Monday, March 19, 2012

Saturday Night at the Myrtles

This past weekend I spent a wonderful evening and morning with some amazing women out at the Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana.  In addition to being an absolutely gorgeous property, the Myrtles is chock full of fascinating history, and is really, rather, quite haunted.  Now, this was, in fact, a bachelorette party.  But I'll let someone else immortalize the randier details.  I want to talk about the spooks!

We arrived at the Myrtles just in time to check in and deposit our baggage in the Coco House, a spacious cottage brought over from the Coco Plantation, and head across a wide lawn to the courtyard amid the main buildings for the mystery tour.

After a brief history of the building's construction and the lives of the first two owners and their families, our tour guide Zach began leading us through the rooms.  First he led us into Mrs. Stirling's day room, where the third lady of the house would conduct her day to day business and take her daily nap.  This is apparently the favorite room of one of the house's more active haunts, a slave girl named Chloe, who was mistress to the second owner, Mr. Woodruff.  Zach told us of a time when re-enactments were staged on Halloween, and a young woman hired to play Chloe was so terrified by the apparition of a woman confronting her as she paced the room rehearsing her lines that she turned to flee to the safety of... the adjoining bathroom.  The door slammed itself shut before she got there, she ran smack into the door, and fell to the ground screaming, swearing she'd never set foot in the house again.

From there we visited the haunted mirror in the foyer.  The custom in Victorian times, as Zach explained, was to lay out the dead for viewing in the comfort of their own homes instead of in funeral parlors.  While the body rested in the house, all mirrors would be draped with black cloth to prevent the soul of the departed from being drawn into the mirror and trapped there.  But someone must have missed this mirror at some point, because you can clearly see the image of what looks like a face trying to get out on one side of the glass.  Along the other side are what appear to be a child's fingerprints, and an eerie weeping or drip pattern in the middle.  These very same markings have reappeared multiple times, within weeks of the mirror being disassembled, thoroughly cleaned, and re-silvered.  This mirror is the only area of the house were photographs are permitted, and I got some good shots of the markings.  Others did as well.  More on this later.

From the foyer with the mirror, Zach led us to the dining room.  Here it was that some of the other active presences suffered the hurt that parted their restless souls from their earthly bodies.  Remember Woodruff's mistress, the slave girl Chloe?  Chloe had been brought into the house as a nanny for the Woodruff children, but fell suddenly out of favor when she was caught eavesdropping on her master's important business meeting.  As punishment, he had her ear cut off and banished her from the house.  But Chloe had an absolutely fool-proof plan to get back into the family's good graces.  She intended to win back their favor by nursing the two Woodruff children back to health from severe illness.  And not one to wait for chance ailments, she made them a cake infused with oleander.  Sounds like a snap, right?  Well, Chloe misjudged, and the cake ended up killing both children, along with their mother, while Mr. Woodruff was away on business.  When he returned and learned the truth, he had Chloe hanged from a tree on the property.  Today many visitors have reported seeing a dark, young woman wearing a turban, with a fold of cloth draped over the left side of her head, just the way Chloe wore her head scarf, to hide her missing ear.  Such a figure has even been photographed on the property, along with the shadowy images of two children.

From the dining room we were taken to the ladies' parlor, where the ladies would withdraw after a meal.  Zach reported that every medium that visits the Myrtles finds this to be the psychic center of the house's mystical energy.  The bedroom above is known as the doll room because of the antique dolls that have adorned the mantle piece over the years.  As if dolls weren't creepy enough on their own, there have been stories about them, as well.  As we listened to these tales, I felt something brush along the back of my arm.  I turned to see that the nearest people behind me were strangers standing over a foot away.  I gave a mental greeting to anyone who might be a bit closer than them, the gesture was not repeated, and all in all I'm proud to report that I was not actually wigged out.  It really wasn't very dramatic.  I might have simply been in the way, or maybe someone was feeling friendly to their visitors.  The room was really too lovely and comfortable to feel creepy.  I have to say that the few encounters I've had with the departed have been domestic and soothing, and that's really how this felt.

From there we were shown the gentlemen's parlor, where the... fourth? owner (or possibly the third) was shot in the chest by a stranger who rode up to the porch on horseback one dark night.  Legend says that he reeled back into the room, turned, and with his young son, with whom he'd been playing in that room, fled deeper into the house.  He made it up the first seventeen steps of the central stair, where he collapsed, just short of the top, into his wife's arms, and died.  To this day, visitors sometimes hear his faltering steps on the stairs.

In the final showroom, the children's dining room and later the game room, we were shown the photo of Chloe between the general store building and the main house, and the shadows of the children on the room by the dormer window of their room, and our tour was concluded.

As we were enjoying a relaxing dinner in the Carriage House Restaurant on the grounds, a woman who had been on our tour came to our table to show us a photograph she'd taken at the haunted mirror.  I was unfortunately away from the table, so I didn't get to see it, but she promised to e-mail it to us, and I can't wait.  Apparently she'd caught Natalie, one of our group, in her shot of the mirror, and, clinging to Natalie's side, was the apparition of a small child.  I think it's significant that Natalie is the member of our group who has a little girl of her own.

After an evening of nuptial talk, bachelorette games, and wedding cake vodka, we all went to our beds for the night's repose.  Only one of us, though, had anything like a restful night.  I dreamed all night that I was lying awake in bed, afraid that the haunts were coming.  At one point in my dream, a small, ghostly white puppy came over and wanted to play, and I reached to touch it.  It felt so real, and when I looked over at Nathalie, she said she could see it, too, but I knew it must be a ghost puppy, because it was playing tug'o'rope while hovering a foot off the ground.  Then I dreamed that I was laying stock still under the covers, knowing Chloe was in the room, but if I stayed still, she'd let me alone.  In all of these dreams, the details of the room itself and my sleeping arrangement, on my back or on my side, and Nathalie on the other bed, to the left of mine, were exactly true to reality.  I only knew they were dreams because I'd wake up from them, realizing I wasn't actually afraid, and didn't actually sense any presence.

Jayna reports that she dreamed of ghostly figures materializing around her, coming nearer and nearer, while she was unable, in spite of every effort, to reach over to wake Ellen, her bedfellow, or even move or speak at all.  Ellen, in turn dreamed several times of turning over to look at Jayna, and seeing a corpse with shining blond hair.  Nathalie's dreams intrigue me most.  She dreamed that the little girl came to her, and that she spoke soothingly to the child, telling her what a happy place this home was, that the owners took beautiful care of it, and that this was a good place for her, and she did not need to come home with Nathalie, but should stay here!  The girl in her dream, she says, was around six or seven.  I had thought the Woodruff girl was younger than that when she died, but when we questioned our guide for the history tour the next morning after breakfast (Zach again), he told us that the boy was nine and the little girl seven at the time of the tragedy, a detail that had not been in his tour the night before.  Eeeerieeeeee!

The history tour had more info on southern, antebellum customs and architectural details of the house, which was wonderful.  Afterward, as we lounged in the row of rocking chairs on the front porch, we called Zach over and got him to tell us more stories of the ghostly goings on.  In spite of the terrible night sleep we all of us except for Jeanne had, the ghosts are much more playful than terrifying here, by all accounts.  This place is very most definitely worth a visit and an overnight stay.  If staying in the main house is too potentially scary for you, there are cottages like the Coco House and Caretaker's House, as well as a block of rooms in a new building behind the Carriage House Restaurant.

But I'd definitely like to come back myself and stay in the main house at some point.  In... any room but the doll room, though!