New Orleans: Two Plantations and a Ghost Story

L flew out the next day. She suggested I go on a plantation tour–it was one of the things she was hoping to be able to do but didn’t have time for. The one I ended up on had two kinds of plantations on its itinerary–a working plantation and a more stately one, the kind usually portrayed in the media.

Both were located in Vacherie, about an hour away from New Orleans. We passed a lot of swampland on the way, something Louisiana is known for. I also finally found the answer to a question that I’ve wondered about all my life– the difference is between a swamp and a bayou. Apparently, a bayou has a current and a swamp does not.

Laura Plantation

The Laura Plantation, formerly the Duparc Plantation, after the man who built it, was constructed from 1804-1805. The plantation, which produced sugarcane, was later named after Laura, a descendant who ended up running the place before selling it in 1891.

The plantation is especially significant because of its connection to the Br’er Rabbit tales, stories from Senegal brought to the US by enslaved. Africans. I learned about the trickster Brer Rabbit (no apostrophe) from reading the Disney book derived from the Song of the South cartoon, so I was familiar with the character.

The story goes that neighbourhood boy Alcée Fortier, who was about 13, would come over to listen and record freedmen tell stories of Compair Lapin and Compair Bouki (the clever rabbit and the stupid fool) to their children in French Creole. He would go on to publish the stories 25 years later under the collection Louisiana Folktales: In French Dialect and English Translation. There are Br’er Rabbit books on sale at the gift shop.

The plantation as it stands now is composed of a Big House—the main house where the family lived, two slave cottages, a separate kitchen, and a Confederate army tent.

The bedrooms and kitchen of the big of the Big House are located around the dining room, with the bedrooms connected to each other as well. Everything was laid out as they would have been in the 1800s.

I began to get a headache as the tour group moved from a bedroom to the dining room, the sensation going away after we exited the house through the kitchen. I thought nothing of it.

Later, as the group rested underneath a covered bridge on the property, I asked if anyone had experienced anything supernatural in the area. The guide said that though they weren’t allowed to say anything, there have been reports of one of the slaves (sort of like the mayordoma) appearing in the dining room. Imagine the coincidence!

Oak Alley

If you think Oak Alley Plantation looks familiar, it’s because it probably is. It’s been in a lot of movies, most notably Interview with the Vampire. Come to think of it, I’m surprised why L and I didn’t just go on an Interview with the Vampire tour. Anyway.

Oak Alley, formerly Bon Séjour, was built in 1893 by Jaques Roman, after a slightly confusing land exchange with his brother-in-law, Valcour “The King of Sugar Aime. It is known for its Greek Revival architecture and the feature that gives it its name, an allée (French term for canopied path) of oak trees that run from the road (back then, it was the river) up to the house.

The grounds contain beautiful gardens, two rows of slave quarters that were also museums informing people of what the life of a slave was like in Oak Alley, and an old car garage that had been converted into a theater that showed a film about sugarcane cultivation in the plantation. Also on the grounds are a blacksmith shop and a graveyard that belonged to the Stewarts, the last owners who lived in residence. Pay attention to this detail, because I didn’t, and it ended up costing me an oyster lunch.

It was quite dizzying to imagine that people actually lived in such beauty and luxury—but then I suppose it would be easy if one had access to generations of forced labor.

One of the interesting tidbits concerned a big jar of peaches soaked in rum that sat on one of the tables in the living room tables. The men drank the rum, bcause it was manly, and the women were ‘only’ allowed to nibble the peaches because it was ladylike. Of course, being soaked in alcohol made the fruit really boozy, so in reality, the women were getting the better end of the deal.

In contrast the slaves’ cottages were bare and utalitarian. The plantation did not sugarcoat their existence, explaining how the system worked, how certain humans were seen as property by virtue of the color of their skin, how families were continuously torn apart when members got sold, how running away wasn’t always feasible, or the answer (though sometimes it was). Walking along the slave cottages was just as affecting as being in the mansion, but for a very different reason. Here, you were faced with despair and harsh living, but also tinges of happiness—as hard to find as it was—and hope. You realised that the reason the grand lifestyle in the mansion existed was because they didn’t think of slaves as equals, or even as human beings. One of the cottages had the names of the slaves who served on the plantation written on its walls. There were a lot.

It was a lot to take in, and so the bus ride back to New Orleans was more sombre. A little voice in my head said I should make ‘pagpag’—the Filipino tradition of stopping by a public place, usually a restaurant, before heading home to ‘lose’ whatever spirits might have followed you. I ignored it, thinking that it wasn’t necessary because I hadn’t gone to a wake or a cemetery. Besides, I was tired and wanted to take a hot shower and crawl into bed as soon as possible, so I went straight to the hotel. Let me skip ahead and tell you that the lesson here is always listen to your intuition.

Maison St. Charles

L had booked us at the Maison St. Charles along St. Charles Avenue, one of the city’s major thoroughfares. It’s where the St. Charles tram line runs and is also on the Mardi Gras route.

The Maison St. Charles is housed in a historical building that, like many houses in New Orleans, center around a courtyard. It’s quaint and pretty, with a mix of modern design sensibilities and NOLA charm. It is, apparently, also haunted.

”Did you hear that?” L asked the first night we were there. We were in our respective beds, about to go to sleep.

“I don’t hear anything,” I said.

“There’s a loud noise on this side,” she said.

“Probably our neighbors. Maybe the walls our thin,” I said. I didn’t hear anything on my side. We were separated by a bedside table, so it was weird that she could hear things and I couldn’t, but I didn’t think anything of it, though we thought there was a 50% chance it wasn’t our neighbours, at least not the live ones.

I didn’t experience anything while L was there. That changed after I got back from the plantation tour. Whenever I’d turn the light off, I’d hear loud noises that seemed to come from the wall on L’s side. When I’d turn the light back on, everything would be quiet, with nothing out of place. This happened several times. It got so unnerving I decided to sleep with the lights on instead. Again, I didn’t think anything of it. An electrical glitch perhaps? I didn’t connect it to what L had been experiencing.

The next day, as I was getting ready for breakfast, I got a message from Rob Rubin of Mysterium Philippines. Rob, who is psychic, rarely messages. “How are you? Who are you with?” he asks.

I tell him that I’m alone. “No, you aren’t,” he answers.

Long story short, we figure out that two spirits followed me and I have to give them an offering for safe passage so that they don’t follow me all the way to Chicago. I didn’t want to have to explain two new non-corporeal friends to my relatives! I was instructed to buy an oyster and place it as close to the ground as possible.

“Can you ask them why the followed me in particular?” I asked.

“One of them likes exotic women,” Rob replied.

This was my face when I saw that text: -_-

I actually had plans to go to Dooky Chase’s—a restaurant known for its good food and its link to the civil rights movement—for lunch, but that was immediately squashed because apparently now I was going for oysters. Thankfully, there was a seafood restaurant right next to the hotel.

I had to wait for it to open—I was the first customer there. I ordered a plate of oysters (they didn’t serve them by the piece) and because I was still in New Orleans after all, a bowl of turtle soup.

When the oysters arrived, I carefully set one on a small plate and placed it next to the window—the spot closest the sidewalk, and hence, the ground. I now had to finish five giant oysters, plus a bowl of turtle soup. The oysters. Were big, their juices dripping down my hand as I ate them. The soup was nondescript. I felt bad for the turtle that died for it.

Here’s the funny thing: it seemed that the waiter knew exactly what I was up to. He never asked about the lone oyster, and would only fuss about the food in front of me. Even as I headed to the door, I noticed that he had cleared away my stuff but had left the oyster by the window. It made me wonder if the spirits and the waitstaff of New Orleans had some sort of scheme going on, sort of like Michael J. Fox’s character had with his ghost friends in The Frighteners.

I guess the offering was satisfactory, because when I arrived in Chicago, I was alone.

I learned three things from the experience: first, that I should always listen to my intuition. Maybe if I had made pagpag like that tiny voice in my head said, I would have gotten a good night’s sleep. Second, that letting someone down gently can cost a bit of money, and can involve some sacrifice. I never got to eat at Dookie Chase’s, even the one at the airport, because I was too full from lunch. And third, that my beauty is to die for—it’s literally appreciated by the dead. In Taglish, pamatay beauty ko. As in literally pang-pataay siya.

And here’s another weird thing. I’m now slightly sensitive. I thankfully don’t see, hear, or feel entities, but I do feel weird when in an energetically compromised location. It’s very odd, and most of the time, quite maddening. I can’t say for sure what is and isn’t there, or what I do or don’t believe. All I’m doing is writing things down as I experienced them, and we all know how fallible human senses are. I’m hoping a scientific explanation that’s verifiable in a laboratory setting can be found for all this one day. Until then, I shall continue to write about people’s experiences with the supernatural, except now, I can apparently add my own voice to the list.

yvetteuytan

Yvette Tan is a multi-awarded author of horror fiction and a lifestyle writer for major local and international titles.