Saturday, September 3, 2016

Joseph Jefferson Mansion - New Iberia, LA (Rip Van Winkle and the Buried Treasure)

5505 Rip Van Winkle Rd.
New Iberia, LA 70560

            In all my years of investigating, I don't think I have ever visited a location where the land itself has an even more interesting history than the haunted house that sits there. That is, until I visited the Joseph Jefferson Mansion and Rip Van Winkle Gardens, located on the outskirts of New Iberia on Jefferson Island. Although the focal point of this blog will be the home, to truly appreciate the complexity of this location, I must first introduce you to the unique land.
            Jefferson Island, originally known as Orange Island, helps make up the famous “Five Islands” of Louisiana. The islands were created due to enormous pressures in the earth, forcing large amounts of salt rock to form a mother bed located five miles below the earth's surface. This elevated several low laying hills, which became the five islands: Jefferson, Weeks, Belle Isle, Cote Blanche and Avery Island. These islands are elevated anywhere between fifty and one hundred feet above sea level, which due to the islands' proximities to the Gulf of Mexico, this is considered extremely high ground.

            Jefferson Island initially began as a Spanish land grant, reported to have fallen into the hands of the brother-in-law to the famed pirate, Jean Lafitte. It is said that this infamous pirate often patrolled the nearby Bayou Carlin in his shallow-drift pirate boat. These secluded and low-lying waterways were the optimum place for Lafitte to elude his captors and also gave him many different avenues to bury his precious treasure. These rumors were proven to be more than that, as in 1923,
Placard noting the tree where buried treasure was recovered.
several pots of Spanish, Mexican, French and American gold and silver coins were discovered by a Voodoo priest named “Daynight”. The treasure was discovered near one of the ancient oak trees, said to have been over three hundred and fifty years old. After the discovery, the trees were appropriately called the Lafitte Oaks. Further research has found that it was not uncommon for one of Lafitte's fellow pirates to be killed and buried at the site of buried treasure. The theory was that the kamikaze pirate would live on in eternity to protect the treasure from unwanted hands. There has been no evidence of human remains near the burial site, but that doesn't mean it did not happen.

            The property was purchased in 1869 by Joseph Jefferson, a famed actor for the time, known for his Broadway performance as Rip Van Winkle in the play based on the writings of Washington Irving. In 1870, Jefferson built the beautiful twenty-two room mansion that sits on the property today. The mansion was often visited by Jefferson close friend, President Grover Cleveland. The home is quite unique, being built in a style not common of the era.
            After a long and productive life, Jefferson died in 1905, leaving the mansion and grounds to his heirs. In 1917, the land was purchased by John Bayless Sr. and eventually handed down to his son, John Jr. John Jr. is accountable for developing the lavished twenty acre garden that sits there today, containing fauna from all over the world. The garden was appropriately called the Rip Van Winkle Gardens.
Mr. Joseph Jefferson himself.
            In 1985 John Bayless Jr. died and the property sat abandoned for eleven years until it was sold in 1996 to Dr. Don Ray. After renovating the property to its former beauty, it was then sold to Mr. Mike Richard of Live Oak Gardens, LTD., who still owns the property to this very day. Mr. Richard has been essential in granting us permission to the home and property on numerous occasions and we are eternally grateful to him.
            Another interesting tale associated with the property took place in November of 1980. To the rear of the grand mansion lies Lake Peigneur, an eleven acre lake that spills into Bayou Carlin. Due to the land's abundance in oil, gas and sulfur, a drilling crew was attempting to collect resources from the lake. Rumors are that the drill path was only six inches off the original plans. This miscalculation, which some may consider minor, proved to be a devastating error. The drill bit broke through the earth and hit a cavern of one of the many salt domes in the area. News flash here guys; salt and water do not mix! As small amounts of water began to flow through the hole, a chain reaction took place. As more salt melted, more water rushed through, causing the hole to grow larger and larger. The result of this reaction was an awe-inspiring fifty foot whirlpool that sucked in the entire eleven acre lake in roughly three hours! The massive suction, more intense than a Bourbon Street madam, pulled trees, barges and other equipment deep underground. Fortunately, there were no human casualties, as all workers were able to escape with their lives.
            This unbelievable oddity left quite the scar on the cheek of Jefferson Island. Further intrigue would ensue, as the current owner was digging through the sinkhole, he discovered the lower jaw bone and tusks of an ancient Mastodon. Upon further excavation, additional fossils were discovered
Photo of several barges being sucked under Lake Peigneur in 1980
such as ancient horse teeth and other prehistoric bones. These amazing discoveries are available for viewing in the home's gift shop along with incredible pictures from the 1980 sinkhole disaster.

            With land that contains enough history to deserve its own book, we are not done, as we haven't even touched the hauntings that have been reported inside of the home. During a tour of the home one day, a guest noticed a little girl in the hallway. As she figured she was just a guest who wandered from her parents, the young girl reportedly vanished into the wall! This young girl of unknown origin has been predominantly seen throughout the home over the last few years. One of the maids in the home has reported several personal experiences. One night, as she was alone in the kitchen storage room, she spoke out loud to the spirit of the little girl. As she did this, Styrofoam cups from a dispenser began to shoot out behind her. In addition, a guest claimed to have seen a tall, slender apparition in the guest rooms, which were once the servant quarters. Also, in the servant quarters, a house keeper reported that while she was cleaning the rooms, she witnessed a television remote literally fly off the desk. Another worker, while cleaning the floors of the main house, heard what she claimed to be a woman crying. Further inspection showed no one else was present. Other reports have been lights turning on and off and locked doors opening on their own.
            The most predominant activity has continuously been in the upstairs windows of the room where Mr. Jefferson would regularly sit and paint. Numerous guests have reported seeing an elderly man, which resembled pictures of Joseph Jefferson, gazing out of these windows. We knew that during our investigation we had to focus our attention on this area. We placed an infrared camera on the inside of the room, looking toward the large picture windows. Further review of the recorded video proved to be rewarding, as we captured one of the most unique light anomalies we have ever captured! Initially, or camera captured what appeared to be a dust orb slowly floating up to the right window, which generated no interest. Suddenly, the light anomaly stops for a brief moment, moves to the left window for a second, back to the right window, then suddenly bolts out the ride side of the picture! It is quite an impressive video to watch, as it appears as though the orb has a mind of its own, moving back and forth. What is even more interesting is that the orb follows the behavior of previous reports of Mr. Jefferson gazing throughout each window. Could this have been residual energy of Mr. Jefferson? I will probably never know, but it will remain as one of my favorite pieces of evidence ever obtained. You be the judge, as you can view this exceptional piece of video by clicking HERE
One of many beautiful peacocks that roam the grounds.
            Another area that has garnered interesting results is the adjacent banquet hall. In this location, the maid previously reported seeing cups flying from the dispenser. During several investigations, we have received numerous unexplainable EMF spikes and group members have reported seeing a strange shadowy figure. In our most memorable encounter in the banquet hall, we were able to get a plastic soda bottle to move several times, on its own, after specific questions were asked. Although the video did not capture the bottle moving very significantly, you can still view it for yourself HERE.
            After several years have gone by, we have been contemplating the idea of making another return visit to the beautiful Joseph Jefferson Mansion and Rip Van Winkle Gardens. We highly recommend you pay this lovely home a visit as well. Whether it is to admire the beautiful landscaping, lush gardens, ornate home, or even other subtleties such as the roaming peacocks and the inconspicuous bomb shelter, built here during the Cuban Missile Crisis and disguised as part of the home, there is much to appreciate by all. Yes, I said bomb shelter! When you do visit, keep all senses on high alert, as you never know when you may encounter something strange. In an area that could be inhabited by everything from an attached former owner, unknown young girl and even a potentially defensive pirate, one can only expect one hell of a night!

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