Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Madeline a different kind of spirit at King’s Tavern in Natchez

Natchez turns 300 in 2016, an impressive milestone for a southern city. The quaint town known for its hundreds of historic buildings is the oldest continuous settlement on the Mississippi River and predates New Orleans by two years.
If you’re looking for history, the oldest building in Natchez dates back to about 1760 and there are some lingering there who might remember its origin. King’s Tavern at 619 Jefferson St. is now a restaurant serving up specialty cocktails and delicious flatbreads but in its day, the building served as a resting stop for those traveling the Natchez Trace. And it was about this time that Madeline worked as a barmaid.
Story has it that Madeline became the mistress of Richard King, the owner, and that the owner’s wife paid two men to have her killed. In 1932, three bodies and a dagger were recovered from the walls of the tavern when a chimney was being installed — two men and a woman.
Ricky Woolfolk is the tavern’s manager and bartender, who teaches mixology classes on the weekend. Ricky has his own take on the story, believing that the men killed Madeline, and the owner, upon discovering what had happened, killed the two men and buried them in the tavern’s walls to keep the crime from being discovered.
As for the dagger, that instrument of death appears to be missing. The original story, according to Ricky, was that the bodies and dagger were found in the chimney but he insists the chimney came after 1932.
I had to wonder where this information came from — doubtful that King or his wife recorded the incident or it was reported in the newspaper — but I’m happy to go along with the story. People who have worked at the tavern have reported electrical anomalies, doors opening and closing and other noises unaccounted for. Ricky showed us a video of the bar refrigerator opening on its own after hours and I can vouch that these fridges don’t open without a good pull.
Ricky also claims the tavern saw some unsavory people in its time, due to its proximity to the Natchez Trace where criminals waited to rob those returning home with newly acquired cash. The notorious Harpe Brothers, for instance, were two examples, men known for murdering many people including small children.
“There are numerous reports of paranormal activity in the tavern; sources report that scores of witnesses have seen images of a young female, believed to be the ghost of Madeline, the slain mistress,” reports the History, Science and Paranormal Research Blog hosted by the Mississippi Society of Paranormal Investigators. “She appears at odd times and is sometimes a prankster, knocking jars off of shelves, pouring water on the brick floors, turning the lights on and off, and breaking glasses. Some have claimed to have witnessed tables vibrating, chains on the walls moving by themselves, footsteps, when no one is there, water taps turning on by themselves, sounds of a baby crying in the attic room, maintained by the legend that Big Harpe had killed another baby in the upstairs room because he was annoyed by its crying. There are also claims of seeing a man with no face wearing a red hat, hearing male voices talking when no one is there and the shadows and apparitions of both a large man and an Indian.”
"Ghost Adventures" visited the King’s Tavern and you can watch the episode here.
Ghosts aside, we recommend the flatbread — we sampled the delicious artichoke and olives but heard the brisket is to die for — and the Natchez Gentleman, which incorporates Charbonneau Rum made next door with Solerno blood orange liqueur. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana, booksignings this month

            Ghost stories abound in the Cajun and Creole city of Lafayette, Louisiana. The Hub City boasts a multitude of spirits and specters, from those lost in Civil War skirmishes and fever outbreaks to those souls that simply can’t say goodbye. Today, they wander the halls of bed-and-breakfasts and restaurants and linger along back roads and cemeteries. Pirates are rumored to guard buried treasure, and ancient French legends hide in the swamps, bayous and woods. 
            I visited Lafayette’s haunted sites and traveled the countryside in search of ghostly legends found only in South Louisiana and published "Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana," with The History Press.
            Just in time for Halloween I will be signing copies of “Haunted Lafayette” at the following:

Oct. 17, 2015: I will sign “Haunted Lafayette” as well as “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History” from 10 a.m. to noon at 1921 Jackson Street: A Coffee House in Alexandria, Louisiana.

Oct. 31, 2015: I will sign “Haunted Lafayette” and her other books — “Exploring Cajun Country,” “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History” and “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets” — from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31, at Barnes & Noble Lafayette.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

AAA goes ghost hunting this month

The September-October 2015 issue of AAA Southern Traveler magazine looks at Louisiana's haunts, from the many ghostly sites of Shreveport (that's Oakland Cemetery to the left) and New Orleans to Loyd Hall Plantation outside Alexandria (right). 


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Young 'Petit Jean' rests (perhaps) on top of Arkansas mountain

High atop a mountain in central Arkansas lies a grave with a most unusual legend.
Adrienne Dumont was in love with a French nobleman named Chavet, who was scheduled to travel to the New World to explore lands for the King of France. In the 1700s the region that’s now the state of Arkansas was under French rule.
Chavet refused to let Adrienne accompany him so she dressed as a cabin boy, called herself Jean and followed him anyway. Because of her small size, she was nicknamed by the ships crew “Petit Jean,” which means Little John in English.
According to the legend, neither the ship’s crew nor Chavet recognized Adrienne. When she became ill with a fever, the crew discovered her identity. She asked them to bury her atop the mountain she came to love and they complied. That mountain about an hour outside of Little Rock is now called Petit Jean and the neighboring state park with its gorgeous waterfalls carries her name as well.
How accurate is this legend? According to the “Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture” there are various details to the story.
“Her fiance or sweetheart is referred to variously as Cheves, Chavet, or Jean-Jacques Chavez. His departure for the New World is generally attributed to his being part of an exploratory expedition. One source, however, states that his departure was precipitated after he was forced to kill in self-defense another admirer of Adrienne’s, Albert “Bertie” Marshand, a favorite nephew of King Louis XVI.”
Another version of her coming to America is to inflict revenge on Chavet.
“The discovery of her identity is also a point of contention,” the Encyclopedia states. “One source has her voluntarily revealing her identity to her lover just before her death; a second source says that her identity was discovered due to her illness, at which time she begged her beloved’s forgiveness before she died. A third source deviates from this significantly. In this source, it is her lover who became ill with swamp fever. As he leaned on Petit Jean for support, he recognized her distinctive green eyes. She and some friendly natives nursed him back to health. Unfortunately, she then fell ill and remained so for several months, nursed by the natives while her fiancé traveled to an unnamed French settlement to build their home.”
            Whatever the details, the legend remains and the grave on the east point of the mountain is visited by tourists every year.
             Some say the spirit of Petit Jean exists there as well.


Cheré Coen is an award-winning travel writer specializing in the Deep South. She is the author of "Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History," "Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana" and "Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana" and co-author of "Magic's in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets." She also writes Louisiana romances under Cherie Claire, including "A Cajun Dream" and "The Letter." Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Beaver House in Statesboro, Georgia, serves up more than great meals — but stay for their family style dinner!

            Clay Beaver is the fourth generation owner of the Beaver House in Statesboro, Georgia, but those who have come before him refuse to leave the historic home that’s now a restaurant. He claims there are seven ghosts residing in the building.
            “And I have seen every one of them,” Beaver said.
            I was on a tour of Statesboro with a group of fellow travel writers and naturally, being a ghost aficionado, I have to ask about apparitions when I visit a historic home. And I got an earful.
            The one Beaver has seen twice in all her ghostly glory is Annie, who died at five years old from pneumonia after breaking her neck falling from a tree. Beaver sees little Annie in a brown velvet dress.
            “It’s as clear as day,” Beaver said. “It’s so real.”
            The first time happened around 11:30 p.m. one night when Beaver was in the house with a friend. They spotted Annie at the bottom of the stairs, walking past.
            “We took off, running back out the house,” he said with a laugh. “We were scared to death.”
            Two uncles have also appeared, once in a wedding photo looking at each other from two opposing transom windows on the second floor.
            “They’re always together,” Beaver said. “I’m not sure why.”
            Roy Beaver, Clay Beaver’s grandfather, was a large man and he appears to staff and visitors on occasion. Once he was spotted standing in the dining room looking out the window, Beaver explained.
            The builder of the circa-1911, 6600-square-foot house, John Alexander Beaver, also visits, as well as great grandma Nella “dressed to the nines.”
            The Beaver House serves up a mean "Boarding House" family style meal. On the night we visited we were treated to overflowing plates of fried shrimp, roast beef, mac and cheese, greens, mashed potatoes, biscuits and much more. They also serve a Low Country Boil on weekends and plenty of other delicious dishes.
            Because the old Victorian home is expansive and romantic, the Beaver House hosts numerous weddings over the years. But wedding photographers come home with more than they bargained for — one photo sported a child, a Barbie Doll and a tricycle by the front door, only it wasn’t of this world!

            Want to know more? The Beaver House web site has a page of ghostly tales.

Cheré Coen is an award-winning travel writer specializing in the Deep South. She is the author of "Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History," "Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana" and "Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana" and co-author of "Magic's in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets." She also writes Louisiana romances under Cherie Claire, including "A Cajun Dream" and "The Letter." Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.