Friday, October 22, 2010

Belles From the Beyond

Magnet # 375:  Oak Alley Plantation Southern Belle

Material:  Wood

Purchased By:  Me

With their grand histories, rich former residents, and reliance upon slave labor, the plantations of the South, particularly Louisiana, are great places to look for the supernatural.  On my trip to the Pelican State's Plantation Alley earlier this year, I was able to visit its most iconic home, Oak Alley Plantation.  It's famous for the double row of majestic live oaks that line its entrance, but the locale has also gained some notoriety for being supposedly haunted.  It's even appeared on lists of the scariest places on earth.  And whether they come for the aesthetics or in hopes of having an encounter with a ghostly specter, this attraction continues to draw in the crowds.

The story of Oak Alley Plantation and its reputedly permanent residents dates back to 1836, when Jacques Telesphore Roman III bought the land to build a home there for his lovely wife, Celina.  And when their home was completed, it was one of the most picturesque along the Mississippi River.  But all did not go well for the couple.  They lost three of their children at young ages to disease.  And Celina, a city girl at heart, left their home to stay in New Orleans as much as possible, often overspending.  Jacques wrote to her and begged her to return, but she mostly ignored his pleas, even when his health began to decline, and he eventually developed tuberculosis.  He died alone in 1848 and Celina was left overwhelmed by her grief, wearing black for much of the rest of her life.  Their daughter Louise later suffered a great misfortune of her own when a suitor insulted her and she ran away from him, too angry to control herself.  She fell, and the iron frame in her hoop skirt cut her leg so badly that she developed gangrene and it had to be removed.  She was no longer considered good enough to marry in her class and, distraught, she left Louisiana to become a nun in Saint Louis, Missouri.  And though they tried to save Oak Alley, Celina and her son Henri, who carried on after her death, were unable to maintain the family empire.  It was sold at auction in 1866 and passed through many hands, eventually decaying from years of neglect.  Fortunately, a couple named Andrew and Josephine Stewart was able to purchase the home in 1925.  They adored their new home and hired an architect, setting out on an extensive restoration project.  And when it was finished, Oak Alley was once again the pride of Plantation Alley.  Andrew died, but Josephine continued on there alone for the next 26 years until she passed away.  The house was very dear to her and she often sat on the veranda, listening to opera music and watching the Mississippi River.  She also spent a great deal of time in the lavender room on the second floor.  When she finally passed away, she was laid out in that room.  One of her last acts for her beloved home was to create a non-profit foundation that would allow it to be appreciated long after her death.  And some think that she was so tied to her home that she has never left it.

Oak Alley Plantation is now reputed to be one of the most haunted spots in the country.  Four ghosts in all are said to haunt this historic home.  People often talk of their unusual experiences there and many have said they've seen a young, slender woman clad in black walking all through the house, up on the widow's walk, and even riding a phantom horse on the grounds.  Some have also apparently heard noises that sound like a horse drawn carriage on the grounds and a woman crying in the mansion.  There is also a man who has been spotted wearing grey clothes and riding boots.  Odd indentations have appeared on the beds, as if someone has been sitting there, although no one was around to produce them.  An entire tour group once witnessed a candlestick fly across a room, and that's not the only item that has apparently moved on its own.  Perhaps the most impressive encounter came one night after a private function when several employees and one of their daughters were closing up the house.  Once outside, they looked up and were surprised to see a light on in the lavender room.  As they stood reassuring each other that they had turned off all of the lights, they saw a ghostly figure move through the room that bore a striking resemblance to Josephine Stewart and look down on them.  After more lights turned on, they all fled to the cars and hurried away.  Once on the River Road, they took a look back at the house and saw that it was once again dark.  I think that would be enough to make a believer out of anyone!  After I took the tour at Oak Alley Plantation, I asked the guide if she had ever had any encounters with the unexplainable.  She was pretty new there, so she hadn't, but she did tell me that some of her co-workers had claimed to see the famous woman dressed in black.  Who knows, perhaps Celina, Josephine, and maybe even Louise truly are still looking after the home that meant so much to all of them.

One regret I had on my trip to Louisiana earlier this year is that I just couldn't make it up to the Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville.  Even though it's just about a half-hour north of Baton Rogue, I wasn't able to squeeze in a tour.  This locale is considered to be the most haunted plantation in all of the world.  It's rumored to be haunted by the ghost of the mistress of the home's former master, and two of his daughters, whom she accidentally killed.  I did run into a couple at another plantation tour that claimed the staff at the Myrtles isn't very open to discussing the ghosts unless they are giving a ghost tour.  Still, I'd like to get a chance to see it for myself sometime.  But for now, at least I have the satisfaction of having visited the most beautiful plantation home that's also haunted.  Oak Alley Plantation, is easily one of the more striking homes in all of the nation, and it's haunting beauty will stay with you, tempting you to venture back to the bayou.

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