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.

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