Posts made in July 2020

Folklore or Fakeloare

It’s relatively easy to fake the presence of ghostly phenomena: flashes of light (often referred to as orbs), static on digital voice recorders (subject to human interpretation), and the wonders of Photoshop.


The haunted status of Houmas House in Burnside, Louisiana is perplexing to owner Kevin Kelly. According to both visitors and staff, adult spirits abound. A nineteenth-century river boat captain paces back and forth on the Widow’s Walk atop the roof of this antebellum beauty. A second male figure strolls the grounds. “There is a tall, tall black man,” states Houmas House historian Jim Blanchard. “When I first saw him . . . he went behind me . . . and through the wall.” Blanchard believed the ghost knew exactly where he was going. “We were redoing one of the cottages on the grounds, opening up paneled walls that had been added on, and discovered a doorway that had been covered up. The ghost was walking through a doorway that was original to the cottage.” Owner Kevin Kelly agrees that this particular ghost sticks to familiar paths, ignoring contemporary obstacles. “I put a big circular fountain right behind the house. People tell me he walks right through the fountain but doesn’t get wet.”


Kelly freely admits he has never seen any of the ghosts of Houmas House but wishes that if he could arrange for a ghost to put in an appearance his vote is for movie star legend Bette Davis.” Kelly explains: “In 1963, Miss Davis arrived at Houmas House to film scenes for Hush . . . Hush Sweet Charlotte. People want to see where Betty Davis stayed here at Houmas House. “She is our number one draw.” Kelly wistfully adds, “If I could get the world to believe her ghost was on this property, I’d get millions of people here a day.”

Visitors to the circa 1796 Mrytles Plantation on the National Register of Historic Places can choose either the History or Mystery tour. During the latter, tour guides regale the curious with a laundry list of spooky activities: handprints inside mirrors, footsteps crashing up and down the main staircase, sweet perfume and pungent cigar odors, cold spots, photos of a transparent female figure lurking in the alleyway between the buildings and silhouettes of children who may have been poisoned kneeling on the roof. The plantation also operates as a bed and breakfast and potential guests continue to pose the million-dollar question: “Which room is the most haunted?”
Haunted tales at historic sites do equate to an increase in revenue.

Yet Maida Owens, former director of Louisiana’s Folklife Program, insists a distinction be made between folklore and “fakelore.” “I see nothing wrong with haunted history tours or ghost tours and when combined with good theatre or storytelling they can make exceptional presentations that reflect an area’s culture. Folklore,” says Owens, “are the traditions that have been passed down in a community over time. Fakelore is an obvious commercial embellishment of the past.” Owens adds that fakelore shouldn’t be foisted on a gullible public without some type of warning. “It’s about truth in advertising more than anything else.”
So when visiting a reputed haunted site or trailing along on a local ghost tour, what is the truth? Perhaps we need to look to ourselves. Are we there to be entertained? As we stroll through the bedroom were Bette Davis slept during filming at Houmas House should we be rewarded with the sight of “Bette Davis eyes” peering back at us? The lyrics of the song certainly are apropos: “She’ll tease you, she’ll unease you. All the better just to please you.”
The choice is yours: suspend skepticism and embrace the moment or walk away confident that you haven’t succumbed to fakelore no matter how well told.

Blog # 25 Playful or Pesky Ghosts

There are perks to having a ghost; they can be entertaining, helpful even, or the perfect “fall guy” to take the blame when things go wrong.

The ghosts at Loyd Hall in Cheneyville, Louisiana exhibit a certain playfulness. When Philip Jones, former Secretary for the Louisiana Department of Culture and Tourism, prepared to enjoy his formal dinner at Loyd Hall his silverware vanished. Beulah Davis, resident tour guide, confirms the mysterious disappearance.

“It (the silverware) was there as he sat down, but as he started to eat his food he found several pieces missing. I told him that ghosts do exit here.” Jones’ evaluation of the situation is pragmatic. “I realized there probably is a little bit of truth that this house is haunted.” Beulah Davis feels that the ghostly antics are just “their small way of letting you know they are here.”

Out on Deer Island in Biloxi, Mississippi a few locals believe a ghost pops out of the palmetto bushes to scare off visitors. The ghost appears in the form of a headless skeleton.

In a convoluted twist to this haunted legend, there is pirate treasure buried on Deer Island. A certain nameless pirate (Jean Lafitte?) sailed his ship into Biloxi Bay, came upon the deserted island, and stashed his booty. Before departing the pirate captain cut off the head of one of his crew and left his disgruntled spirit to guard the treasure.

As of this writing, no enterprising salvager has successfully bypassed his gruesome ghost and recovered the treasure.

The Crocker Tavern’s ghost is a screamer. Overnight visitors to this pre-Revolutionary War guest house on Cape Cod are not pleased when Aunt Lydia’s screams piece the night and disturb their slumber. In 1874, Lydia Crocker Sturgis inherited the former tavern from her father. Following her death, her ghost lingers on. “She acts like a caretaker,” says former owner Anne Carlson. One day as Anne was supervising the installation of new mattresses, she inadvertently left the door open. “All of a sudden the back door slammed shut. There was no wind . . . it actually locked behind us. I stood there and said, ‘Aunt Lydia, I don’t believe in you . . . but if you approve of what I am doing in running this property then I don’t want to see you again.” As for the screaming, guests hear a female voice yelling “Help me! Help me!” from inside the house. If Aunt Lydia’s spirit is in trouble, sadly no one knows why. One guest wrote an almost glowing review of this vacation hot spot. “The home is utterly charming—a reminder of our rich heritage—except for the ghost.”

Recent renovations at the 1790 Dr. Wicks House in Falmouth, Massachusetts have disturbed the slumber of the ghost of Julia Swift Wood.

In her will Julia bequeathed her former residence to the Falmouth Historical Society, which opened it for tours. On display are a few of Julia’s favorite possessions including a silver tea set. Each piece is engraved with Julia’s monogram—an S for her maiden name of Swift. Julia’s spirt follows the tours. If someone touches the tea set, Julia steps in, wiping off any offending fingerprints.

Leonard Fuller, tour guide extraordinaire at McRaven House in Vicksburg, Mississippi, is ambivalent about Mary Elizabeth’s ghost. “She diverts our tours. We send the tourists up the back staircase to the old section and tell them to turn left. When I get to the top of the stairs they’re in the bedroom on the right, Mary Elizabeth’s room.

We ask them why, and they say the nice lady told us to come in. We know it’s Mary Elizabeth, who died in childbirth in the bedroom, getting them off track. She likes to torment us a little bit. Sometimes the police will call after we are closed and say every light is on in the house.” Leonard’s eyes flash with a twinkle. “Mary Elizabeth is just having a little fling.”

Like their human counterparts, even adult ghosts revert to childlike antics, act bored, grumpy, possessive, and/or obsessive. Playful and pesky, spirits will continue to find innovative ways to let us know they’re still around.