St. Francisville, Louisiana

HISTORY

The Myrtles Plantation, originally named Laurel Grove, was built in 1796 by General David Bradford on 600 acres which were rumored to be an ancient Tunica Indian burial ground. Bradford lived there alone for several years, until pardoned by President John Adams for his role in the Pennsylvania Whiskey Rebellion of 1799, when he had his wife Elizabeth and their five children join him at the plantation. After Bradford’s death in 1808, his widow Elizabeth continued running the plantation until 1817, when she handed it off to her son in law Clarke Woodruff, one of Bradford’s former law students who had become a judge. Woodruff was married to her daughter Sara Mathilda and they had three children: Cornelia Gale, James and Mary Octavia. A pregnant Sara Mathilda and two of her three children died there within days of each other.*

Upon Elizabeth Bradford’s death 1831, Woodruff and his surviving daughter Mary Octavia moved to Covington, Louisiana, leaving a caretaker to manage the plantation. In 1834, he sold the plantation, lands, and its slaves to Ruffin Gray Stirling. Stirling and his wife, Mary Catherine Cobb, began an extensive remodel which nearly doubled the size of the plantation house and they decorated it with imported European furniture. Featuring a 125 foot veranda with detailed ironwork, Carrera marble floors and crystal chandeliers, Mrs. Stirling thought the plantation needed a more elegant name to match. Inspired by the prolific crepe myrtle trees that grew in the vicinity, the name of the plantation was changed to “The Myrtles”. The Myrtles was left to Mary Catherine when her husband died in 1854.

The Myrtles survived the Civil War, although it was stripped of its fine furnishings. In 1865, Mary Catherine hired her son in law William Winter to manage the plantation as her lawyer and agent. Married to her daughter, Sarah, they went on to have six children. The Winters were forced to sell the plantation after they lost their family fortune in Confederate currency, but were able to buy it back two years later.

In 1871, William Winter was killed on the porch of the house by a stranger under circumstances not clearly documented. After being shot, he staggered inside the house and died trying to climb the stairs. He died on the 17th step of the stairs. Until today, visitors, as well as employees of the hotel, claim to hear his dying footsteps on the staircase.

Sarah remained at the Myrtles with her mother and siblings until her death in 1878. Mary Cobb Stirling died in 1880, and the plantation passed to her son Stephen. Heavily in debt, Stephen sold it in 1886 to Oran D. Brooks, who in turn sold it in 1889. The plantation changed hands several more times until 1891, when it was purchased by Harrison Milton Williams, in which family it remained until the 1950s.

*The Legend of Chloe

The legend goes that one of the early owners, Judge Woodruff, was quite a womanizer and would sneak around, forcing himself on his female slaves. Chloe was a slave of mixed blood who served as governess to his three children. Although disgusted by the Judge, Chloe found herself the frequent of the judge’s advances. After a time, she became to fear that the judge was tiring of her and she worried that she would be sent back to the fields with the other slaves. She had begun eavesdropping on conversations, hoping to glean confirmation of her fears. She was caught eavesdropping by the Judge, who was so angry that he sliced off one of her ears as punishment. From that day on, Chloe wore a green turban to hide her disfigurement. Now even more afraid that her position was in peril, Chloe hatched a plan to prove her worth to the family and thereby secure her position in the house. She was instructed to bake a birthday cake for the Woodruff’s eldest daughter. She decided to taint the cake with oleander, a bush which was growing outside the house, and which leaves she knew naturally contained a small bit of poison. Chloe’s plan was to add just enough leaves to make the family ill, putting her in the position to nurse them all back to health.

Unfortunately, Chloe misjudged the efficacy of the poison as each of the family members immediately grew violently sick after eating the cake. She desperately tried to save them, but the poison was too strong. Soon, the young girls, their mother and her unborn child were all dead.

Word of her deed quickly spread among the other slaves, who became terrified that the judge would take his anger out on them. To prove their loyalty to the family, they formed a lynch mob, nabbed Chloe out of her bed and hanged her from one of the large oak trees in the yard. After she died, they cut her down, weighted her body with rocks and tossed her into the Mississippi River. Chloe is said to have never move on after her murder, instead endlessly wandering the property and halls of The Myrtles, although hers is not the only spirit reported.

In 1992, the then-proprietress of The Myrtles was taking insurance photographs of the buildings for a fire policy. She captured the image of what appeared to be a slave girl standing between two of the buildings on the plantation.

The photograph was sent to several organizations for examination, and the National Geographic Explorer determined that the photograph contained what appeared to be an apparition of what they believe to be a slave girl standing in the breezeway between The General’s Store and the Butler’s Pantry buildings of the plantation. The horizontal exterior boards of the mansion were clearly visible through the body of the apparition. National Geographic Explorer used the photograph in their documentary and suggested that a postcard should be made of the photograph.

Many professionals have examined the photograph and ensuing postcard. One of the most esteemed patent researchers in his field, Mr. Norman Benoit, visited The Myrtles in May 1995 and requested permission to research the postcard. After enlarging the postcard and doing a shadow density procedure, Mr. Benoit discovered that all of the physical measurements of the apparition were of human dimensions and proportions. The circumference of the head, the length of the shoulder to the elbow and the length of the elbow to the wrist were all indicative of a human. No one has disputed his findings.

The Ghost Girl

Chloe is not the only apparition reported at The Myrtles. Multiple visitors have captured “The Ghost Girl”, a young girl dressed in antebellum clothing who most often appears peering out of a front window.

Her eyes, hair, and dress details are clearly visible in some photographs, gauzy in others, but no one knows who she was and why she lingers.

MY EXPERIENCE

After numerous attempts to book a room at the Myrtles, I was finally successful when someone cancelled their reservation. I had left my name and number with the front desk and asked them to contact me should anything on a weekend open up, as this place was booked solid for months out. I got a call on a Wednesday and was notified that they had a cancelation that Friday night. The reservation was for only 1 night and was only 2 days away, but since it was so difficult to book a room there, I decided to take the opening. Things pretty much went downhill from there.

Getting to St. Francisville from Texas is not the easiest thing to do, especially at night. It is a solid five hour drive from Houston, and that’s if you know where you’re going. St Francisville is kind of in the middle of nowhere. Our Garmin (yeah, it was a while ago) took us the “quickest” route, which included several narrow dark roads through the forest that basically dead end at the Mississippi River. Sitting in your car on a secluded dark road, waiting on a ferry, (that we didn’t even now we had to take), and not knowing where you are is kind of an unnerving feeling. This, however, was about as terrifying as our trip to the Myrtles was going to get. The ferry showed up, and we crossed without incident.

After being in the car for eight hours, we finally arrive at our destination between 9:00 – 10:00 pm. First impressions of the place were very good. The old plantation house was lit up and there was a fine dining restaurant that was bustling with activity. Our plan was to get checked in, get cleaned up and go to dinner at the restaurant; however, the best laid plans sometimes go astray. You are required to check in at the gift shop and upon doing so we were notified that we would not be staying in the main house, instead, we were booked to stay in these Section 8 looking carriage houses that were about 100 yards from the main house. I am guessing that’s why they had a cancellation. Disappointed, we took the key and headed to our room. I really don’t want to rail on this place, because if you can stay in the main house I imagine it’s pretty cool, but this room was just no good. It’s a pretty expensive stay, whether you land a spot at the main house or in the afterthought shanties. Our servants’ quarters accommodations did not grant access to the main house, which was incredibly disappointing as that’s where the majority of the activity has been reported. You can have old stuff in a hotel room, but this was pushing the limits of basic necessities: old lumpy uncomfortable bed, stained cover, old TV, and an old claw bathtub to get cleaned up in. Anyway, none of that ended up mattering because we stayed in our room all of fifteen minutes. As if it weren’t meant to be, or perhaps by some spirit intervention (thank you?), water started coming through the wall in our bathroom and quickly flooded our room. Thankfully, the caretaker lives on the grounds and was notified of the situation. Either a pipe broke or sewage backed up from the bungalow connected to ours. Our neighbors were not in their room at the time as water flowed from underneath their door onto the shared outside porch. Since there were no more rooms available (remember, completely booked up), we were refunded our money and given a voucher for a free night when they have a room available in the main house in 2028. Since we weren’t booked in the main house, they would not let us in because it was too late at night. We hung out on the property for a while, walking the grounds (noting the abundance of crepe myrtles) and taking some pictures of the mansion’s exterior, then left. We drove to Baton Rouge and spent the night at a hotel there.

I’m looking forward to going back to the Myrtles in fifteen years to use my voucher and conduct a proper ghost hunt. The place definitely has an eerie vibe, but unless you have access to the main house, you’re probably not going to get much paranormal activity. Any ghosts there that night didn’t seem interested in loitering in the gift shop, parking lot or the restaurant. I think the Myrtles is worth a visit, as the history alone makes it interesting, but if you ever plan on spending the night, make sure you ask where your room is. They do not volunteer the information if your room is stuck “out back” and for the price you’ll pay regardless, and especially if you want to increase your chances of any ghostly experiences, you’ll want to make sure you secure a reservation in the main house.

This abbreviated and unsatisfying experience didn’t even register on the DFR:

 

PRESS

In 2002, Unsolved Mysteries filmed a segment about the alleged hauntings at the plantation. According to host Robert Stack, the production crew experienced technical difficulties during the production of the segment. The Myrtles was also featured on a 2005 episode of Ghost Hunters. The TV series Ghost Adventures also filmed an episode there. The television series Most Terrifying Places in America has also profiled the plantation.

 

TOURS

Myrtles Plantation ghost tour

Gallery

All images in the gallery are original images taken durring an investigation.

Brent Cummings
Author: Brent Cummings