Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The rigors of (in)fame(y)—Myrtles Plantation

This article was originally published on 18 December 2012. This is a rewrite and edit.

Myrtles Plantation
7747 US Highway 61
St. Francisville, Louisiana

I’ve tried to avoid writing about The Myrtles for some time. Certainly of famous haunted properties in the United States—if not the world—The Myrtles ranks very high, if not at the top. There is plenty written about this location, almost to the detriment of other hauntings nearby. As it is now the Halloween season, The Myrtles has been popping up frequently in articles recounting various authors’ versions of the top hauntings in the country.

It seems that every book about American ghosts includes this haunting while it has become a mecca for ghost hunting organizations. Nearly every paranormal reality show has also featured the location. The Myrtles may very well be one of the best-documented hauntings of our time. So why avoid it?

Interestingly, one of the pieces that got me into writing about ghosts is an article about The Myrtles. It appears in Troy Taylor’s 2001 book, The Haunting of America. When I first encountered Taylor’s piece on The Myrtles, I presumed it to be a straightforward exploration of this most famous of hauntings. It’s not a straightforward profile of hauntings and it’s not exactly the haunting that he’s concerned with; it’s the history. Taylor’s piece reads like a newspaper expose as he uncovers the reality behind The Myrtles.
 
The Myrtles, courtesy of Wikipedia. 
Southerners are natural storytellers, but they enjoy hearing a good story just as much. One only has to witness the long line of Southern storytellers and writers to see this fact: from Joel Chandler Harris to Tennessee Williams, and Eudora Welty to dear Kathryn Tucker Windham, the South has had more than its fair share of gifted storytellers. But, as Taylor (a Yankee from Illinois, bless his heart) states early in the piece, “some of the people who have owned the house have never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.” This is certainly a sentiment found throughout the South.

The stories that are told about The Myrtles are fraught with tragedy. According to guides, some ten murders have taken place within the confines of the home. The most famous of these is the tale of a slave, Chloe. Amongst the enslaved people on plantations there was a hierarchy; with the house servants—those that worked directly with the family—being the most important but also the longer lived slaves than those toiling in the heat of the fields. Chloe was one of the more fortunate slaves, working in the house and helping care for the children of Clark Woodruff, the owner of Laurel Grove (as The Myrtles was called at that time). According to legend, she was also on intimate terms with Mr. Woodruff and possibly a guest of his bed.

Continuing the legend, Mr. Woodruff began to make advances towards another slave, and Chloe feared that she would be banished to the fields (and certain death). Soon, she was listening at the doors hoping to learn of her fate. It was there that she was caught by Mr. Woodruff and as punishment, one of her ears was cut off. Afterwards, she began wrapping a long green cloth around her head like a turban to cover her shame.

Chloe then devised a plan to endear herself to the Master and his family. She would poison the master and his family, and then miraculously cure them. She baked a cake containing the poison of oleander leaves, but the master did not eat it. However, his pregnant wife and two young daughters did, and all three died. For her misdeeds, Chloe was hung in one of the ancient oaks on the property by an angry mob. Along with the spirits of her victims, Chloe’s green-turbaned spirit still supposedly walks the property.

This story is marvelous and operatic in proportions. But, sadly, it is just that, an antebellum soap opera. Troy Taylor dug into the records of the families who owned The Myrtles and found no record of a slave with that name. The victims in the story: Clark Woodruff’s pregnant wife and her two children: a boy and a girl, not two daughters as the tale recounts, did not die from poisoning and lived long, fruitful lives. Most likely they did eventually pass in the home, though, which might easily add their spirits to the spiritual jambalaya that may exist at this property.

More digging by Taylor produced the facts that most of the other tales of murder are also the product of great Southern storytellers, with the exception of the murder of William Winter who was shot and killed at the home in 1871.

In cases where the history is debunked, that often debunks the haunting as well. In the case of The Myrtles, however, I don’t believe that is so. It appears there may be quite a bit of activity within this home. Another piece of which may have been captured recently.

While taping a story for WGNO, the ABC affiliate serving the New Orleans area, something appears on tape  behind reporter Vanessa Bolano. The video segment is a “stand up” filmed in the French Room of the house. As Ms. Bolano is speaking, something whizzes by behind her. The reporter slowed down the footage to reveal the misty object moving at very high speed.

The video has begun making news both here and in Britain where it has been a headline in both The Daily Mail and The Sun. The latter even taking a single frame of the video and reporting that it resembles a face. While yes, it does resemble a face in that particular frame, it’s also in motion and only resembles the face for a brief moment. It appears to me to be a case of pareidolia—that is simply the brain trying to make sense of something random like someone seeing the face of Christ in a bit of burned toast. The New York Daily News article linked below features the video.

Again, it should be said that regardless of my misgivings about the home’s history, it does appear that The Myrtles has a great deal of activity, some of which may have been captured by this hapless reporter. If you love great Southern ghost stories or want to experience great Southern ghost stories, by all means, book a stay at The Myrtles, just don’t believe all the storytellers’ words.

Sources
Durante, Thomas. “Did ABC reporter catch a GHOST on camera
     while reporting from one of America’s most haunted houses?”
     The Daily Mail. 12 December 2012.
     14 December 2012
Taylor, Troy. The Haunting of America. NYC: Barnes & Noble, 2006.
     in America.’New York Daily News. 13 December 2012

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