My love affair with The Myrtles Plantation began when I was a little girl. As a summer day trip, my grandmother and mother brought me, my best friend, and younger sister on a plantation-jaunt around lovely St. Francisville in Louisiana. Of all the beautiful antebellum homes we visited that day, the Myrtles stood apart from the others and earned a special place in our hearts forevermore.
Coming from a family that delights in mysteries, cemeteries, and a good ghost story, the appeal of the “haunted” plantation could not be underestimated. As we pulled into the sun-dappled driveway, the home – nestled in a cool, sheltered yard of moss-draped oaks and spindly crepe myrtles – did not look anything like the plantation homes we’d seen earlier that day or even ever before. Instead of being enormous and multi-columned with the obligatory white stone façade, The Myrtles was a long and low ranch-style home with a white clapboard façade surrounded by a 120+ foot veranda with a pale green wrought-iron railing done in dripping grapes. It looked beautiful and mysterious and gloomy and haunting all at once.
Upon entering we were greeted by the lone staff member on duty who informed us, much to our dismay, that ghost tours (called Mystery Tours) were only given on Friday and Saturday evenings; we had arrived midday in the middle of the week when the usual History Tours are done. Hester Eby – who still works at The Myrtles – realized about 10 minutes into her tour that we were a bit bored. She offered then, since we were the only visitors, to give us our own, special ghost tour. We were delighted, naturally.
Throughout the years, I visited The Myrtles dozens of other times – with family, on class trips, and on one memorable Friday evening with my best friend, Brandon, and a few other close classmates as the end part of our senior skip day in 1995. Brandon and I shared a love of old homes and never could resist a good mystery surrounding one. We spent our high school summers chasing ghosts along the Mississippi River Road – mostly in search of the long-dead and nearly forgotten Belle Grove Plantation. Next to Belle Grove, our favorite antebellum home was, without a doubt, The Myrtles. Therefore, it made perfect sense to wrap up our senior skip day by going on the after-dark “mystery tour”; regardless that we had both been numerous times before.
It also made perfect sense, then, that – years later – I gifted Brandon with an overnight stay at The Myrtles to commemorate his graduation from Louisiana State University. As many times as we had visited, we had yet to fulfill our dream of spending the night at what was known as one of America’s most haunted houses. And so, in May 2001, I booked us for a one night sojourn in the Ruffin-Stirling Room at The Myrtles Plantation.
We could hardly wait for the day to arrive. Part of our package included an evening “mystery tour” which we decided to take yet again just to refresh our memories in case we should be so lucky as to receive any possible visitors that night. My family, including my mother and sister who had been with me on that fateful first trip decades before, went on the ghost tour with us and then we all had a nice dinner at The Carriage House restaurant located on the grounds. After the meal, we showed off our room – which, to be honest, had a very dreary and drab look and feel to it – to my mother and sister before they all left for home and left us alone with the other guests and spirits of The Myrtles.
We stayed down in the patio for a bit visiting with some of the other guests, making small talk with two local women around our own age. We retired to our room with the long hours of the night still stretching out ahead of us. Though we had expected to be on the edge of our seats with anticipation, we both – oddly – felt extremely exhausted as we sat in our room making small talk. Neither of us sticklers for sleep, we often went to bed fairly late at night in our shared apartment. Nonetheless, we both felt so sleepy that we could barely keep our eyes open. Though it was only around 10pm, we figured a quick nap would rejuvenate us. Still unable to believe we were actually tired at all, we lay down on the large, four-poster queen bed and almost immediately succumbed to the odd drowsiness.
My dreams were odd and heavy, and I woke suddenly from one with a keen feeling of loss. As my eyes slowly opened and began to focus, I saw a figure – a woman in a long, old-fashioned dress – leaning over Brandon on the other side of the bed. It was mere milliseconds as I came to, saw what I thought had to be the remnants of shaking off sleep, and the figure fading away. I sat up in bed, looking around, reasoning with myself. Had I just seen an apparition? One of the infamous tales of The Myrtles is of a mysterious lady peeking into beds or tucking guests in; the ghost of either a long-dead slave or the grieving mother looking for her lost children. Regardless, I knew I didn’t want to be alone and awake in the room, which had taken on an uneasy feeling, and I shook Brandon awake to tell him what I’d seen.
It was around 2:30am – we’d slept way past what we’d intended – and we decided to go downstairs and outside to do some exploring on the grounds. The only light was from the streetlamp-like lanterns that dotted the brick courtyard out back, beyond that everything was cloaked in inky black. Still, we braved the dark and walked around the small lake that boasts a teeny island and weathered gazebo. Beyond that, just inside around some trees, we found an old wooden swing where we sat in contemplative silence. As we trekked back towards the courtyard a bit later, Brandon – speaking in a low voice because it seemed somehow the right thing to do – asked me, “Do you feel it?”
The night hung close around us, and it was more than the humid warmth of a late Louisiana spring evening. A hazy mist glowed softly around all of the lamplights, casting everything in a soft aura. The highway that ran along the front of the plantation was silent, as if it weren’t there at all – it felt as if there weren’t any civilization at all beyond the winding drive and wooden gates that led here.
“It’s as if we’re in a different time and place,” Brandon commented as I nodded. “Like someone turned the dial on a radio from FM to AM.”
Indeed, it felt as if we were on a different frequency than the “real” world. It is a feeling I have felt once before, years later, when I witnessed a ghostly phenomenon at an old home in New Orleans French Quarter that a friend resided in. I had stood there and watched as a door handle had turned – back and forth – right in front of me. The moment, as it happened, had felt oddly detached – as if I were viewing something that was there yet not there; as if I’d tapped into another plane of existence, a different strand of time than the one I was physically standing in.
We decided to go back up to our room and upon entering, I noted the time on the clock. It was just after 3:00am; which, as all true Haunt Jaunters will know is the true Witching Hour – when the veil between the two worlds is at its thinnest.
I sat in an old chair in a corner a few feet from the bed, which Brandon scrambled on top of. We were sitting thus, talking in low voices, when we first heard it. We froze.
I imagine that the look on my face mirrored the one I saw on Brandon’s as we stared at one another in mute shock; eyes wide, mouth slightly agape.
I was the first to speak. “Do you hear that?” I whispered. A silly question; obviously he did.
We listened as the sound – which at turns sounded like the pacing of heavy boots on wooden floors or the rocking of a rocker on the same – came from all around us. At first, it sounded as if it were out in the hallway. Then, in the bedroom to our right – where the two girls we had spoken to earlier in the evening were staying – then almost as if it was in the room with us. I jumped from the chair and ran to the bed, scrambling in next to Brandon and we grasped hands. He was shaking so violently that the entire bed trembled.
“Wh…why are you shaking?” I asked. I knew he likely felt like me – terrified yet excited in the same breath. There was a definite fear, but not one of eminent danger or the fright of actual harm.
“It’s just weird,” he whispered. “It’s not like anything I’ve ever experienced before.”
And it wasn’t. The hairs were literally raised on my neck and arms, my flesh goose-pimpled. There was nothing in my life to date that I could relate this to; it was – without a doubt – a new experience. Every fiber of my being tingled with this realization, which was shocking, frightening, and exhilarating all at once. The sound – which was everywhere and nowhere at the same time – was not “here”. Words do little to explain the actual experience, yet I can try to explain it by saying that it was as if we were hearing a sound that was not of “now”; more like a memory of a sound or a recording of a sound, except that it was here and very real. The “memory of a sound” is as close as I can come to putting to words what the creaking, pacing sound was like.
Eventually we became used to it, and sat in silence trying to figure out where exactly it came from (it sounded, most often, as if it were in the room to our right) or what exactly it was. Boots or a rocker, to this day I can’t be sure. As the hours ticked by, we dozed in and out of sleep, the sound ever present. Slowly, as the night began to wane and the sun began its slow rise, the sound began to lessen…weaken, almost. It never went out completely or suddenly. Instead, it slowly faded as the sun rose higher in the sky.
After some time, we awoke to hear squeals and excited, nervous voices from the young women in the room adjacent to ours. Echoed choruses of, “Did you do it?!” came clearly through the walls and we wondered what could have happened and if it had anything to do with our mysterious and ghostly noise.
Later, we went downstairs to have breakfast in the courtyard and met up with the two young women; they were in a state, to be sure! They babbled on to us, looks of fright on both their faces, explaining that they had kicked off their shoes before climbing into to bed to sleep. When they woke, all of their shoes were lined up in the middle of the floor, toe to heel, as if someone had deliberately placed them that way. They were in a perfect line, they told us, except for the last shoe which had a slight turn as if the line had been unfinished when the sun came up or they woke. We told them about the noises we’d heard, and how much of it seemed to come from their room. That seemed to be all they needed to hear – they were already packed and they left quickly; not even staying for breakfast!
I have no doubt that what we experienced was real nor do I doubt its otherworldly origins. It was a fascinating experience and we felt privileged to have been able to witness it; it was definitely one of those things that was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Some people may never get to truly touch or make contact with “the other side”; some may do so a few times in their life, but I am glad to be able to say that – at least on this occasion – I absolutely had a ghostly adventure and experience.
For anyone wondering if a stop at The Myrtles Plantation in beautiful St. Francisville, Louisiana – in West Feliciana Parish – is worth a jaunt, I can unequivocally say “yes”. Even a daytime visit or taking the weekday Historical Tour is worth your time. The best time, of course, though, is the weekend evening Mystery Tours. Photos taken in and around the 260+ year-old home always display a plethora of orbs, and many people end up photographing eerie things that aren’t apparent until when the film is developed or the photos brought up on a computer. If you happen to be in St. Francisville, I also highly recommend a visit to the beautiful, old cemetery surrounding the Gothic-styled Grace Church, built in 1858, where many former residents of The Myrtles are laid to rest.