Choosing what to do on our last day in St. Francisville was easy. We would divide our time between two plantations: Laura and Myrtles. Since nighttime is the best time to tour a haunted house, we made the Myrtles reservations for 8:00 pm. It’s known as one of the most haunted places in America. We chose the Laura Plantation tour for morning. It was 80 miles away in Vacherie, Louisiana. There were closer options, but the Lonely Planet named the tour of Laura, “The Best History Tour in the United States”. That’s a pretty strong endorsement.
How could we not go?
When we arrived at Laura, the parking lot was almost full. The gift shop was packed too. We stood in line to buy tickets. There was no time to browse Laura-related gifts before our guide ushered us outside and down a path to the colorful, raised-Creole style home.
Once a sugarcane plantation occupying 12,000 acres of land, Laura is just six hundred feet from the Mississippi. Today, a levy blocks the view of the river so completely, you would never know it is there.
Giant oak trees sit in front of the house, but most of the landscape has an island feel.
Our tour group was large. While we stood in front of the home, our guide offered us a few historical facts then herded us into a dark, basement-like space. Life-size cardboard figures of various people who had occupied the home, were spotlighted here and there. They offered just enough light to navigate the uneven floors. These same people may be for sale in the gift shop. Who knows?
While in the basement area, we were told about the construction of the home. The cypress timbers were cut and notched in New Orleans, then brought to the site and assembled like a puzzle. (Yes, Laura was a kit house.) There were a few remnants of a nineteenth century wine-making operation there for viewing too.
As we moved upstairs to the main level, our guide told us all about who-married-who, and who-had-whose babies, and who-killed-who on the plantation grounds. He started at 1805 when the home was constructed. That’s when we learned that the plantation was originally named for the Duparc family, not for Laura Locoul Gore, who was born there on the eve of the Civil War, in 1861. (She was the great granddaughter of the original owner.)
Laura inherited the plantation as a young woman, ran its sugar business, then sold it in 1891 with provision that her name stay with the property. She moved to New Orleans. We understand her French Quarter apartment can be toured as well. Laura lived a long life. She died in 1963. Born to wealthy slave owners, Laura lived to see the dawn of the civil rights movement.
Her memoirs are available in the gift shop, along with the tales of Br’er Rabbit. Creole versions of the West-African rabbit and fox stories were collected here in 1870. They are said to have inspired the popular book.
We had assumed this would be the tour with strong focus on the daily lives of the hundreds of enslaved people who worked the sugarcane fields and in the sugar mill. We were not offered details of the brutal fieldwork nor the dangerous work that followed in the mill. Forced child labor was not mentioned, though it existed here. We were told a poignant story of one slave born on the plantation as we walked through a surviving slave house, then we were escorted back to the gift shop.
We had hoped for more.
By the way, Fats Domino and family lived here at one time. The family’s tiny cypress-wood shack once housed slaves, much like this one.
Before leaving Vacherie for St. Francisville, we stopped at B & C Seafood Restaurant for a great bowl of gumbo. The restaurant is right down the road from Laura. They were selling live crayfish to go.
Back in St. Francisville, we arrived at Myrtles a couple of hours early so we could roam the grounds and take a few photos. This place is beautiful. You can actually book a room and stay overnight. We wanted to do that, but there was a golf tournament in town and there wasn’t space. (Sometimes, we get lucky.)
This circa 1796 home, sits back far enough from the main road to showcase its ornate ironwork and wide front porch. Invisible occupants are said to rock in their wooden rocking chairs. On the evening of our visit, nothing moved.
Oversized azaleas lined the garden path and long streamers of moss hung from the oaks. It was all very picturesque and a little eerie, even with the distracting sounds of cars speeding down the highway.
We stopped by their Carriage House Restaurant and made dinner reservations for after the tour, then spent time browsing the gift shop. Oakley and Rosedown had gift shops too, but this one looked more official, as if they employed a buyer and a marketing team. There were certainly more people shopping at Myrtles. The ghost business was bringing in buyers for things like spectral images on postcards and official looking voodoo dolls.
Our guide’s name was Sarah. We learned there were two other Sarahs in the house, but our guide was the only one we could see. She explained that the other Sarahs sometimes appeared during her tours. She seemed to really believe they existed, as did the woman behind us who kept feeling cold spots as we moved from room to room.
The home was lovely, but rather than wasting words on the particulars of the furnishings and construction, most of the time was spent talking about the ten plus homicides and numerous deaths by natural causes, that reportedly took place within the house — or in the cases of a few hangings — out back.
We were told that the scent of perfume was an indicator of a spirit in our midst. With our small tour group huddled together, eyes focused hard on a bed that is said to spontaneously shiver and shake, we could smell more than one perfume and an aftershave or two. The bed refused to cooperate when Live-Sarah wanted it to do its thing. Finally, she placed her hand flat on the spread and told us that handprints appear and disappear there. Her hands didn’t leave prints, so maybe that was the magic.
Once in the living room, she explained that lights mysteriously turn on and off. We all agreed not to be alarmed if the invisible cat rubbed against our legs, and to remain calm if a transparent child began swinging from the dining room chandelier. Live-Sarah shared stories of wounded soldiers who died in upstairs bedrooms, of yellow fever victims, and a voodoo healer that lost her life at the hands of the plantation owner when her patient didn’t survive. Pretty much nothing supernatural was happening, except we were getting hungry and wanted to head back to the Carriage House for dinner.
Throughout the tour, we heard about the most famous ghost of all – a slave girl, Chloe. Chloe may or may not have poisoned the owner’s wife and two of his children. (Depends on whose facts you read.) She accounts for one of the out-back hangings. Before we were dismissed by Live-Sara to go our separate ways, she invited us to take a photo into the foyer mirror, where mysterious images have appeared in the past.
We both snapped photos in the magic mirror and headed to the restaurant for barbecued shrimp.
They were better than the ones we had in New Orleans.
While at dinner, we looked at our photos. Unfortunately, there is a woman in one that looks suspiciously like she could be our incompetent voodoo nurse. Can’t imagine this one would have been in our tour group and we just didn’t notice. Look at those eyes!
Hope you can see her image. It would be extra scary if she was only visible to us.
That bright light you see is my flash. She’s the one next to the flash with the prominent eye sockets. You can’t miss her! We won’t bore you with the photo I snapped next. It’s a large egg-shaped orb. You would naturally expect that.
We have stared at this photo long enough to know that we can’t explain it, but we know there has to be a logical explanation. Members of our tour group looked too. They didn’t like it any better than we did. Still, our official position is that we do not believe in ghosts.
These chairs are not rocking. They are perfectly still. Wish we had taken a video.
We hated to leave St. Francisville. It is so chocked full of places to tour and things to do, you could spend a week here and stay busy. We had great food at the Magnolia Cafe and at the Francis on the highway. Everyone raves about the Lebanese restaurant, Al Aquaba, but we didn’t have a chance to try it.
The town’s residential neighborhood is a must-see. While you explore streets dotted with historical homes, you’ll find a shop or two tucked away there and even an art gallery.
Then there is Grace Episcopal Church, founded in 1827. The brick structure dates to the 1850s. The grounds are amazing.
It was here, on June 12, 1863, a violent clash between Confederate and Union soldiers at Port Hudson, paused for a day to allow the burial of Lt. Commander John Hart of the Union Navy. A small boat, waving a white flag, crossed the Mississippi River and asked the Confederates to allow Hart to be buried with full Masonic honors in the Grace Church Cemetery. The request was granted. Soldiers from both sides attended the service. The burial is reenacted every June as a part of weekend of historic lectures and events.
For all that has happened in St. Francisville’s, there is a peaceful feeling in this charming little town. We are so glad that we chose it for our blog’s new beginning. We learned to love our funky accommodations and the friendly people that populate this small town. We will be back again.
Thanks for coming along.
A few links that may interest you:
You can read more about the lives of the people enslaved at Laura Plantation on their website. This information could be added to the tour, so that all who experience the grandeur, know about the tragic lives of the enslaved workers who made it possible. Admission is $20 and the funds go to upkeep this important piece of history. http://www.lauraplantation.com/general.php?id=51
The most startling image of all from Myrtles Plantation is not the one we captured, but the one you see on their website. If inclined, you can click and book a room to spend the night and take your own supernatural photos. http://myrtlesplantation.com/haunts.php
Lastly, if you would like to try breakfast at the St. Francisville Inn, you must be a hotel guest. Click here to learn more. http://www.stfrancisvilleinn.com