When people take precautions to ward off evil spirits they’re either paranoid for no apparent reason or they’ve actually encountered evil spirits and are justifiably wary. The entry doors of the Myrtles Plantation in St. Francesville, Louisiana are surrounded by transoms and sidelights fitted with stained glass representations of the French cross to ward off evil spirits. In the bedroom on the first floor, the Rococo mirror frame features figures of angels who serve the same purpose. It seems the former residents of the Myrtles Plantation were either paranoid or acting quite rationally, defending themselves against something that frightened them.
But that was 200 years ago. The original plantation house was built in 1796, a creole-cottage with a clapboard exterior, a wrap-around veranda and six dormers on the roof. Back then people were superstitious. Today we have science to explain things. Well, try explaining this.
In 1992 the current owners of the Myrtles Plantation sent pictures of the property to the insurance company for evaluation. They were instructed not to include any people in the photos. Two weeks after the pictures were sent, they came back, rejected because they included people in them.
Mrs. Moss objected. She had taken the pictures and knew there were no people in them. The insurance company corrected her. They pointed out the figure of a person visible in the breezeway between the main house and the General Store, an African-American woman wearing a green turban, an intruder. Mrs. Moss almost fell over. She knew the person. It was Chloe, a kitchen slave who had been dead for 200 years.
Chloe’s story is part of the legend of the Myrtles Plantation, a legend that includes a boatload of ghosts and plenty of a paranormal activity, enough to warrant episodes on four different TV series: Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, Unsolved Mysteries, and Most Terrifying Places in America. The Myrtles Plantation has been called the most haunted house in the country. In any case, it’s certainly one of the most haunted houses you can spend the night in.
The Myrtles Plantation is a bed and breakfast. In the daytime it’s quiet and serene and just dripping with antebellum charm, but at night it’s undeniably creepy. We arrived after dark in a misty fog. We were led to our room by the caretaker who must’ve been hired for his unsettling looks. The plantation is centered on a large pond bordered by centuries old oaks draped in Spanish moss. At night unseen creatures scuttle and squirm along its banks, making weird noises.
Fortunately, we were staying in the annex, an eight-bedroom addition built in more modern times. Originally, we had been booked to stay in the original 22-room house, in the nursery, but our plans were postponed and our booking got changed. We were glad of that. And we were glad of something else. We were glad we didn’t take the tour until the next morning. If we had taken it that night we wouldn’t have been able to sleep.
The Myrtles Plantation
The Myrtle’s story starts in 1796 when Revolutionary war General David Bradford moved to St. Francesville from Pennsylvania to escape prosecution for his part in the Whiskey Rebellion. He built the main house and moved his family there in 1799 after President John Adams pardoned him for his part in the uprising. When Bradford died in 1808, his wife handed over management of the plantation to her daughter Sara Mathilda and son-in-law Clark Woodruff. The Woodruffs had three children.
Sometime around 1812 Clark Woodruff purchased a slave named Chloe and brought her into the house as a kitchen slave. Powerfully attracted to her, he forced her to sleep with him. In due course, however, his passion abated, which made him less tolerant of her penchant for eavesdropping. One day he caught her listening at the keyhole, and in a fit of rage cut off her ear. Henceforth, she wore a green turban to cover her disfigurement. But she remained a kitchen slave.
Not long after the incident, Chloe decided to win back her master’s approval by playing the role of savior in a family crisis of her own devising. She plotted to poison Mrs. Woodruff and the three children by adding oleander leaves to a cake and then rescue them with the proper antidote when they got sick. But Chloe miscalculated and accidentally killed them. Horrified, she fled to the cabins of the field slaves for protection. Again, she miscalculated. The field slaves were not about to get punished for harboring the person who killed their master’s family. To demonstrate their loyalty to him, they hung her from the nearest oak. In 1992 her ghost was seen lurking in the breezeway in the pictures for the insurance company.
The Haunted Mirror
The mirror in the entry hall of the main house is said to be one of the the most haunted pieces of furniture in America. After the deaths of Mrs. Woodruff and her children, all the mirrors in the house were draped in black crape to prevent the souls of the dead from getting trapped in them. This was a common superstition at the time. But for some reason the mirror in the entry hall was overlooked.
In time the mirror developed spots and streaks, a common effect of de-silvering which occurs as mirrors age. These spots and streaks were curious, though. They formed hand prints, and what looked to be the profile of a woman screaming. In 2002 the mirror was sent in for re-silvering and came back to the Myrtles clean. Six months later, the same spots and streaks reappeared and can be seen there today.
The Irremovable Stain
In 1834 a heartbroken Clark Woodruff sold the plantation to Ruffin Gray Stirling. The new owner and his wife enlarged the house, roughly doubling its size. They added all sorts of embellishments and furnished the house with expensive imported furniture from Europe, including the Rococo frame and sidelights bearing symbols to ward off evil spirits.
Yet the symbols were not enough to ward off the Union Army. During the Civil War, Union soldiers ransacked the house, carrying away much of the Sterling’s expensive furniture. As the story goes, in the mayhem that followed three soldiers lost their lives, and the body of one of them lay across the threshold in a pool of blood. The blood stain remains there to this day. No amount of scrubbing and cleaning can remove it. From time to time an unseen force even prevents mops or brooms from pushing into that space.
A Commotion on the Steps
After the war and following the death of her husband, Mrs. Stirling hired William Drew Winter to manage the plantation. Mr. Winter married Mrs. Stirling’s daughter, Sarah, and together they had six children. One of their children, Kate, died from typhoid at the age of three. Her ghost is said to haunt the upstairs nursery, the room where we had originally been booked to stay. I’m glad we didn’t stay there. Occupants have reported hearing sounds of a child playing at night. I’m pretty sure that would’ve kept me awake and creeped me out of my mind.
Poor Kate’s father didn’t fare so well either. William Drew Winter was gunned down on the veranda by an angry debtor. The impact of the blast carried him back into the parlor where he struggled to his feet and tried to make his way up the stairs to his wife. He crawled all the way to the seventeenth step before he perished. Of all the ghosts in the house, his is the most active. Guests frequently report the sounds of someone stumbling and struggling up the steps at night. When they go to investigate, nobody is there.
Fair Game for Ghosts
In addition to these disembodied spirits there are others, including the ghost of a girl who died of an illness in the house in 1868. Legend has it that she was treated by a local voodoo priestess who failed to save her. Now the girl’s ghost appears in the room in which she died where she attempts to practice voodoo on whoever is sleeping there. Again, I was relieved to be staying in the annex.
But even the annex is not free from ghosts according to the docent who conducted our tour the morning after our stay. In fact, there’s no place you can go on the grounds of the Myrtles Plantation where you are not fair game for ghosts, twelve of them by some counts, as many as nineteen by others. It seems the new homeowners who bought the plantation from the widow Winter in 1886 thought so; they lasted only three years. Subsequent owners lasted even less.
Finally, in 1891 Harrison Milton Williams bought the plantation. He must’ve had the stomach for such things because he kept the plantation in his family until 1950’s when he sold it to Marjorie Munson, who was the first person to spread the news about the hauntings. The house went through another series of jittery owners in the 1970’s before being purchased by James and Frances Myers who turned it into a bed and breakfast.
In the 1970’s Mrs. Myers wrote a book about the hauntings in which she declared the Myrtles Plantation the most haunted house in America. Few have tried to dispute her. In the 1990’s the house was bought by the current owners, John and Teeta Moss, who continue to operate it as a bed and breakfast. It was Mrs. Moss who sent the photos to the insurance company only to receive them back with the specter of Chloe lurking in the background. But these were not the only photos Mrs. Moss received with images of ghosts in them.
Over the years, former guests of the Myrtles have sent back pictures. The number and quality of these pictures are startling. They are not grainy snapshots with vague outlines that could be smudges or discolorations. Most are fairly recent. Some are clearly digital. The people in them are posing with pasted on smiles, relaxing on the veranda, or mugging for the camera. In every case they are oblivious to the apparition behind them, a grim face peering out a window, a dark figure flitting down a flight of steps, a young woman standing beside a piano.
Sure, the pictures could’ve been doctored, but why? It’s hard to believe the former guests would go to so much trouble to promote someone else’s narrative? Maybe the Moss’s themselves doctored the photos. But that assumes a level of chicanery that’s hard to square with the plantation’s longstanding reputation. The stories of apparitions and reports of paranormal activity would’ve been enough to promote the hauntings without the need for photographic evidence. Remember, as far back as 1834 Mrs. Stirling was taking precautions to ward off evil spirits.
Practically from day one the Myrtles Plantation has been haunted, and the hauntings have continued to the present day. The production crew who filmed the TV show Unsolved Mysteries experienced a slew of technical difficulties while filming at the Myrtles. I myself experienced several glitches while trying to post to my blog, glitches that were unprecedented and downright weird. As soon as I left the property, they cleared right up.
It seems intrusive ghosts are the hallmark of the Myrtles Plantation. But why? Plenty of old houses have experienced death. Few are haunted. But the Myrtles is a hotbed of paranormal activity. Why?
Rumor has it that the Myrtles was built on an ancient Tunica Indian burial ground. Anyone who has seen the movie Poltergeist knows this is bad news. If you’ll recall, the family in the movie was afflicted by a bunch of malicious spirits because the nice suburban track house they had purchased was built on an old Indian burial ground. While the ghosts that haunt the Myrtles are not nearly as malevolent as the spirits in the popular 1982 movie, the degree of paranormal activity is similar.
Fortunately, my wife and I didn’t encounter any ghosts while staying at the Myrtles. I’ve encountered ghosts before, and it’s not a pleasant experience. Again, I credit the fact that we weren’t staying in the main house. The docent told us lots of guests who stay there don’t make it through the night. Even hardcore skeptics have fled before dawn. It’s not uncommon.
Whatever it is in the human spirit that likes to be scared, whatever looks forward to horror movies and Halloween will find the Myrtles Plantation of particular interest. It offers the same spine tingling challenge that’s the opening premise for so many horror movies. See if you can spend a night in this house.
Even if you don’t run away before dawn with your heart hammering in your chest and your hair standing on end, you’ll still have a creepy good time.
Check it out
The Myrtles Plantation
7747 US Hwy 61
St Fracesville, LA
Previous Stop on the Odyssey: The Natchez Trace Scenic Parkway
Next Stop on the Odyssey: The Texas Killing Fields
My American Odyssey Route Map
The main house at night, Malcolm Logan
A ghost in the breezeway, The Myrtles Plantation
We arrived after dark, Malcolm Logan
Courtyard fountain at night, Malcolm Logan
Painting of Clark Woodruff, The Myrtles Plantation
Hand print on the mirror, Malcolm Logan
The Myrtles around the time of the Civil War, The Myrtles Plantation
Portrait of Little Kate, The Myrtles Plantation
The docent, Malcolm Logan
Guests with ghost behind them, The Myrtles Plantation
Man sitting on step with ghost in window, The Myrtles Plantation
Ghost descending the stairs, The Myrtles Plantation
A ghost in broad daylight, The Myrtles Plantation