Sunday, October 23, 2016

Myrtles Plantation - St. Francisville, LA (Deciphering Fact from Fiction)

7747 U.S. 61
St. Francisville, LA 70775
30.767827,-91.320355


            It goes without saying, yet I will say it anyways, that the world can often be a letdown. Remember how fun events such as Christmas, Easter and losing a tooth were until you learned the cold truth that those chipper and festive characters you loved and adored were simply your parents? As you grew older, huge delusions of grandeur set in. As a teen, I just knew that the day I got my license I would have a brand new sports car waiting for me. Reality quickly set in, as I would not get my own vehicle until I was nineteen and it was a hand-me-down pick-up truck with nearly three hundred thousand miles. Prior to that, I had to chauffeur my mom around in her Pontiac Bonneville, which was powder blue in color with a big kitty cat license plate on the front. Needless to say, this was not the chick magnet I had in mind, if you know what I mean! Growing up, I quickly learned that all that glittered wasn’t gold. Hell, in many cases, that glitter effect is simply particles of lead in gun powder and we all know how quickly that can go up in smoke.
            As I approached our next location, I contemplated how I would possibly be able to give it the justice it deserved. If you make huge claims like being the most haunted house in the most haunted state, how do you truly touch on every piece of haunted history and ghostly encounter? I decided that the best place to start was with the plain and simple hard facts. As I recollected every haunted story told of the infamous Myrtles Plantation, I gathered a plethora of endless tales of paranormal activity from the ten or so murders that are said to have occurred here. As I separated the years of stories from the confirmed documented deaths, I came to a startling discovery that surprised me. To my amazement, the stack of facts was literally non-existent in comparison to the legends that have been told to endless numbers of tour groups and mystery hounds. Wait a minute, if this is supposed to be the most haunted house in America, how on earth is there not more concrete evidence? At this time, allow me to throw the disclaimer out that I am not debating the fact that the Myrtles is haunted, as there are way too many credible individuals who have encountered very legitimate ghostly experiences here. With years of fact and fiction blending together into a mythical gumbo, time and elaborations continue to mix the stew more and more until we have a frothy bowl of misconceptions. It’s not a matter of whether or not the Myrtles is haunted, but what causes it to be so active?

            The illustrious history of this notorious home with the pretty name began in 1796, when it was built by General David Bradford. Bradford was a successful Pennsylvanian lawyer and deputy attorney-general who became famous for his association with the Whiskey Rebellion. With a five hundred dollar bounty on his head, “Whiskey Dave” fled from his home in Pennsylvania and made it to Louisiana, where he would build his modest eight bedroom home, initially known as Laurel Grove. Bradford would live here alone until 1799, when he received a pardon from President John Adams for his assistance in establishing a boundary line, known historically as “Ellicott’s Line” between Spain and the United States. Once he was free from any persecution, he quickly returned to Pennsylvania to retrieve his wife, Elizabeth Porter Bradford, and their five children.
            As the Bradford family became settled in their home, old Whisky Dave began mentoring a young lawyer by the name of Clark Woodruff. The up and coming attorney obtained more than knowledge and wisdom from General Bradford, as he would also win the heart of his daughter, Sara Mathilda. The two would wed, move in to Laurel Grove and have three children; Cornelia Gale, James and Mary Octavia. Sometime around 1823, Sara, Cornelia and James passed away. The motives to their deaths generate a great deal of controversy, which we will get to in a moment.
            In 1831, Elizabeth Bradford would pass away, leaving the home to Woodruff and his
Antique photograph of an early Myrtle's Plantation.
remaining daughter, Mary Octavia. The two would leave the home in the hands of a caretaker while they would move to Covington. In 1834, Woodruff would sell the plantation, land and its slaves to Ruffin Gray Stirling before dying in 1851. Along with his wife, Mary Catherine Cobb, the two would completely remodel the home, doubling its size and renaming it the Myrtles, due to the beautiful crape myrtles found on the property. The Stirlings would go on to have a total of nine children, with five of them dying at young ages. In 1854, Stirling died and left the plantation to his wife.

            In 1865, history would repeat itself, when Mary hired a young attorney by the name of William Drew Winter to oversee the family affairs. Lawyers must have had a thing for their clients’ daughters at the time, as Winter would court and eventually wed Mary’s daughter, Sarah. The two would have six children together, with one by the name of Kate Winter who would die from typhoid at the age of three. In 1871, William Winter was reportedly shot on the porch of the house by a man named E.S. Webber. He would crawl into the home and succumb to his wounds minutes later, collapsing on the staircase. According to staff, Webber died on the seventeenth step, to be exact. Sarah remained at the Myrtles with her mother and siblings until 1878, when she died. Mary Cobb died in 1880, and the plantation passed on to Stephen, one of her sons. The plantation was heavily in debt so Stephen sold it in 1886 to Oran D. Brooks. Brooks sold it in 1889, and the house changed hands several times until 1891, when it was purchased by Harrison Milton Williams.
            By the turn of the twentieth century, the land that surrounds the house was divided among the heirs of Harrison Milton Williams once he died. In the 1950’s, the house itself was sold to Marjorie Munson, who is said to be the first resident to begin experiencing ghostly encounters there. The plantation went through several more ownership changes in the 1970s before being bought by James and Frances Kermeen Myers. The Myers were the first to begin running the plantation as a bed and breakfast, followed by new owner Teeta Moss. Today, dozens of visitors flock to the Myrtles weekly, to tour the house and learn more about the hauntings that have been experienced here. Those that are even braver, push their luck by staying the night in one of the guestrooms. Visitors who take the haunted history tour here are bombarded with a barrage of ghostly legends filled with murder, corruption and deceit. Pull up a chair and get comfortable folks, as we are about to get knee deep in the vast history of the Myrtles.
            The most widely told tale is that of a young slave by the name of Chloe who was owned by Mark and Sara Woodruff. From here, there are three different stories that remain prominent. The first is that Chloe was a secret mistress of Mark’s. As time went on, Chloe’s adoration for Mark grew while the feeling may not have often been returned. Chloe came up with a methodical way to garner the definitive admiration from her secret lover. Having dabbled in Voodoo, Chloe had knowledge of various powders and ingredients that could garner specific results. She was aware of the oleander plant, whose leaves were extremely poisonous, if ingested. Chloe’s plan was to bake a cake using a slight amount of the toxic leaves just to make the Woodruff children sick enough to be concerned. Being she would be the only one who knew the legitimate reason for the illness, she would save the day by administering the appropriate remedy to cure the dying family. Mark would then be in debt to Chloe forever and the two would live happily ever after. Apparently, Chloe was not as skilled in her gris-gris as she thought.  The concentration of oleander leaves were said to be too strong, killing Cornelia, James and Sara.
            Another variation of this story is that Chloe was not as infatuated with Mark Woodruff as we have been led to believe. Some say that Chloe served as a forced mistress to a very promiscuous Woodruff. The biggest perk to being his mistress was being able to work inside and not have to spend hours in the field under the grueling sun. As time went on, Mark set his eyes on another slave. This frightened Chloe, as she feared that she was soon to be replaced and sent out to work in the fields. In this version, Chloe devised the plan of poisoning the family and bringing them back to good health not to win the love of Woodruff, but simply to lock in her permanent role of an indoor worker. This version has long been frowned upon, as it is said to undeservingly portray Mark Woodruff in a negative light.
            Finally, a third version of the story tells a completely different tale and portrays Chloe as a nosey and sneaky slave who enjoyed eavesdropping on the business affairs of Mark Woodruff. In one particular case, Woodruff caught Chloe with her ear to the door as she listened to a conversation about his latest business move. Irate, he ordered that Chloe be taken behind the home and have one of her ears cut off as a less than subtle way of simply saying, “You don’t cross the boss!” Chloe would then walk around with a green turban pulled down to one side, to hide the ugly scar left behind due to her nosiness. As time passed, Chloe’s hatred for Woordruff grew into the devious plot of poisoning his family.
            As contrasting as the three tales are, they all end in the same manner. Regardless of which version you are told, when fellow slaves learned of the murders carried out by a now one-eared Chloe, they were furious and alerted Mark Woodruff of what had happened. With his approval, she was taken to one of the large oak trees on the property and hanged. Once dead, she was cut down, her body was weighted down with rocks and she was thrown into a nearby body of water. Some say she was dumped into the Mississippi River which is approximately three miles away from where the crow flies. A closer body of water, known as Grant’s Bayou, may have served as a better place to dump the body due to its proximity to the home.
            Ok folks, here’s where we grab our socks and pull tight, as we cut through the clutter and decipher fact from fiction, while shaving off the elaborations for good measure. It is no secret that plantation owners kept a very meticulous log of their slaves as this was their property and farm equipment. As unfortunate as slavery was, this is how slaves were thought of at the time so a detailed manifest was regularly kept. Researchers have spent countless hours sifting through the records of the Woodruff family and no one has ever been able to locate a record of them ever owning a slave by the name of Chloe. Further examination has found that Sara, Cornelia and James Woodruff did not, in fact die from poisoning. Get this guys, records indicate that Sara died in 1823 with Cornelia and James soon dying the following year, all of whom succumbed to yellow fever. But wait, this can’t be possible! How can such an elaborate and widely told story be so untrue? Some feel that the legends originate from the 1950’s when Marjorie Munson previously owned the home and began experiencing strange events. Along with her relatives, the group would discuss the events, acknowledging that they had seen the apparition of a woman with a green bonnet or turban. The
Interior view of the entrance way.
family joked about the ghost, comically naming it Chloe. From there, the legendary story was born and elaborated with time. Just as I mentioned earlier, it’s similar to the game we played as kids where you began with a phrase and whispered it to your friend. The phrase was added to each time it was relayed. By the time it made it through twenty people, you had quite an elaborate story.

            In addition to these four murders, several others have been widely mentioned throughout the years. Next, is the story of three Union soldiers who had broken into the home in an attempt to ransack it of its valuables. Their robbery was spoiled as they were discovered and shot to death, all dying in the area now known as the gentlemen’s parlor, where the blood-soaked wood floors were reportedly visible for quite some time. Although the story is incredible and really makes those fifteen dollars you paid for the tour seem worth it, guess what? According to experienced researcher and investigator Troy Taylor, records indicate that no such botched robbery ever took place in the home, nor were there three Union soldiers killed at the Myrtles. Another death widely mentioned is that of a former caretaker who was shot in the home in 1927 during a robbery attempt. This story is partially true, as Eddie Haralson, brother-in-law of former owner Harrison Milton Williams, was in fact shot and killed but it did not take place inside of the main home.
            The one murder that has been verified as taking place at the main home is that of William Drew Winter, who was shot on the porch. However, when one digs deep enough into the story, the tale may not be as dramatic as it is often portrayed. Although the legend sounds like a page from a romantic novel, Winter did not stumble through the home, finally breathing his last breath in the arms of his loving wife on the seventeenth step. Records indicate that Winter was shot and died on the porch, never making it inside.

The infamous Myrtle's Mirror. Not sure if they need a ghost hunter
or a bottle of Windex to cure the phenomena.
            As I said earlier, I am not attempting to completely discredit and nullify years of haunted experiences at the Myrtles, as I am simply trying to find out the truth. I do not doubt that the home is haunted for one minute. My question is, what are the true reasons the Myrtles is such an active location? If history has proven that no slave by the name of Chloe ever existed and only a fraction of the murders reported to have taken place even occurred, then why are there years of reports, photographs, video and audio of strange and unexplainable activity? I’m sure some staff or die-hard fans of the Myrtles may not like what I have had to say, as it completely negates everything that has been said on a regular basis on every haunted tour and interview but I am a stickler for the truth. As the former New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison said during the trial of Clay Shaw in connection with the JFK assassination, “Let justice be done though the heavens fall.” It is a shame that this search for the truth is not sought after by all paranormal investigative groups. So many people want to claim that every speck of dust and overexposed shudder is definitive proof of life after death. Every dirty window and flash glare is not a demonic face nor is a mosquito an “angel”! Yes, I have actually seen pictures of mosquitoes that “investigators” have taken, claiming the pesky creatures were angels. There is nothing wrong with calling a spade a spade, blowing the B.S. whistle when something doesn’t look right. You only fool yourself and discredit your group when you do not do the proper research and claim every anomaly is of the paranormal realm.
            Another regular stop when touring the Myrtles is the infamous mirror. Guides tell of a haunted mirror that shows the silhouettes and handprints of many of those who have reportedly died on the grounds. No matter how many times the mirror has been replaced, the same images reappear in the same spots. Some feel that the effect is simply matrixing generated from a defect in the wood backing of the mirror. Others feel that the handprint belongs to a young girl who is said to have died in 1868, after treatment attempts failed by a local voodoo practitioner. It is very possible that the young child in question could be the previously mentioned Kate Winter who died of typhoid.
Famous photo reportedly showing the ghost of Chloe.
            Now that I have probably made quite a number of enemies and have earned myself a lifetime ban from any future visits of the Myrtles, I suppose I should try and cool the flames by at least mentioning some of the reported activity there. Sometime in the 1980’s a very interesting photograph was taken. I am not certain, but I once heard the photo was taken for insurance purposes and was of the rear of the main home and the adjacent outdoor kitchen. When the photo was developed, the translucent image of an elderly woman in a dress and head wrap was seen between the two buildings. It is hard to blame matrixing on the anomaly, as it is quite apparent that the image is of an elderly woman. While some say this is the entity of Chloe, the woman appears to me much older than the young slave who was said to have lived here. This could have very well been the apparition of the woman long reported by former owner Marjorie Munson, eventually culminating into the legendary Chloe.
             In 2005, one of our former group members captured an intriguing photo taken outside of the Myrtles. The picture shows what appears to be the image of a woman in a long dress holding the hands of two young children. When using the nearby oak tree as a reference, the heights of the anomalies are comparable to living figures. When one examines the property, they find several statues, none of which are the size of the images captured. I have attached the picture below for your viewing pleasure.
             The apparitions of several young children have been seen in the house and on the grounds.
Photo we captured over ten years ago. Focus on the bottom left,
as it appears to be an adult holding the hands of two children.
Guests have awaked to the apparitions of these children along with an elderly black woman with a head wrap, sometimes smoking a pipe. Could they be the children of Mark Woodruff and daughter of William Winter? Although Yellow Fever and typhoid were the causes of their deaths, their spirits could have very well stayed behind. As mentioned with the elderly woman, this could very well be the spirit of our Chloe imposter who seems to feel the need to tend to the children, as she is often seen in their presence, as with our photo we captured.

             Others who visit the home have reported objects moving on their own, the piano playing by itself and unexplainable cold spots. Friends of mine who have toured the home have reported unseen hands touching them and feeling fingers move through their hair. Others have walked away with incredible Class A EVP’s and other impressive forms of legitimate paranormal evidence. It has been about ten or so years since I have last visited the Myrtles. As with the living, I tend to push away the dead, as they usually do not interact much with me. I guess they are equally annoyed with me as those with a pulse. I have never had any strange encounters during my visits but I do remember that the last time I was there, I had my daughter with me who was only about nine months at the time. In every picture that we took of the two of us, she was continuously staring up in the trees, heavily focused on something. Although nothing points to the paranormal, I always comically said she was either looking at the ghost children that were sitting in the trees or a freshly-executed “Chloe”.
               As with many locations similar to the Myrtles, you will often have those undying believers that truly feel that every single picture they snap or audio they record contains some form of ghost. I remember several years ago, I was giving a lecture at one of the local universities when I was approached by a woman with a photo album full of pictures taken at the Myrtles. One in particular, was her favorite, as she swore that she had captured a demonic face in the image. Upon further examination, the red demonic face she was referring to was simply a wooden bird house with a red roof that was hanging in the trees. When I proceeded to tell her different she became extremely defensive and refused to accept my opinion, closing her album and storming off. Sometimes there is no debating these types of people, as you will never sway them. You simply smile and thank them for sharing their “evidence”. Additionally, I cannot tell you how many people present me with the notorious “faces in the mirror pictures” that they captured at the home. Once and for all, please let me analyze every one of these pictures with three simple words: dirty old mirror!
              Finally, I must bring up the million dollar question, at least in my mind. If a place is as legitimately haunted as the Myrtles Plantation is, then why continuously tell so many stories that have been proven as incorrect? It’s sort of like when it was discovered that Milli Vanilli never sang their music and lip-synced all of their songs. After they were stripped of their Grammy Awards, they appeared on a late night show in an attempt to sooth the negative publicity. They gave a live performance and, to everyone’s surprise, actually sounded pretty good. The big question was, “If they could sing all along, why fake it?”
              In the case of the Myrtles, I truly feel that it is not a case of any intentional fibbing. Instead, complacency sticks with what works and with what everyone is familiar with. If years of staff and visitors are accustomed to Chloe and the legends that have been passed down, they why mess with perfection? I guess it’s an approach that can best be described as the glass is half empty or half full. You are either the type of person that focuses on the events that are proven to be untrue or you are the type who says, “Well, if it can’t be verified then we just assume.” If facts are proven to be false then speculation is generated. Once that occurs, you hit that fork in the road where you either try to chase that carrot on a string or you just stick with tradition. Such can be said with the Myrtles. As I said, I didn’t quite know how to give such a well-known location justice. My approach may not be liked by all, but I felt it was necessary to put out a few flames. In discussing the most haunted home of the most haunted state, it was only suiting that I gave it the most attention. To sum up so much, I will leave you with so little:

Is the Myrtles really that haunted? HELL YES!

Are all the stories told accurate? HELL NO!

Do the tourists really care? Probably not!
 

1 comment:

  1. I can't truly say that Myrtles is a hunted place or not because i have never been there but i do want to say that sometime we don't believe until that happen with us.

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