There are many haunted homes in the United States and Louisiana seems to have more than its fair share. However, only one can legitimately lay claim to being “the most haunted house in America.” The Myrtles” has earned that title in part by being the abode of as many as 14 ghosts. Serving as a respected Bed & Breakfast establishment now, even without the ghosts, the place would be creepy merely due to its bloody history and the mysteries it holds secret.
In 1791, General Daniel Bradford, a hero of the American Revolution, was a leader of the Whiskey Rebellion, a violent protest of the new U.S. government’s imposition of a tax on whiskey. In July, 1794, a government militia force of over 13,000 men marched into western Pennsylvania to put down the rebellion and enforce the tax laws that were being protested by 500 distillers. Bradford decided discretion was the better part of valor so, after retrieving a small fortune in funds and leaving his wife and 5 children behind, he high-tailed it out of the government’s reach down to Spanish-held Louisiana.
In 1796, General Bradford purchased a 650-acre tract of land to begin a plantation and chose to build a large house on the highest point of the estate. What he didn’t know, however, was that the spot was the exact site of an ancient burial ground of the Tunica Indians. It took several years for the construction crew and artists to complete Bradford’s mansion and for the plantation, which he named Laurel Grove, to be established. Stories handed down indicate that before building began and also during the construction, he spent a number of nights at the site. During those nights, his sleep was often disturbed by the appearance of a nude Indian maiden who would slowly shake her head from side-to-side while looking at him. He said he somehow understood the apparition was trying to tell him not to build on the sacred ground, but not believing in omens, he chose to ignore the warning.
In 1798, President John Adams pardoned Bradford for his actions in the Whiskey Rebellion. That same year, he travelled back to Pennsylvania and brought his wife and children back to live with him in Louisiana. They lived there, peacefully building a life together, until 1808 when Bradford died in bed. After his death, the house passed ownership to his oldest daughter, Sarah, who soon married a lawyer, Clarke Woodruff. Over the next few years, the couple had 3 children and owned a large number of slaves to work the plantation and take care of the house.
One of those slaves was a beautiful, young mulatto girl named Chloe who the master of the house forced to become his mistress. Clarke treated his slave mistress better than any of the other slaves, making her the family’s cook and the children’s nanny. A year later though, Clarke took a different slave girl to be his new mistress and threatened to put Chloe back in the fields if she told anyone of their coupling. Being fearful of being relegated to backbreaking work in the fields or being sold and separated from her family, Chloe began listening at keyholes to her master’s private conversations for information concerning her fate. One day Clarke caught her and in a fit of rage, cut off her ear. She survived and for the rest of her life wore a green turban on her head to hide the missing ear.
Chloe was sure she would be dealt an even harsher punishment even as time passed so when an opportunity finally presented itself, she concocted a plan to get back into Clarke’s favor. The family was having a birthday party for one of the young daughters and she was instructed to bake a cake for the occasion. Chloe laced the cake with oleander, a poisonous shrub. She only meant to make the family sick so she could then nurse them all back to health and prove how essential she was. Unfortunately, she used too much poison and Sarah and 2 of their children died lying in their beds in spite of Chloe’s efforts to nurse them back to health.
The night of the funeral, Chloe was very distraught and when her fellow slaves asked her what was wrong, thinking they would keep her secret, she confessed to what she had done. However, in those times, a serious infraction of the law by a slave would bring quick and painful retribution not just to the perpetrator, but also to the other slaves on the plantation and Chloe surely had broken a major law of the white man. Before a white mob could come for them in revenge, the other slaves decided to take matters into their own hands. Later that night, pulling Chloe from her bed, they dragged her to a tall oak tree near the house and hung her until she choked to death. Just before dawn when they were sure she was dead, they cut her down and threw her body into the nearby river and let it wash away.
After the death of Sarah and the two children, Clarke left the plantation in the hands of a caretaker and moved with his surviving daughter to Covington, Louisiana and in 1834, sold the plantation, the house and the slaves to Ruffin Stirling. Before he and his wife Mary and their 9 children moved in, they spent a considerable amount of money remodeling and adding to the original structure. Renaming the plantation & house to “The Myrtles,” by the time they were finished, the house was twice as big. No matter as the ill will of the house did not abate. Five of the Stirling children died in the house at a young age and Ruffin himself died there in 1854.
In the early 1860’s, the eldest surviving Stirling daughter, Sarah, married William Winter and in 1865, Mary Stirling, who had inherited The Myrtles upon Ruffin’s death, hired William to manage the plantation. William and Sarah lived in the house along with her mother. The Winters, not faring any better than previous occupants, had a daughter, Kate, who died at the house from typhoid when she was only 3. Facing hard times after the Civil War, the family was forced to sell The Myrtles in 1868, but William began making a good living as a lawyer, won several big cases, and they were able to buy the plantation back by late 1870.
The following year, a man on horseback rode up to the house and called to William for the purpose of hiring him as a lawyer. When Winter came out onto the porch, the man shot him in the chest and rode off into the night. William staggered back into the house and, evidently trying to reach his wife who was upstairs, began climbing the staircase. He made it to the 17th of the 20 stairs where he collapsed. Sarah ran to him and cradled his head in her lap as he died. The sheriff and the doctor were summoned and when they arrived, they found a sobbing Sarah sitting on the stairs still holding the corpse of her husband. When his body was removed, a large pool of blood remained on the step where he died. The gunman was never found, the case never solved.
The bloody history of The Myrtles did not end with William Winter’s murder. William’s widow Sarah remained at the house with her mother Mary until she died there in 1878. Mary died in the house 2 years later in 1880 and the plantation went to her son, Stephen. By this time, the plantation was heavily in debt and Stephen sold it in 1886. Shortly thereafter, a man was stabbed to death in the hallway over a gambling debt. The Myrtles then changed hands a number of times over the next few years until in the early 1900’s, the land was divided up among the last buyer’s heirs after he died and the house itself was sold to a new buyer. In 1927, the overseer of the large house was stabbed to death during a robbery attempt. With its history of violence and death, the house changed hands numerous times, seeming to bring ill will to most of its owners until the 1970’s when James and Frances Myers purchased it. After extensive repairs and remodeling, they turned it into the Bed & Breakfast it is today.
With all of the deaths experienced in the house, it’s no wonder the home has earned its reputation as being extremely haunted. Not long after the death of the slave girl named Cloe came the first reports from residents and visitors of an apparition wearing a green turban. She apparently is still hanging around and still very active over 200 years later. Many guests have awakened from a sound sleep to see the green-turbaned specter standing over them. Often, a baby’s cry is heard when Chloe appears. By standing over the person’s bed and gazing down on them, it is thought she is still carrying out her duties as a nanny, checking on the children she used to care for.
Two other spirits are sometimes seen looking through bedroom windows or standing at the foot of beds in the dark of night – two blond-headed girls with long corkscrew curls wearing antebellum dresses. Children’s happy voices are heard playing in the hallway, laughing and squealing as they invisibly run from one end of the hall to the other. Sometimes, guests return to their locked room after the service staff has carefully made their bed only to find the bed clothes rumpled with the unmistakable indention of a child’s footprint, as if a child had been jumping on the bed. Apparently, Cloe’s young victims are still hanging around.
One of the most reported mysteries is a thumping sound, as if someone is staggering across the foyer and climbing up the stairs. The sound always stops on the 17th step and then the thud of a falling body is heard. Upon investigation, there is nothing seen, nothing at all, except for the dark blood-colored stain on that step, and no amount of scrubbing or bleaching has ever been able to remove it.
Other spirits seem to have made The Myrtles their home as well. Guests of the current Bed & Breakfast have told the owners they witnessed a lady softly playing the grand piano late at night. However, the owners do not know how to play piano and when asked, none of the other guests at the time claimed to know how either. A slender young man in a fancy vest and top hat has been sighted on numerous occasions wandering around the grounds. The clothes and appearance of the man exactly match the description of the gambler killed in the foyer over his gambling debt. There is also the female apparition dressed in a long black skirt who floats about a foot above the floor, dancing to music nobody among the living can hear. Occasionally, after everyone has gone to bed and all is quiet in the dark of the night, the sounds of laughter, music, and the clinking of glasses can be heard coming from the parlor. Perhaps the ghosts are enjoying a lively social gathering.
The media has often reported on the many phantoms at The Myrtles. It has been featured in Life magazine, Southern Living, and numerous tabloids. A number of television documentaries have featured the old house and its stories through the years. With its location on a Louisiana bayou, surrounded by huge oak trees, Spanish Moss hanging from their branches providing an eerie atmosphere, it has even been featured as the setting for a number of big-budget movies.
A group of paranormal investigators recently spent time at the place and with their video cameras and assorted electronic sensing equipment, they succeeded in documenting several paranormal phenomena. Unexplainable drops in temperature, tape recordings of footsteps in empty rooms and on the stairs, strange whistling sounds emanating from unoccupied rooms and video recorded glowing orbs of bright light strangely whizzing around unseen by the naked eye were a few of the things they documented. Two of the investigators were returning to the house after walking around the grounds when they noticed a gray cat looking at them from the porch. Not knowing what it was at first, they shined their flashlights on it. The cat did not run away, it just sat there looking at them. One of them said, “That cat is creepy” and then both noted something really strange – the cat’s eyes did not reflect the light the way a normal cats would have. One of them grabbed his digital camera and took a picture of it. As soon as he did, the cat disappeared. Looking at the picture later, there was no cat, just a small white orb that seemed to be streaking toward the edge of the photo. When the owners were asked about the cat the next day, they reported it was a family pet named Mert. There was just one problem – Mert had died the year before.