With too many deaths due to the current Covid 19 crisis one has to wonder if any of their spirits will linger and question what happened? Certainly, their loved ones are grieving and trying to hold on the memory of their fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, grandparents, neighbors and colleagues ripped so cruelly away. And these innocent victims, held in isolation, never had the chance to say good-bye.
Sadly, this has not been the only instance of a pandemic wiping out hundreds of thousands, leaving too many lost souls left in limbo. In the decades between 1853 and 1905, Yellow Fever killed 10% of the residents of the city of New Orleans. The worst year on record was 1853 when 8,000 people died. And their deaths were gruesome. Initial symptoms included chills, headaches, convulsions, delirium . . . and bleeding. Victims bled through the eyes, nose, and ears before dying. Today, this horrible pandemic has mostly been eradicated from the United States due to advance techniques in mosquito control (mosquitoes spread the disease). An effective vaccine had been available since the 1930s but the Yellow Fever vaccine and its usage is still lacking in parts of Africa and South America.
One such victim of the Yellow Fever pandemic in New Orleans never made it to her fifth birthday. She was the daughter of Paul and Marie Gleises. In my book, The Haunting of Louisiana, I called her “Little Girl Lost.” Her fragile spirit haunts the Lafitte Guest House at 1003 Bourbon Street in New Orleans fabled French Quarter.
Tom Duran, a former curator at House of Detention Prison Museum, and a former tour operator in New Orleans, has an affinity for apparitions, especially the young ones. Duran shares the story of a confused child ghost caught in a time warp. The small female figure repeatedly exits a bedroom of the four-story townhouse, walks down the hall, and passes through a gilt-framed mirror mounted at the far end of the second floor landing. “People walk up the main staircase towards the mirror. They see behind them the reflection of a little girl. She’s normally crying and when she appears, she is as real as you or I. People turn around to look at this little girl behind them and when they do she disappears. And that happens time and time again.”
Duran shows a photograph as proof. The enlargement captures a pale form curling towards the doorway. Duran says, “In the photographs I’ve taken during my visits, the ghost is floating out of today what is called Guest Room 22. Rooms 21 and 22 where the former children’s rooms.”
This child ghost clings to the only home she has ever known. Like Alice in Wonderland, she becomes trapped in the mirror. On filming the documentary (on which the book, The Haunting of Louisiana, is based) this television producer and author was witness to an extraordinary incident. The young actress who had been cast to recreate the manifestation of “Little Girl Lost” burst into tears when she glanced at the mirror for the first time. She froze in place and refused to move further down the hallway towards the mirror. Prior to the filming she had been told nothing of the story prior to her arrival at the guest house. The five-year-old actress had only been told she was to portray a little girl and all she needed to do was walk out of a bedroom and down the hallway. She had no pre-knowledge of a mirror or its history. Both her parents were with her the entire time and she was familiar with the crew. While she waited downstairs, she had been happy and laughing. When she walked up the stairs, her entire demeanor changed.
Only when prompted by her father, who stayed out of camera range at the end of the hallway, did she finally walk out of the bedroom, down the hall, past the mirror, and into the waiting arms of her father. After filming (there was only one take), back down on the first floor, the frightened actress shared with her father that she cried because she was so sad at seeing the other little girl stuck inside the mirror. Cleary, she saw something the rest of us did not. Two children, centuries apart, were briefly united in a shared moment of grief.
The lasting effects of any pandemic will never be completely quantified. Stories of spirits will filter down through time. Perhaps, other little girls and boys, who have succumbed to an early demise, will be able to reconnect to playmates they will know only in those brief, inexplicable moments in time.
For more details about “Little Girl Lost,” read Chapter 12 of The Haunting of Louisiana.