If spirits do come back or if they’ve never left, why is finding tangible proof of their existence so hard? Why are all photos of the paranormal so blurry? Why can’t ghosts hang around long enough to have a pleasant chat? After all, our intent, (like the Hippocratic Oath, the moral code for physicians ) is Do No Harm. We’re just curious. We could soon be in their position, and it would be nice to have a little insight into the spirit world.
When I visited Ormond Plantation in Destrehan, Louisiana, I had the privilege of interviewing former docent Edith Layton. The two-hundred-year-old plantation harbors a few dark secrets and Edith kindly shared a bit of its twisted history. Dressed that day for our cameras in full antebellum regalia, Edith was both gracious and casually accepting when it came to the subject of the ghosts who resided within.
To the skeptics who needed proof before they would buy into the notion of spirits popping in and out, Edith took a practical approach. If we can accept the concept that we leave images of our fingerprints on every surface we touch, What else do we leave behind? Just because these images are often invisible to the naked eye, doesn’t mean they are not there. When a structure such as a centuries-old plantation house is home to so many occupants, and these occupants experience many strong emotions within the walls, why should it be so hard to accept that such feelings remain, that they are now part of the essence and ambiance of the house? If their voices once filled the rooms, why assume now that there is an acoustic void? Is it simply a matter of tuning in to the right channel?
On the day of Edith’s interview, the crew and I (for the shooting of the documentary The Haunting of Louisiana) were in the dining room on the ground floor. The table was set with elegant dishes as if the original owners were about to sit down and enjoy a meal. The camera began to roll and Edith pointed to a massive armchair at the head of the table. There in 1798, she said, sat sugar baron Pierre Trepagnier. A servant entered the room and announced that a mysterious carriage with a Spanish insignia had arrived. Pierre got up to see. When the servant checked again, his master and the phantom carriage had vanished never to be seen again.
At a special function in the late 1990s, Edith became convinced that Pierre had returned. As part of the evening’s entertainment for a group of hospitality executives, a voodoo demonstration and séance by a medium were in progress. The table had been cleared. Only a small incense dish to ward off evil spirits remained on the polished mahogany surface. Edith began to relate the story of Pierre Trepagnier’s disappearance centuries ago. “When I got to the part of Pierre walking out the door and his family never seeing him again, the little incense dish just cracked with a loud pop right on cue.” Edith believed his timing was impeccable and that Pierre’s restless spirit had found a way to get their attention.
Two subsequent owners of Ormond Plantation suffered gruesome fates. In 1805, Colonel Richard Butler purchased Ormond from Trepagnier’s widow. In 1819, a yellow fever epidemic was raging along the River Road. Terrified, Butler fled to coastal Mississippi, but it was too late. He died in his prime at forty-three, his body ravaged by yellow fever. In 1898, State Senator Basile Laplace, Jr, purchased Ormond. One year later, the senator’s body, riddled by bullets was found hanging from a tree in the front yard. The culprits were never found.
For Edith, such tragic exits from Ormond have led to endless speculation about which male apparitions have returned. On one particular tour, Edith was doing her best to answer questions about the paranormal. A rude visitor kept interrupting Edith’s tale by repeatedly saying, “That’s a ghost for you.” She acted, said Edith, as if she was an expert on ghosts. Edith and the visitors were standing on the verandah when Edith heard what she described as a deafening noise. “Pretty soon the noise roars towards us. Something goes through me. My knees buckle. My mind is going What’s that? What’s that? Edith turned to check on her guests. They were oblivious to the ghostly phenomena. “This lady is still blithering on about the spirit world and she hasn’t heard or felt a thing.”
For Edith Layton, if you want proof, you have to pay attention. It’s like the Tree in the Forest riddle: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, is there sound? If a ghost haunts a plantation and no one sees it, does it exist? If Edith Layton said a spirit had popped in, that was good enough for me.
Author’s Update: Edith Christine Layton died in February. She is sorely missed. Her presence remains with her beloved family and friends.
You’ll find more about Ormond Plantation and its haunted history in Chapter 4 of my book, The Haunting of Louisiana. Just go back to the Books page and click on the cover.
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