Cenla’s Haunted History

491

October 2015 CoverA melancholy violin solo at midnight, mournful weeping, disembodied voices, ghostly specters and muffled footsteps are the stuff of nightmares, or at least scary tales heard sitting around the camp fire. Whether imagined or real, plenty of stories, passed down through the generations, are being told about specific places in Central Louisiana that can send shivers down your spine.  October is the time of year when folks seek out spooky thrills, and it seems nearly every town in Cenla has a drafty old home or historic building where strange things have been seen or something can be heard going bump in the night.  We have gathered a collection of stories and legends of the apparitions rumored to still inhabit these parts. Beware of pending goosebumps as we explore Cenla’s Haunted History.

– 
Loyd Hall

 

Nestled in the heart of Cheneyville sits Loyd Hall, an antebellum plantation built in 1820. The 640-acre working plantation is currently a bed and breakfast inn. Owners and current staff workers at Loyd Hall believe the plantation is home to four, more permanent resident “souls”.  Beulah Davis, who has worked at Loyd Hall for the past 36 years, recalls several heart-pounding moments at the three-story plantation, but does not feel the “spirits” in the home want to harm anyone.  “They let you know in some strange ways they are here, but I think they are watching over the house and protecting it,” Davis says.

 

Footsteps of the late William Loyd, the original owner of Loyd hall, are heard pacing the floors of the mansion, as if in an anxious state awaiting his fate. During the Civil War, Loyd was reportedly a double spy for both the Union and the Confederacy.  Once discovered, the Union forces tarred, feathered and hung him from a tree in 1864 on his own plantation.  “William Loyd was of the Lloyds of London, but was considered the black sheep of his family. They paid him to leave London and he could only use one ‘L’ in his name,” Davis notes.

 

Loyd obtained a land grant and built the plantation home, on which 60 slaves farmed tobacco, sugarcane and cotton. He meddled in the local Choctaw tribal affairs, and Loyd Hall several times came under attack. “You can still see broken tips of arrows in the dining room door,” says Davis.

 

Some overnight guests of Loyd Hall have reported hearing a woman crying on the third floor, while others claim they have seen a ghostly woman’s image floating along the hallways. The sound of fingers running over the keys on the grand piano is often heard, yet no one is seated on the piano stool. It is thought to be the spirit of Ines Loyd, the niece of William.  “She was engaged to be married, but was left at the altar. Ines felt great shame, and threw herself from the third-floor window. Sometimes while working in the house, I will see an image out my side vision. Sometimes it is a woman, and sometimes it is a man,” Davis says.

 

Loyd Hal-webOftentimes, under the light of a full moon, violin music can be heard at midnight coming from the third floor attic of Loyd Hall. Harry Henry, who deserted the Union Army and hid at the plantation, is thought to be roaming about the mansion coaxing his soft song from the strings. He deserted his post because he fell in love with a young woman staying at the plantation, and wanted to be near her. When he was discovered, a struggle ensued and he was shot to death.  “Harry is buried in a shallow grave under the house. We often hear movement on the third floor and feel cold. To this day, no matter how hard it’s been scrubbed, there is a blood stain still dried on the floor where he was shot,” Davis adds.

 

The fourth ghost believed to be a resident of the mansion is Sally Boston, a former slave nanny. She lived in the house and cared for the family, but died mysteriously.  “She might have been poisoned. Something happened to her. Sally has been seen dressed all in white with a turban on her head,” Davis notes, adding that the aroma of food being cooked or coffee brewing in the morning often accompanies the sightings of Sally.

 

On a daily basis, Davis has heard doors being opened and closed with no one in the house but her, and often hears loud footsteps or crashing sounds upstairs. When the crashing noises were investigated, nothing would be out of place or broken.  “In the past, I would chalk it all up to my imagination, but not anymore. In some areas, there are cold sensations. Chairs rock with no wind around or with no one sitting in them. I would be outside and hear loud banging of pots and pans in the kitchen, with no one there. The doorbell will ring, and there won’t be anyone there,” Davis says.  On numerous occasions, the large dining room table will be set for a wedding with place settings, napkins and glassware, and items will go missing.  “We will find them in the strangest places. We will find missing silverware in a drawer somewhere,” Davis recalls.

 

Years ago, when the Fitzgerald family—previous owners of Loyd Hall—resided on the plantation, their young daughters would tell Davis about seeing a Union soldier upstairs in their old school room. Funny thing though, the girls had not been told about the ghost of Harry.  “Back then, I had not believed them. But we had a lady on tour, who was a medium, and she saw Harry and described him to me exactly as the girls had. He was tall, with dark hair, weighed about 170 pounds and wore a Union soldier’s uniform. The lady told us Harry’s last name was Henry,” Davis says, adding she now believes Harry manifested and showed himself to the girls.  Harry told the girls he was protecting them, and years later after the girls graduated from college, they tell the same story. There was a time when the home stood vacant for 18 years, but Davis says nothing was vandalized. “It was like the spirits were protecting the plantation all along,” she adds.

 

What really convinced Davis that something paranormal was happening at Loyd Hall was the day she heard a voice call her name. “I knew I was the only one in the house. I was shocked when my name was called. After that, I knew there is a spirit or ghost here,” says Davis.  Lights flickering off and on, mysterious screams and loud banging noises have reportedly been witnesses by guests of Loyd Hall. “I don’t feel scared. Spirits can’t hurt you. They may spook you though,” smiles Davis.

 

Sarto Old Iron Bridge

 

Sarto Bridge-webSoutheast of Marksville, in Big Bend, tales of a ghost lurking on the Sarto Old Iron Bridge are told. The bridge, built in 1916, is a steel-truss swinging bridge constructed over Bayou des Glaises. The bridge is only open to pedestrians now. People who enter the nearby Adam Ponthieu Grocery Store and Big Bend Post Office Museum often ask Jimmie “Boo” Bernard, the overseer, if the area is haunted.  “People have told me when they go from the museum in certain areas, they feel a chill go through their body. I have never felt that, but at times I felt a presence like someone was looking over my shoulder,” Bernard says, adding that the death of a construction worker nearly 100 years ago adds to the mystique of the area.

 

Rumor has it that, during the construction of the bridge, one of the workers fell in the wet cement of a pillar and slowly drowned as his fellow workers watched helplessly. He was reportedly encased in the cement. Locals believe the man’s ghost haunts the area.  “Construction of the bridge started in 1913. People have walked on it and say they get a feeling someone is watching them. The boards go clackedy-crack. But the thing that draws the most attention is the round center concrete pillar of the bridge. If you look close, you can see the image of a man standing up,” Bernard says.

 

Downtown Alexandria

 

Stitched PanoramaIn downtown Alexandria, reports of escalating paranormal activity prompted city officials to invite the SyFy Network television production team of “Ghost Hunters” to spend 14 days investigating three “hot spots”.  Their focus was the historic Hotel Bentley, built in 1908, which was closed at the time, prior to being purchased by developer Michael Jenkins.  Two other Third Street buildings were included in the extensive search for Alexandria spirits.  These were Finnegan’s Wake Pub and the Diamond Grill restaurant.  Inside the Hotel Bentley were found voices in conversation discussing WWII.  This occurred in the Mirror Room Lounge, where history tells us the strategy of the war was planned by Generals Patton and Bradley among others.   The sounds of a child bouncing a ball in the hallways, the faint sounds of piano playing within the lobby, voices on the third floor of the hotel, and a mysterious ball of light pulsating as it rose from the Mirror Room up the stairs into the lobby harkens back to the heyday of the grand old hotel.

 

finnegans-wake-pubFinnegan’s Wake Pub had a reputation for ghostly activities like bar glasses flying off the shelves of the bar that was once located in a brothel.  Violin playing was reported being heard and loud banging noises could be heard from the second floor.  What was found and recorded by the investigative team was the ghostly sounds of pub patrons singing festive drinking songs.  Also discovered was a basketball-size “Orb,” a ball of light, which traveled throughout the bar then vanished.

 

Diamond Grill-webThe third location to investigate was the Diamond Grill restaurant, which was built in 1931.  From its previous life as a jewelry store, reports told of the long-past employee “Stella”, still upset of the change of the store to a restaurant.  Employees reported unexplained occurrences of barware flying off the shelves of what is now the mezzanine level bar, along with tripping of the waiters and breaking of glasses in the storage closet.  As it was, Stella was the bookkeeper and her office was located where the now Diamond Grill Bar stands.  During the investigation, apparitions were seen peeking around doors and confronting the investigators in a blink of an eye.  At the second floor bar, a clear voice called out the name of one of the Ghost Hunters. Large dark masses shuffled in the shadows and sounds of something being dragged across the floor were heard.

 

Bolton High School

 

Likewise, Bolton High School in Alexandria boasts its own active apparition.  Having celebrated its centennial just last year, Bolton has seen generations of Cenla residents pass through its halls. Tales have been passed down through the years about the mystery of the school’s elusive ghost, Gail, believed to have once been a student at the historic campus.  Shelby Curry, a current student, recently researched the stories.

 

Bolton-web“The depiction of Gail varies from story to story, further shrouding clues to who Gail might have been and what tragedy befell her. One story describes Gail as an insecure, socially inept girl who flung herself from the roof of the school to escape severe bullying and peer rejection. Another claims Gail was a perfectionist, over-achieving student who committed suicide by drowning herself in a toilet in the girl’s bathroom when the pressure to exceed expectations finally became too overwhelming,” explains Curry. “Perhaps the most popular belief that is regularly referred to states that Gail was a manipulative, diabolical drama student who had an unhealthy fixation on her theatre teacher. When she confessed her romantic feelings for him, he rejected her. Grief-stricken over her unrequited love, Gail hung herself in a backstage dressing room in Bolton’s auditorium.”

 

The dressing room in question is currently empty and has not been used in years. Although there is little proof to ascertain what actually happened to Gail, it is commonly acknowledged by veteran faculty members that Gail was, indeed, a Bolton student. The question of how Gail died and why remain unsolved. Even now, incoming freshmen are warned by upperclassmen to beware of Gail. Today, most comments about Gail occur when unexplained phenomena like strange noises are heard, doors open or close themselves suddenly, or items disappear and reappear in unusual places. Students blame Gail for such instances and joke that she must be upset. Some alumni and former staff even report they have seen Gail’s ghost in the windows of the hallway that connect the two wings of the building together.

 

Lynda Ellington, who started teaching at Bolton in 2007, said she recalls every morning things on her desk were moved or missing.  “I started asking around.  One of the older teachers said, ‘It’s probably just Gail up to her tricks again.’  My question was: Who is Gail?” Ellington recalls. The version of Gail that she recounts spoke of a young freshman in the 1940s with a love for theater. Gail, being very shy, decided to try out for the school play as a way to make new friends and overcome some of her shyness.  She was shocked to find out that she had been awarded the lead in the play. The male lead in the play was the school’s star quarterback. His girlfriend had also auditioned for the female lead. When she did not get the part, she threatened Gail.  Opening night came. Gail was given the private dressing room on the 3rd floor. Her first scene was about to start, but Gail did not show. People started looking for her.  When they entered the dressing room they found nothing but a message written in lipstick on the mirror: Beware! No one ever saw Gail again. But, the light witnessed moving on the third floor between classrooms on dark and lonely nights is rumored to be Gail.

 

Central Louisiana State Hospital

 

Central_webCentral Louisiana State Hospital in Pineville has its share of sightings of “ghosts” and tales of unexplainable happenings. The hospital for the mentally ill opened in the early 1900s, and it is thought that nearly 3,000 former patients are buried on its grounds. Reports of an elevator operating by itself in one of the older units and chairs being flipped upside down are common.  One former patient of the rehab facility tells of seeing a man dressed in a navy blue jacket and khaki pants standing by her bed late one night. Male patients who died at the hospital reportedly were buried in that garb. Sounds of crying can be heard in the hallways and former staff members tell of rattling windows and door knobs being slowly turned. Apparitions are rumored to have been seen in an old dairy barn on the hospital grounds.

 

Cotile Lake

 

Loud screams and wailing are reportedly heard near Boyce by an area of Cotile Lake. A ghostly woman, known locally as the Swamp Woman, has been linked with luring people to their death by drowning them in the lake. An investigative team with the TV show, “Haunted Highways,” was sent to explore the legend.  In the early days, French settlers supposedly planned to steal Natchez Indian land and the tribe retaliated by killing the French. But 8,000 French troops were called in to wipe out the tribe. According to legend, all were massacred but for one woman. She is rumored to be the ghost that now tries to lure people to Cotile Lake to drown them. During the production crew’s investigation, thermal images were recorded, as well as cold sensations, wailing and ghostly disembodied voices in the area.

 

Natchitoches/Northwestern State University

 

Northwestern Entrance-webNorthwestern State University in Natchitoches, as well as the city itself, have several renowned “ghosts” and unaccountable paranormal activities. Residents have reported seeing the spirits of Confederate soldiers walking along the bricked paths of Front Street along Cane River Lake. But one of the most famous spirits looms about the NSU campus, and her name is Isabella. Folks say many locals have witnessed her in various locations on the campus. She is often seen beside one of the columns left from a pre-Civil War plantation, the former home of the Bullard family.

 

Isabella, a young French beauty, once lived in the original Bullard mansion. The young maiden had many suitors, but preferred the company of a young man from the East, sent to Louisiana on business. They fell in love and were to be married. Shortly before the wedding date arrived, the young man was killed in a duel. Legend has it that the duel concerned a dispute over another woman.  Overcome with grief, Isabella entered a convent and became a nun. Her beauty wasted away due to constant mourning. It was rumored she went mad from grief and one stormy night, she plunged a dagger into her heart. She was found the next morning, a bloody handprint on the wall beside her. It is said her spirit roamed Bullard mansion until it was torn down

 

Northwestern-webDozens of students’ report of her appearing to them in East Hall, until it was torn down in 1932. Eyewitness accounts say Isabella’s spirit moved to the Music Hall next, and resided there until 1946 when the building was also torn down. Just before the Music Hall was dismantled, a group of young men, dressed in sheets, reportedly coaxed Isabella from the doomed building. Through the years, Isabella reportedly wandered aimlessly around campus from building to building. She eventually settled to reside in Caldwell Hall. Speculation has it that Caldwell was chosen because of its close proximity to the original Bullard dwelling.  Newspapers account the move of Isabella as January 15, 1949. Reportedly, a letter from the ghost was found on the steps of Caldwell along with a few drops of blood.  When Caldwell Hall burned in October 1982, a group of 750 students gathered on Halloween night to supposedly aid Isabella in freely moving to another location. To date, students continue to report seeing her ghost on campus.

 

Lisa Abney, NSU provost and vice president for academic affairs, says, “In general, people may not believe in ghosts or hauntings, but sometimes they can’t explain why something occurs—the bump in the night, the wafting smell associated with a loved one, music boxes playing when they shouldn’t.  These instances are often re-framed as visits from beyond as they are not the kinds of hauntings of a haunted house or haunted woods, but are more personalized and specific instances which often become evidence for beyond the grave communication.  Indeed, those who experience these eerie occurrences may work within an array of scientific discussions which form the basis of evidence which can explain away the instance.  In other cases, the experience may remain an unnerving and/or reassuring exchange.”

 

Magnolia Plantation

 

Magnolia_Plantation-webNot far from the NSU campus, situated in Derry, is the Magnolia Plantation. Sometime in the ‘80s, several re-enactors were encamped on the plantation grounds. At that time, it was a working plantation and had not yet come under the care of the National Park Service, according to Thomas Adkins, an interpretive ranger with the Fort St. Jean Baptiste. Later, Magnolia would become part of the Cane River Creole National Historic Park.  “Many of the plantation’s outbuildings had not been restored and were in a state of ruin. One building was the overseer’s house, which was also used as a slave hospital. Several re-enactors had gathered around the campfire that Saturday night,” Adkins recalls.

 

Magnolia_Ranger-web“We were telling the usual stories of past reenactments, when I noticed a light appear in a window of the overseer’s house. It went off and I ignored what I saw. Then it happened again. I turned to a fellow re-enactor and said, ‘Simon did you see that?’ He said he did. We all ran to the house and could find no one. At the time, there was no electricity at the house. I might add that the light appeared in only one window. There were two windows next to each other,” Adkins adds.  The next morning, Adkins told one of the owners of Magnolia plantation about the incident. “He just grinned. Mysterious happenings are not unusual at Magnolia. One of the overseers at Magnolia was killed by Union soldiers during the Red River Campaign,” he says, and there have been reports of his ghost lurking around ever since.

 

It seems that no section of Cenla is exempt.  Ghostlike wraiths have been reported by residents living nearby an old sawmill in Longleaf. Locals swear they hear whistling and an occasional sawing sound in the midnight hour.  In Forest Hill, a crying woman dressed all in black, has been spotted drifting among the graveyard of Butter Cemetery Road.  Spanish moss drapes eerily from the towering Oak trees near the cemetery by Lone Star Baptist Church in Hineston. Locals tell the story of a young girl named Nancy who was kidnapped and found murdered decades ago.  On a moonlit night, people say a ghostly apparition of a little girl in a white gown walks along the curve in the road by the church cemetery. Nearby residents often report they have seen her floating by her grave and hear her crying.  And in Sabine Parish, the ghost of Minnie Nelms, a 27-year-old woman who was murdered just before Valentine’s Day in 1927, is said to roam the railroad tracks at night.  While New Orleans may hold the distinction as the most haunted city in the nation, these stories and many more illustrate that Cenla has a rich haunted history all its own.