The Madam Who Won’t Lie Still

I am often asked, WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE GHOST?  I have to admit that the ghost of Josie Arlington goes right to the top of my Haunted Hit Parade. Josie Arlington was the reigning Madam of New Orleans’ former Red-light district, known as Storyville. In its heyday from 1897-1917, vice flourished and prostitution had a place to call home. The ghost of Josie Arlington now visits former clients near her grave in Metairie Cemetery.

Born Mamie Duebler somewhere around 1864, her parents were certainly distraught when their seventeen-year-old daughter ran off with Philip “The Schwarz” Lobrano. For the next nine years, gentlemen callers could find Mamie working under the name Josie Alton or Josie Lobrano  within the darkened rooms of some of New Orleans’ most notorious brothels. Josie was a fiery beauty with a temper to match. Finally, shedding her previous aliases, she adopted the name she would keep until her death: Josie Arlington.

She built an elaborate four-story brothel on Basin Steet. Her brothel was considered the “crème de la crème” of bordellos and Josie Arlington was regarded as the “snootiest madam in America.” With her steady cash flow, Josie purchased a mansion on Esplanade Avenue smack in the middle of respectable society. Her shocked female neighbors tried to ignore her presence. Josie swept by them smug in the knowledge that she would soon be entertaining their husbands in her business establishment on Basin St.

Josie was the “First Lady of Storyville,” but a fire in 1905 rocked her world. Trapped in the fire, she narrowly escaped death. The fear of passing on to the next world without sufficient preparation tormented her. Josie’s concerns were not for her immortal soul, but rather she became obsessed with the disposition of her remains. She wanted her final resting place to reflect her sense of style and a signal to all that little Mamie Duebler had made it on her own. She purchased a two-thousand dollar plot in Metairie Cemetery surrounded by the tombs of the social elite. She summoned Albert Weiblen, the leading designer of tombs, who immediately hired a small army of workers to erect her tomb in record time. As a reward for meeting her deadline, Josie hosted an extravagant champagne supper for the workmen.

Josie’s design choice stirred an epoch of controversy that continues until this day. Her polished red marble tomb had matching pilasters or columns framing the immense double bronze doors of the crypt. These columns are capped with two matching urns each holding carved renditions of the eternal flame of life. The flip side of this somber interpretation is that in the early days of prostitution in New Orleans, flambeaux or torches were lit outside of small hovels along the river to let potential customers know that the prostitute was open for business. And the term “Red-light District” beame part of the world-wide lexicon. But Josie’s urns were just minor issues compared to the life-size bronze statue of a voluptuous woman standing on the steps leading to her tomb.

The controversial statue is draped in a flowing Grecian gown. In her left arm the female statue holds a bouquet of roses, but it is her right arm that generates the most gossip. The hand is raised as if she is about to enter. Those who live near Metairie Cemetery swear the statue of the woman comes back to life and “angrily pounds on the door with her fist, a din that can be heard for blocks.” They believe the statue symbolizes “poor young Mamie, locked out by her outraged father and she is banging trying to get back into her home. These Josie sympathizers think Josie (Mamie) did not run away at all. Like most teenagers, she stayed out one night beyond curfew, and her father wouldn’t let her back in.

But all sides ignore the facts. Josie personally selected every detail of her crypt. A closer look at the statue
finds that she is neither pulling on the large ringed door knockers nor pounding with her fists. If the statue occasionally comes to life, it is more plausible that this self-assured sensuous woman is simply returning from a stroll among the cemetery’s gardens, eager to fill the interior of her lasting abode with the fragrant aroma of freshly-picked flowers. The rumors persist that the “Maiden takes walks.” At night the statue turns, travels down the five granite steps and walks the grounds; Josie making a few “house” calls in the afterlife? It seems the Storyville Madam, who spent her life in the company of men, never intended to lie still.

Josie died on February 14, 1914. Despite her well-laid plans, her funeral and the aftermath were a fiasco. The evening of her burial, a passerby was awestruck by the phenomena before him. The two granite flambeaux atop her tomb were blazing red.  Crowds gathered nightly to witness the spectacle and shouted, “Look, Josie’s open for business!” Hordes of people converged on the shell road next to the cemetery. Cemetery officials were mortified.  The police were called to maintain order. Finally, one astute cemetery worker noticed a recently-installed light at the toll barrier next to the shell road. As the beacon swung in the breeze, it bounced off Josie’s tomb. An order was quickly given to plant a line of shrubs to block the reflection and a large cross was also etched on the back of the tomb – a little Christian gris-gris (voodoo) to ward off the devil’s work. Neither the shrubs or the cross had any affect. Josie’s tomb continued to send out its scandalous signal. So, after a little negotiation with the owners of the toll road, the signal light was extinguished, effectively pulling the plug on the nocturnal display.

End of story? No. Josie did not rest easier. A new wrinkle arrived in the form of Josie’s niece and Josie’s former manager. In her will, Josie had bequeathed her considerable assets to her niece and business partner, knowing nothing of their clandestine affair. The pair squandered their inheritance and then the financially-strapped couple sold her mansion, and when that wasn’t enough, Josie’s tomb went on the auction block.

A prominent family purchased the tomb, naively believing the prostitute’s notoriety and association with the tomb would magically disappear. And naturally, the new owners wanted her body removed. It must have been quite a site to see workmen in the dead of night pull open the heavy bronze doors and whisk Josie’s body to an undisclosed location. As gruesome as this might sound, moving bodies about is a standard burial custom in New Orleans still practiced today. According to the late “Irv” Zoller of Metairie Cemetery, “It’s called the Year-and-A-Day Rule: ” “Anytime after one year has passed, a burial can be disturbed. The casket is taken out of the vault, the remains are taken out of the casket and put in a small pouch or body bag . . . and put on a shelf in the back of the tomb.” In New Orleans there is always room for one more.

In Josie’s case, however, this was not a viable option. The new tomb owners had no inclination to share. And given Josie’s propensity to attact attention in life and in death, cemetery officials were not about to risk a repeat performance. Josie’s new burial site is one of Metairie Cemetery’s most closely guarded secrets. For a clue to where she might be buried read the final chapter of my book, THE HAUNTING OF LOUISIANA.

And Josie’s story may still have a happy ending for her spirit refuses to be contained. The ghost of the Storyville Madam seems well-suited to inhabit a statue and propel the seductive figure forward as she makes the rounds of  “special” friends buried nearby in fashionable Metairie Cemetery. At the end of the book, I created an epitaph for this indomitable woman: ” . . . her life and death remain glittering beacons in New Orleans’ storied past.”

Let me know what you think about Josie or tell me about your favorite ghost. Click on REPLIES and share.

Update: New Orleans Ghosts

I am happy to report that the haunted spirits of New Orleans’ fabled French Quarter are alive and well. Having just returned from a three week Mardi Gras assignment for a PBS television station (I produce the annual live coverage of the final events of Mardi Gras), I did manage to find time to wander around.

The lush courtyards, moss-covered patios, and narrow brick-lined alleys still provide enough nooks and crannies for the city’s resident ghosts. Perhaps it is the thick blanket of humid air that weighs them down and holds them in place or the casual acceptance of locals confirming their spirited presence with a nod, but they like it here.

To mark its remarkable fifth reprint by Pelican Publishing, I was asked to update chapters in my book, The Haunting of Louisiana. So I got to revisit some old haunts. One of my favorites had always been O’Flaherty’s Irish Channel Pub on Toulouse Street in the French Quarter. I was aware that after Hurricane Katrina, owner and Irish balladeer Danny O’Flaherty did not reopen the popular bar. It sat vacant for a number of years and reopened under new ownership as the Old New Orleans Cookery, an upscale restaurant. I wondered what had happened to its trio of ghosts: Angelique, Joseph, and Mary.

Standing in the courtyard with its trickling fountain, I cautiously asked New Orleans Cookery owner Anna T. what it was like working in this historic building. She said they loved the old architecture: the bricks, the timbers, the arches. “And the ghosts,” I asked, “do you know if they are still around?” She smiled and said, “Absolutely. The staff and our guests talk about them all the time.”

In a chapter in my book, I dubbed this trio of ghosts the “Celtic Love Triangle.” Theirs is a tragic tale of love, lust, jealousy, murder, and suicide.

On October 13, 1806 widow Mary Wheaton Sevre took possession of the property on Toulouse Street by virtue of the death of her second husband Don Guillaume. Mary wasted no time picking out husband number three-Joseph Baptandiere. Trouble soon arrived with the appearance of a dark Creole beauty named Angelique Dubois. In eighteenth and nineteenth century New Orleans there was a practice known as placage. In this arrangement wealthy white, often married, men had liaisons with demoiselles de couleux, free women of color. These liaisons often lasted a lifetime with the men providing dwellings and the women regarding themselves as “other wives.” In Angelique’s and Joseph’s arrangement, there was a hitch. Angelique was madly in love with Joseph and insisted on becoming his real wife.  As related by consummate storyteller and musician Daniel J. O’Flaherty, Angelique and Joseph had an epic fight, and she threatened to tell all to Mary, Joseph’s wife. According to Danny, “Joseph didn’t know what to do. He lost his temper and strangled Angelique; he killed her and buried her body in the courtyard.” On the night of the murder there was a witness. A little boy saw Joseph digging the grave and Joseph knew he was doomed. Says Danny, “Joseph knew he couldn’t face Mary so he went up to the third floor, put a rope around his neck and jumped off the building.” Danny adds, “Joseph is our grouchy ghost. If I jumped off the third floor, I’d be a grouchy ghost myself.”

Mary died in 1817. People continue to report that the ghost of an older woman rattles around throwing temper tantrums. They believe it is jealous Mary still in a rage over her husband Joseph’s affair. As for Angelique, she was often spotted looking down and listening to the music in the former Ballad Room. Danny explained, “She liked certain songs-usually traditional ones; sad ones. She would appear in the rafters and then disappear.” Luckily, for Angelique, the owners of the New Orleans Creole Cookery restaurant often invite local musicians to perform in the courtyard so Angelique can once again enjoy live music. In Creole New Orleans plus ça change plus ç’est la même chose (the more things change, the more they remain the same). Even the overwhelming force of Hurricane Katrina could not dislodge the city’s tenacious spirits from their favorite spots. New Orleans’ reputation as “Ghost Central USA” remains undisputed.

New Year for Ghosts and Spirits

For many of us the new year ushers in the opportunity to reinvent ourselves. We make resolutions to upgrade our physical, mental, and emotional selves. Our to-do list includes losing weight, improving fitness, eating healthier. We strive to be more generous, sympathetic, kinder. But what about spirits who linger in our world? Can they improve, or are they forever frozen at the time of their departure?

In short, can an angry spirit grow mellower over time? Can a sad ghost turn joyous? Can a poltergeist reform?

At the old South Church on the island of Nantucket, the ultra-conservative ghost of Seth Freeman Swift, the original minister (1810-1833), has not veered from his rigid ways. For over three centuries, this disgruntled ghost continues to express his displeasure. If the music director selects a contemporary hymn for Sunday’s service, Seth blocks the entrance to the choir loft. He is a bit of a poltergeist. He’s been known to bar access to the watchman’s level of the bell tower when the trustees allowed the installation of a web cam. Calling on his paranormal abilities, the annoyed Seth removed a seven foot wooden panel from the shaft that held the clock weights, slid the panel across the floor, and wedged it securely from the inside so that the bell tower door could not open. The battle of Seth vs. mortals wages on. The twenty-first parishioners, trustees, and staff grudgingly agree that their resident ghost is unwilling to reform. [The Haunting of Cape Cod and the Islands/Chapter 1].

Seth Freeman Swift

In sharp contrast to Seth, Chris Brinkley and Tom Pharr, genial hosts of Anchuca Mansion in Vicksburg, Mississippi, are pleased to announce that their ghostly couple is on their best behavior. Chris credits Mr. and Mrs. Hennessys’ reformation to the fact that they got their way. The Hennessys moved into Anchuca in 1875 and for the next forty years raised their children in the spacious home. The couple had formal portraits of themselves mounted in oval frames and on display. Following their deaths, the home changed owners until Brinkley and Pharr remodeled it into an elegant bed and breakfast establishment. From time-to-time, they both saw fleeting images of shadowy figures roaming through the halls. They shrugged off the occasional ghostly visitations until the day they discovered a leak in the dining room ceiling. They called a plumber. He inspected all three floors for the source of the indoor waterfall. His investigation uncovered no broken pipes, no faulty valves, no overflowing drip pans, no logical explanation. The frustrated plumber used his bare hands to dig through the attic insulation in search of any dampness. Then to his astonishment, buried in the insulation, he pulled out an oval portraits of a man. Plunging his hand in again, he extracted a matching portrait of a woman. Chris Brinkley swore that at that very moment, the leak in the dining room, three floors below, stopped. As he retold the tale to me, Chris laughed saying, “I never would have been able to make up a ghost story like that . . . I guess they just wanted out.” To keep the Hennessys happy and to insure the home stays waterfall free, Chris and Tom have rehung the portraits in the front hall. To date, the ghosts of the Hennessys appear satisfied now that they are once again on display. [The Haunting of Mississippi/Chapter 2].

So it appears that some ghosts are willing to amend their ways. And that we can on occasion appease the spirits if we can figure out what they need.

Danny O’Flaherty, former owner of O’Flaherty’s Irish Channel Pub in New Orleans’ French Quarter, believed his music soothed the tormented soul of Angelique, a young Creole girl. Angelique was strangled in the courtyard by her lover, the owner of the historic building. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the pub did not reopen. Recently, the nineteenth-century building and courtyard were restored. In an interview I did last year with the new owners, they said that their customers also report sightings of the ghosts of Angelique and her murderous lover Joseph Baptandiere. So even an hurricane can’t dispel ghosts. In New Orleans, a haunted restaurant remains “par for the course.” [The Haunting of Louisiana/Chapter 19]

Ghosts, like mortals, can evolve over time. They may start off mean-spirited (pun intended) but once their demands are met, they can be less troublesome. If your resident ghost has an annoying habit of slamming doors, clamoring up stairs, or moving things about, there is hope. Perhaps, like the Hennessys, a simple fix such as the rehanging of portraits is all that is required.




Will we ever know with certainty if spirits of the dead can slip back and forth between our world and theirs? Perhaps not. In the meantime, maybe the best resolution for 2018 is to learn to co-exist and enjoy life in all its forms.

Epitaph: What will you say?

Etched on gravestones, epitaphs reflect our humanity in all its refined and ragged forms. As we approach the new year we are confronted with nagging resolutions to do better. If we knew this would be our last year as earth-tethered humans, how do we want to be remembered? What do we want on our tombstones? If we don’t plan ahead, our wishes may be preempted.

One enterprising young widow seized the opportunity and turned her husband’s tomb into the ultimate dating site. She was intent on finding husband #2:
Sacred to the memory of Mr. James Bates,
who died Aug. 6, 1800.
His widow, age 24, who mourns as one
who Can be comforted,
lives at 7 Elm Street this village and
possess every qualification
for a good Wife.

Then there’s the widower who fashioned an eternal Do Not Disturb sign on his wife’s grave:
Here lies my wife, let her lie,
Now she’s at peace and so am I.

Two pernicious parents in Vermont penned this dubious verse for their young son:
Here lies our darling baby boy
He never cries nor hollers
He lived for one and twenty days,
And cost us forty dollars.

When I stumbled across this two-word epitaph in a Natchez cemetery, I had to find out more about the woman buried beneath a neglected headstone bearing only a first name:
The Unfortunate
In my book, The Haunting of Mississippi (Chapter 24), I delve into the story of poor Louise. It seems she was a prostitute who worked in Natchez-Under-the-Hill, the city’s red light district. In the spring of 1849, Louise fell ill. A local minister, Rev. Stratton, offered assistance. Louise accepted his offer of food and medicine, but would reveal only her first name. When she died, the reverend raised money for her burial and erected the simple headstone. Researched conducted by Don Estes, former director of the city cemetery, finally produced a last name-Leroy. Yet no one seems to be in any hurry to claim her as their own. If Louise’s feisty spirit could return and change anything, the first task on her list would likely be to erase her rather ignominious “Unfortunate” epitaph.

One gentleman from Topsfield, MA, made his feelings known and issued fair warning on his tomb:
Reader pass on and ne’er waste your time
on bad biography and bitter rhyme
For what I am this cumbrous clay insures
and what I was, is no affair of yours.

Nobel prize winning author William Faulkner was asked by a reporter what he would like for his obituary. Faulkner responded that he wanted the same one sentence for his obituary and his epitaph:
He made the books and he died.
Unfortunately, the prodigious author’s wishes were not carried out. On his tomb his widow Estelle had engraved
“Beloved, Go With God.” During my research on Faulkner and his fondness for ghost stories (The Haunting of Mississippi Chapter 14), I visited his grave in St. Peter’s Cemetery, Oxford, MS. One Faulkner fan left a beer bottle. Other tributes have included bottles of hard liquor as sustenance for Faulkner’s weary spirit. William Griffith, the curator of Faulkner’s home of Rowan Oak, is not surprised. “Sometimes fans leave a bottle of bourbon, but he preferred whiskey.”

Life and death for Henry Clay of Gilford, VT, were one and the same. The epitaph on his tomb reads:
My life’s been hard
And all things show it;
I always thought so
And now I know it.

Aaron Burbank of Connecticut was quite specific about the disposition of his remains. His relatives did their best. They carved his instructions on his tomb while ignoring his request:
Bury me not when I am dead.
Lay me not down in a dusty bed.
I could not bear the life down there
with earthworms creeping through my hair.

For others, an epitaph becomes a commentary on changing perceptions of who we are. When Air Force Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, a gay Vietnam Veteran (honored for his valor with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star) learned he had AIDS, he wrote his own epitaph. He wanted his grave to be a monument for all gay veterans:
When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men
and a discharge for loving one.

Winston Churchill chose:
I am ready to meet my maker,
whether my maker is prepared for
he great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.

For his final curtain call, Mel Blanc, the “Man of 1000 Voices,” went with the sentiment of Bugs Bunny:
That’s All Folks!

So whether you choose to be buried or cremated, your final words matter. Think about someone wandering through a cemetery a hundred years from now. They stumble across your tombstone.
What will it say?

I’ve given it some thought. I think I would like to borrow the words of poet Flavia Wheedn:
Life is brief and very fragile.
Do that which makes you happy.

Perhaps, someone will smile as they read it. I’d love to hear your choices.







Cemeteries are where bodies are buried. To soften the flow, the dead are spoken of in an array of euphemisms: the dearly departed, the recently deceased. They have passed on, been laid to rest, met their maker, gone to their final reward, or as one newbie television news reporter gushed, “waiting to be funeralized.” They have in more colloquial terms kicked the bucket, croaked,  or given up the ghost. They are buried six feet under yet, a few have managed to break the barrier and let us know they are still around.

At McRaven House in Vicksburg, Mississippi the cemetery is little more than depressions in the ground. Former caretaker Leonard Fuller has to point them out “just past the oak tree.” There are twenty-eight gravesites. According to Fuller, McRaven House was used as a hospital during the Civil War. A  fierce battle took place in the side yard. Fuller explains that “We don’t know who they are, but their ghosts still walk around here. The ghosts of the Confederate soldiers have been here since I was a kid.”

  Ghosts of Confederate soldiers haunt the grounds at McRaven House

Five young girls, buried together at the Natchez City Cemetery, did not die  for any cause. They simply went to work. On March 14, 1908, Carrie Murray, Ada White, Inez Netterville, Luella Booth, and Lizzie Worthy sat at a long, wooden table and poured chemicals from large beakers into smaller ones in the fourth-floor laboratory of the Natchez Drug Company. Carrie, the oldest was twenty-two, and Lizzie Worthy, at one month short of her thirteenth birthday, was the youngest. At 11:00 in the morning, Sam Burns, arrived to check on a recently installed gas heater. He detected a leak in the meter, tightened it up and left. At 1:30 in the afternoon someone smelled gas. Sam was called back. He did as he had been trained. He ran a lit candle along the gas line: if his candle flame flared, it would reveal the location of the gas leak. He found it. The explosion rocked the city. Like a house of cards, the brick building imploded. The rear wall fell in, the east wall came down, and the upper floors collapsed all the way to the cellar.

The body of seventeen-year-old Inez was found near the sidewalk. Carrie was found in the rubble; rescue workers identified the body by her corset cover. Nineteen-year-old Ada’s body was carried away in pieces. Luella’s body was charred almost beyond recognition. Lizzie wasn’t found until three days later, it was the smallest body recovered.

The girls’ simple headstones line up side-by-side in Natchez Cemetery. Over them looms the cemetery’s most notable statue. It’s called the Turning Angel. The life-sized statue is seated on a pedestal, an open book in her lap. Those who drive by Cemetery Road at night swear the white angel turns her head to stare at them. As their cars pass by, the angel turns back to guarding her young charges resting in tombs beneath her feet. The effect is unsettling.

The Turning Angel at Natchez City Cemetery still guards her young charges

At another unusual grave in this massive cemetery, many believe that the mother of poor little Irene Ford, returns over and over to comfort her daughter. Nothing odd in this tale so far, except that ten-year-old Irene died of yellow fever on October 30, 1871, and her inconsolable mother has been at her task for nearly a century and a half. Eileen Ford (the mother) went to extraordinary lengths to allay her daughter’s fears in life and in death. Little Irene was terrified of storms and lightening so Eileen had a concrete stairway built behind her daughter’s headstone that led down to the level of the casket where a glass window allowed her to look in. The child’s casket also had a glass window on top. When it stormed, heedless of the rain pelting her head and shoulders, the protective mother climbed down the stairs. Eileen Ford was said to have talked, read, prayed, and sang songs to her daughter, trying to console her in death as she had in life. In later years, the grave became a popular draw to curiosity seekers who would climb down to stare at the casket. To keep the inquisitive out, cemetery workers bricked over the window at the bottom of the stairs, and installed a hinged metal trap door to cover the opening at the top.

The Natchez City Cemetery is closed at night, but those who have made clandestine forays to little Irene’s grave report sightings of the shape of a woman kneeling near the burial site. The mournful ghost shakes her head in frustration that the steps are blocked and she can’t go down to comfort her child.

Wherever there is a cemetery, it is hallowed, haunted ground. Each tomb that survives is like a chapter in an old discarded book: its edges are frayed, its binder broken, its pages wrinkled and yellowed. However, the story that lies within is more than myth and legend. It is the final place where a once-vibrant person left his or her imprint for us to find. Their stories are all there to be gathered and cherished.

A rural cemetery in West Point, Mississippi

To find out more about these and other tales, read The Haunting Of Mississippi. And if you enjoy this blog, please add your name to the CONTACT PAGE to be notified of new blogs coming soon. Or hit REPLY and add your own comment or experiences. The results of the vote of the  previous blog “Old Ghosts vs. New” was overwhelmingly in favor of “old” ghosts, those who continue to make their presence known.


I am not a paranormal investigator. I do not use light meters, heat sensors, or digital recorders to capture a message from the netherworld. I am a television producer, director, writer, and author. I seek out stories about previous inhabitants who may still wander about.

All that being said, I do occasionally hear from the dead. There is no pre-planning when this occurs. And for me the event itself is inexplicable. I have come to accept that sometimes things happen, and I just go with it.

During the Q&A at a few of my speaking engagements, I have shared the following true story as it unfolded. And I will preface it by stating that on this day, ghosts were not on the agenda.

The television crew and myself were in the final days of shooting a PBS documentary titled Hidden Nation. It was to be the story of the Houma people, a Native American tribal group living among the swamps and bayous of southeast Louisiana. It was a late summer afternoon; hot, humid, and the mosquitoes were swarming. We were in search of a gravesite.

During the course of the previous weeks’ interviews numerous tribal members spoke of Rosalie Courteaux, the last great female chief of the Houma Nation. Rosalie is the central figure of genealogical significance  with multiple “greats,” “great-greats,” and “great-great-greats” to everyone alive in the tribe today. Unfortunately, there are no sketches, paintings, photos or known artifacts linked to Rosalie. We were working in a television medium that requires visuals. So, when tribal members referred to Rosalie’s grave it became a top priority to get footage of her final resting place. And we were sent to various remote cemeteries scattered in lower Terrebonne Parish. Everyone it seemed had a different memory of where we might find this illusive grave.

As a crew we were exhausted and frustrated driving for miles up and down dirt and shell roads along Bayou Dulac, Bayou Dularge, Golden Meadow. We even traveled by boat to a cemetery in Pointe Aux Chene that is fast slipping into a trevasse, a canal cut by an oil company to reach their rigs deep  in the marsh. We saw simple crosses but none inscribed with the name of Rosalie.

The sun was beginning its downward descent but the rays still burned; there was no shade in this flat terrain, only dead and dying cypress trees and lots of muddy water. We were in lower Montegut when we caught a glimpse of what we knew would be our final stop of the day; we were losing light.

I was excited when we spotted a group of headstones with the family name of Courteaux. We went up and down the aisles, cameraman, audio tech, and myself. We wiped sweat from our dripping faces. We squinted at names worn by time and the elements. No Rosalie. My crewing was grunting from hauling equipment from grave to grave. It appeared that once again we had been sent to the wrong cemetery or, as I was beginning to concede, Rosalie’s grave no longer existed, it had fallen into some lost bayou never to be seen again.

We packed up the gear and climbed into the van ready to head back to the station in New Orleans. My cameraman was driving. I was riding shotgun. We had just pulled a few feet past the edge of the cemetery when I screamed, “STOP THE CAR.”

My cameraman slammed on the brakes, scanning the road for whatever might be in front of us. “What? What?” he yelled back. “I don’t see anything, not even an armadillo crossing the road.” He was furious.

“Everybody get out and grab the gear,” was my response. “I know where she is.”

The crew must have been a little shell-shocked from the long day. They moved like robots unpacking the camera and tripod. I marched ahead to the left side of the graveyard with my back to the water’s edge. I stepped around a large, recently white-washed tomb, and there, leaning behind it was a small, simple curved headstone.

1787- 1883

It wasn’t much to look at, but it was the exact image I needed for the documentary. I mouthed a silent “Thank you.” As we repacked and climbed back into the van, my cameraman turned to me and asked “How? How did you know it was there and why didn’t you say something before?”

I hadn’t even thought about how  when I yelled out STOP THE CAR. My answer startled not just my crew, but stunned me the most. I hesitantly answered, “She called to me. Rosalie called to me.”

It was that simple and that inexplicable. Rosalie Courteaux got inside my head. “Here I am,” is what I must have heard, and I reacted.

I’ve thought about that call from the beyond on and off since then. Did I really hear her voice? Where those her exact words? Replaying that moment over and over hasn’t helped. We’d been searching all day for her gravesite with no luck. We ended up in a cemetery below Montegut alongside a nameless bayou with little expectations. We’d given up. We were headed out, and suddenly I KNOW. It just pops into my head. With no hesitation, with no thought process, I led the crew to her grave.

Then again, it is unreasonable to expect that messages from the dearly departed are delivered and received in generally accepted modes of communication. Sometimes the inner voice we hear is really telling us something. And if we are smart, we listen. This producer remains enormously grateful. Rosalie’s story became an integral part of the documentary Hidden Nation.

Thank you, Rosalie, for leading me to you.


As always, thoughts, comments, and questions are always welcome. Click on REPLIES, and I’ll get back to you.



Old Ghosts Vs New

I admit I prefer ghosts with a bit of substance to them. It’s hard to get to know a spirit if he or she is merely a gauzy apparition who occasionally flits by. Or worse yet, the “ghost” is captured as an orb that shows up only in photos taken at night, or a garbled voice played back on a digital recorder. Not a lot to go on. And urban myths about a man with a hook on Lover’s Lane or a female spirit hovering over a deserted country road don’t do a lot to spark my interest.

I want a ghost with a lineage, a past I can track. At the very least, I want a ghost who hangs out at a historic site: a centuries-old house, church, store, barn, battlefield, slave quarters, shipwreck, lighthouse—all excellent choices. Age, sex, occupation, religious or political affiliation, I am an equal opportunity storyteller.

To appear in the pages of my books, magazine articles, or be featured in my documentaries, I need corroborating witnesses. Credible individuals who don’t crave the spotlight but are willing to share their experiences. Over the years I have interviewed museum curators, docents, teachers, a dentist, a voodoo priestess, an archbishop, a maintenance worker, an underwater archeologist, Native American tribal members, artists, musicians, waitresses, bartenders, chefs, fishermen and boat builders. The all have one thing in common; they’ve all encountered someone from the past. And some have closer relationships with their ghosts than others.

Ruth Bodenheimer, who runs the Lanaux Mansion as an elegant guest house on the outskirts of the French Quarter in New Orleans, holds regular consultations with her decorator, Charles Andrew Johnson. The fact that Mr. Johnson has been dead some two hundred years is irrelevant to her. Ruth explains it this way: “He instrumental if I have a major project especially if it’s a costly one. I’ll have a little private chat with him.” Charles Andrew Johnson built Ruth’s home in 1879 so despite his demise, the ghost of Mr. Johnson would certainly know how to restore the mansion to its full glory (The full story can be found in The Haunting of Louisiana/Chapter 15).

The Lanaux Mansion in New Orleans


Antoine has been haunting Tupelo, Mississippi’s Lyric Theatre for as long as anyone can remember. His activities in the present day leave the staff and troupe of actors in turmoil. Box office manager Lisa Hall recounts a typical incident. “We were upstairs in the costume room and had reorganized things. We left and came back a little later, and everything had been rearranged. Nothing was in the same place and there was no one in the building but us.” Executive Director Tom Booth takes a stab at explaining why their ghost is so grouchy. “There was a tornado in Tupelo in 1939 and they used this building as an operating room for the injured, Antoine was probably one of the victims; he was brought here and never left. All I can say is that when we bought the building twenty-six years ago, we inherited Antoine” (for more about Antoine and his antics check out The Haunting of Mississippi/Chapter 16).


  The Rose Dorothea with its Phantom Captain

The Provincetown Library on Cape Cod inherited a ship and its ghostly captain. The ship is a half-scale replica of the fishing schooner Rose Dorothea. It is sixty-six feet in length and its mast with the full sail unfurled rises from the second floor to the third floor ceiling of the library. Since the original Rose Dorothea was sunk by a German submarine off the coast of Portugal in 1917, it seems that Captain Marion Perry has chosen the replica to reenact the moment of his greatest glory. Capt. Perry received the coveted Lipton Cup Trophy when he won the 1907 Fisherman’s sailing race between Boston and Gloucester. As he crossed the finish line, he is said to have grabbed a broom and “swept the deck clean,” a symbolic gesture celebrating that he had beaten his closest rival. Patrons of the Provincetown Library insist they can still hear the swish of a phantom broom across the deck of the Rose Dorothea (the full story of the vessel and its ghostly captain can be found in The Haunting of Cape Cod and the Islands/Chapter 20).

These type of tantalizing details are why I tend to prefer old ghosts over new. The vintage ghosts have been around long enough to haunt multiple generations. There are layers to their tales. And there is a certain visceral thrill when uncovering their stories.

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At the conclusion of each author talk or multi-media presentation, I open the floor to audience questions. And there are always a few surprises. After giving a presentation for the Falmouth Historical Society on The Haunting of Cape Cod and the Islands, a rather tall woman standing at the back of the room asked in a blunt no-nonsense voice:
How do you get to be a ghost.?

I was ill-prepared to give advice on how to return from the dead.

After what felt like a black hole of tick-tocking minutes with all eyes on me, I smiled. Fortunately, in my head I heard the voices of two women who had shared their life-after-death plans with me. I offered their stories as a ghostly guidepost on how to make your way back if you are so inclined.

Jeanette Feltus greets her circle of family ghost as warmly as the human guests who come to stay with her at Linden, a circa 1790 bed and breakfast plantation in Natchez, Mississippi. Jeanette is the sixth generation of Connors to reside in the house. She is adamant that she will also be among the sixth generation of the Connor-Feltus clan to return post-mortem. She has it all worked out. “I don’t really care about having to be put in a casket and stuck under ground. First of all you run out of places to bury people in a cemetery; our family plot at the Natchez Cemetery is so full that I want to be cremated.” Jeanette informed her daughters that she wants her ashes put in an urn and the urn placed between the graves of her husband and father-in-law, but if her daughters really want to “stay in touch” with her then they just need to remain at the family homestead. “I know when I die, I will haunt Linden too. I really believe my spirit will come back here.”

Ruth Manchester is an award-winning chef, who, along with her husband, owns the Bramble Inn in the charming town of Brewster on Cape Cod. She also has a thriving paranormal following. Like the Pied Piper of old, ghosts seem to follow her wherever she goes. Ruth is nonchalant about it all. “I think it is like people who end up with stray cats: if there is a presence that is lost, and if you are at all receptive to them, they will find you . . . they need to find you.” Ruth has had a great deal of success as a chef. The prestigious Zagat Guide voted the Bramble Inn the “Best Restaurant on Cape Cod.” Ruth has no intentions of ever giving it up. “We decided we really love what we are doing, and we’ll just keep doing it until we can’t anymore. I’ll be the ghost haunting this place.” This dedicated woman added, “They will take me out of here feet first, but I’ll be back in spirit form and torture the new owners.” She laughs and amends her remarks. “No, I’ll be the good ghost. I’ll just point out what they need to do.”

So good ghost or troublesome ghost, it would seem that the first step on the way to returning in the afterlife is to announce your intentions when you are alive. Step two, be specific and make plans to haunt your locale. Step three, well, I’ve thought about that a lot since the question was first thrown at me. I have three daughters. I have told them (and I genuinely believe this will happen) that whenever they are together and think of me, I will be there.

I believe that when we are remembered by those who love us, we live on in their hearts. Whether we manifest ourselves in spirit form, speak, or are able to reach out and touch our loved ones again may be dependent on how strong the need for affirmation that we linger on.

For more about Jeanette’s story go to Chapter 7 of The Haunting of Mississippi; to learn more at Ruth Manchester, you’ll find her tale in Chapter 14 of The Haunting of Cape Cod and the Islands.

The Haunted Linden Plantation in Natchez, MS

The Bramble Inn on Cape Cod

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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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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.