, I used to carefully skirt the answer by adhering to a standard PBS neutral reply: I am open to the possibilities. How’s that for avoiding the issue? Now, after years of interviewing very credible individuals, witnessing their reactions when they have encountered the inexplicable, and experiencing a few did-I-just-see-that; did-I-just-hear-that? moments of my own, my answer to both questions: Do you believe in ghosts and have you ever seen one? is Yes and Yes. I have seen and I have heard.
The book, The Haunting of Louisiana, is based on a documentary of the same title which I produced and wrote. In the book, I was able to go into a little more depth with many of the tales, as well as include a few behind-the-scene incidents that happened to the crew and myself during filming. Chapter 12/Little Girl Lost explains what happened the night we tried to recreate the story of the little girl ghost trapped in the mirror of the Lafitte Guest House on Bourbon Street (on the opposite corner from the Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop in New Orleans French Quarter).
We cast a four-year-old to be our ghost, but made sure to tell her nothing about the haunted tale. All the child actress knew was that she was going to go up the stairs to the second floor and walk down a hallway until she passed a mirror. That was it. Our actress, Cedar, was very comfortable in front of the camera. Her father is musician and storyteller GrayHawk of the Houma and Choctaw tribes. Her mother is from the Sioux St. Marie band of Chippewa. They took her everywhere. As a baby, Cedar joined her parents on stage at a concert with Willie Nelson. He held her in his arms. At the Cannes Bruleé Native American village where her parents worked, people constantly took pictures of Cedar, an adorable, dark-haired child.
While we set up the camera and lights on the second floor, Cedar played with her parents in the first-floor parlor of the Lafitte Guest House. She was laughing and giggling. When we had everything in place, we called to Cedar to walk up the stairs. She did so, but hesitantly. However, when she got to the top, she wouldn’t budge. Cedar knew me (I was at her naming ceremony, held her at birthday parties). I asked her what was wrong. No answer. Her father GrayHawk knelt next to her, trying to figure out why she wouldn’t continue walking down the hall. We were about to give up and declare the night of filming a bust when GrayHawk made one last attempt. He told Cedar that her mother would stand next to her out of camera range and he would go down the hall and wait for her just past the mirror. All she had to do was go from her mother’s arms to her father’s. Cedar agreed.
With silent tears dripping down her cheeks, she walked with eyes downcast. When she got to the mirror, she gave it a quick sideways glance and then leapt into her father’s arms. We got the shot and, through the magic of special effects, Cedar appears in the film as a transparent little ghost floating down the hallway.
That night, as soon as the shot was done, GrayHawk carried his daughter back down to the parlor. As we packed up the equipment, we could hear her giggles. Clearly, she had returned to her bubbly self. Yet, the mystery of her strange reaction upstairs remained.
When we rejoined Cedar and her parents in the parlor, we learned that GrayHawk had the answer. Cedar told her parents that the reason she had been crying upstairs was that when she looked down the hall at the mirror she became very sad. “I saw a little girl in the mirror. She was crying. She couldn’t get out, and it made me cry.”
Remember, Cedar at four years old had never heard the story of the little girl who died in the house (likely during one of the yellow fever epidemics that swept through New Orleans in 1783 and 1784). Cedar had not been told that the little girl’s lonely spirit is often seen in the mirror or walking out of the doorway of room number 22. This room had been the nursery during the time of the Gleises family, the original owners. Yet, Cedar clearly saw and reacted to something they we as adults could not see. Cedar’s sadness was real.
I have come to accept that the child ghost appeared to Cedar. Was she reaching out to her? Was she simply trying to connect with a child her own age? What I hold onto is that, on that night, a tiny figure from the past served as a reminder that death is a constant. Tragedy happens even to the innocents.
For me, such haunted tales are links to the past. They offer clues to what happened to the people who came before us. And, through these stories, the past lives on.
I will do my best in ongoing blogs to answer your questions, whether they pertain to the paranormal or not. Just post them here.
Update: Cedar is now a happy, loving adult and mother to a very sweet child.