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They’re Back!

A pilfering pirate who prefers to imbibe his spirits straight from a bottle, a politician who hungers to cast his vote from the grave, a heartbroken Confederate soldier who plays a haunting violin for his lost love, a voodoo queen who still dispenses gris-gris and favors to her acolytes, and a Bourbon Street madam who won’t lie still-the Bayou state’s legendary spirits run the gamut. From the courtyards of the French Quarter to the hallowed halls of the Old State Capital Museum in Baton Rouge, from faded plantations to fabled “Cities of the Dead,” Louisiana’s penchant for ghostly lore flows as freely as the mighty Mississippi. Yet, Louisiana has no exclusive on ghosts.

New Orleans may indeed be Ghost Central USA, but other locales boasting of an extremely high quotient of wandering souls include: Cape Cod, Charleston, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Natchez, Savanah, Salem, and Key West. Also garnering spectral reputations are the cities of Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Haunted tales know no boundaries. If you are someone like me who loves the past, this is a very good thing.

I am often asked if during my research have I found out why spirits or ghosts (the labels are interchangeable) favor some locations over others and why. Unlike aliens who populate Area 51, ghosts are really not that social. They do not crave a communal gathering place. For the most part they are solitary creatures. They rarely appear together. Even when a site such as the Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana or Linden Bed and Breakfast in Natchez, Mississippi (both of which have multiple ghosts), the spirits within pop up one at a time.

Think of it this way, if you had a desire to make a grand entrance, you wouldn’t want to share the spotlight-you’d enter solo. So, if a ghost craves your attention or needs to get a message across, it’s usually a one-on-one situation.

Occasionally, ghosts do team up for a common goal. The long-deceased couple at Anchuca Mansion in Vicksburg, Mississippi, set off an indoor waterfall. It seems Mr. and Mrs. Hennessy’s portraits were buried in the insulation in the attic and they were tired of inhaling tiny pink fibers so they created a drip which flowed from the attic down through the ceiling of the first-floor dinning room. The owners of this historic bed and breakfast immediately called a plumber. According to owner Tom Pharr, “The plumber just started taking his bare hands and squishing in that insulation trying to find some dampness.” And then like in the nursery rhyme where little Jack Horner sticks “in his thumb and pulls out a plumb,” Donny the plumber pulls out not one but two old portraits in matching oval frames. The plumber never found the source of the prodigious leak, but at the moment he handed the portraits to Tom, the waterfall in the dining room ceased. No more drip onto the heirloom carpet.

  Mrs. Hennessey.

Mr. and Mrs. Hennessey’s portraits now hang prominently once again in the lobby. In my interview with Tom Pharr for The Haunting of Mississippi, he happily concluded this unusual tale by stating that since the portraits have been on display “everything is cool and dry.” He adds that at the time of the leak, “I wasn’t seeing any shiny lights, no orbs, none of the usual paranormal trivia. Two pictures pulled me upstairs . . . I guess they just wanted to be back out. They hadn’t seen the light of day in a long, long time.” Tom swears, “I would never have been able to make up a ghost tale like this.”

Moral of the story? Don’t despair. Even when lost or forgotten for centuries, there’s always a way to make your presence known. Or, in the case of the ghosts of the enterprising Hennessys, an annoying drip can set you free.

To read more about this weird (and true tale), you’ll find all the details in The Haunting of Mississippi Chapter 2/Anchuca.  Go to my Books page and click on the title.

 

Welcome to my new blog, where together we can explore haunted history and all things ghostly.

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 Haunting of LouisianaThe 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.

Barbara

Update: Cedar is now a happy, loving adult and mother to a very sweet child.