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Monday, April 8, 2013

A View of The Myrtles Plantation

The Myrtles as seen from the entrance.
Louisiana is well-known for its array of antebellum homes scattered along the banks of the Mississippi river.  Louisiana is also famous for its many ghost legends, primarily centered around New Orleans.  And while many plantations can be found just upriver from the Crescent City, one of the most legendary haunted plantations can be found not in New Orleans, but in St Francisville.  Located about thirty minutes north of Baton Rouge, The Myrtles Plantation has received wide attention for its colorful and mysterious history.  On the first weekend in April, our family gathered from our scattered homes to meet at this hauntingly beautiful estate.
  A short drive up U.S. Highway 61 out of Baton Rouge will deliver you to the small community of St Francisville.  Pass through this and you will quickly see The Myrtles on the western side of the highway.  As you drive onto the grounds, you'll immediately be treated to a view of oak trees heavy with Spanish moss.  If you arrive in the afternoon, as we did, the sun will pour in from the west providing a perfect golden glow for a backdrop.  And you'll want to arrive in the afternoon if you are interested in one of the Mystery Tours held on Friday and Saturday nights.  These are held at 6, 7, and 8 pm both nights.
  If you arrive early enough, you can have dinner at the Carriage House Restaurant, which is located on the grounds.  They have a traditional Louisiana sampling of shrimp etouffee, oysters, catfish, and other seafood.  You can also add some gumbo, boudin balls, and crab cakes if you're hungry enough.
  The grounds surrounding the house are immaculate.  Crepe myrtles and azalea bushes hide beneath the shade of massive oak trees, with plenty of space for the sun to splash through onto the lawn.  There are walkways and benches for visitors who wish to stroll about this pastoral setting, and there are several wide open spaces for the kids to run around and expend their energy.
  On the backside of the house is a brick court yard with a fountain in its center.  From here you can visit the General's Store gift shop, enter the Carriage House Restaurant, or queue up for your tour of the main house. If you like cats, you might want to chase them around, as one young boy did for most of his time there.  Another popular activity is snapping as many pictures as you can in the hopes that you'll catch a ghost on film.  (I wonder if ghosts are not as easily caught on digital cameras as they are on film?  I have no way to prove this, but I suspect that spirits don't show up on pixels, and it is really the chemical properties of film that trap their images for all the world to see.  But that's just my own theory.  Feel free to float one of your own on the subject.)
  It was here, in this court yard, that the infamous Chloe photograph was taken back in 1992.  The new owners of the estate were taking pictures for insurance purposes.  In one photo, a shadowy figure could be seen on the porch as if it were heading toward the old kitchen.  It is somewhat transparent, and the theory is that this is an image of the ghost of a slave girl who was hanged for murdering two of the plantation owner's children.  It is a sad, tragic tale that seems to contain all of the usual suspects: lust, jealousy, betrayal, retribution, and the desecration of the dead.  (And don't forget the moral tossed in on the evils of eavesdropping.)  You'll hear all the Gothic details on your tour.  And if you're not into the night tours, there are plenty of daylight tours throughout the week.  You'll get the same details from the day or night tour.
  The tour guide will spend about thirty minutes showcasing the first floor of the house, entertaining the large group with stories of the various deaths that occurred in the house as well as the ghost stories associated with those deaths.  While our guide assured us that many members of the tour-groups have experienced strange phenomenons during the tours, our group did not, unless someone did and was not eager to volunteer such information.  It was my first tour of the house.  I was with a family member who had been through during a daylight tour and it was his view that the daylight tour was better since you could see the rooms better and enjoy the antiques and artwork.  I'm pretty sure he is right, since I was disappointed during the tour that the lights were kept so low.  This was an effort to increase the mystery, but I would have rather been able to enjoy the historical aspects of the tour over the supernatural.  I was also disappointed that we were not allowed to take pictures on the tour, with the exception of the front hall.  But you know how much I like to take pictures.

  In the front hall you will see another celebrated piece of their haunted legend.  A large mirror sits atop a bureau in an ornate gilded frame.  It is said that the mirror has been changed out many times over the years, and yet a stain/etching has returned after each restoration.  Mirrors play a big role in old superstitions at times of death, and the legend is that this one was not covered after the murders of the children, hence the visual evidence of someone trying to "come through" the mirror.  I'm not entirely sure what that means, since we were also told that you can see the silhouettes of the children on the roof in the Chloe photo.  Perhaps I didn't understand the story correctly.  I admit I wasn't paying close attention.
  I did enjoy the stories of John Leake and William Winters.  Both men died in the house, the first from his wounds in the Civil War, and the second from a cowardly murder one tragic night.  The tale of William Winters was the most interesting of all the stories, I thought.  Both of these men had lived in the house for a time, and their rooms are available for guests.  But be forewarned, many stories of strange happenings have come out of those rooms from guests.  But if you aren't afraid of someone tugging at your foot in the night or porcelain dolls joining you in your bed, then you'll have no trouble sleeping in the rooms.

And sleeping in the house is one of your options.  There are six rooms available to be rented in the original house.  There are also an assortment of other homes on the estate that have rooms available.  Notably, there are four new cottages that face the main house, with porches looking out over a pleasant pond.  I imagine it would be a great place to wake up and drink coffee on a cool morning.
  To find out more about The Myrtles, just use this link to see their website.

The court yard at night.  I never caught sight of a ghost, but
I did see plenty of people enjoying the evening.

This idyllic setting is perfect for photographers.  A wedding party had
been on the grounds the day we arrived.  You couldn't ask for a more
romantic backdrop.

There are many wonderful touches to the landscaping here.  These
little guys stand guard over the porch steps at the front of the house.

From the front porch you can see the order and peaceful view
found on the estate.  It is impressive, peaceful, and a great way
to experience Louisiana at its best.

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