Tuesday, July 14, 2015

HGB Podcast, Ep. 56 - The Myrtles Plantation

Moment in Oddity - The Mummy of Bishop Peder Winstrup

Lund University is located in Sweden. The school's original benefector and chancellor was Bishop Peder Winstrup. When the Bishop died, his body was preserved with herbs and berries. This caused the body to be mummified. It is so well preserved, that the mummy actually looks very similiar to a painted portrait of Bishop Winstrup with beard and mustache. The University has been studying the mummy for 350 years, cracking the coffin open every few decades. When the casket was opened most recently, an unusual discovery was made as the coffin underwent a CT Scan. Another body was in the coffin. The body was that of a fetus, most likely in the sixth month of development. It was below the feet of the Bishop and had never been seen before. Unbaptized babies were denied a Christian burial back during the Bishop's time, so researchers believe the baby was placed in the coffin as a stowaway, so that it could have a proper burial. DNA tests are being conducted to make sure that...ahem...there is no relation between the Bishop and the baby. A Bishop's mummy so well preserved it is recognizable and concealing the body of a baby for 350 years, certainly is odd. 

This Day in History - First US World's Fair

On this day, July 14th, in 1853, the first US World's Fair opened in New York City at the Crystal Palace. Formally known as the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, this exhibition followed the first such display in London in 1851. The exhibition was meant to display the greatest inventions in the world. A special building was erected in what is now Bryant Park. The building was made from glass and iron and modeled after the building built for the World's Fair in London. It was built in the shape of the Greek cross and had a dome 100 feet in diameter. The Crystal Palace would burn to the ground in 1858. President Franklin Pierce gave the opening address. When the fair closed in November 1854, 1.1 million people had passed through the doors. The grandest industrial achievement of this fair was Elisha Otis' elevator equipped with a safety brake. He demonstrated the invention himself with a dramatic free fall. Three years later the first passenger elevator was installed in a New York City store.

Myrtles Plantation

Southern charm abounds at the beautiful Antebellum Myrtles Plantation. The mansion has been restored to its former glory and houses much of the original architectural and decorative features. The city where it is located has a deep history and once was a very important city in the south. The Myrtles Plantation is considered one of the most haunted places in Louisiana. The story behind the hauntings is tragic and many people claim to have had experiences while staying at the Myrtles, which is now a Bed & Breakfast. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings at the Myrtle Plantation.

The land upon which the Myrtles Plantation was built used to be home for the Tunica Indian tribe. They used parts of the land as a burial ground. Bayou Sara was established on the Tunica Indian land and became a busy port located in a strategically perfect place on the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Natchez. The area was considered part of the colony of British West Florida and the Spanish had taken control. Spain governed the area from 1783-1810. This is one of the only areas that did not end up with French influence. Just above Bayou Sara on a bluff, the town of St. Francisville was established. There was good reason for people to prefer to live above Bayou Sara. The area was plagued with fires and floods. St. Francisville soon became the commercial center of the plantation lands that surrounded the town. Many of the structures in Bayou Sara were transferred up to St. Francisville. In 1810, Spain was pushed out and St. Francisville became the new capitol and governed as a Republic for 74 days until the United States annexed the land into the Orleans Territory.

The story of the Myrtles Plantation begins with the Whiskey Rebellion. This push back by American farmers happened after the Revolutionary War when America's government was just getting started. A large debt was run-up during the war and the nation needed a way to pay it back. Some of that debt included paying back those Americans who fought during the war. Congress used its powers of taxation to levy a tax against liquor, the chief liquor being whiskey. Farmers who were distilling their crops into whiskey were angry because they felt like this was taxation without representation and wasn't that what they had just fought against? The protests turned violent making it impossible for the government to collect the tax. The military got involved and soon the rebellion was suppressed, but collection of the whiskey tax was never really accomplished. The whole ordeal led to the formation of political parties and Thomas Jefferson's Republican Party repealed the Federalist Party's whiskey tax. General David Bradford took part in the Whiskey Rebellion leading to his nickname, "Whiskey Dave." He was born to Irish immigrants and owned land in Pennsylvania. He fled to avoid arrest and ended up in Bayou Sara where he bought 650 acres from the Baron de Corondelet. He built an Antebellum mansion there in 1794 and named it Laurel Grove.

Whiskey Dave passed away and his wife was left to manage the property with their son-in-law Judge Clarke Woodruff. Woodruff  had been a student of Whiskey Dave and had married his teacher's daughter. Life for the Woodruffs was tragic. Judge Woodruff's wife died of yellow fever and sometime later he lost two more of his children to the dreaded disease. He remodeled the mansion after buying the property from his mother-in-law who stayed at Laurel Grove until her death in 1830. In 1834, Ruffin Grey Stirling bought the mansion and completed renovations. Stirling would double the size of the mansion. The mansion that people can visit today is a result of the work Stirling did on the house. The veranda was expanded to 125 feet and the ornate ironwork that is so typical of New Orleans, Louisiana and Savannah, Georgia was wrapped around the veranda. The foyer contains examples of open pierced freizework and faux-bois. Faux-bois is the fancy way the French describe fake woodwork. It has roots in the Renaissance. Freizework is a type of molding. The foyer also holds a 300 pound chandelier made from Baccarat crystal. The entrance contains the original hand-painted and etched stained glass and the design is modeled after the French Cross, which was believed to ward off evil. The mansion also features Carrara marble mantels, gold-leafed French furnishings and Aubusson tapestry. The home was renamed to the Myrtles Plantation for the numerous Crepe Myrtles that grow on the property and in the area.

Stirling died of consumption in 1854. His wife, Mary Cobb, managed the property after that and the Stirling family seemed to have as much tragedy as the Woodruffs. Only four of their nine children survived to adulthood. One daughter's husband was mudered on the front porch, shot by a horseman. Mary managed to hold onto the plantation despite the great loses suffered during the Civil War. They were looted many times by soldiers and her investments in sugar plantations went nowhere. She died in 1880, still owner of the Myrtles. Her son Stephen then bought the home. Oran D. Brooks became the new owner in 1886 because the property was too heavy in debt for Stephen to handle. Brooks then sold the house to Harrison Milton Williams in 1889. The Williams family held the property until the 1950s when Marjorie Munson purchased the plantation. The story of hauntings began then, which we will discuss in a minute. The Myrtles continued to change hands until the 70s when Arlin Dease and Mr. and Mrs. Robert F. Ward became owners. They did more restorations.

The peace and tranquility that one experiences upon first seeing the mansion is broken by the reported hauntings at the plantation.  The giggles, voices and running of children is heard often at the Myrtles. Another child with long curly hair and sporting a long, has been seen floating outside the window of the game room. She is said to cup her hands around her eyes as she peers through the window. Not surprising considering how many children died here, but, of course, we have our opinions about child ghosts. So perhaps this is residual energy. On the first floor is a grand piano that plays itself, usually repeating the same chord over and over. Much to the dismay of guests, the playing goes on and on through the night. Whenever someone goes to investigate to see who might be playing the piano, they find no one and the playing stops abruptly. It sometimes starts again when they leave. It should be pointed out that sometimes hauntings take on a life of their own and legends are born. One such story surrounds the Woodruff family. Stories have been told that it was not yellow fever that killed three family members. Here is the story that most have heard:

Judge Woodruff took up with a slave girl and began an illicit affair. Her name was Chloe. Chloe got a little too comfortable in the house and one time she was discovered by the Judge's wife eavesdropping on a business deal. Mrs. Woodruff cut off the slave's ear and banished her to the kitchen. The good judge was a womanizer and he quickly moved onto another slave girl. Chloe feared that if she fell out of favor, she would be pushed out of the house and forced to work in the fields. Chloe hatched a plan to get back in good graces. If the Judge's children were to become sick, then she could nurse them back to health and secure her place in the house. She baked a pie and included poisonous oleander leaves. She meant to make the children slightly ill, but her knowledge of herbs and such was lacking and she actually killed two of the three children and Mrs. Woodruff. Chloe had made a mistake in telling her fellow slaves of her plan and so when the children died, the other slaves worried that they would be accused of helping Chloe. So they dragged her from the house, hung her and put her body in the river.

Did this really happen? There is no historical record for it, but an interesting picture seems to indicate that something happened to the slave girl named Chloe on the property. The picture of the ghost of Chloe has become well known and is a very convincing photo. In 1992, the Bed & Breakfast owner was snapping pictures for the insurance company. She was stunned to see what appeared to be a slave girl in one of the photos. The National Geographic Explorer featured the Myrtle Plantation in a documentary and they used the picture in the film. They were convinced it was the real deal. In May 1995, Mr. Norman Benoit who was a patent researchist asked to investigate the photo and after his examination, he concluded that the picture was real and that the figure in the picture was human based on the proportions. The length of the shoulder to the elbow, the length of the elbow to the wrist and circumference of the head were perfectly human.

And there is not just the photo as evidence for Chloe. She has been seen as a full body apparition or sometimes it is just her face that appears before a sleeping patron who is awakened in the middle of the night. There is a haunted mirror in the home. People claim to see handprints in the mirror as though they are coming from within the mirror and many pictures have been taken that back up those claims. Could these be handprints in the wood behind the mirror coming through in photos or are spirits really trapped. We've discussed in other podcasts how it is believed that spirits could become trapped in mirrors.

A ghost in a green bonnet or turban has been seen on numerous occassions and could possibly be the ghost captured on film instead of the one that legend has named Chloe. The movie "The Long Hot Summer" was filmed here and one day the crew moved some furniture around before filming a scene. They left for a bit and when they returned, they found the furniture moved back to where it had originally been located. A gateman once witnessed a woman in a white period dress come through the gate, continue toward the house without acknowledging him and he saw her vanish into the house. He quit that very day.

So many experiences have happened at the Myrtles Plantation that are unexplainable. It is clear that something is happening at the beautiful Bed & Breakfast. Is the Myrtles Plantation haunted? That is for you to decide!

1 comment:

  1. I have been here and it is a very peaceful place to stay and one of the best breakfasts that I had on vacation of course I did get woken up by an unseen hand pulling on my toes