Friday, October 14, 2016

Oakland Cemetery - Shreveport, LA (Fee Fo Lais, Cora Lee and the Cotton Patch)

Milam St.
Shreveport, LA 71101

            I have never been too proud for shameless self-promotion. In 2008, when I wrote my first book Paranormal Uncensored: A Raw Look at Louisiana Ghost Hunting, I tried to think of a clever image for the book cover. Despite the saying, people do judge a book by its cover so I had to make sure it had meaning. My book was all about being different than the norm and breaking through the stereotypical paranormal books that were already around. Around this same time, we would conduct an investigation of the famous Shreveport Municipal Auditorium, which we will go into great detail a few blogs from now. We had arrived at the auditorium with daylight to spare and we had noticed a cemetery only a few feet away. We decided to stroll through this unique cemetery, just as any paranormal investigator would do to kill time. We were accompanied by the director of the auditorium at the time and she would give us a crash course on this extremely interesting and historical cemetery.

            Oakland Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in the entire city of Shreveport, being established only several years after Shreveport was founded in 1836. The first noted burial dates back to 1842, with rumor that there are older unmarked graves on the grounds. The cemetery is most known for its notable burials including sixteen of Shreveport's mayors as well as officials from every level of government from the antebellum period, the Confederacy and Reconstruction. Even Mr. Logan of the previously mentioned Logan Mansion is buried here only several hundred yards from his former home. According to the Oakland Cemetery website:

Among those who rest here are Colonel Leon D. Marks, a hero of the defense of Vicksburg who fell in the siege of that city; Justice Thomas T. Land of the State Supreme Court, and Mary Cane, an early businesswoman said to be Shreveport's first female settler. Also buried here are two grandsons of President Zachary Taylor and nephews of President Jefferson Davis; sons of Confederate General Richard Taylor, they died in Shreveport in 1863 but their graves are unmarked. Additionally, in unmarked graves are Martha Bowie Sterrett, sister of Jim Bowie who invented the Bowie knife, and her husband Sheriff Alexander B. Sterrett, the first sheriff of Caddo Parish.”
            As the director of the auditorium escorted us around the cemetery, I couldn't help but notice that as dense as the graves were, there was one particular spot on the property that was completely
Small sign marking the location of the "Cotton Patch".
empty. Well, at least I thought it was empty. Little did I know this area was nicknamed the “cotton patch”. The area served as a mass burial plot for victims of a yellow fever epidemic in 1873. Rumors are that the plot contains hundreds of individuals, literally piled on top of one another, serving as a crude reminder of the horrors caused due to the fatal illness.

            Further exploration of the cemetery would lead me to the most unique grave on the property. As soon as I saw it, I knew a picture of this burial had to serve as the cover for my book. The grave belonged to a wealthy socialite by the name of Cora Lee Wilson, a prominent member of a young Shreveport in the late 1800's. Viewing the grave from the front, I noticed nothing extravagant or eye-catching. Once I walked to the rear, I was surprised to see that the entire side of the brick wall had collapsed, exposing a tiny iron casket. At that moment, I could think of no other image that could rightfully sum up what my entire book would be about. Nothing at the time said, “A Raw Look at Louisiana Ghost
Cheap Plug Time!
Hunting” better than the image of an exposed grave, peeking through a burial plot. What made the casket so interesting was its size, which was incredibly small for a supposed adult. Measuring no more than a foot wide and four feet long, I remembered reading articles which stated that in years past, the limbs of corpses were often broke and folded in order for it to properly fit inside the casket! This would have explained it as, unless Cora Lee was a dwarf, there would have been no way she could have regularly fit in such a small casket.

            The director would go on to tell us about some of the strange encounters that people have had while walking through the cemetery. People have reported seeing strange balls of light, possibly being the old fee fo lais, or will o' wisp, that my grandmother used to tell me about. Folk lore says that these balls of light are lost souls that wander around cemeteries. I would eventually encounter one of these exact light anomalies for myself while traveling down a back road in the small city of Bunkie. Not knowing I was coming up on a cemetery, I noticed a ball of light, about the size of a cantaloupe, literally bounce across the street and into an empty field where it would disappear. This was in the middle of farm country and to this day, I have no idea what I saw or what caused such an anomaly. Returning to the grave of Cora Lee, the director informed us that on numerous occasions, the city had tried to re-brick the mausoleum and every time they did so, the bricks would always fall off on the same side. Some say it is the restless spirit of Cora Lee that
Viewing the grave of Cora Lee Wilson with the one and only
John Zaffis of Haunted Collector!
continues to disrupt her eternal place of slumber. Visitors today will find that the grave has been once again, patched up so the small casket is no longer visible. How long will this stay is anyone’s guess!

            Another spirit said to roam the grounds of Oakland Cemetery is that of a gambler and store owner, Nathan Goldkind. By day, he operated a successful dry foods business, but at night, we was a shrewd gambler. On the morning of June 14, 1885, a local by the name of Gus Logan shot and killed Goldkind. The murder was said to have been over a dispute in a card game in which Goldkind would ultimately lose more than he bargained for. Logan would be arrested but eventually pardoned, as some say he had influential ties within the government. Some say Goldkind's soul aimlessly wanders the cemetery, still distraught that he never received the justice he rightfully deserved. Today, a small monument marks the burial spot of Goldkind with the simple inscription:
"Nathan Goldkind, a native of Plotsk, Poland, Killed in Shreveport, Louisiana by Gus Logan, June 14, 1885, Aged 36 years. In God He Trusted.”
            Visitors to Oakland Cemetery, please be cautious, as the area is not the safest place to trek at night. I highly recommend only visiting during the daytime. When you do visit, admire the ornate tombstones and be sure to pay Cora Wilson a visit. Upon entering the cemetery, immediately hang a right and her gravesite is all the way against the end of the property.

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