Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Blow to Identity--LeBeau House

Last month, a group of seven men dealt a heavy blow to Southern identity and to the reputation of paranormal investigation. In search of ghosts, these men broke into the historic LeBeau House in Arabi, Louisiana. Apparently frustrated by the lack of paranormal activity provided by the home’s resident spirits, they set fire to the ancient structure. By the early morning hours of November 22, a small piece of Southern identity lay in ashes, the reputation of paranormal investigation lay open to derision and seven suspects were in jail with their futures in question.

In an article following the fire in the The Times-Picayune, Richard Campanella remarked on the “exceptional nature” of the LeBeau House in Arabi, Louisiana. Architecturally, the home was a treasure that showed the mélange of influences at work—French, Creole, American—in the region at the time. But also in terms of identity, the house served as an identifying feature of Arabi and extending further afield to St. Bernard Parish, the New Orleans metro area, the state of Louisiana and the South as a whole.
 
The LeBeau House in 2006. Photo by Infrogmation, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Campanella continues, “the identity and economy of our region rest on the aged timbers and piers of our historical structures.” Indeed, the identity of the South rests on the many historic structures that dot the landscape like tombstones or mile markers to our history. While some of these places are protected, there are still many places like the LeBeau House that are unprotected and desolately waiting for a savior.

Though, it was not just the South’s identity that took a blow in the early morning hours of November 22, the pursuit of paranormal investigation also received a blow from a group of so-called “ghost hunters.” As the news of the home’s spectacular loss was splashed across newspapers from coast to coast some authors looked to blame paranormal investigation itself as one of the reasons for the home’s destruction.

Allegedly, a group of seven men broke into the LeBeau House in search of the home’s storied ghosts. Some of the men had been smoking marijuana and alcohol may have also been involved. An officer from the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s office remarked that the men became frustrated trying to summon spirits and decided to set the house ablaze. Within minutes, the 10,000 square foot mostly wood frame structure became fully involved and by sunrise had been reduced to smoldering ashes.

Though they had already broken the tenants of responsible paranormal investigation by breaking into the secured house for an unauthorized investigation, their abject stupidity led them further to destroy the landmark. Even if the fire was set without the intent to destroy the home, the men were obviously too dense to think through the possible consequences of doing such a thing in an old wood structure.

The circa 1854 home was one of the largest unrestored antebellum structures in the New Orleans Metropolitan area. The Mereaux Foundation, which owned the property, had been looking for ways to preserve the home and had done basic work to shore up the decaying structure. They’d also secured the structure with a chain-link fence and by boarding up the windows and doors.

According to the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff, Jimmy Pohlmann, “we all heard ghost stories [about the LeBeau House] while growing up.” Those same stories drew the seven suspects to the house where they may have tried provoking the spirits before destroying the house. Most stories involve a very typical woman in white who is seen within the ancient structure.

In an article from Mother Nature Network, the author derides paranormal investigation by describing it as “harmless (and fruitless) fun,” that can have a “dark, dangerous side.” It continues by recounting a few recent incidents where ghost hunters have been injured or even killed while pursuing ghosts. Among them, a 2010 incident where a ghost hunter was killed by a train while investigating Bostian Bridge near Statesville, North Carolina, the scene of a tragic, 19th century rail disaster.

These seven men—it’s interesting that they come in a sacred number—have, with their selfish actions, wounded the reputation of paranormal investigation as well. Granted, the reputation was not the greatest to begin with, but as this story has spread the reputation has been furthered sullied.

To hopefully begin the process of repairing our public image I have two proposals.

First, there is a need to rebrand ourselves a bit. To accomplish this there is a need for us to retire the phrase “ghost hunting” in describing what we do. It’s an issue of implications. By describing what we do as “investigating,” we are implying a methodical, organized search that may involve evidence—exactly what a detective does. “Hunting” on the other hand, implies seeking out and killing, certainly the opposite of what we’re intending to do. Therefore, “paranormal investigation” is the best choice. We’re seeking to understand spirits, not destroy them.

Second, there is a need for a code of conduct. I would suggest an oath similar to the Hippocratic Oath taken by health professionals. There are a number of points I think should be included:

  • “First, do no harm.” The Latin phrase primum non nocere does not actually appear in the Hippocratic Oath, though often it is thought to be adapted from it. Most certainly, this sums up in four words what paranormal investigators need to consider: the further implications of what they do. There should be no harm to the locations, the spirits, the property owners or the investigators. Hikers often use the phrase “leave no traces, only footprints.” This is much along the same lines.
  • Respect above all. This is respect for everyone and everything. While we’re trying to protect everything and do no harm, holding everyone and everything in high regard is also important. This includes not provoking the spirits. If we hold them in high regard then bullying them should be out of the question. But also respect for other investigators and their findings.
  • Pay heed to cultural norms. Investigators may often encounter cultural and religious norms that may be opposite of or contradict their own staunchly held beliefs. If we are to respect everyone, spirits included, there is a need to understand and tolerate these differences in others.
  • Respect for history. Not only is it important to be respectful of history in its physical sense, but being respectful of historical facts. Do the research and have respect for the sources. Too often legends are taken at face value while actual historical facts are ignored. Historical research is not a simple task and does not end once the investigation begins. It is an ongoing process.
  • Keep an open mind. Not only that, but keep what a friend of mine called the “Eleventh Commandment: Do not take thyself so f---ing seriously.”

This is a rough outline. If something else should be added, please let me know. Of course, I understand that an oath does little to prevent people from straying, it does instill a sense of honor, something that will help immensely with creating a cohesive sense of identity.

Sources
Alexander-Bloch, Benjamin. “Seven suspects in LeBeau Plantation fire were looking
     for ghosts, sheriff says.” Times-Picayune. 22 November 2013.
Campanella, Richard. “In LeBeau House’s ashes, a lesson in carpe diem.” Times-
     Picayune. 25 November 2013.
Monteverde, Danny. “Historic LeBeau Plantation in Arabi burns to the ground.”
     New Orleans Advocate. 27 November 2013.
Radford, Benjamin. “Ghost hunters burn historic mansion near New Orleans.”
     Mother Nature Network. 2 December 2013.

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