Are you one of those people who believe in ghosts? I am, but at the same time, I have been in reportedly haunted houses and never seen, felt or heard the creaks and groans. Regardless, I’ve always wanted to have an paranormal experience, so when the opportunity came up to spend the night at the Myrtles Plantation – which calls itself “one of America’s most haunted houses” – I jumped at the opportunity.
I arrive just after official plantation tour hours, but the guide very graciously says she’ll give me a tour. It is recommended that you buy tickets ahead of time because they do sell out. The plantation, located in St. Francisville, was built in 1796 by Gen. David Bradford and was expanded upon in the early 1800s by then owner, Ruffin Grey Stirling. The style is a variation of the raised center-hall cottage with a main hallway acting as a breezeway, through the center of the house, with rooms flanking it on either side. The front porch is adorned with ornate cast iron railings, and the interior details such as the open pierced frieze work and the Baccarat crystal chandelier from France are also extravagant. As we tour the home, I peer into the famous mirror in the hallway. Did I see the faces of two children in it? Hmmm. No. But those hand prints are kind of creepy.
As I stroll through the lovely grounds with its large oak trees, azaleas and yellow irises near the small pond in the back, I think this place is too pretty to be haunted and begin to side with those who debunk the theory. Chloe, the slave, who poisoned her master’s two children in a jealous rage? Some say Chloe didn't exist.
However, just as I started taking photos of the house in the front and the back, my digital camera refuses to work. Hmm. That’s odd. Fiddling with the camera, I mull over the fact that historical records do say attorney William Drew Winter, who was married to the Stirling’s daughter, was murdered in the house. It is thought that his murder might have been motivated by his political involvement in the Reconstruction at the time, but no one really knows. There is little evidence he collapsed on the 17th stair, and yet his contributions from beyond the grave supposedly include footsteps heard going up and down those stairs. Did I hear any creaking footsteps on the stairs? No. Did I see a black cat in the back patio? Yes.
Time to shake off the shivers and head to the Caretaker’s Cottage, where I am staying tonight. Located to the side of the house, it has a nice size bed with an additional bunk bed squeezed in. I’m wondering if this is also where the “Ghost Hunters” saw a lamp move across the table without any explanation. Why is the gate to my wooden fence opening by itself? Fooled you! It was just the wind. I wander over to the Carriage House Restaurant, just behind the plantation, for dinner. A delicious Gibson in hand and the menu has a nice variety of Southern style dishes, such as gumbo, étouffée, a seafood platter, fish accented with lump crabmeat, and the imposing sounding Feliciana Eggplant Stacker (fried eggplant medallions topped with the Chef's special seafood stuffing and étouffée sauce). I particularly liked the barbecue shrimp, which is called Shrimp Extravaganza on the menu.
Heading back to the cottage, and inside, I realize that I have no TV. Time to relax, read a book and enjoy the country sounds – crickets, the occasional car, silence. Oh, and I just saw another black cat.
A thump—in what could be considered the attic. It is probably just a bird or a bat trapped (or Chloe stumbling about up there). Speaking of noises—when a friend of mine found out that I was going to the Myrtles, he reminded me of the time when he sat me down to listen to an EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) recording that he and a TV crew had made here. I did pause at the remembrance. How does one explain low-level growls in the background? Shuffling sounds instead of creaks. My friend, normally levelheaded, and the TV crew were so upset by the experience that they left as soon as they were done.
The wind picks up. It’s a thunderstorm. I’m not kidding. I guess I am going to get the mood-appropriate weather for my trip, huh? There’s a thump on the window. Is that the shutter hitting the side of the wall due to the wind? And will someone do something about the squeaky pipes? It sounds like a chair is being dragged across the attic—shades of The Exorcist?
One of those black cats must be in heat, because its yowl sounds otherworldly. I figure out the squeaking noise are the shutters moving on the hinges and not crazy plumbing. Peek outside. Dark. If there are ghosts out there, they could be having a tea party, as far as I can see.
Checking out the photographs of the house I took earlier in the day. I zoom in on various ones, and then … here is something really strange. I have what I call my fuzzy caterpillar image. It’s one of the photos I took of the back of the house, and when I zoom in on the area where the pathway is between the gift shop and the main house, there is a shadowy image. Much like a shadowy black caterpillar that you can see through. I know it’s not a caterpillar, and then I realize that my fuzzy, shadowy figure is almost located in the exact same spot that a shadowy figure, thought to be Chloe, appears in a photo, at the Myrtles.
Windy outside. Heard there might be tornado warnings. Bam! Thunder clap. The wind is strong, and the rain is almost horizontal. Ghosts and black cats are definitely hibernating now. Bed shakes a little. Sci-Fi Channel’s Ghost Hunters, did declare paranormal activity at the plantation, and they are tough judges. Hmmm.
I doze off.
Yep, I fell asleep during the thunderstorm and missed the witching hour. Peek outside. Still really dark. Try to doze.
I am now awake and can tell St. Francisville is stirring by the sound of cars going by.
Stroll into the gift shop, where guests can also have breakfast, it's included in the room rate. Though they don’t officially open until later, the cook gets me some hot tea, and asks how my night was. I told him I slept soundly. He smiles. The black cat, plus another black cat, waits for me outside. I ask the cook how many there are, and he says 20. That’s a lot of bad luck—or counter luck—to tempt.