Monday, October 21, 2013

Urban myth or cauchemar?

            When I first moved to Lafayette 10 years ago I asked around about local ghost legends. I was told a young University of Louisiana-Lafayette student had fallen to her death in an elevator shaft, was beheaded and now haunts the dorms, although a friendly restless spirit.
            It sounded too much like an urban myth, so I didn’t pay it much attention.
            Later, I heard another that reeked of a typical college tall tale — a young girl committed suicide in Huger Hall and the student who moved into the room committed the same act exactly one year later. The administration was so alarmed by the acts that they boarded up the room.
            I ended up finding a UL dorm story that made my hairs stand on end — including voice phenomenum caught on an Iphone — and I included that in my book “Haunted Lafayette,” but I still had my doubts about those girls.
            Then I met two former UL students at a booksigning who remembered the boarded-up room at Huger Hall and the water stains that never would go away. According to my new sources, the storied girls committed suicide by hanging themselves on a water pipe.
            And here’s what I wrote in my chapter on UL:
            “Baker resident Ariella Robinson complained of the dorm being haunted, but of what she had no idea.
            “ ‘So I was at the dorm and I would hear what sounded like someone clawing at the wall in my suite mate’s bathroom,’ Robinson related. ‘Then I would open the door and no one would be in there or outside the bathroom. And it would continue for days. Then I called a CA (Community Assistant) to come look at possible water damage on my ceiling in my room. The CA thinks I am crazy. He says it is just the pipes. I don’t think so. Then on top of that the watermark on my ceiling looks like someone was walking on my ceiling, more like standing upside down on my ceiling.”
            Do you have a photo of the old UL dorms, possibly with a room boarded up? I’d love to see one.
Baker-Huger today, courtesy of
            In the meantime, is it a young girl haunting the dorms or a cauchemar?
            Again, from my book: “In French, cauchemar means nightmare, but in Cajun Country it could refer to a spirit that torments people by riding on their chests or backs.
            “ ‘A cauchemar…is a witch that rides a sleeping person all night, until the victim is worn out,’ wrote Mary Alice Fontenot in the January 25, 1981, Crowley Post-Signal, quoting Cajun residents and their beliefs. ‘For this reason believers in the cauchemar are warned not to sleep on their backs, as this position is an invitation to the cauchemar.’
            “In a 1985 article in The Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, the late folklorist Dr. Patricia Rickles of Southwestern Louisiana University (now University of Louisiana at Lafayette), described cauchemar as ‘a nightmare spirit that chokes and suffocates people in their beds.’ Rickles claimed that numerous people she had interviewed over the years believed in them, including one who felt its presence in the university dorms of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
            “ ‘Lately, there was a student on campus who left school and went home because he said there was a cauchemar in the dorm,’ Rickles is quoted as saying in the article. ‘And he wasn’t staying somewhere there was a cauchemar.’ ”

 Cheré Coen is the author of "Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana" published by The History Press.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A 'canaille' ghost named Amelie

The room where the taping took place.
            Being October, I was asked by KATC-TV in Lafayette for an interview on ghost so we decided upon Aaah! T’Freres Bed and Breakfast, a chapter in my book and an establishment that houses a Cajun ghost named Amelie. Owner Maugie Pastor suggested we do the taping in the front bedroom, a room that gets the most activity.
            Maugie commented that within the last year two men had felt a heaviness in their chests while in this room. The two men had reported the same feeling but separately; they didn’t know each other. I remarked how some haunted places I visited in the research for the book had set off my asthma, although T’Frere’s was not one of them.
            We began taping and Maugie cited numerous paranormal events that led her to believe there was a ghost in the house, one named Amelie and the sister of Oneziphore Comeaux, the original owner. (His nickname was T-Frere, or “Little Brother,” hence the name of the B&B).
            Suddenly, I felt a tightness in my chest and became lightheaded, but I didn’t say anything since they were taping. Then the camera clicked off. We laughed that it was Amelie and began again. The camera once again clicked off. The battery was at 95 percent and everything in working order so why it stopped was a puzzle. It happened several times more.
            “She’s a canaille,” Maugie explained, Cajun for a mischievous person.
            Later, the reporter interviewed me on the porch and this time the camera failed to work at all. He changed out the battery and everything worked fine. Still, the original battery was fully charged. And lest you think the battery the culprit, the reporter included the phenomenon in his broadcast.
            It’s a fabulous bed and breakfast and Maugie a gracious host. Their “ooh la la” breakfasts are renowned, items such as cheese-stuffed crepes topped with homemade jam or Bananas Foster. In the afternoons, Maugie serves cocktails and crab canapés.
            If you stay at T’Frere’s, however, you might receive lagniappe, a Louisiana word for “a little something extra.” And that lagniappe may go by the name of Amelie!
            You can read the full story of Amelie in “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and view the 2013 TV broadcast here.
            For an article describing my experiences with Louisiana Spirits paranormal investigators at T'Frere's on Sept. 16, 2014, click here.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Une Grosse Bétaille

“If you hear a dog howling, someone you know is dying.” — Kaplan superstition

Excerpted from “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” by Cheré Dastugue Coen, published by The History Press

            In the 1940s there was a jaguarandi reported in Florida, a wild cat native to Central and South America and sometimes into southern Texas. The animal sports short and rounded ears, short legs, an elongated body and a long tail.
            When an article surfaced of the Florida cat in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Louise Veronica Olivier or Arnaudville contacted the paper to report of her own unusual hairy animal — this one sported along Bayou Bourbeau in St. Landry Parish, just north of Lafayette. She called her creature “une grosse bétaille.”
            The Rev. Jules O. Daigle in “A Dictionary of the Cajun Language” defines bétaille as “almost all unknown bugs or animals, also for humans to denote bestial qualities.” “The Dictionary of Louisiana French” has several definitions for the word, but also bug, worm, beast and monster. Naturally, a gross bétaille is an animal or bestial man of large proportions.
            Olivier explained that Rameau Quebedeaux had spotted une grosse bétaille at midnight in June 1942, but no one believed him, chalking it up to “whiskey talk.” Then Antoine Lanclos admitted to seeing a dog “with evil intent” while plowing his fields.
            “He said he had called his own dog ‘a la recousse,’” Olivier recounted in The Times-Picayune article. “In the interval between his dog and the encroacher, Antoine made good his escape.”
            Unfortunately, his dog was never seen again.
            Someone in nearby Prairie Basse claimed a wolf was killing the resident dogs and “dragging them to the bayou banks.” Chickens and turkeys were disappearing and cows and calves being spooked for no reason. As word spread, people avoiding going out at night.
            One night a group of residents were gathered together when they heard the distressing cries of dogs. They grabbed their guns and headed out. “In the thicket of weeds and brambles was la grosse bétaille feasting on Ti Louie’s Fido,” Olivier recalled.
            The animal was described as resembling a police dog with a large mouth and neck, heavy coat and a slender body that tapered to the rear. When approached that night it let out a ferocious growl. The resident who plugged the creature when it let out a yell later recounted the story to the parish priest.

            “As they also confirmed the facts for all who know the French-speaking folk who live along Louisiana’s bayou: For while they might stretch the truth in ordinary conversation, none would have dreamed of speaking except in utter sobriety to le bon Pere who ministers to all their spiritual needs,” Olivier concluded.